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The Ships of Tarshish

Part the Second. The Ships of the Future

Part the Second. The Ships of the Future.

Some of the opinions set forth in this second part, and which relate to the shape and manner of construction of the ships of the future, have been formed since the construction of the Livadia, and after knowledge of the results obtained by her as to speed. Some have also been partly suggested by the second part of the paper already mentioned as having been read by Captain Goulaeff before the Fairfield Association of page 17shipbuilders and engineers, intituled, "Vessels of her (the Livadia's) class considered as means of International communication."

Now, whatever may be said to the contrary (and there are always optimists to be found who are ever ready to aver, like Sam Welter's young nobleman, and from equally disinterested motives, that "wotever is is right"), I think the present state of things with respect to comfort and safety on board of passenger ships is a reproach both to the practical and scientific world. The humiliations and miseries which often, and much of them always, have to be endured on a sea passage, would seem perfectly unbearable, were it not for the feeling, that it is best to put on a good face in encountering the inevitable.

Just fancy the following contrasts. A man has the choice between two different classes of hotel to live in. It would be quite possible, say, for him to inhabit one with roomy apartments, in a salubrious locality, with fragrant breezes pervading it, with lofty and noble apartments to live in, and with good-sized comfortable beds to sleep in —in short, with everything desirable. This is choice Number One, but as yet only possible.

Next comes choice Number Two, at present unfortunately only of the character known as Hobson's.

But the man is told, nevertheless, that there is no occasion at all for his having the comforts described. There is another class of hotel quite good enough for him unless he wishes to display a ridiculous squeamishness or effeminacy. Surely what has been brought up to a pitch far better than anything enjoyed by his forefathers for hundreds of generations, is good enough for him. He ought to be put in a glass case, or does he want to hare a whole house to himself?—these being favourite forms of phrases employed.

Imagine him then installed in this splenderiferous Number Two hotel! There is, in fact, plenty of a sort of splendour about it. Lots of carving and gilding and æsthetic choices of colour and form; plenty polished panels of bird's-eye maple and other exquisitely grained woods; but, nevertheless, all the rooms in it seem low ceiled, narrow and cramped, and in addition there is a smell, or compound of many smells, of the kind usually known by the name of close, everywhere, and which have a tendency to make one's heart come into one's mouth, as the saying is, the page 18moment one comes within their influence. Certainly you can sometimes (but not always, as, to wit, when there is a heavy driving rain) have this compound diluted down, overpowered (or whatever the term may be by which the process is best defined) by passing a draught, or rather a small gale of wind, through the apartment; but it is not everyone who can stand that. People with weak lungs, perhaps, would prefer a slow death by asphyxiation to a sudden decease by inflammation.

But to return. The man is told that all these are only very small drawbacks, and that if he only knew it, he would find he was jolly well off. He perhaps then inspects his bedroom. He finds not only that it is miserably small, but that he can't have a room to himself unless at an extortionate price; but not only that, he must sleep in a narrow crib affixed to the wall, with another crib just over him, this second crib being near the ceiling, so that in either one has scarcely room to sit up without knocking one's forehead against something. Also the crib is so narrow, that if, as a relief from lying as in a coffin, corpse fashion, he wishes to relieve his position while on his side, by doubling up his knees toward his chin, he finds the sides of the crib prevent him.

But these are only the least of the drawbacks which quickly reveal themselves to him. As he is sitting to his first meal, mayhap, he finds that the locality where this hotel is situated is subject to curious subterraneous disturbances, such as pitchings and rockings. All of a sudden he finds a plate of soup, together with several knives, forks, spoons, glasses, etc., launched into his lap; and presently he feels very queer and turns pale, and is glad to "turn into"—I believe that is the correct phrase—the before-mentioned narrow crib in his cramped up hole of a bedroom; and the small narrow window of which the waiter, coming in, proceeds to close and screw up, informing him at the same time that it must on no account be opened again, as a lot of waterworks are going to play against it shortly.

But even this is not the worst. There are a lot of drains beneath the hotel filled with stinking sewage. The subterraneous rockings stir all this up, and all the rooms in the hotel are filled with sewage gas combined with smells of train oil and burnt fat from the kitchen. But the man will be told, for his comfort, that all this is nothing when one is used to it. If he wants fresh air there is a flat roof to the hotel where he can walk in the wind and rain, only he must be cautious that with the swaying of the edifice he doesn't get pitched over the balcony railings into the street below.

