Record

Ref NoDM1306/11/1/2/folio 341-361
TitleMemorandum on the Management of the Great Ship
DescriptionWritten from 18 Duke Street, Westminster, London. The memorandum sets out Brunel's thoughts and considerations as to the quality of the officers and crew in command of the new machine that he is building. Brunel emphasises the importance of gaining positive public opinion for the financial and general success of the ship and the company. He believes there is the potential that the range of duties that the captain must undertake as well as the peculiarities of the ship herself may mean that experience in mere seamanship is not the only qualification necessary for a good captain. Brunel expresses his opinion that the financial success of the vessel will hang on practical mechanical success and this will depend mainly on the skilful management of the early voyages. Brunel also emphasises the fact that the new ship will require a totally different style of management from that which is present in ordinary ships and in fact many of the habits and experience of a brilliant sailor may need to be put aside in order to be a good commander of the Eastern Steam Navigation Company's ship. Brunel describes some of the differences between navigating a small vessel which necessitates the captain taking account of wind and weather conditions and navigating a large steam vessel which has significantly different things to concern the commander, mentions the differences that may come when steering a vessel in harbour and comments on the importance of the ship's inertia in its motion. Brunel also describes the various peculiarities and concerns to be taken into account when steering the vessel. The memorandum explains Brunel's belief as to the unusual strength and hardiness of the ship and his expectation that she would survive several months being aground but that refloating her would prove a significant challenge and compares this to the disastrous grounding of the Great Britain in the first year of her service. Brunel contrasts the number of cases of steamers running aground versus the extremely rare cases of naval ships running aground and puts this down to an over-reliance in commercial shipping on the captain's instincts and a general ignoring of the mechanical systems for accuracy which have not kept pace with the improvements in speed and power of the new steam ships. Brunel exemplifies his point by demonstrating how the old ways of taking soundings at intervals are no longer useful at the greater speeds attained by steam ships, the lack of accuracy achieved by steering by compass and the too-long intervals between the taking of observations. Brunel insists on the need for the commander of the Eastern Steam Navigation Company's ship being capable of setting aside his previous experience and learning new habits based on his experience of the new vessel and suggests that the company chose a man with nautical experience, but not set in old habits, as well as sense, courage, good mechanical understanding and observation as well as someone capable of understanding the need to learn how best to handle the ship through the early voyages. Brunel also demonstrates how inaccuracies in the compass can be magnified into major course errors based on the speed and size of the ship and remarks on the help that he has gained from Professors Airy and Smyth and from Captain Beecher in devising new, more accurate instruments and emphasises the importance of continuous observation in ensuring accuracy of the course.
The memorandum also discusses the need for the commander of the vessel to be economical with the fuel and describes the intended arrangements for ensuring the ship enough fuel for the entirety of each voyage and the need for the commander to balance the speed of the ship, the accuracy of the course and the amount of fuel used to power the engines. The memorandum also discusses the potential usage of both sails and engines and the need for this to be experimented with once the vessel is in service. Brunel suggests not only the need for the first captain of the ship to be able to conduct and learn from all the experimentation that must be carried out in the first few voyages in order to completely understand the best way to manage the ship, but also suggests it might be better to restrict the captain's duties or concerns strictly to do with the mechanical or functional management of the ship so as not to have the captain's attention divided by concerns over the passengers or the cargo and suggests how this might be managed by sharing some of the duties with other officers, particularly the master, in charge of the science of navigation and his clerks, in charge of observing and calculating the course, and the chief engineer and Brunel also suggests how the practical management of the ship might be achieved.
The memorandum includes many margin notes and additions in both ink and pencil.
DateOctober 1855
FormatManuscript volume
Extent21 pages
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