"The Ship that Found Herself"

Notes on the text


These notes, by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of The Day's Work, as published and frequently reprinted between 1898 and 1950.




[Oct 4 2004]

[Page 78, line 2] of twelve hundred tons In the original edition, and in subsequent editions up to 1909, the figure used was two thousand five hundred tons. (see the note below) The word “tonnage” as used by shipbuilders and in the shipping world has a variety of meanings quite mystifying to the uninitiated.

The ORG goes on to say “At the outset, then, an attempt will be made to define these meanings for the better understanding of the story”. This compiler does not consider that the definitions of tonnage are really necessary to the “understanding of the story”, but Kipling does use the various tonnages as incidentals in the story, and readers may therefore like to be aware of precisely what is what. (Some may object, and say that Kipling never, or rarely, left in anything which was merely incidental to the story, but in this case the compiler of these notes believes that the comment is fair.)

Tonnage, and its unit of measurement, tons, has, with two exceptions, nothing to do with weight. It is a measure of volume, and so of cargo-carrying capacity. It is said that it derives from the number of tuns (barrels of a certain size – usually of wine) that a mediaeval merchant ship could carry. Prior to 1824, the tun/ton was defined as having a volume of 68,800 cubic inches or 252 gallons. Until recently, one ton (shipping or measurement tonnage) was 100 cubic feet. To confuse the issue further, there is a freight ton, which is 40 cubic feet.

Ships of that period (up to 1824, and a bit later), whether merchant ships or warships, were defined as to size by their ‘builder’s measurement’ (BM) tonnage, which was derived from a mathematical formula involving length, breadth and depth of hold, giving a theoretical volume. Since the 1850s, a number of different ‘tonnages’ have been used, mostly for the purposes of classifying vessels for various purposes, such as insurance, port dues, pilotage charges, health and safety reasons, etc. All those following refer only to the Merchant Navy. The following measurements are of weight, in tons avoirdupois. Finally, today, when most general cargo is transported in containers, a change which has come about since the ORG was compiled, a merchant ship’s carrying capacity is described as being so many TEU (Twenty foot Equivalent Units). A standard container is eight feet high, eight feet wide, and twenty feet long: that is one TEU. Many containers are 40 feet long: they are two TEU. A large container ship will carry up to 2,500 TEU, made up of a mixture of one and two TEU containers. However, tonnages are still used, but have been metricated, so that 1 tonne is the equivalent of one cubic metre – or so I am told.

The reason for this dissertation on tonnage is that Kipling made errors in his description of the Dimbula, as regards her tonnage and dimensions, and amended the tonnage figures in editions published in and after 1909. In the original editions, Dimbula’s tonnage, presumably her net tonnage, since that was the figure usually quoted in describing a ship, was given as 2,500 tons, but that does not accord with the dimensions he gave her, namely 240 feet long, by 32 feet beam, a small ship for the Atlantic trade, even in the 1890s.

These dimensions (which are incomplete for the determination of tonnage figures), when combined with the average depth of hold figures that one would expect in a ship of this size, give a gross tonnage of about 2,300 tons, and a nett tonnage of about 1,250 tons. So Kipling’s original figure of 2,500 tons, was far too large to have been her net tonnage, and was even greater than her gross tonnage could have been. At some stage, then, (around 1908/9) this was pointed out to him, and he amended it. This in turn is relevant in that Kipling talks (or makes the Dimbula talk) of the amount of cargo with which she is laden.

[Page 78, line 12 and 13] a cargo-boat must be built for cheapness, great hold-capacity, and a certain steady speed a century and more later, most ship owners would express the same sentiments. In particular, the speed of “cargo-boats”, from the tramp steamer of Kipling’s day, which has effectively disappeared from the seas today, killed by the container revolution of the 1960s, to today’s container ship, whether large or small, has not risen in line with the increase in speed of other means of transport. The technical means of driving modern tankers, bulk-carriers (for such cargoes as iron ore, and, yes, coal (but from Newcastle, New South Wales, to Japan, rather than from Tyneside) and container ships at speeds of approaching 30 knots or even more, exist but are totally uneconomic. This is one reason why steam turbines, gas turbines, and nuclear propulsion have never caught on for freight shipping.

