The application of emerging new technologies by Portsmouth Dockyard 1790-1815

Wilkin, Felicity Susan (1999). The application of emerging new technologies by Portsmouth Dockyard 1790-1815. PhD thesis The Open University.



The history of the Royal Navy during the war with France between 1793 and 1815 is well documented, but the part played by new technologies in maintaining the Royal Navy as an efficient fighting force and contributing to its ultimate success is much less well recognised. This thesis addresses this problem beginning with an examination of the demands made upon Portsmouth Dockyard, the largest of the Royal Dockyards, due to the growth in the size of the fleet. It studies the nature of the tasks carried out in the Dockyard and the ways in which its personnel undertook them.

Following a review of emerging new technologies and considering those which were, or were not potentially relevant to the Dockyard's activities, the thesis examines the technological advances actually applied in the period, how they were related to the site, to each other and to the workforce. The main innovations resulted in a major increase in the throughput of the dry docks, due to new dock design and the imaginative use of steam-power. In the metalworking area too, steam-power, together with other new technologies, provided major benefits to the Navy as a whole, especially in the reprocessing of copper. In the woodworking area revolutionary new blockmaking machinery was at the forefront of advances in efficiency and increased output of blocks for the rigging of ships.

These advances were primarily due to a small group of men led by Samuel Bentham and Simon Goodrich, who became first "Engineer of the Navy". For their innovative use of new technologies and their management skills, these men can justifiably claim their place in the history of the Navy and of technology. More importantly, the applications of technology in Portsmouth Dockyard made a significant contribution to the industrial revolution in Britain during the period.

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