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 Ships' Ventilation 
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Post Ships' Ventilation
Ships' Ventilation

"Steering to Glory: A Day in the Life of a Ship of the Line" by Nicholas Blake

Ventilation, especially in larger ships, was deemed to be important. In the above book, Blake points out that "An early mechanical solution to the supply of fresh air had been Sutton’s pipes, which were fed from the galley to the various decks…. [were] not very effective and were replaced by Hale’s pumps introduced in 1757… operated by bellows… Brodie’s stoves, introduced in 1781, had a different arrangement for warming the sick, which carried off the foul air from the lower decks by convection… using a 6 inch copper pipe."

The Admiralty of the time also became "…interested in a new design by Mr. Lionel Lukin, produced by George and Joseph Oliver at their ‘Patent Ships Fire-Heath, Cabin-Stove & Anchor Manufactory’ in Wapping." From the description in the book, this design seems to be primarily a wooden version of a wind sail. There was also a second design by Lukin that attached to a "warming stove" that drew out the foul air as the warm air rose.

This subject is not dealt very fully in anything I have read previously. Wind sails, rigged above gratings to direct fresh air into the lower decks have been the only ventilation devices I have read about. Becalmed, rain storms, and extremely cold weather would severely limit wind sails. The persons mentioned in Blake’s book are new to me. Does anyone know anything about these devices?

Why was ventilation considered so important. Well… hold on to your hats folks. "The Admiralty had long been aware that the breath and perspiration of so many men in a confined space filled the air with ‘inelastic particles’ breaking the ‘spring of it’ and therefore (since air was necessarily ‘an elastic fluid fitting and necessary to inflate the lungs’) making it ‘unfit for respiration’ and a principal cause of scurvy…." Scurvy?

Blake even quotes from one of Collingwood’s letters when he was CIC in the Mediterranean: "I wish to impress on the minds of all officers that I have a firm conviction of myself, that though fresh beef and vegetables are very good things, they are not of absolute necessity in the cure of scurvy… a clean and dry ship and good air are my specificks (sic)."

Don


Last edited by timoneer on Thu Mar 23, 2006 9:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Mar 23, 2006 1:34 pm
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Mil posted a snippet from The Times from 1790 about an air machine.

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Thu Mar 23, 2006 5:46 pm
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susan wrote:
Mil posted a snippet from The Times from 1790 about an air machine.

Susan, thank you. I thought I remembered something here already, but was not skillful enough with the Search function to find it. I think I used every word to search except for "air machine." Of course, now we have to add Mr. White's name to the list of inventors for such devices. I've started to look through some of my books but nothing so far.

Don


Thu Mar 23, 2006 9:00 pm
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There is the fumigation lamp.

I found a reference to a Brodie stove being used on the Bounty in Greg Dening's Mr. Bligh's Bad Language. The specs and diagrams are reproduced courtesy of John McKay. They are from McKay's book The Armed Transport Bounty. The stove can be seen in the galley area in one of the diagrams. If someone has McKay's book, perhaps you can check if there's a more detailed illustration of the stove itself, showing the ventilation pipes.

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Last edited by susan on Sat Mar 25, 2006 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Mar 25, 2006 9:50 pm
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From David Porter's Journal of a Cruise:

"Various expedients have been fallen on to remove this foul air: fumigation with gunpowder, and burning fires below, purifying by sprinkling vinegar, and ventilating by means of wind-sails; but the most effectual remedy, although the most uncomfortable, and perhaps not adapted for that object, is the French practice of baking their bread in ovens built on the birth-deck. While heating them, a constant current of air rushes towards the fire, the foul air is carried off, and fresh air rushes in to supply its place."

Porter goes on to say that he found wind-sails and vinegar enough on his ship.

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Sat Mar 25, 2006 10:15 pm
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From James Clark Ross' A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, During the Years 1839-43:

They had the hatches battened down because of a gale while they were at sea.

"The condensation of vapour between deck had been so great as to run down the ship's sides in small streams. I therefore directed the warm-air stove to be put into operation, which speedily and effectually removed every appearance of damp, driving the vapours up the hatchways, and circulating in its place a dry, pure air. The admirable performance of this most invaluable invention of Mr. Sylvester cannot be mentioned in adequate terms of praise."