[Page 79, line 5] a very well known Scotch firm present day usage would frown heavily on the use of 'Scotch' in this context – 'Scottish', or 'Scots', please.

[Page 79, line 6] from the north where she had been launched and christened and fitted she was probably built on the Clyde, then approaching its zenith as a centre for ship-building. The owner’s daughter was “goin’ back to Glasgie” (presumably whence she had taken passage). It may be noted that a ship, at her launching, is little more than an empty shell, without her engines, or any of the other equipment which makes her a working machine. The main reason is that, in a traditional launching down a slipway, at the moment of transition from the weight being taken by the slipway to the weight being taken by the water, it would be all too easy to put the machinery out of alignment as the strains in the hull change. Which is why many large ships today are built in a dry dock, and floated out, rather than being launched down a slip. Indeed, HMS Victory, launched some 240 years ago, was built in a dry dock. And anyway, in the 1890s, the slip would have been needed for the next ship to be laid down. So, once launched, a ship had to be fitted out as a separate operation, not always in the same shipyard.

[Page 79, line 14] Dimbula the ORG said “There is a small town called Dimboola in Australia, but it is unlikely that this is the source of the name, which is more likely to have been the name of some African tribal chief, now forgotten.” However, using modern technology, this compiler can say, having “googled” the word, that Dimbula is an area in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), noted for the quality of its teas, and it is suggested that this is the source of the name.

[Page 79, line 20] High Seas a much used expression for the oceans of the world.

[Page 79, line 20] Narrow Seas this term is usually employed regarding restricted waters such as the English Channel, St. George’s (or Irish) Channel. In the last fifty years, particularly with reference to World War II, it has meant the English Channel and the southern half of the North Sea.

[Page 80, line 1] 'she’s exceptionally well-found' the two speakers are at cross-purposes. A well-found ship is one that is well maintained, well equipped and well provisioned.

[Page 80, line 17/18] 'is in no sense a reegid (rigid) body closed at both ends' by the 1890s the theory behind the construction of ships in iron and steel was well understood, but it had not always been so. When such engineers as Brunel, Scott Russell and Laird has started building iron ships in the 1840s and `50s, the naval architects were still groping their way to the formulae with which to express the stresses and strains in an iron ship, and hence the strength of materials needed.

[Page 80 line 21] 'her personal modulus of elasteecity' (elasticity) the modulus of elasticity is a fundamental material constant, and is an index of the stiffness of the material. It is, in effect a relationship between the stress and strain that the material is under, and over the greater part of the range, is a constant. A ship, as a whole, does not have a measurable modulus of elasticity, but the skipper is expressing a comprehensible concept. As a scientific phenomenon, it was first discovered in 1660, by Robert Hooke, but it is now named 'Young’s Modulus', after Thomas Young (1773-1829) who gave it physical meaning.

[Page 81, line 3] metaphysical based on abstract general reasoning; over-subtle; incorporeal; supernatural; visionary. Metaphysics are the theoretical philosophy of being and knowing. The sense here, it is suggested, is ‘over-subtle’.

[Page 81, line 16/17] they stowed some two thousand tons’ dead weight the ORG goes into details as to how this ‘dead weight’ might be made up, observing that the freight tonnage of a ship’s cargo might consist of a mixture of ‘heavy’ items, which were measured by their actual weight, and ‘light’ items, which were measured by volume. Suffice it to say that the conclusion reached is that two thousand tons dead weight is a plausible figure for a ship of the Dimbula’s size.

[Page 81, line 25] like a telephone in a thunderstorm our younger readers may not realise that it was not until the late 1960s/early1970s that telecommunications became something approaching interference free.

