On the Mode of Improving the Navy.

Appendix, No. II.

Extracts from the Eleventh Report of the Commissioners of the Land revenue, and of the Appendix to that Report.

(page 26.) The Commissioners of the Navy, in answer to our inquiries concerning the duration of Ships of War, give as their opinion, that Ships built in the Dock-yards last, on the average, about fifteen years; and those built by contract, in the Merchants' Yards, about ten years. This difference they impute, among other causes, to the timber used in the Dock-yards being better seasoned, and the Ships a longer time in building, which last circumstance alone contributes greatly to their duration. The Merchant Builders being employed to build Ships of War only in cases of emergency, are often, from the urgency of the Service, pressed by the Navy Board to complete them in a shorter time than is specified in the contract; and, not having a sufficient stock of timber on hand, they are obliged, at a short notice, to provide what is wanted, and to work it up before the juices are sufficiently exhausted to render it fit for use.

If this opinion of the Commissioners of the Navy be well-founded (and no persons can have better opportunities of judging of this matter), it follows as the tonnage of the Ships built by contract, or purchased during the present reign, amounts to 256,656 tons, and of those built in the Dock-yards to only 131,852 tons, the medium duration of the Ships which compose the present Navy, taken one with another, is only about eleven years and three quarters.

Every addition to the duration of Ships being obviously a proportional saving of timber, if means could be devised to make Ships of War last eighteen years, one-third part of the present consumption of timber for the Navy would be saved; and instead of 50,000 loads being necessary for the annual supply, 33,333 loads would be sufficient.

(Page 33.) It appears from the answers of Mr. Snodgrass, that in the Ships built for the East India Company, iron knees have, for many years, been used instead of oak, and are found to answer better than oak, being lighter, cheaper, and stronger. They have also been adopted in the construction of Ships of War in France for a great while past; and it seems extraordinary that, notwithstanding the apprehensions of a scarcity of oak timber in this country, and though the difficulty of procuring knees has been such as to induce the Navy Board to make trial of chestnut and ash, yet iron has been very little used in the construction of ours. It would, undoubtedly, prove a great saving of timber, and of that kind which is already most difficult to procure, and in which, by grubbing of hedge rows, in consequence of the extension of tillage and improvements in agriculture, a still farther decrease is speedily to be apprehended. This is, therefore, a very important suggestion; and, being founded on experience, well deserves consideration.

In the answers of Mr. Snodgrass in particular, and in those also of the Merchant Builders, whose opinions we have obtained on the means of preventing waste, and increasing the duration of ships, many alterations, besides those which we have mentioned are suggested as improvements in the form and construction of Ships. Our view, in the inquires we have made of persons in that profession, has been to discover whether any alteration in the present practice would be likely to contribute to the saving of timber, by rendering ships more lasting; and whatever appeared to us to have that tendency, being connected with the object of our appointment, is inserted in this Report. But we have not here detailed the other improvements which have been suggested in the form and mechanism of Ships, not from thinking them of little importance, but because they are matters which do not fall within the limits of our duty. They, however, appear to us to be so well deserving the consideration of those whose province it is to seek for improvements in Naval Architecture, that we have inserted them at length in the Appendix, and annexed a section, drawn by Mr. Snodgrass, of a seventy-four gun Ship and a Frigate, as built in His Majesty's Dock Yards, and another upon a plan recommended by him, not thinking it right, in a matter of so much importance to this Country, to keep back alterations suggested by very intelligent Men, possessed of great professional skill and long experience.

East India House, May 12th, 1791.

Gentlemen, In consequence of your application to the Court of Directors of the East India Company to permit me, as their Surveyor of Shipping, to answer such questions as you might think proper to put to me, I received their commands to communicate to you every information that you might desire: I have accordingly considered the questions sent to me from your Board with the utmost attention I am capable of, and have given the fullest answers thereto in my power, which are enclosed herewith.

If any thing that I have suggested may be of the least service to the Public, it will give me the highest satisfaction; and I shall at all times be happy to communicate any further information in my power.

I am Gentlemen,
Your most obedient humble Servant
(signed) Gabl. Snodgrass
The Commissioner of the Land Revenue.
Naval Chronical Vol. V (1801). pp 138-139.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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