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What influenced British East Indiamen ship design?

Kurt Bennett
p. 345-346


Cet article présente les recherches effectuées par l’auteur pour sa thèse de doctorat et aborde une étude de cas particulière, celle de l’Edwin Fox, pour démontrer les changements dans la conception et la construction des navires des Indes orientales britanniques au milieu du xixe siècle. Un ensemble de méthodes a été utilisé au cours de cette étude: balayage laser 3D, dendrochronologie, analyse des fibres et recherche d’archives afin de comprendre ce qui a influencé la conception et les techniques de construction au fil du temps. Cet article contribue à notre compréhension de la conception et des pratiques de construction des navires marchands coloniaux britanniques.

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Texte intégral

1Edwin Fox is a mid-19th century merchant ship located in Picton, New Zealand and offers an opportunity to record and study major ship components in context (fig. 1). The vessel, cons­tructed in Calcutta, India, in 1853 measures 48 m in length by 9.3 m breadth. Edwin Fox is used as a case study for the author’s PhD research investigating design and construction technologies employed in building British East Indiamen. This study contributes to our understanding of British merchant ship construction in the 19th century while complementing traditional nautical archaeological approaches.

1. Significance

2The vessel has historical connections with India, England, Crimea, Australia and New Zealand. In 1999, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga registered Edwin Fox as Category 1, registration number 7450. Category 1 status is awarded to places or objects with special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value. In 2013, the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum was awarded the World Ships Trust award for preservation. The award was presented because this surviving historic ship represents a type of vessel that had a significant role in the history of humanity and due to the fact that its presentation and display advances the education of the public. Currently, Edwin Fox is the only surviving historic vessel located in New Zealand to be assigned Category 1 status, which further reflects its current historical significance.

2. Methodology

3In December 2016, a New Zealand based company, 3DScans, used a FARO Focus 130 laser scanner to scan the external and internal hull structure. The scanning took two days to ­complete and produced 370 million polygons with ±2 mm accuracy. The exterior and interior raw data represented 77.2 GB in file size and provided accurate information for producing ships lines and a hull construction drawing. The scanned information was post-processed using different computer software. CloudCompare was used to consolidate all the data points ­collected from the scan. The entire digital model was then uploaded into MeshLab. Specifically, this software was used to reduce the overall file size and scale of the 3D digital model. The model was scaled using the Quadric Edge Collapse Decimation function to 10% of the original size while retaining the texture quality. This reduced the total file size to 1.17 GB. The reduction in size allowed for the 3D model to become more user-friendly across different platforms and computer programs. The ships lines drawing and construction drawing were then produced through the combination of Rhino 4.0, DELFTship and Illustrator CS6. The computer used for this processing was supplied by the Digital Archaeology Lab, Flinders University. This computer ran two Intel® Xeon® CPU E5-2680 v3 2.5GHz processors, 256GB RAM and operated on a 64-bit system.

4More detailed recording of the hull included taking baseline offset measurements of features and of the midship section. Timber samples were collected for species identification, as well as core samples for dendrochronological analysis. Fibre samples from the caulking and the fibrous membrane behind the copper sheathing were collected and sent to BIAX Consultants for analysis. Historical research has also been undertaken at the British Library, London. Metal sheathing samples were collected and will be analysed for metal composition using XRF.

Fig 1: Edwin Fox on display at the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, Picton, New Zealand

Fig 1: Edwin Fox on display at the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, Picton, New Zealand

The ship measures 48 m in length by 9.3 m breadth.

(Photography K. Bennett)

3. Conclusion

  • 1  Muntz metal, also known as yellow-metal sheathing, is a 60:40% copper-zinc mix patented by George (...)

5Edwin Fox is the last surviving extant hull of a mid-19th century British East Indiaman. Archaeological recording shows the ship is double planked with the outside layer fixed diagonally onto the inner longitudinal planking running bow to stern. These inner planks are caulked with hemp cordage. A layer of Muntz1 metal covers the exterior planks below the waterline with an extra layer of goat hair matting between the sheathing and the diagonal hull planking. The outer planking is fixed to the ships frames with treenails. The frames are cons­tructed using up to four futtocks and join floor timbers separating the keel and keelson. The ceiling planking is fixed using a mixture of iron fasteners and treenails. Iron bracing is installed on top of the ceiling planking to act as additional bracing and subsequently led to Lloyds originally surveying the ship as A1 (the top rating for a vessel). The ship is three masted, however, they have been reduced in length over time. The ship is mostly constructed of teak (Tectona grandis), with some structural timbers, i.e. floor timbers, being sal (Shorea robusta), and the masts, Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara). This is ongoing research and final results are expected in early 2020.


6Australian Government RTP stipend, Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law Top-up scholarship, Flinders University, School of Environment, University of Auckland, School of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Scholarship, Flinders University Student Association Development Grant, BIAX Consultants, 3DScans New Zealand, Marlborough Heritage Trust, Edwin Fox Maritime Museum.

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O’Guinness Carlson M., Lipfert N.R., Ronnberg E.A.R., Scott D.A.
2011 “Technical analysis of Muntz metal sheathing from the American clipper ship Snow Squall (1851-1864),” in P. Mardikian, C. Chemello, C. Watters and P. Hull (eds), Metal 2010, Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Metal Working Group, South Carolina, Clemson University, p. 107-115.

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1  Muntz metal, also known as yellow-metal sheathing, is a 60:40% copper-zinc mix patented by George Frederick Muntz in 1832 (O’Guinness Carlson et al. 2011, p. 108).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig 1: Edwin Fox on display at the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, Picton, New Zealand
Légende The ship measures 48 m in length by 9.3 m breadth.
Crédits (Photography K. Bennett)
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
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Kurt Bennett, « What influenced British East Indiamen ship design? »Archaeonautica, 21 | 2021, 345-346.

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Kurt Bennett, « What influenced British East Indiamen ship design? »Archaeonautica [En ligne], 21 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 28 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Kurt Bennett

Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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