[Page 82, line 3] Cast iron, as a rule, says very little it would seem that the Dimbula was a mixture of iron and steel. In general terms, for a given weight of the material, steel is stronger than iron. But steel is more expensive than iron. And though steel has been known since before the birth of Christ, its use in the western world seems to have started in Damascus round about 1000 AD. The art then became lost, but by 1700, its use was again known in Britain, but it could only be made in small quantities. As the tide of the Industrial Revolution rolled on, the main material used in large quantities was therefore iron, and it was not until Henry Bessemer invented his process for making steel in quantity in 1855, that engineers could contemplate using it for large structures. Initially, Bessemer steel was unreliable as to quality, and it was not until the Siemens’ open hearth process was introduced in the late 1860s that steel started to make headway. Twenty years later, a canny Scots shipowner would have ensured that his naval architect made a judicious balance in the use of iron and steel, to ensure that adequate strength was provided at minimum cost.

Cast iron is strong in compression, but weak in tension. So the pillars of the hold (see page 91, line 25) would have been cast iron. And cast iron is basic melted pig-iron, poured into a mould to give it shape, with the necessary holes for bolts and other fastenings already in the mould. Once it has been cast, other than to file off any rough edges, there is no need for any further machining: so, it “says very little”.

[Page 83, line 6/7] those ugly knees of yours the deck beams were fastened to the frames by knees, usually ‘L’ shaped, or an upside-down ‘L’.

[Page 83, line 11] port and starboard upper-deck stringers it is not intended to give a ship construction discourse, because Kipling does it pretty well for us.

[Page 84, line 11] triple expansion, three cylinders in a row Britain’s supremacy in the world’s carrying trade, which lasted, in the broadest terms, from 1850 to 1950, was built on the triple expansion steam engine. In a simple marine steam engine, steam at a pressure considerably above atmospheric pressure is admitted to a cylinder, and immediately begins to push the piston, because the pressure on the other side of the piston is lower. At some stage of the stroke, the valves which have admitted the steam are closed, and the steam, as it expands, continues to push the piston, until, as the piston gets to the end of its stroke, a valve opens at the bottom end of the cylinder, and the steam is exhausted, into a big tank called a condenser, through which pipes run, containing cold sea water. This has the effect of turning the steam back into water, which is then pumped back into the boiler, to be boiled again, and so the cycle continues with minimum loss of the fresh water with which the boiler is filled.

In the early steam engines, the steam pressure, when the steam was exhausted, might still be above atmospheric pressure, and this pressure was ‘lost’ when the steam was condensed, representing a loss of energy, which had been given to it by the heat of the burning coal. So a second cylinder was added, and the steam, instead of going direct to the condenser, was passed through this second cylinder before going to the condenser. This second cylinder would be larger in diameter than the first cylinder; it was desirable that the amount of work done in each cylinder should be as near as possible the same, but since the steam entering the second cylinder was at a lower pressure than the first, it was necessary to give it a larger piston to act on, so that the total force was the same. This two-cylinder engine was called a compound engine.

It was soon realised, and proved by the relatively new science of thermo-dynamics, that a higher steam pressure and a third, even larger, cylinder, would produce an even more efficient engine. So the triple expansion engine was introduced in the mid-1880s. In the Dimbula’s engine, typical pressures on admission might have been: high pressure cylinder, 75 lbs/square inch; intermediate cylinder, 40 lbs/square inch; low pressure cylinder, 10 lbs/square inch.

Just to complete the story, as boiler pressures and powers grew higher, the quadruple-expansion engine was introduced, but these were the limit that could be achieved with a reciprocating engine – the weights of four pistons and their rods, etc., reversing direction several times a second, imposed enormous strain on the structure of the engine and the ship.

[Page 84, line 15] fly off the handle a skilful use of an everyday phrase meaning to lose one’s temper: in this case, it may be taken to be more literal, as was the origin of the colloquial use. It was extremely dangerous for a screw propeller to race in this fashion, because the centrifugal forces generated when the screw raced could cause various items to disintegrate. Many ships by this time would have had an automatic governor which would have prevented the engine from over-speeding. In the absence of such a governor, the engineer officer on watch had to stand with his hand on the throttle, ready to close it as soon as the engine started to speed up, and open it again as the propeller started to bite again.

[Page 84, line 18] scrap-iron some earlier editions have a misprint ‘scarp-iron’. Later editions have been corrected.

[Page 84, line 21] thrust-block or thrust-bearing, which is fully explained in the text. A more powerful engine would have had more than one thrust block on the same shaft.