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Sun Mar 26, 2006 2:53 am
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susan wrote:
"The condensation of vapour between deck had been so great as to run down the ship's sides in small streams. I therefore directed the warm-air stove to be put into operation, which speedily and effectually removed every appearance of damp, driving the vapours up the hatchways, and circulating in its place a dry, pure air. The admirable performance of this most invaluable invention of Mr. Sylvester cannot be mentioned in adequate terms of praise."

Speaking of the top of the world instead of the bottom: CLICK HERE for a link to information about the third voyage by Parry to seek the Northwest Passage. Look in the Introduction to see that Mr. Sylvester’s warming stove was added. I suspect that the "warming" aspect would be as useful in such cold climates as ventilation to remove condensation.

Don


Sun Mar 26, 2006 4:08 am
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susan wrote:
From David Porter's Journal of a Cruise:

"Various expedients have been fallen on to remove this foul air: fumigation with gunpowder, and burning fires below, purifying by sprinkling vinegar, and ventilating by means of wind-sails;...

Here are some more comments found in Nicholas Blake’s "Steering to Glory":

The surgeon of the "Blonde" (32) in 1793 examined the sick in the cockpit… then fumigated it with a heated iron bar put into a bucket of tar.

The "Mars" in 1805 fumigated the whole ship, `twice a week or oftener in damp weather by keeping fire in the [airing] stoves, by burning tar with a loggerhead [iron tool], or by firing small quantities of gunpowder made into squibs [similar to fire crackers that burn and do not explode] with vinegar… or by firing a small quantity of strakings [small wooden planks] in one or more iron pots.... Other agents used were brimstone and charcoal.

Following success in defeating typhus in prison ships, receiving ships, and hulks in the 1790's a Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended in 1802 the nitrous acid process invented by Dr Smyth, and instructions for its use were included in the 1808 Regulations:

Such a number of pipkins [small earthenware pots] as may be necessary, are to be two-thirds filled with sand previously heated. In this heated sand is to be inserted a gallypot [a small earthen glazed pot], into which is to be poured one measure of concentrated vitriolic acid, (when it has acquired some degree of heat;) a measure of the pure nitre in powder, is then to be gradually added, and the mixture stirred with the glass spatula, until the vapour arises in considerable quantity. The pipkins are then to be carried to every part of the ship, where foul air is suspected to lodge…. The surgeon of the "Union" reported it `destroys all the frowzy disagreeable smells arising from the emanations of many people being crowded together, and leaves the ship sweet for several hours after.'

Don


Sun Mar 26, 2006 7:34 am
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From Thomas Pasley’s "Private Sea Journals"

Clean air and a fresh smelling ship.

Friday, June 29th (1781) … Since I have removed the Sick from Below and Established a Sick Berth under the Forecastle (Larboard Side) and a Recovery Berth on the Starboard Side under the Half Deck, I have found my Ship's company gradually recover. Once every Week I open every man's bedding in the Ship, and every day those that are in the Sick List, to Air. I keep the Air pump under the forecastle constantly worked, the Hand pump on the Lee side likewise night and day, and a run of Water into the Ship by the Cock constantly just sufficient to prevent this Hand pump from absolutely sucking. By this means the Well, Hold, and every part must be perfectly sweet -- no Foul air can have rest. Wind-sails in addition Night and day down the Hatchways. I myself Visit the Ship Above and below once or twice every day to scrutinize her cleanness: no officer escapes censure if I find her not clean. If my People are not healthy I wash my hands clear of blame.

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Sat Apr 29, 2006 10:42 am
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susan wrote:
Mil posted a snippet from The Times from 1790 about an air machine.


I see in Letters Patent .... an Air Machine ....

"....His Majesty having been graciously pleased to grant unto WILLIAM WHITE ... for his Invention of the Above Machine.

The machine is so constructed, that it will occupy a very small space; and will have the Appearance of a very Ornamental Piece of Furniture, in any Room or Cabin...."


Prices are listed according to size, the largest being:

4ft.2ins. dia size @ 36 guineas and the smallest of 2ft.10ins dia @ 15 gns.

