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As I am researching the building of a 74-gun ship,  HMS Tremendous launched in 1784,  I have read many articles regarding boat stowage in the fighting ships of the Georgian era Royal Navy,  and there seems to be a lack of concrete information regarding how it was actually done. 


One alternative,  and well established custom,  was to have the longboat stored on deck in the waist,  which would seem rather to get in the way of working the guns and access to the hatches etc.


The assumption has always been that the advent of the beams across the waist meant that the boats were then stowed here,  as would certainly seem logical.  The beams started to appear from around the middle of the 18th century,  and gradually became permanent features of the waist.


How long old habits of stowage lasted would seem to fairly well settled;  boats in the latter half of the 18th century were stowed on the beams,  thereby replacing the older custom of sometimes using the deck in the waist.


However,  and very interestingly,  the contract for HMS Ganges,  dated 1778 (NMM ref. ADT0012) and others of a similar date,  describe removable capstans,  in order that the longboat can be stowed on deck;  and not really removable,  but actually lowered down!  So old habits died hard,  perhaps.


It seems that the entire spindle,  and both the capstan and trundle-head from each deck was lowered as a unit


I will quote the relevant paragraphs from the contract:


'Step for the Jeer Capstand'  (on the gun-deck)


'The step for the Jeer Capstand to be prepared to shift for the Capstand being lower'd down to stow on the Orlop out of the way of the Long boat,  as the Ships lately fitted in His Majesty's Yards, or as shall be described.'


'Partners for the Capstands'  (on the upper-deck)


'The Partners for the Jeer and Main Jeer Capstands  to be 7 ins thick and to be fitted as is done in the Kings Yards for Ships of her Class, that the Fore Jeer may be lowered down out of the Way of the Long boat.'


The capstan is then described,  and sounds perfectly recognisable and normal.  No further description is given as to how it may have been lowered down. 




'To make & sett a Jeer Capstand afore, & a Main Jeer Capstand Abaft on the upper Deck of 1ft 11ins dia. in the Partners,  each fitted with 12 Ash Bars of 12ft 6ins long, with ribs & Hoops in the Partners, & Hoops sole & Bolts on the Step, Cranks for the Bars, Iron Pins & Chains, & four Iron Pauls on the Deck, & in every aspect to be completed as is done in his Majestys Yards.'


I would be very interested to know if anyone has any knowledge of how this lowering may have been achieved,  or of any models that show something similar. 


I have seen references to removable capstans from the 17th century,  but I was sure that such had died out by the later 1700s.  Obviously not,  though!


All the best to all those who read this.


Mark P

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Mark, Steel has a plate that shows the removable capstan and the parts below it. There are plans that shows a step on the orlop deck for the captsan when it was lowered down. Go in to my log on Alfred and I did build her forward capstan and you can also see the step I installed on the orlop deck. I can't remember what page but should be of some help. Also in the book of the AOS Bellona shows a room on the orlop deck that was called the capstan room, believe its is shown on the amidships section. Wish I could give page number, but am not at home and won't be till the weekend. Mark check page 9 of my build log, it also shows Steels plate. Gary

Edited by garyshipwright
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Thanks JB;


I appreciate your time in replying.  I will have a look for the book by Harland;  it sounds like one that I should have in my library,  although I have never heard of it nor seen it anywhere.  I'm sure that there are many more books out there like that,  though!


I think that this must be the same John Harland who wrote the book 'Seamanship.'


Thanks Gary;


I am grateful to know about the Steel plate;  I thought that I had seen most of his plates,  but it seems I have some few still to go! 


As for looking through your build log,  it will be a pleasure to look at such work again.  I will be sure to take a look at page 9.


Regarding the AOS Bellona,  I have had this for many years,  since it was published,  but I didn't remember anything about a lowering capstan.  I checked it out,  and you are quite right,  there sits the capstan room;  although Lavery describes it as used for bosun's stores.  Presumably,  however,  it could accommodate the capstan if it were necessary.


Many thanks to both of you,  gentlemen,  and happy modelling!


Mark P

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I looked in my Anatomy of the Ship, Bellona, and I see the 'capstan room' below the fore jeer capstan on plate F13, p. 69.  It does not show on the orlop deck plan, plate C2, pp. 50,51, though I think it would be between the two #20s, 'sail room'.  What I see in the 'capstan room' I take to be a pillar supporting the capstan from below, and I suspect it is merely walled off from the sail room and cable tier which are adjacent, to keep access available.  This does not seem to me to be a place the capstan was removed to for storage.

