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 Ships’ Pumps 
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Post Ships’ Pumps
Ships’ Pumps

As I have noted, I have a special interest in the technology of the sailing ship. To that end, I recently finished reading "Ships’ Bilge Pumps: A History of Their Development, 1500-1900" by Thomas J. Oertling.

There have been a number of books, both fictional and non-fictional, that referenced "chain pumps" and "Elm tree pumps." It might have been POB's HMS "Surprise" that had an Elm tree pump that brought sea-water to the upper deck to aid holy-stoning. Can anyone confirm "Surprise?" In several other novels, repair of the chain bilge pump during a storm is critical to survival for the ship.

Because of the reference to sea-water and the Elm tree pump in the account I first read, I always assumed, incorrectly it now seems, that Elm tree pumps were only used to bring sea water aboard -- in other words, a "wash" pump. Elm tree pumps, a form of suction pump, were used primarily to expel bilge water, just as the chain pumps were. The word "chain" probably brings an image to mind, but why is the one pump referred to as "Elm tree?" The main part of this pump is a hollow tube made from the wood of the Elm tree. Either a log is drilled out or Elm wood planks are assembled in a four-sided tube and then properly sealed.

I also remember in another of POB’s books where Aubrey assigned some miscreant sailors to pump the bilge dry every day as punishment. To create the punishment, Aubrey opened the stop-cocks and allowed a certain amount of sea-water to enter the ship’s bilge every day just prior to pumping. This had the added advantage of eliminating the foul smell in the bilge since the bottom of the ship was now cleared regularly. I seem to remember Steven, and the crew, were well pleased by the reduction of the "foul air" from below.

Oertling’s book is filled with drawings and photos from shipwrecks to illustrate his subject. The early version of this work was his college thesis.

One other form of pump was regularly seen onboard – that of the portable fire-engine pump, used, not only to fight fires, but to wet the sails during periods of light winds. In Susan’s discussion of the similarities between Hall and POB, one of her examples is about such fire-engine pumps. CLICK HERE for a link to her thread. Read the section under BECALMED.

Don


Sun Mar 19, 2006 10:32 am
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The POB reference to the "elm tree pump" is from Master & Commander and was something that Stephen enthused at for is provided him (for whatever reason) with a clear view of the water below the Sophie. Why the pump should be open to the sea below I do not know, but that is how O'Brian described it.

Interesting information, Don. Thanks for posting it.

Charity


Sun Mar 19, 2006 6:52 pm
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HMS Charity wrote:
The POB reference to the "elm tree pump" is from Master & Commander and was something that Stephen enthused at for is provided him (for whatever reason) with a clear view of the water below the Sophie. Why the pump should be open to the sea below I do not know, but that is how O'Brian described it.

Charity, O'Brian described it correctly. The wash pump was open to the sea. Imagine a hollow tube going from the bottom of the ship to the upper deck. The Elm tree tube was very strongly attached and sealed to the framing of the ship's bottom. By removing the pump handle (with the attached piston) and the lower valve (easily done), Stephen could look directly into the sea from the deck. Without the internal parts of the pump, the sea-water would only rise to the same sea-water level as outside the ship. It could not enter the ship, only the tube. How much could be seen through this tube is conjecture. I would surely love to read a contemporary account of someone doing so.

Having a hole in the bottom of the ship on larger ships was a problem as the pressure was much greater the deeper the bottom of the ship was located in the sea. The bottom seal might spring a leak. There are drawings in this book showing the incredible lengths that they went through to mount and seal the bottom of the tube to the timbers at the ship's bottom. If a leak developed, they would be forced to use the separate bilge pumps to keep the ship afloat.

In larger ships, another design was to build a well (water-tight wooden box) on any deck below the water level. A stopcock would be opened in the side wall (not bottom) of the ship and sea-water was allowed to fill the well. An Elm tree pump would lift the sea-water from this well to any deck above the water line to aid in cleaning.

Hope this clears up the mystery.

Don


Sun Mar 19, 2006 9:48 pm
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Post Cask Pumps
From "Steering to Glory: A Day in the Life of a Ship of the Line" by Nicholas Blake

Cask Pumps: I discovered another pump commonly found aboard ships which was used to remove liquids from a cask, water being the most common. Such pumps existed at least by 1757 but the earliest use is not mentioned in this book.

In 1810, water was still being stored in wooden casks in the hold [metal tanks came along later]. Moving a water cask from the hold to the deck was a very time consuming and dangerous action. Blake mentions that it is difficult to tell from contemporary records but the suspicion exists many hernias occurred during this procedure. Bad weather would increase the difficulty…and the danger.

