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Logs to Liners

T here are quite a few pages about things which sail about on the sea on this website. I am not sure if this is because there were a lot of cards issued on the subject or because I live by the sea myself.

I suspect it is the latter rather than the former. Although the tobacco companies themselves would have an interest in the sea because of the way the trade developed it is more likely sport and film were eventually the dominate forces in the card world.

During the card period the British Navy remained the dominate force in geo-politics and although it was on the decline quite rapidly it remained the most potent symbol of Empire power.

Without sea power we would have been nothing as a land-based Empire would have not been entirely practical living in the UK. Water was still the primary method of moving bulk goods any sizeable distances and in many cases remains so today. I would not want to think of a supertanker load flying over my head.

Churchmans, The Story of Navigation is just that. It was issued in 1937 and the reason for its being was the final card. The Queen Mary.

Card one starts with the idea primitive man, (who as ever look very twentieth century European ) floating about on a log. The reverse of the card suggesting having seen logs float by man would have had the idea the easiest way of getting down river, especially with goods) was to float down the river hanging onto a log.

the Egyptians were the technologists of the day

Someone at Churchmans must have had a vivid imagination as I cannot really think of anyone leaping into a river for the purpose of hanging onto a log and heading downstream.

More likely the poor fool fell in at some point and survival was a matter of hanging onto a log.

Card 2 gets us to the Bronze Age where a man of great import was heading down the river in a dug-out canoe. The card promises us this is an authentic scene, the shield is a replica of one found in the bed of the River Thames.

Just got to mention the Welsh Coracle (card 4) before shifting along the timeline. A great small fishing vessel which is fiendish to control. Still in use today, having been described by Julius Ceasar. I am not sure if they are still covered in animal skins along the Boyne or have moved with the times. When the card was produced they were still using animal skins, the last area to do so,

I thought small circular boats were confined to this example but not so. A 'Guffa' was even more ancient as befits things on the Tigris. Seen on carvings 700BC it looks a lot like a tractor inner tube with a family spinning about in it.

The card explains it is usually propelled by two men and then in the distance illustrates one being controlled by one man, obviously a cost cutter of his day.

I have long believed the inherent lazy nature of mankind is what keeps driving us forward. If someone hadn't woken up one day and said, 'I am fed up of rowing, its hard work' the age of sail may well not have been created.

Like a lot of things it seems the Egyptians were the technologists of the day, card 6, illustrates a positively huge ship with a single mast which seems to have been designed around a banana. The card describes this one and the next as spoon shaped.

A Greek War-Galley is shown on card 9 (I wonder what a Geek-war galley would look like). This is more like it, three decks of galley slaves supplement the wind. This is the 4th Century and 170 oars were needed. A 'trieres' which was later adopted as the 'trireme' by the Romans.

The reverse of the card suggests these things over short distances could match the speed of a University Eight of the time. Now that would have been something to see from the safety of somewhere safe.

A family enjoying an early watershoot.

All this was necessary as the removal of enemy vessels was primarily by ramming.

The Romans took up the idea (card 10), although stronger they only had one bank of oars to propel it. The ram remained the primary way of dispatching the enemy.

I think the Vikings had the most romantic of all ships when my mind was young and malleable. The whole culture was far more fun than the tedious Romans. You can admire the Roman battle tactics etc but all a bit boring. The Vikings were much more like it.

These fellows were so tough they rowed standing up, sometimes three to an oar.

We all know about the adventures the Vikings were meant to have had in their boats and certainly evidence suggests they did get to America but in the meantime they certainly got just about everywhere else in this quarter of the Northern Hemisphere. Calling an icy wasteland Greenland being an early example of the spin-doctors art.

Up to this point England have pretty much been at the receiving end of invasions, no sign of our great navy yet. The Welsh were floating about in small circular boats but it was hardly a might navy.

Card 13 changes things showing us a Ship of the Cinque Ports.

If you happened to live in a port you were well aware invasion was a distinct possibility. Once invaded port towns were going to get it in the neck first. So rather cheekily the British Sovereignty decided these ports could provide a navy out of their own pockets. The original five ports were Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich. This pretty much tells you where the invaders were coming from.

The idea was these ports built the vessels at their own expense and then handed them over to the Crown when things were looking a bit hairy. This was such a good way of raising a navy and creating a tax it continued right up until the period of the Spanish Armada, although like a lot of local taxes it was not exactly popular.

The ship illustrates the fore and aft castles which were being added during the time of King John. Ramming was becoming less popular as a method of attack and instead shooting arrows at one another seemed like a good idea. The development of the forecastle was going to continue until we got the Mary Rose. This thing was basically top heavy, not a good thing for a boat.

Card 19 shows a Tudor Warship and also makes the point that during the reign of Henry VIII he obviously had more things on his mind than the Navy. In fact by the death of Queen Mary the British navy comprised no more than 27 ships.

Fortunately Queen Elizabeth 1 decided a Navy was a darn good idea. This decision saved us all speaking Spanish and enjoying a bit of bull-fighting. Instead we speak American and send our bovines insane by forcing them to eat the smashed up remains of their dead relatives.

I rather missed out the re-discovery of America with card 16, Santa Maria. I have seen a replica of this ship floating about and the first thing which will strike anyone seeing such a thing is it is small. By this I mean small. The card explains the situation, the vessel was between 80 and 90 feet in length.

The crew would sleep in the hold or on the deck and it had many design features you would expect to see on a barrel rather than a ship. The pitching and rolling must have been something terrible.

This was very much the age of discovery where Europe discovered God had obviously given them a much larger planet to exploit than previously anticipated although there was still considerable disagreement about the shape of the Earth given it was still more likely to be flat than round.