Supposing there were such a choice as described, which do you think a man would take? And if he could afford it, how many times over page 19would he pay more for the one than the other? What would he care for all the expensive show and glitter around him in the second case, minus the quiet comfort of the other place—minus its salubrious air, sweet, without the accompaniment of violent draughts?

Now, it is certain, in spite of all optimist complacency of views with regard to the present state of things, that the reproaches to oceanic intercommunication, or navigation, will not be taken away until the following results are secured:—
  • 1. Ships most be constructed so as to be absolutely unsinkable, or unwreckable.
  • 2. They must be constructed so as to be perfectly steady in ordinary gales, and almost so in the fiercest hurricanes.

I think these results can be obtained, and that the public will insist upon them within the next two or three generations, and for the following reasons:—

It will be simply a question of whether such a class of ships would pay. Now, suppose we take 45 years hence as the outside period within which the revolution will be accomplished. Then, firstly, the advance, token even at the rate of simple and regular progression made in securing the result, will not be greater over the present state of oceanic intercommunication than is the present beyond that of 45 years ago.

Secondly, the improvements in the world's affairs do not move in simple progression but in geometrical. The advance in the last 45 years has been greater than that of the previous 100 years, and we may reasonably expect that the advance of the next 22 years will be at least as great as that of the last 45 years. For even if there were to be no farther improvements in vessels with respect to the three requisites of unsinkability, unwreckability, and freedom from sickness with regard to those travelling by them, I think, from the progress of civilisation alone, that in 45 years' time at least 50 persons will travel by sea for each one who does so at the present time. Also that, further, this number would be multiplied by ten at once directly after the three requisites just before mentioned were established. So that in 45 years' time the number of sea-going travellers, all over the world, will probably be at the present rate multiplied 500 times, which will be, perhaps, 10 times as many as would be required to make the class of vessels in question pay for construction and running. (Further on, however, I will suggest a method by which one of such a class of vessels may be made to answer as an experiment at a much earlier period.)

page 20

I think that the dimensions of the passenger-carrying, ocean-going ships of the future will be something like 500 feet wide by 750 feet long. I fix upon these figures because the breadth, as proved by the experiments hereinbefore alluded to, should be two-thirds of the length, and I take 500 feet to be the least extent required to secure nearly an equilibrium in the heaviest gales. This is with reference to the width of ocean waves, respecting which I am sorry to confess I have no data. The vessel's breadth should be double that of the wave, or nearly so.

I now proceed to describe how these vessels could be constructed to secure the results required as regards the indispensable requisites already mentioned, provided no better method could be found—that is, with reference to drawing the line in a practical manner between economy and efficiency. However, my plans in the present instance have been governed by the consideration that in first experiments it is always best to err on the side of efficiency.

These vessels would be of the Livadia or Ships of Tarshish fashion. They would be flat bottomed, and would, with dimensions as given, not draw more than from 21 to 23 feet of water at the outside, according to the extent to which they were loaded and the number of stories which they carried.

The flat bottom should be constructed with two skins 24 to 26 feet apart, or 3 feet more than the draught of water. This interval between the skins should be filled up by honeycomb-shaped cells of steel, say of 10 feet perpendicular diameter, with ends abutting against skins, and their sides secured to those of each other adjoining, with innumerable screws or by whatever other method might be found best (for, as I think I have said already, I do not lay claim to any knowledge of practical detail in these matters).

These cells would be fixed to the skins at top and bottom with brackets, and each would be provided with a man-hole.

It might be a question whether these cells should be attached at bottom to a general skin passing over several of them in one sheet, or whether each cell should have a separate and detached bottom secured to it by brackets and screws, so as to be removable for the purpose of cleaning when required, so as that the vessel would not require to be docked for cleaning or repairs. In short, it might be possible to apply the same principle to every part of the vessel, by having it so constructed that any damaged part could be removed and replaced by sound material, which, if it could be managed, would be an immense advantage.

page 21

I may here state that I am now of opinion that I was wrong with respect to the depth of the cells forming the bottom in the Ships of Tarshish, or of the interval between skins thereof, which should have been at least 12 feet instead of 4 feet as given in the book, or so as to exceed the draught of water by 18 inches to 2 feet, thus providing a sufficient margin of buoyancy in case of damage done to some of the cells.

Now, as I would propose having at least six screws to each vessel, and as this bottom might interfere with the proper placing of the screw shafting, there might be grooves left where wanted by making some of the cells of a less height than the rest to the extent necessary. Then, to obviate any insecurity caused by this provision, between each pair of screws there might be longitudinal divisions (ending in a cross division) extending from bottom to roof, each dividing wall being, say, 4ft. wide, and composed of rectangular-sectioned tubes (4ft. x 4ft. x 10ft.) rivetted to one another, tope, bottoms, and ends, and with all joints in layers broken. All the watertight divisions in the ship should have their walls constructed in a similar manner.