Taken from a letter by Captain Galwey aboard "Dryad" on July 8, 1812: "… instead of the whole afternoon being taken up rousing casks upon the deck, and knocking them to pieces, heaving them up by the bungholes out of the hold, deranging the whole ship and lumbering up the decks with empty casks, and often employing the whole watch on this service…"

In 1811, Lieutenant George Truscott (aboard Galwey’s "Dryad") invented a new pump that allowed pumping water directly from casks in the hold via leather hoses to a small 30 gallon tank on the deck. "The smallest boys in the ship do [this] with the greatest ease." [Comment taken from the same letter by Galwey.]

After extensive tests on several ships, Truscott’s invention was adopted in 1812 by the Admiralty

Don


Sat Mar 25, 2006 9:50 am
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Post Re: Cask Pumps
timoneer wrote:
In 1811, Lieutenant George Truscott (aboard Galwey’s "Dryad") invented a new pump that allowed pumping water directly from casks in the hold via leather hoses to a small 30 gallon tank on the deck. "The smallest boys in the ship do [this] with the greatest ease." [Comment taken from the same letter by Galwey.]

After extensive tests on several ships, Truscott’s invention was adopted in 1812 by the Admiralty

Here is another tidbit about the Truscott pump. "The introduction of Truscott's pump meant that casks could remain in position throughout a cruise, and in 1814 iron tanks began to replace casks. They were made to measure for each ship and placed directly on the riders, the shingle ballast no longer being needed."

I believe that a rider was a structural support on the ship’s bottom. The elimination of the shingle ballast is somewhat of a surprise as I had not heard of that. I assume (I know, I know) that the water storage tanks were directly connected with this elimination. Being able to use water tanks for ballast would be interesting in execution. I wonder if, as the fresh water was consumed, some of the empty tanks could be filled with sea water to maintain the ship’s trim. Pumping water from one tank to another might have been an easier way to adjust the trim rather moving ship’s stores around. Has anyone read anything about this?

Don


Sat Mar 25, 2006 1:57 pm
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Post Re: Cask Pumps
timoneer wrote:

I believe that a rider was a structural support on the ship’s bottom. The elimination of the shingle ballast is somewhat of a surprise as I had not heard of that. I assume (I know, I know) that the water storage tanks were directly connected with this elimination. Being able to use water tanks for ballast would be interesting in execution. I wonder if, as the fresh water was consumed, some of the empty tanks could be filled with sea water to maintain the ship’s trim. Pumping water from one tank to another might have been an easier way to adjust the trim rather moving ship’s stores around. Has anyone read anything about this?

Don

In Goodwin's Nelson's Ships there is specific mention of filling empty water casks with salt water to maintain the ship's trim. This was common from before the American War of Independence/Revolutionary War and was continued. It was not a perfect system, as salt water has a lower density than fresh water, and the casks had to be scoured when watering (which is why it could take so long to water the ship, let alone the hoisting out and hoisting back in of the casks). I have seen it mentioned that sometimes casks, in particular food casks, would be broken down into their staves and hoops for ease of storage after being emptied.

Charity


Sat Mar 25, 2006 8:46 pm
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Post Re: Ships’ Pumps
timoneer wrote:
One other form of pump was regularly seen onboard – that of the portable fire-engine pump, used, not only to fight fires, but to wet the sails during periods of light winds.

The fire-engine was also used during crossing the line ceremonies.

From Naval Surgeon, Edward Cree writes:

"All the time the fire-engines plays upon all of them, and buckets of water were emptied down from the tops."

Cree also did a painting of the ceremony, in which the engine can be seen at the lower right.

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Sat Mar 25, 2006 9:22 pm
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Post Re: Cask Pumps
HMS Charity wrote:
I have seen it mentioned that sometimes casks, in particular food casks, would be broken down into their staves and hoops for ease of storage after being emptied.

Blake mentions this also but in a negative way. Some of the loose staves ended up being damaged and a number of new barrels had to be added to the ship after returning home from a long voyage. Leaving the casks in place and pumping the water to the deck had the added benefit of stopping this damage and eliminating the expense of the replacement casks.

Don


Sat Mar 25, 2006 11:11 pm
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Don, I think you are wrong about the pump inlet going through the hull. The pumps went to a position next to the keel, the lowest part of the ship, to suck the bilges dry, or as dry as possible. Seawater could be brought on deck by using the "fire engine" a portable pump. No draughts that I have of any nations, for that period, have an inlet through the hull.