[Page 85, line 13] half the steam was mixed with dirty water In the days before the use of superheated steam, the steam was what was called ‘saturated’, or ‘wet’ steam. It did, indeed, contain a fair amount of water vapour, and as this passed through the pipes from the boiler to the engine, a fair amount of water would condense out, and get carried over to the engine. This was a ‘Bad Thing’ (to misuse Sellars and Yeatman’s phrase). Water is incompressible, and if too much water was carried into the cylinder, then it could literally blow the end of the cylinder off when the piston reached the end of its stroke. Usually the wet steam passed through a separator, which, with luck, extracted most of the condensed water.

[Page 85, line 14] Oiler! Fitter! Stoker! The high pressure cylinder ought, perhaps, to have known better whom to call upon – but it was his first trip! The Merchant Navy’s usual term for the man who lubricates the engine was ‘Greaser’, which was also frequently used as a rather derogatory term for all engine-room personnel. But Kipling uses ‘Oiler’ elsewhere, in McAndrew’s Hymn“Below there, Oiler, what’s your wark …”, and it was a well-used alternative. The Fitter would have been the cylinder’s mentor in the factory which built the engine, but would not have been found at sea (although one or more of the Engineer Officers would almost certainly have been a qualified fitter and turner). And ‘Stoker’ was the Royal Navy’s name for the man who shovelled the coal into the furnaces under the boiler(s): in the Merchant Marine, the name was ‘Fireman’.

[Page 85, line 33] web-frames the frames of a ship are the vertical side-members to which the shell-plating (sometimes called skin-plating) is fixed. Frequently, the frames are ‘T’ shaped, if looked at from above, with the cross-piece of the ‘T’ outwards. The web-frames are stronger, being ‘I’ shaped in plan.

[Page 86, line 3] brackets a bracket is a piece of plate, usually triangular, fixed to the side frames for the support of an inboard structural fitting or member: akin to, but usually smaller than, a knee (see page 83, line 6/7 above).

[Page 86, line 3] diamond-plates small pieces of plate of diamond or rhomboid shape, for joining structural members together by riveting, where they cross; i.e., where two members cross in an ‘X’, the diamond plate will reinforce the point where the two members intersect.

[Page 86, line 16] garboard strake the lowermost band of plating (or planking in a wooden ship), running the length of the ship, forming part of its bottom. The garboard strake is that next to the keel. [And incidentally, provides the origin of the expression “there’ll be the devil to pay …..”]

The ‘devil’ in this case, was the seam between the keel and the garboard strake, so called because it was the most difficult to get at. The full expression was 'the devil to pay, and no pitch hot'. When caulking a seam to make it watertight, the seam was first plugged with oakum (old teased-out rope fibres), and then payed (derived from the verb ‘to pour’) with pitch. If you had 'the devil to pay, and no pitch hot', you would not be able to caulk the lowermost seam, which would leak, and being in that position would probably sink the ship. And by any definition, that is being in trouble, which is today’s meaning of the phrase. Similarly, when we say 'there’s nothing between the devil and the deep sea' (see the story of that name, also from The Day’s Work) it is the seam to which we are referring, not Old Nick.

[Page 86, line 31] bulwark-plates more usually called 'freeing-ports' – see page 89, line 13 to 26, in which their work is described quite simply.

[Page 87, line 14] sea valve also called a 'sea cock'. It communicates with the sea, to admit or discharge water. (See also "Bread upon the Waters", also from The Day’s Work.)

[Page 87, line 17] Prince-Hyde valve named after its inventor – but almost certainly fictitious. [It may be noted that entering “Prince-Hyde valve” on Google brings up, as first reference, this story.]

[Page 87, line 18] Pará rubber rubber from Pará in Brazil.

[Page 87, line 27] centrifugal bilge-pump a pump, usually situated in the engine-room and driven directly by the main engine, used for pumping out the lowermost compartments (the bilges) in the ship.

[Page 88, line 11] its wire stays iron wire rope had been introduced in the 1860s for the standing rigging of all ships, whether sail or steam. In due time, this was succeeded by steel wire rope.