The rest of the vessel, sides and arched deck, would be of the shape shown in the lithographed sections of the Ships of Tarshish, furnished herewith, with double skins, say 10 feet apart, filled with 10 feet wide cells, six sided, and of shapes more or less irregular, according to the rounding of the parts against which their ends would abut.

At about 100 feet from the bows I would have a cross division formed of double skins, reaching from bottom to roof. Skins, 10 feet apart, with the interval between them filled with steel hexagons laid horizontally, and secured to each other and to skins in the manner described for the flat bottom, or, if preferred, on the alternative plan for isolation there suggested. This would be to provide for the vessel running on to the shore, or against an iceberg, or coming into collision with any other vessel, and I think the length mentioned, 100 feet, would provide a sufficient margin. For I believe, owing to the great elasticity which would result from the numerous junctions comprised in the form of construction specified, that even if the vessel ran full tilt on to the shore, as the Triumph did on the rocks under the lighthouse, not more than 50 feet of the vessel would be crushed in. This effect also would be much helped by all the iron and steel used for the cells of which the vessel or floating air-bag, as it might be called, would be composed, being so thin, in comparison with the enormous bulk of the structure, that as the parts were crushed in one after the other the successive shocks would be gradually weakened as by a buffer.

page 22

In fact, this last described quality is that which has filled my mind as the one great requirement or sine quâ non in ship construction ever since 1862, or when I first conceived the idea of the Ships of Tarshish.

Though of course the possibility of collisions should be thus provided for, from the nature of such vessels—their enormous bulk and height, and the splendid lights they would naturally carry, the risk of such occurrences would be almost infinitesimal.

On the other hand, imagine that no alteration is made on the present style of vessels, and that the passenger traffic increases in a few years, so that twenty steamers run to one that runs now—a very moderate estimate—then in suck case we can see by the alarming rate at which fatal collisions have increased within only the last ten years that the risk will become simply terrific.

But to return to the vessels. They should also be furnished with tubular girders and braces wherever required, and which it is not necessary I should specify, as I do not pretend, as before said, to have sufficient practical experience to enable me to define these details in the best possible manner.

Yet of this I feel confident, that vessels of the sort described, even if they ran ashore, would often be able—owing to their flat bottoms and immense size, by which that of the waves would be dwarfed —to back themselves off again. I feel confident also that owing to the localising power with respect to possible injuries conferred by the form of construction and minute subdivisions, before alluded to, that even explosions of dynamite or infernal machines (a state of things quite necessary to be provided for now-a-days, and which, in my humble opinion, will be much worse before it is better) would not prove effective for destruction to the extent of causing sinking.

This then—the structure as specified—would form a raft or support on which any kind of superstructure desired to form the inhabitable part of the vessel might be raised, and which could be of any number of stories required.

The crown of the arch of the superstructure would be about 50 feet out of the water. Three stories, say, on the top of this, each about 17 feet high, would make the highest deck about 100 feet above the level of the sea, and the topmost balconies about 83 feet above the same level.

There might be a circular tower in the midst of the vessel reaching say 100 feet higher, and from the summit of which the electric light could be displayed at night.

page 23

I think, by swinging on gimbals, with an immense pendulum beneath, aided by some regulator which might be devised, the having a billiard room usable in ordinary weather would be practicable.

After providing sufficient room for the play of the waves over the rounded side of the vessel, there would be about four acres and a half of space available as a ground floor, and about five acres on each of the upper stories, independently of room for wide balconies, the extra area being carried on pillars or stanchions, which would not interfere with the action of the waves to any serious extent.

I will now proceed to indicate how I think the enterprise of building a vessel such as described might be made to pay at a much earlier date than the 45 years hence, before mentioned as a limit. For their being an actual fact, at some time or another, I look upon as a moral certainty.

Still one would like to hasten their day; and if this humble effort of mine, by stirring up thought and imagination on the subject, shall conduce to that hastening, by a generation it may be, or even any still smaller period, I will be compensated for the cost and trouble that it has been to me, to a great extent.

The plan then that I would propose would be to build such a vessel, and establish a permanent international exhibition on it, providing a Crystal Palace in the middle thereof, with suites of rooms to be let out to wealthy invalids in the wings.