Sounding the well, was a task the carpenter used to gauge the intake of water through the joints in the hull, it would tell him the rate on intake. All wooden sailing ships leaked, some just more than others. As the hull worked (twisted and bent) the seams would allow small seeps of water in, the caulking would keep most out but not all and it wasn't a perminant solution. If a plank was sprung or holed, then the well would help tell the carpenter how fast the water was coming in, so how long the pumps would have to be manned for, or how many pumps would need to be manned.

Bob

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Mon Apr 10, 2006 11:28 am
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squbrigg wrote:
No draughts that I have of any nations, for that period, have an inlet through the hull.

Wash Pumps

Bob, I appreciate your input. I am certainly no expert on pumps, that is why I have been researching this subject. I can only repeat what I have read.

Regarding "wash" pumps rather than "bilge" pumps, Thomas Oertling’s book does not show a drawing of a penetration of the bottom of a ship very clearly, the observer must infer the penetration. However, the book does discuss the subject. One such reference is found on page 52-53:

"Common [suction] pumps on warships of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had secondary functions: providing water for washing and fire fighting. Because the bilge water was usually foul, fresh seawater was brought into the hull to flush out stagnant bilge water or it was brought directly to the pumps. According to Arthur Bugler, the two common pumps on HMS Victory (built 1756, rebuilt 1801) pierced the bottom of the hull and provided only clean salt water."

There is a footnote on the last sentence that references page 80 of:
Bugler, Arthur R. 1966. "HMS Victory: Building, Restoration, and Repair" Vol. 1. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.

Do you happen to own Bugler’s book?

Don


Mon Apr 10, 2006 4:29 pm
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I'm not sure where Bugler got his information, but there are no intakes in the bottom of Victory. The entire bottom is coppered, as were most English war ships of the period (late 1700's). The coppering plates are interlocking patterned and no drawings that I have seen show any facility for an intake below the water line, draughts for ships: as planned, as built or as refitted, French, English, Spanish, Dutch or Danish. She had chain pumps and six or eight Elm tree pumps.

The pumps intake (Elm tree or Chain) fits down adjacent to the keel, between ribs, to the lowest point in the planking. Jean Boudroits "74 Gun Ship, Vol. 2" shows it well, Bernard Frolich's shows it very detailed, John MacKay's work on "The 24 gun frigate Pandora" gives a great set of descriptions and drawings on pages 78 to 82, David White's "Frigate Diana" on pages 64 and 65, and there is a good explanation of the various pumps in the the Dutch book "Modelling the Brig of War Irene" by Petrejus. All draughts, show the intake on the inside of the planking, often with a copper screen over it to keep out muck.

The references that I have seen all agree, including those notes from Peter Goodwin (curator of H.M.S. Victory) in his various books.

Bob

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Mon Apr 10, 2006 9:25 pm
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squbrigg wrote:
I'm not sure where Bugler got his information, but there are no intakes in the bottom of Victory.... The pumps intake (Elm tree or Chain) fits down adjacent to the keel, between ribs, to the lowest point in the planking.

Bob, you make some good points. However, in Smyth’s "The Sailor’s Word-Book," the first line in the definition of "pump" states "a well-known machine for drawing water from the sea, or discharging it from the ship’s pump-well." To me, that means that there were two types: Bilge and Wash pumps.

What are your comments concerning the dialog at this (CLICK HERE) webpage?

Don

PS, great discussion Bob!


Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:03 pm
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squbrigg wrote:
I'm not sure where Bugler got his information, but there are no intakes in the bottom of Victory.... The pumps intake (Elm tree or Chain) fits down adjacent to the keel, between ribs, to the lowest point in the planking.

Bob, you make some good points. However, in Smyth’s "The Sailor’s Word-Book," the first line in the definition of "pump" states "a well-known machine for drawing water from the sea, or discharging it from the ship’s pump-well." To me, that means that there were two types: Bilge and Wash (sea-water) pumps.

What are your comments concerning the dialog at this (CLICK HERE) webpage?

Don

PS, great discussion Bob!


Last edited by timoneer on Tue Apr 11, 2006 7:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.



Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:05 pm
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I wish I could remember where I was reading about wash pumps. From what I remember, they were portable, but they weren't the same as the fire engines.

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Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:08 pm
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Comments on the linked discussion notes ....they don't appear to be very definative or convincing. Buglar's reference...." It is believed they pierced the bottom.", and "Victory's ordered but did not arrive before sailing". Laverly seems to have it , "....pierced the hull three feet below sea level and connected to the elm pump, by a pipe and closing valve...".

I think it may have been experimented with, but not applied....except for the poor "Royal George", who sank while hers was being repaired. :o
Doesn't sound like the experiment was a smashing success.

Bob

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Tue Apr 11, 2006 12:07 am
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