San Francisco News and Tall Tales: 1800s

The Bessemer Steamship

August 8, 1873, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Improvements In Ocean Navigation
No More Wretchedness Over the Side.

The Hull Docks by Night. John Atkinson Grimshaw

The Hull Docks by Night. John Atkinson Grimshaw.

An influential deputation from the Bessemer Saloon Saloon Steamship Company, says the London Times of July 11th, visited Hull on Tuesday last, for the purpose of inspecting the progress made by Earle's shipbuilding and engineering company, in the construction of the first Bessemer ship which is to be employed upon the passenger service between Dover and Calais.

After examining the detailed drawings of the ship and engines, the factory was visited, and various large castings which are to compose the cylinders and other parts of the engine were inspected. The deputation then proceeded to the ship yard, and, after cursorily visiting the iron-clads and trans-Atlantic passenger steamers that are building there, made a very close inspection of the hull of the Bessemer steamer.

Buy at
Henry Bessemer,
Inventor of the Bessemer process of making steel

The framing of the ship is nearly complete, and the larger portion of the outer plating is worked upon it, so that a very good idea of the outlines, at least of the ship was presented. The Bessemer steamer is 350 feet long, 40 feet broad inside of her paddle-boxes, and of 2,774 tons burden. B. M. She will be driven by two sets of paddle-wheel engines, situated 100 feet apart, the aggregate power of the engines being no leas than 4,600 I. H. P. Although this ship was ordered leas than five months ago, the progress above indicated has already been made, and it is now obvious from an inspection of the vessel, even in her present condition, that she will be one of the most remarkable examples of novelty in steam navigation that the world has ever seen.

Sir Henry Bessemer

Sir Henry Bessemer.

Not only are the two ends of the ship alike, and furnished with rudders, but having for some thirty or forty feet from the extremities a low freeboard, they at present give to the vessel the appearance of a gigantic steam canoe. This aspect will, no doubt, disappear as progress is made with the central portion of the ship, and as her paddle boxes an erected; but in her finished condition the vessel will present an unexampled appearance at the extremities. The draft of water of the ship being very light (seven and a half feet only), it is obvious that the rudders will, in rough weather, be subject to very severe blows and strains, because not only will they be situated near the surface, but they will necessarily be of abnormal length in a fore and aft directions.

Cross-Section of the Bessemer Steamship

Cross Section of the Bessemer Steamship.

In view of this fact, Mr. Reed, who designed the ships, has made them of a very massive character, and will furnish them with steering appliances of the most powerful description. The propelling engines, the power of which has already been stated, are being constructed with the greatest regard to modern improvements in the marine engine, and, it is anticipated, will drive the vessel at a speed exceeding twenty miles an hour. It will be in the centre of the ship, however, that the most characteristic feature will be found, for here will be placed her saloon, which will be seventy feet long and thirty feet wide, and suspended upon massive pivots at the center and at the extremities. Thus supported, it will be brought under the control of a powerful hydraulic gear, worked by the principal boilers of the ship. This gear will be so arranged that it is expected a man will be able to impart to the saloon a rolling motion in relation to the ship precisely the reverse of that which the ship herself receives. In other words, the efforts of the ship, when moved by the waves to impart its own rolling motion to the saloon will be exactly neutralized, and the occupants of the saloon will, so far as rolling is concerned, be quite free from movement, however much this vessel herself may roll.

In the explanations which Mr. Reed gave, it was made strongly to appear that he considers the present steamship unfit for general sea service on account of its very light draught necessitating the floating of the vessel in the surface water of the sea, which must of necessity impart to it great bodily motion in great waves. But for the service between Dover and Calais, for which this vessel Is designed, this consideration is of very minor importance, because it is well known that in the comparatively narrow waters of the Straits of Dover's, waves do not attain any very large dimensions, even in the roughest weather. The deputation expressed themselves highly gratified with all which they saw at the works of Earle's Company, and at banquet afterward given at the Royal Station Hotel, by the Directors of Earle's Company to the Bessemer Board, that satisfaction was warmly expressed. Later in the evening, Lord Henry Lennox and Lord George Hamilton proceeded to Kirk Ells on a visit to Mr. Reed.

November 22, 1873, Pacific Rural Press (California, U.S.A.)

The Bessemer saloon steamer, which it is expected will secure passengers from the oscillation which produces sea-sickness, is rapidly approaching completion in England.

April 10, 1875, Sacramento Daily Union
Sacramento, California, U.S.A.


Henry Bessemer

It seems that the new floating saloon steamship Bessemer, which was to cross the English Channel without making her passengers sea-sick, has not turned out the success that was anticipated. At least it is asserted by English papers that she is only "half a success," and the plain interpretation of that, in her case, must be that the principle of automatic action on which the inventor relied does not work well. Of course she can only be a success if there is an absence of all sensible motion in the swinging saloon. If the saloon shares the motion of the ship to an appreciable extent and this seems to be the case no real gain will have been effected.

