Date Posted: 28/08/2010
Geoffrey Winter has kindly got in touch from Australia because he was particularly interested in the construction of the Temeraire at Chatham Dockyard. His great great great grandfather, John Weekes, was the Assistant Master Shipwright at Chatham until his retirement in 1830. His work between 1815 and 1830 would therfore have perfectly straddled the period in which the British naval dockyards fully harnessed the use of steam and made the important transition between building ships in timber and building them in iron.
In 1815 the only steam-powered machinery in the entire yard was a sawmill – and that had been newly-built. But within a generation the workshops all had steam-engines, the docks were drained using steam pumps and the yard built ships powered by steam. By 1860 Chatham was ready to build a 9,829 ton iron battleship, HMS Achilles. When the Temeraire was launched in 1798 she was a monster for her age, the largest Second Rate yet built and significantly larger than earlier First Rates, but she was still almost 200 ft shorter than the monstrous Achilles and displaced a mere 2,120 tons. Geoffrey Winter’s great great great grandfather would have known both worlds.
If you want to get a real sense of the difference between the two ships, go to Portsmouth where you can still see HMS Warrior, an iron-hulled antecedent of Achilles, alongside HMS Victory, a ship similar in almost every way to HMS Temeraire.