Plate B20, p. 43 'Details of Midship Construction' has a schematic showing a 'capstan room'.

The steps for the capstans are substantial constructions, comparable to the mast partners.  The capstan would have to be lifted up out of the step, the step removed (for both barrels, it might be said) before the capstan could be lowered for 'storage' below decks.  The whole concept seems impractical to me.

What Steel is this in?  I have reread the top post in this thread which seems definitive.

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In Steel, 'Vade Mecum', p. 212, it sounds to me as if you are to place the partners such that they will not impede the lowering of the lower barrel between the partners for the upper barrel when assembling or installing this piece of ship's machinery.

When drawing the gun deck, 'The partners of the fore jear (sic) capstan may next be drawn, placing the coamings equally from the middle line (lengthwise of the deck), and sufficiently clear for lowering the capstan freely between them.'

Steel mentions a Plate IV but I don't have any plates.

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In Steel, 'Naval Architecture' is the following:

'In large ships the fore-jear (sic) capstan is fitted so as to lower occasionally out of the way of the long boat, &c.  In this case it has partners fitted on the lower deck similar to those represented by Fig. 5, into which is let up a sliding step, as in Fig. 6, supported by a pillar and two ledges, in such a manner that the whole may be taken away, and the capstan lowered, to work in a step provided for it on the orlop.'

I don't have or cannot find Figs. 5 or 6, nor Plate 7, 'Plate of the Capstan', on which they apparently can be found, neither in the volume or in the set of large plates.

From the sound of it, you could lower the capstan out of the way of the boats, and still be able to use the capstan from a lower deck.

One of the large plates shows a fore capstan with a capstan room under it, but no indication of the mechanism that would be needed to perform this evolution.

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Thanks again,  JB,  for taking the trouble to look this up. 


I have a copy of 'Vade Mecum' downloaded from the Bodleian Library in Oxford,  which is a very good copy,  clear and with good margins (unlike the Google copy,  which trims some words off the edges)


I have checked this out,  and it describes the set up in quite a lot of detail for each deck.  I might have a slightly different edition,  because in mine it is on page 208-209.


So the conclusion has to be that even at the end of the 18th century,  longboats were still occasionally,  or perhaps more often,  still stowed on the upper deck,  rather than on the boat beams in the waist. 


This would explain how it was possible to fit a ship's boat complement onto the booms,  if the longboat was first stowed under them,  then they were replaced,  and the remaining boats stowed on top.  This was perhaps undertaken when sailing on long voyages away from land,  in order to keep the centre of gravity lower.


Again,  many thanks for all your help.


Hi Gary;


Thank you for your earlier suggestion,  I have checked through your build log again (such amazingly beautiful work,  sir!)  and had a good look at your capstans.  This is all a great help to understanding how such things were done.


Again,  many thanks for all your help also.


All the best,


Mark P

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A three-deck ship such as HMS Victory would not need the lowering capstan as her upper deck (below the boat skids) is clear, the capstan being on the next deck down.  Therefore, we're looking for a two decker, 70, 74 or 80, earlier, perhaps a 50 or a 64.

I see nothing in the Harland I referenced above concerning lowering of capstans.

Edited by jbshan
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OK, Mark, found your pp. 208-209.  Reading that, and putting it together with the others, I can picture a mechanism or way of moving things around.  I'm not sure how they would perform the lowering and lifting back up, but they were pretty ingenious, after all.  The upper drumhead would still be available for use, just on the lower deck, so they wouldn't lose function.

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You can see my reconstruction of this partner at this site:




This is based on the drawing of the partners on my Admiralty prints of the gundeck for the Bellona. I believe the capstan would have been lifted up from above, the parts of the partners taken away, and then the capstan dropped down one deck. Presumably the partners from one deck above would then be fitted in this opening to make the two capstan operational on two decks.



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Thanks Mark;


I have looked at your build log,  and it makes clear a sensible way to have partners that not only lock into place,  but are also removable.  Thanks for the link.  Your work on your model is beautiful! 


I hope to start my own build log soon.


All the best,


Mark P

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