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Eighteenth Century Shipbuilding
for the
Royal Navy and the H.E.I.C.

From a merchant ship building point of view, the eighteenth century was known as the Barnard era of wooden ship building.  The Barnard family were one of the most significant British merchant shipbuilders during the heyday of wooden ships 1700 - 1850. The term merchant shipbuilder was used to distinguish the private shipyards from the Royal Dockyards.

Full details in Building Britain's Wooden Walls "The Barnard Dynasty c.1697-1851"  
by John E. Barnard

Building Britain's Wooden Walls: Barnard Dynasty c.1697-1851


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  • Hardcover Illustrated throughout, 112 pages (September 12, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0904614638
  • Category(ies): Reference -> History

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Merchant Shipbuilders
Many families were involved in building ships. You may well be related to a merchant ship building family that built ships not only for commercial buyers but warships that saw action in the great sea battles. Even the merchant ships, built for the commercial purchaser, such as the Honorable East India Company, were built part merchant ship, part warship when the sea was not just dangerous due to nature, but also Britain's enemies would engage in battle when a British merchant ship was spotted.

Orion 74 gun wooden war ship

The Barnard Dynasty 1697 - 1851
The family was the most significant merchant shipbuilder to the Admiralty and the Hon. East India Company. This is covered in detail in John Barnard's excellent book "Building Britain's Wooden Walls". When I got my copy I found it riveting. It really brings the period to life and focuses on the ships the Barnard family built.

Warships
Merchant shipbuilders played a very major role in maintaining Britain's maritime supremacy. Many of the famous pictures of historical importance show British war ships built by merchant builders. Since the Barnard family were the premier contractor to the Admiralty it is not surprising that their ships are featured in many of the famous paintings of sea battles of the time. The ships built by British merchant ship builders saw action in major battles such as "Trafalgar", "The Glorious First of June", and "Battle of the Nile".

Two very special ships

HMS Northumberland
Two merchant built ships have earned a special place in British history. The 74 gun Barnard built Northumberland was given the task of transporting Napoleon into exile on the island of St. Helena. There is now a stamp commemorating this event.

HMS Pandora

HMS Pandora, a Barnard built 24 gun frigate, was sent in pursuit of Fletcher Christian's Bounty mutineers. In 1791 when homeward bound after the 14 mutineers had been successfully captured, she struck part of the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike the majority of historic ships which ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, the Pandora did not break up.  She later sank virtually intact and settled into the sea bed. Covered by sand, the bulk of the artifacts remained more or less undisturbed in their original setting inside the ship.
In 1977 the wreck was discovered in an extremely well preserved state. Since 1983 the Queensland Museum has led eight expeditions to the site. Their web site illustrates  HMS Pandora and the Museum's excavations

Wooden walls

The term wooden walls has been in use for a long time and refers to the wooden ships forming a line (a wall). This formation was used in many battles. The wooden ships of the era had cannons on the sides but not pointing forwards. So battles would often end up as one line (walls) of ships matched against the enemy ships. The term wooden walls naturally fell out of use with the introduction of powered iron ships with forwards pointing guns.

Part commerce ship part warship 
Merchant ships for commercial companies such as the Hon. East India Company were part merchant ship and part warship. The Warren Hastings, one of the largest,  saw action against the more powerful French frigate "The Piemontaise". This battle is well documented and shows it to be a desperate battle.
The role of merchant ship builders in maintaining Britain's shipping supremacy at sea has been largely ignored by maritime historians until the arrival of this book which studies the subject from the merchant shipbuilder's point of view. "Building Britain's Wooden Walls" is an exceptionally good book on merchant ship building and focuses particularly on the "Barnard Dynasty ".