April 16, 1875, Los Angeles Herald , Los Angeles, California

Trial Trip.

The Bessemer steamship, which was to abolish the horrors of the channel, has been tried and is, I fear, only half a success for the present. She went this week from Hull to Gravesend in a gale of wind and proved an excellent sea boat and fast. Her two faults appear to be an excess of draft and the unsteadiness of her movable saloon. The former is partly accounted for by an extra supply of coal and may be got rid or one way or another must be got rid of before she can enter Calais on an ordinary tide. As to the saloon, it appears that the machinery intended to control it and to neutralize, so far as it is concerned, the movement of the ship, is in some way defective.

The saloon can be handled with ease, but cannot be kept still; in other words, partakes of the motion of the ship. What we know about it is mostly from a letter written to the Times by Lord Henry Lennox, who came in the ship and who explains that the present trouble arises partly from some wrong arrangement of the levers and partly from the inexperience of the man who works them. He and Mr. Reed believe, or at least hope, that all may be made right, but the public is just a little incredulous. But whether the saloon prove perfectly stable or not, the ship will be a vast improvement over those now in use. Corr. N. Y. Tribune.

The object of this invention is to obviate sea-sickness by neutralizing the motion of the ship. We hope they will succeed.

May 10, 1875, Sacramento Daily Union (California, U.S.A.)

The claim by the Calais municipality for damage done by the steamer Bessemer was 70,000 francs.

July 16, 1875, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


To improve the appliances of crossing the ocean, many men have devoted much time, consideration and money. Mr. Bessemer has done all three in his efforts to make the short passage between France and England less objectionable. We never had any confidence in his plan for overcoming the motions on shipboard while crossing the Channel, by means of a swinging cabin, and the last notice we have been of the result was, that Bessemer's steamer, or rather his plan, had proved a complete failure. We fear the pale faces, unruly stomachs and deadly sicknesses that have heretofore marked that ocean or channel route, must perforce continue. But must all the inconvenience, risks, and time, as heretofore, mark the passenger traffic between America and England, and France? Now eight, ten or fourteen days of ocean life must be endured between the two sides of the Atlantic, together with all the risks of wreck which have been so fearfully great during a year or two past.

A Mr. Colgate has proposed and advocated a system which, if successful, would do away with about half the time, and possibly with much more than half the annoyances and even dangers of those voyages. He proposes first to separate freight from passengers, and forward them by different conveyances, or ships. This principle has long been adopted and put in force on railroads; passengers and mails to be carried by fast going ships, and the freight by ships travelling at less speed. Then he proposes that the places of arrival and departure shall be as near to each other as can well be, the two or three harbors to be the nearest to each other possible, the American terminus to be White Haven, in Nova Scotia, an excellent harbor in its southeast corner; the European terminus to be Plymouth or Brest.

Then he would have constructed for passenger traffic ships capable of running twenty to twenty-one miles an hour, which he thinks may be accomplished easily. Such ships could then make the passage between those ports in four and a half days. We would suggest that the passage could be made still less by fixing the terminus of the transatlantic voyage in Ireland. He would thus save about half the time now occupied in making the passage, and would avoid the most dangerous part of the voyage along the foggy Nova Scotia count and thence to New York. Extend the Canadian railway system to White Haven a short distance from its present terminus, and the land travel to all Western points could be more comfortably and safely and speedily made by railroad. All this can be done with capital, probably, although the construction of sea-going steamships of such speed may be doubted. If they can be, the dangers of wreck would be, we think, much lessened. Then his ships are to be of the Winan's pattern, or constructed upon that principle; to be incombustible because built of iron; and to be proof against sinking by being built in air-tight compartments, and the unoccupied space of which there would be much because of the absence of freight would be filled with small airtight cells, hermetically sealed. So that his ship could not sink, nor be burned, nor be easily destroyed unless she run upon the rocks. Really we think more favorably of this proposition of Mr. Colgate than we ever did of Bessemer's ocean swing, or swinging cabin. But it will take millions to perfect it. Here is a chance for some of our millionaires. Senators Jones and Sharon might find it worth their while and their dividends to invest in this deep sea mine.

November 13, 1875, Pacific Rural Press (California, U.S.A.)

The Bessemer Channel steamer experience has finally come to an inglorious end. The ship has been pronounced an utter failure and is offered for sale to the highest bidder.

July 29, 1876, Daily Alta California , San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The "Bessemer" saloon steamer, which was to solve the difficulty of the passage across the Channel separating England from France, has been a costly failure. She cost £200,000, a little more than a year ago, and was sold lately to a Leeds iron and metal merchant for £20,000. After the engines are removed she is to be broken up, and the material will be sold for scrap iron.


The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.





DALevy @

Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.