King's College London
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Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century

Steaming through the age

Title page of pamphlet.Title page of pamphlet.The pamphlet shown here is from a selection concerning steam navigation and communication, which are bound together and cover the period 1823-50. They record developments in the use of steamships for the conveyance of mail, goods and passengers to all parts of the British Empire and beyond.

The first purpose-built trans-Atlantic steamship, the SS Great Western, was launched in 1838 and utilised paddle-wheel propulsion.

However the relatively inefficient design of the paddle-steamer, with the paddle-wheel located partly above the water line, was soon superseded by the advent of screw-propulsion, which saw the propeller sited below the water line.

Included in the collection of pamphlets are ‘reports, opinions and observations on the navigation of the rivers of India by steam vessels’ (1830); a letter concerning the ‘extension of steam navigation from Singapore to Port Jackson, Australia’ (1850); and an 1849 report on the Isthmus of Panama, published some 60 years before the project to construct a maritime route linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was realised.

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