[Page 88, line 22] Gulf of Mexico almost an inland sea. It is hemmed in by the West Indian Islands and washes the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and of Mexico.

[Page 88, line 27] Cape Hatteras the eastern point of the coast of North Carolina, USA.

[Page 88, line 33] broken falls whipped the davits the falls are the ropes which form part of the tackle for hoisting and lowering boats. Davits are derricks from which boats are suspended.

[Page 89, line 2] scuppers holes provided in the bulwarks to free the decks of water. Some may have 'bulwark-plates' (see above, page 86, line 31) hinged on the outer side: these would be those up towards the bows, where there is greater likelihood of the water entering; further aft, bulwark-plates would be less necessary. Today, seamen take the word to mean, in colloquial use, the whole of the waterways round the deck.

[Page 89, line 4] meteorological corollaries this is merely high-falutin language meaning that the rough seas were a natural consequence of the weather conditions.

[Page 89, lines 5/6] bow-anchor chained down to the deck this anchor, unless a spare, which is unlikely, would have been an old-fashioned stocked anchor, i.e., with a cross piece at the upper end, at right angles to the plane of the flukes of the anchor. The modern stockless anchor stows snugly in the hawse-pipe.

[Page 89, lines 30, et seq.] A huge swell pushed up exactly under her middle these lines describe well what is known as ‘hogging’ (when a ship is supported in the middle, but not at her ends) and ‘sagging’ (vice-versa).

[Page 90, line 5] iron keels see comments at page 82, line 3. Steel was not introduced into shipbuilding until 1876, when a small steel paddle vessel was built for river work in Burma (now Myanmar). The Admiralty built two fast despatch vessels, Iris and Mercury of steel in 1877. Iron vessels had a reputation for the durability of their structural members and plating. In very general terms, wrought iron is very corrosion-resistant, which is why many old iron ships had long lives as hulks (cf. Brunel’s Great Britain now on display at Bristol, and HMS Warrior at Portsmouth).

[Page 90, line 6] bilge-stringers the longitudinal girders at the ship’s side where it turns inwards towards the keel.

[Page 90, line 19] collision bulkhead a specially strengthened transverse watertight partition at the forward end of the ship, designed to withstand the results of a head-on collision.

[Page 91, line 18] pushing sideways when you get wet Wood expands in all directions when wet. The caulking between planks is, ideally, made of compressible material, oakum, to take up the expansion.

[Page 93, line 15] a bobble of a sea 'popple' or 'jobble' are often used in the sense of small, confused and consequently loppy seas.

[Page 93, line 16] butt-strap a butt in shipbuilding is the joining of two plates, their edges one over another. A butt-strap is a piece of plate riveted over the edges of two plates placed edge to edge.

[Page 93, line 22] reedy little peg like a reed in weakness and slenderness. The reed is proverbial for its weakness or pliancy in the face of force (cf. “A reed shaken by the wind” (St. Matthew, xi, 7)). 'Peg' is an allusion to the shape of a rivet before it has been hammered over.

[Page 94, line 14] fog horn the ORG says (and is strictly correct) that “steamers do not have a fog horn but a steam siren”. Nonetheless, the expression fog horn has long been used for any device made to give an audible warning in low visibility.

[Page 96, line 1] floors the frames at the bottom of the ship, considerably strengthened to withstand grounding or pressure in dry dock. At the period of this tale, small coasters quite frequently would be allowed to ground in an un-dredged harbour, or on a beach, as the tide went down. Dimbula, as an ocean-going vessel, was unlikely to have to do so, so for her to ground would have been due to a navigational error, or stress of weather.

[Page 96, line 27] engine-room hatch a hatch is the covering for an aperture in the deck, usually those giving access to the hold(s). The engine-room also had a hatch, through which the machinery had been lowered while building. This was covered by a strengthened skylight, usually known as the 'fiddley'.

[Page 97, line 3] Nothing for nothing in this world of woe this sounds as though it ought to be a quotation, or mis-quotation, but no suitable quote has been identified.

[Page 97, line 5-6] seventy-five pounds head 75lbs/square inch (approximately 5 atmospheres or 5 hecto-pièzes) steam pressure, or head of steam.