It is dated 19th September, 1790.... and, alas, there are no illustrations.

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Sat Apr 29, 2006 1:39 pm
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Post Ventilation continued
Ventilation continued...

I finally tracked down a copy of "Scurvy and the Ventilation of Ships in the Royal Navy: Samuel Sutton’s Contribution" by Arnold Zuckerman. This is a 14 page journal article in "Eighteenth-Century Studies" (Vol. 10, no. 2; 1976; pages 222-234). The local university had a copy.

About 1665, Sir Robert Moray invented "fire pipes" which appear from a brief mention on-line to be a stove-convection system. "The method of drawing off air from ships by means of fire-pipes, which some have preferred to Ventilators, was published by Sir Robert Moray in the Philos. Trans. for 1665. These are metal pipes, about 2 1/2 inches diameter, one of which reaches from the fireplace to the well of the ship, and other three branches go to other parts of the ship; the stove hole and ash hole being closed up, the fire is supplied with air through these pipes."

John Theophilus Desagulier (1683-1744) invented a "mechanical air propeller" to address ventilation below decks. I could not find any description of this "propeller" but I did find a mention on-line that in 1730, he installed an "air conditioner" in the British House of Commons. I would love to know more about his invention since it sounds like a "fan." How was it powered, where was it located aboard ship?Click Herefor some biographical information on him.

In 1741, Martin Triewald (1691-1747), who was the military architect to the King of Sweden, and Reverend Stephen Hale simultaneously invented a bellows system to ventilate a ship. The bellows was operated by a pump handle similar to the operation of a railroad hand-car.

"In the latter part of the year 1741, M. Triewald, military architect to the king of Sweden, informed the secretary to the Royal Society, that he had in the preceding spring invented a machine for the use of ships of war, to draw out the foul air from under their decks, which exhausted 36,172 cubic feet of air in an hour, or at the rate of 21,732 tuns in 24 hours. In 1742 he sent one of these to France, which was approved of by the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and the navy of France was ordered to be furnished with the like Ventilators."

The disadvantages of a bellows were several: they were large and required manual operation. Stephen Hale described his invention in "A Description of Ventilators: Whereby Great Quantities of Fresh Air May With Ease be Conveyed into Mines, Gaols, Hospitals, Work-Houses, and Ships, in Exchange for Noxious Air" (published London, 1743).

Also in 1741, Samuel Sutton, coffeehouse owner and brewer, invented his Air Pipes which drew stale air from the ship’s hold by convection pipes attached to the ship’s stove. It had the advantage of taking up little space and working automatically when the stove was in operation. Samuel Sutton wrote "An Historical Account of a new Method for Extracting the Foul Air Out of Ships, …" (published London, 1745).

Hale and Sutton were in contention for the next fifteen years or so to convince the Admiralty to select their particular invention for installation into navy ships. First one than the other got the Admiralty’s approval depending on how successful the trials went and as influence waxed and waned. The article goes into great detail of this battle. Just how many of the RN's ships had either of these systems installed is unknown.

In 1781, Alexander Brodie invented his stove which had a feature similar to Sutton’s to remove foul air by convection. The Brodie Stove was installed into HMS "Victory" where a replica can be seen today.

In 1790, William White invented his Air Machine (taken from Mary’s posts from the Times Digital Archives). I could not find a description of this Air Machine but ashore, Mr. White seems to be another inventor who had the British House of Commons as his customer.CLICK HERE for that information.

Don


Wed Jul 19, 2006 4:54 pm
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Post Summary
Summary

After reviewing the information in this thread and the information from my own research which I posted earlier today, it struck me that ventilation of the lower decks of ships from the Age of Sail consisted of two basic types.

Passive Systems (no moving parts) -- devices that fell into this category would be things like wind-sails and convection air systems driven by either the main cooking stove or special "warming" stoves. With the convection method, several people over a long period of time all realized that rather than allowing combustion air from the galley to enter the stove, foul air from the hold, via pipes, could be used to feed the fire and then exit through the stove exhaust stack. Thus the foul air would be exhausted resulting in a draft to draw in fresh air through hatches, port holes, or any opening. The exact designs including the number, sizes, and locations of pipes and any special intake openings to produce adequate air flow might have differed over time or internal ship construction but they were all based on the same basic principle. Normal energy sources like the wind passing over the deck or the cooking process were harnessed for such systems.

