The Experimental Squadrons of 1844 - 1846
The Experimental Squadrons of 1844 - 1846

Royal NavyFleets 

Sir William SymondsExternal link was appointed "Surveyor of the Navy" (the officer responsible for supervision of material policy and of the shipyards) as part of the Whig First Lord of the Admiralty Sir James Robert George Graham's 1832 naval reform package (that also included the abolition of the Tory dominated Navy Board).

Although he was the first holder of this office not to be a professional shipwright, and actual ship-design was now not supposed to be part of the newly redefined tasks of the Surveyor, he did in fact introduce radical changes in ship design: giving his ships greater beam and a more wedge-shaped bottom, thus obtaining greater speed and stability, and, by requiring less ballast, increasing the stowage and permitting heavier armaments. He was guided mainly by experience and observation, being an amateur designer who had made his reputation with fast small vessels, such as Pantaloon (1832) designed for the Duke of Portland as a yacht, and later purchased by the Admiralty and adapted as a 10-gun brig. His larger ships were indeed fast (a requisite if an unwilling enemy was to be forced to fight), but they were subject to excessively rapid roll, making them unsuitable gun-platforms.

Throughout his period of office an acrimonious three-cornered debate ensued between his "empirical" school of thought, the "scientific" school based on the first School of Naval Architecture (closed down in 1832), and the "traditional" school centred round a number of Master Shipwrights from the Royal Dockyards.

In the mid 1840s the new Tory Board of Admiralty sent a series of "Experimental Squadrons" to sea to investigate (actually, to attempt to disprove) the suitability of Symond's designs. The Times newspaper contained reports of the activities of these squadrons:

The results of all these trails were inconclusive, for example Queen performed very badly in the 1844 squadron, but was the star of the next year's cruises. The great influence of aspects such as skill and inclination (and sometimes - political feelings) of the captain, or stowage of the hold on the sailing properties of the ships was insufficiently realised. Nonetheless, in 1846 the Board appointed a "Committee of Reference" to judge the Surveyor's work and introduce modifications at its own discretion. Symonds understandably objected to this procedure, and resigned in October 1847.

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