I believe no Continental or other resort known—no Nice, no Men-tone, no Baden-Baden, no Righi, no other known place whatever—not even, last though by no means least, our own far-famed Waiwera, that charming sea-side retreat of which we Aucklanders are so proud—would equal in health-giving powers such vessels properly used. Here would be breathed the pure air of the ocean with its ozone and all its other good constituents, without any of the sea-sickness, cramping up in confined spaces of the present style of ships, and (owing to the large scale of everything, and elevation above all machinery) without any of their delightful alternatives of either composite smells and general stuffiness, or having one's head half blown off by violent draughts, or without any of those drawbacks always experienced more or less on shore, through defective sanitary arrangements or otherwise.

In addition to the revenue derivable from permanent lodgers, an additional one might be got by taking the vessel with its permanent exhibition for years from one part of the world to another, by which means page 24it would draw greater crowds than any International Exhibition ever did yet. Sightseers not having been impoverished by a previous expensive journey, could the better afford to pay for entrance, even if at an increased rate.

It would be easy to dilate on all the other advantages and charms connected with such a project, but it would be a very dull imagination which would require their recital, and therefore I will not dwell much on them. Parva componere magnis, once more, we in New Zealand have had some small experience of something of the sort in connection with the cruises of the Wairarapa in the Pacific last winter, and we can remember what a run there was upon her on her first trip, so much so that she had to be laid on for a second one.

Well, imagine what the result would be likely to be if a vessel twenty-five times as big as the Wairarapa, with all comforts and conveniences excelling in proportion; with also the further advantages of certain immunity from both wreckage and sea-sickness; with possible passengers twenty times as rich and five hundred times as numerous as are here (for we must take contingents from the continents of Europe and America into account);—imagine, I say, if under these circumstances such a vessel was announced as starting on a voyage round the world, what crowds of people would take advantage of the opportunity! Imagine how one could enjoy the most furious gale, as sitting steadily in a balcony 80 feet above the waves one could watch their ineffectual raging against the sloping sides of the vessel. Then for changes there would be a magnificent theatre, concert and billiard rooms, conservatories, fountains, and every other thing almost possible to be obtained on shore.

If one could only look upon the surface of the ocean in the light of being composed of an infinite number of railway lines, crossing one another at an infinite number of angles, able to carry locomotives and rolling stock of thousands of tons weight, and of any capacity as to size, which could shift from any one line to another, at any time, without the necessity of having points or pointsmen, such lines never wearing out or requiring repairs, and never having cost sixpence in their construction; the only drawback being that the locomotives and rolling stock required for the railways would be very expensive (though the expense would be infinitesimal compared to the endless extent of mileage of line available);— if one, I repeat, could only look upon the surface of the ocean in such a light, he would wonder that greater advantage has not long ago been taken of such a valuable property, furnished to us without expense.

I know that few will believe, and many deride, the ideas here set forth; but I do not care for that, as I am certain that the things pre-page 25dicted, or at least things very like to them, will come to pass; and I would always be rather a discredited prophet of the Cassandra order, or of that of Micaiah the son of Imlah, than a prosperous one of that of Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah—that is to say, as far at least as truth is concerned (and that I do not predict misfortune, but good), for I am afraid, son of degenerate modern times as I am, I might shrink from undergoing a course of "the bread of affliction and water of affliction" physically, though I am quite prepared for a good share of it morally in connection with these present predictions.

As for the re-fitting dock for such vessels, that would have to be reckoned as part of the original cost of the first one built, as such vessels would require to be built in a dock that they could sail out of when finished. (It is possible, as before hinted, that such vessels could be made to take to pieces in detail, and so have any parts cleaned or repaired piecemeal.)

In my mind's eye, Voracio* of imagination as I am, who fancy I can use more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in other people's philosophy—I can picture within the next 50 years such a dock, about 600 feet wide by 900 feet back in our own harbour of Waitemata—by the side of whose waters sits the future Queen of the Southern Hemisphere, somewhere near the Calliope Dock, to westward of it, reaching back through the low isthmus at that position, and taking in part of Shoal Bay. These docks would not be so very expensive in proportion to their area, as the depth—the most expensive element in dock construction— would be moderate, not more than 27 to 30 feet at the outside. The floor of the dock would have to be in the form of a gridiron, with bars, say, one foot wide and 6 feet deep with 6 feet wide spaces between, to allow the bottom of a ship to be got at.

What I have to say next being somewhat in the nature of a digression, I must place in a separate part, with an apology for such digression given at end thereof.

* Glutton—W. M. Thackeray.