Active Systems (with moving parts) -- devices like the manually operated bellows and the "mechanical air propeller" would fall into this category. Of course, I would love to see more information on such a "propeller" to confirm this but it sounds logical from the name.

Pros and Cons:
Sutton’s stove/air pipes system caused a fire during one of his trials. He quickly corrected his design but any similar system would require some regular safety inspections. When the stove was not lit, example: during the critical night time (sleeping) period, no fresh air would be drawn in. Of course, fuel could be burned doing those non-cooking times but this might cause extra stops to restock more wood. If enough wood was available, this system would also be of benefit during cold weather and to dry out the lower decks during wet conditions.

Wind-sails would be easy to rig but would be useless when the ship was becalmed. This would be a critical time for fresh air when this happened in the tropics. Wind-sails would be hampered by rain and other poor weather conditions. They would be less and less effective as the size of the ship inceased with a resulting increase in the number of decks.

One of the reasons that the Admiralty disliked Hale’s design was the amount of space taken up by the bellows and the fact that sailors would have to be detailed to manually operate it. However, it could be operated during calms and other weather conditions when other ventilation systems were not effective.

If I built ships of that era I would install several systems to cover most conditions. Just an opinion.

Don


Thu Jul 20, 2006 1:13 pm
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I don't know if the following para from The Times of December 2nd, 1796, adds anything further to the previous posts:

" .....Dr Carmichael Smith's mode of stopping contagion, by nitrous fumigation, is now properly adopted through the whole of the British Navy, and will certainly be productive of the most salutary consequences ....."


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Dear All

I must say how much I enjoy, and profit from, the information and views given on this web site! The recent exchanges about ventilaton have been particularly interesting. Mil's quotation refering to Dr Carmichael Smith's mode of fumigation has however struck a chord, and - should they be of interest - I am adding a few things I have learnt working on a life of Dr Thomas Trotter.

The advantages of getting rid of the fug and stink of the crowded accomodation decks by using pumps and air sails, and burning gunpowder etc to expel the foul and attract in fresher air are clear. In the 18thC context there were however two other angles the made ventilation seem even more vital -
first, since the role of lice and mosquitoes in the malaria, typhus and yellow fever was unknowable, contemporary science was convinced that these diseases were transmittted entirely by smells and foul air.
second, specialists and public were fascinated by the new science of chemistry. The fact that the air was not empty but filled with different gases and vapours was exciting. This led to a conviction that bad air played a part in causing diseases and that most of them could be cured by breathing pure air.

Chemistry became more potent as the century progressed and when chlorine, nitrous oxide, 'fixed air' (ie carbon dioxide) and - of course - oxygen were identified. All this led to a conviction that chemistry was infallible and could actually change the nature of the air without the need for much ventilation

This is where Smyth comes in. He believed that if the interior of ships were impregnated with nitrous gas, this noxious substance would not only neutralise the offensive and dangerous vapours within but would actually react with them to produce beneficial oxygen. The chemistry of this was apparently doubtful, but so powerful was the prestige of chemistry that the navy quickly adopted the system in 1797 and Smyth was awarded a prize of £5000 to the acclaim of the press!

Supporters of the old ideas of ventilation were shocked. Trotter described nitrous gas as "the very substance that every intelligent officer is hourly employed to drive from the decks of HM ships." He later decribed Smyth's system as "useless and ineffective" and recommended that it be discontinued as "this branch of medical practice entirely rests on speculative ideas on the nature of contagion." No one listened to him. There was later a furious exchange in the medical press.

As far as I know Smythe's system was not used for long. It looks as if, in the longer term, Trotter was right.

Brian Vale


Sun Oct 19, 2008 11:32 am
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Hi Brian,

In your research, have you come across ventilation systems used by other navies of the period?

I thought Porter's comment (earlier in this thread) about the French baking bread was interesting.

Coincidentally, I was just reading a chapter in a novel in which the main character awoke on board a ship and knew it wasn't a British one because of the foul air. It turned out to be French.

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