Back to the Elizabethan age. Ships were very much a projection of a nation and were richly decorated. On the page dealing with Ships figureheads it became clear that too much was being spent on things which were of no real use at all.

Ships were much bigger during this period, several 800 ton vessels were used in the fight against the Armada.

The Spanish seem to have a different version of this period of history, so let me tell you. We won, you lost, we do not eat Oranges over here, we think Spanish football is rubbish and small Spanish waiters are figures of fun. And we did not win the fight so you could fish all the Cod out of the sea.

The 'Sovereign of the Seas' is card 21. This is famous as being the most expensively decorated warship ever launched in England. She was the largest ship of her time (which was 172 feet) and on that 172 feet 6000 pounds sterling was spent on the decoration and guilding. And these were in the days when the British Royal family were still pawning the crown jewels on occasion.

This ship is also a personal favourite of mine because every time I see it the name is spelt in alternate ways.

Half way through this set, actually card 26, you suddenly feel as if propelled back in time a couple of thousand years. The Bucentaur is illustrated.

The thing was actually built in 1728 in Venice and was the state barge and used for ceremonial purposes. Lavishly decorated and adorned it was not to last long because the French soldiers got to it in 1793 and stripped the thing of all its gold and carvings. The hull survived until 1824 however.

Typcial of those French, you wouldn't catch the British stripping a nations treasures. I mean you can come and visit your stuff anytime you want to come and have a look at the British Museum and you never know with luck they might have taken them out of storage for the first time in 80 years and you could see them. Of course we may have cleaned them to such a degree they are no longer recognisable but if we had not someone else would have done.

Card 29 shows Nelson's Victory. Another vessel which has grown in the nations imagination so it is a surprise when you see it. Originally built in 1765 it had been altered for the famous Battle of 1805. No need to remind everyone who won that Battle. It was pretty important to win it and effectively put an end to the French and the Spanish Fleets.

Card 35 shows the East Indiaman, 'Earl Balcarras'. Now this was a vessel specially built for the Honourable East India Company.

A company created by charter by Elizabeth I. Having an Empire was difficult stuff so basically she gave the trade rights to large parts of the globe to Companies and effectively let them run the show out there. (Check out the page on Arms of Companies for more cod-history on this subject).

It took until 1813 for the exclusive right of this Company to trade with the East to be broken. Within 20 years the company was no longer trading.

Card 36 shows a West Indianman 'Medina'. Yes, you've guessed it another company with a monopoly by Royal Charter. Great business if you can get it, lets face it.

Card 39 illustrates the Cutty Sark. A ship built for the express purpose of getting goods from A to B and getting back as fast as is possible. Afterall the more loads that can be moved the more profit can be made, pretty simple maths.

Launched 1869 it was designed for getting Tea out of China. It was transferred to the Australian Wool run and where its reputation was created.

It is a composite build, frame of iron and planking of wood. This also marks the British overtaking the America's which had previously been the masters of the clipper trade routes until the 1857 depression. Potentially the last time we ever recaptured an lead taken by the US.

Card 40 shows another clipper, in fact two Taeping and Ariel which were two of three clippers 'Taeping, , 'Ariel' and 'Serica' (although the card title only gives the first two).

The big race of the time was getting the first tea crop back to England and therefore the big monies. These three ships set of at the same time and although no love was lost between them all three returned on the same tide 99 days later despite having not seen sight of one another during the trip.

By now things are moving away from wood and the California (card 41) used steel as a hull material and steel tubular masts were used.

Sail was giving way to steam now and card 42 shows the Charlotte Dundas which is credited with being the first successful steam ship to run in Great Britain (1901) A paddle vessel designed to go up and down the Forth and Clyde Canal she never really got into full service as the canal owners were concerned the wash created would damage the canal banks.

SS Great Britain

Once steam and steel replaced wind and wood things evolved with great speed. The first steamer built for the Cunard Company (Britannia, card 45) was 207 feet long and as such was too big to dock so passengers had to be taken on and off by tender.

She still had the precaution of three sails mind. Also the 14 day 8 hour journey meant the beginning of regular steam routes from the Old World to the New World. The Post Office gave her the honour of being the first steam ship to be given the American mails.

Card 46 & 47 shows the great genius of I.K Brunel (nowadays political correctness has seen this man appear with his cigar airbrushed out). The SS Great Britain and The Great Eastern. The Great Britain still had plenty of sail to move its bulk but it was steam powered. In 1846 she was stranded off the Irish coast but was repaired and served the Australian trade routes for another 20 years.

The Great Eastern was 692 feet long and was the longest ship for 40 years, it was completed in 1858 (Brunel died in 1859, probably of overwork, ten years after his father). The only ever vessel to have a screw propeller and a paddle. Her speed of 14 knots meant people were prepared to pay to be shifted about the globe in her. The card notes from 1865 to 1873 she was used to lay cables. And this is a story in itself and well worth looking up about.

The final 3 cards shows modernity. RMS Maurentania is card 48. For 22 years the speed queen of the North Atlantic she was used as a troop ship in the Great War. July 1935 she was broken up.

Finally the Queen Mary with the usual glowing words on the back used to reinforce we still ruled the waves. It also notes the maiden voyage begins on May 27 1936. Which seems quite a long way from 1937 not to have written that in the past tense. Still they could not have guessed it was going to end up as a floating hotel in the US and given the fate of most of the vessels within this set that is no bad end.

A great set about the development of the sailing vessel and a set still in the price of a couple of pints of beer bracket, what could be better (couple of pints of beer and the set I suppose).