[Page 97, line 8] eight hundred horsepower the performance of steam and other engines is expressed in terms of 'horse-power'. A unit of horse-power is the rate at which work is done when 33,000 pounds are raised one foot in one minute (the modern metric equivalent is 746 watts). This was first adopted by James Watt (1736-1819), 'the inventor of the modern steam engine' (thus the ORG, but it would be more accurate to say that Richard Trevithick (1733-1833) was the inventor of the modern steam engine, since Watts’ engines all used steam at low pressure, whereas Trevithick was the first engineer to use high pressure steam). Watt was aware that 33,000 ft.lbs/min. is more than the average horse can do over a day’s work. The ORG added “Compare the Dimbula’s 800 h.p. with the 50,000 h,p of the modern liner”; or indeed the 157,000 h.p. (117MW) of the latest Cunard liner/cruise ship, RMS Queen Mary 2.

[Page 97, line 23] Said the young Obadiah to the old Obadiah
the song continues:

Obadiah, Obadiah, I am dry.
Said the old Obadiah to the young Obadiah:
Obadiah, Obadiah, so am I.
Thus went one verse of a song in a musical comedy of the late 1890s. The verse must have been well enough known, since Sinclair Lewis quotes it in his novel Main Street.

[Page 97, [line 26] The Turkish Patrol a popular march, written by F. Alexander in 1880.

[Page 97, line 27] “The Bronze Horse” a well-known opera by Daniel Auber (1782-1871), the French composer who was Director of the Paris Conservatoire from 1842. It was one of his fifty operas.

[Page 97, line 28] “Madame Angot” La Fille de Madame Angot. A famous French light opera, first produced in London in 1875, and poular in the `nineties. It was successfully revived in England about 1920

[Page 97, line 29] “Funeral March of a Marionette” by Charles Gounod (1818-1893). French composer who wrote a number of operas including Faust (1859) and Romeo and Juliet (1867).

[Page 98, line 17] sixteen days at sea the Royal William steamship crossed the Atlantic in 1833 and took 25 days on passage, burning 330 tons of coal.

[Page 98, line 22] copper ventilators copper ventilators (or ventilating cowls) would be unusual in a merchant ship (unnecessarily expensive). They were more likely to have been seen in yachts.

[Page 98, line 28] fell into bucket-staves deck buckets were formerly of wood (the ORG added “and still are in the Royal Navy”, but this is not so for the 1960s – this writer never saw any in a career starting in 1950) coopered with metal hoops: the sides are made of a number of staves shaped for the purpose. What Kipling is referring to are the hatch covers of the cargo holds, which are separate stout wooden planks held in place by steel crossbars and covered with tarpaulins. These planks were found to be smashed when the tarpaulin covers were removed.

[Page 98, line 32] soupled Scottish dialect word meaning “made supple”.

[Page 99, line 1] the Banks the Grand Banks, the great shoal fishing grounds off Newfoundland. See Captains Courageous.

[Page 99, line 28] with three thousand tons of cargo this ignores the previous statement that she had been loaded with 2,000 tons deadweight of cargo at page 81, lines 16/17. (In earlier versions, the figure is given as 4,000 tons, but this was later corrected, along with the figure for net tonnage.)

[Page 100, line 28] I’ve helped the Arizona this is a reference to the fact that the Arizona of the Guion line (Clyde-built in 1879) ran into an iceberg in November 1879, but was saved by her collision bulkhead, which held, and was able to back off; she proceeded to port under her own steam.

[Page 100, line 30] Paris’s engine room this is a reference to the fact that the Inman Line’s City of Paris flooded her engine-room in 1890 when her starboard propeller cracked, and she had to be towed into Queenstown (now Cobh) in southern Ireland. She was later transferred to the United States’ register as the Paris when the Inman Line was bought by American interests in 1893.

[Page 101, line 3] Hoboken a place in New Jersey, opposite Manhattan Island.

[Page 101, line 19] In the days of old Rameses A ribald song of the period, said to be the song of the Papyrus Club (a New York literary and journalists’ club). 'Paresis' means partial paralysis.



[A. W.]