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us'd for the preserving of new-built ships'; they had not once been graved or brought into dock.
Those who were called on to report proved as incompetent as those reported on. They attributed the state of these ships to hastiness of building, the greenness of the stuff, and the use of East-Country, that is, Baltic, plank. Whereupon a new Commission of Inquiry was appointed; and it was no sooner opened but a solemn conference was held by them at the Office of the Navy on April 17, 1686, with all the eminent masterbuilders in the River of Thames, 'touching the present condition of this kingdom in reference to Plank for ship-building.' Certain 'Inquiries' were formulated :
'First:-How far it may be depended on, that England may at this day supply itself with a sufficiency of [Plank], for answering the Occasions both of the Merchants and His Majesty's Service (in the state the Royal Navy thereof now is) without Foreign Help?
'Resolution :-That it is in no wise to be relied on. Forasmuch as from the want of Plank of our own growth, and consequently the highness of price of what we have, the Shipwrights of this Kingdom (even in our out-ports, as well as in the river of Thames) have been for many years past driven to resort to supplys from Abroad, and are so at this day, to the occasioning their spending of One Hundred loads of forreign for every twenty of English. Besides, were our own stock more, the exclusion of forreign goods would soon render the charge of building insupportable, by raising the price of the Commodity to double what it is, and more, at the pleasure of the seller.
'Second:-From whence is the best Forreign Plank understood to be brought?
'Resolution :-Either out of the East-Sea from Dantzick, Quinborow, or Riga of the growth of Poland and Prussia, or from Hambrough, namely, that sort thereof, which is shipt from thence of the growth of Bohemia, distinguished by its Colour, as being much more black than the other, and render'd so (as is said) by its long sobbing [sopping] in the water, during its passage hither.'
The third Inquiry, What proportion this forreign plank should bear to English?' was answered in great detail. For vessels of fourscore tuns downwards our English plank will (from the nature of the wood) last
longer than any forreign of the same dimensions'; but for ships of 300 tuns upwards 'universal practice shows that the White Crown-plank of Prussia, and the forementioned black of Bohemia, do in their durableness equal or rather exceed that of our English production of like dimensions.' The plain reason of this was,
'that the forreign oak being of much quicker growth than ours, their trees arrive at a stature capable of yielding Plank of these measures [3 and 4 inch, from 26 to 40 foot long, meeting at 14 or 15 inches at the top-end], while they are yet in their sound and vigorous state of growing; whereas that of England advancing in its growth more slowly, arrives not at these dimensions, till it be come to or rather is past the full of its strength; 50 years sufficing for raising the forreign, to what the English will not be brought in 150.'*
East-Indiamen built of large foreign plank proved to be most durable, while ships built wholly of English stuff had perished in half the time. But where short stuff will serve, as 'in laying of a gun-deck, as far as the three streaks next the ship's sides,' English plank, cut out of young growing timber, was to be preferred. Where long plank is necessary,' that of forreign growth is for strength and duration always preferr'd.' Other defects of English material were pointed out: its' general waniness, want of breadth at the top-end, and ill-method of conversion.' The unanimous opinion of the Commission was that large plank, well chosen, of the forreign growths before mentioned, is in its service at least as durable, in its cost less chargeable, and the use of it (through the scarcity of English) become at this day indispensable.' An Order in Council was thereupon issued (Oct. 8, 1686) authorising the Commissioners of the Navy to contract for oaken plank of foreign growth.
* A Report of the Commissioners of Land Revenue (referred to in the Quarterly Review' article of 1838, and probably issued in 1792) gives very different figures: 75 to 100 years as the period at which oaks are usually cut for ship-building. It also furnishes the interesting statistics, that a 74-gun ship contained about 2000 tons of timber, and would require 2000 trees of 75 years', or 250 of 150 years' growth; and, on the basis of 40 trees to the acre, 50 acres of the younger trees would be required to supply the timber for every 74-gun ship.
Mr Dallimore of Kew Gardens is sceptical about the conclusions come to by the Pepys' Commission. The modern books, even Elwes and Henry, and Marshall Ward, throw no light on this question.
The timber question involved the supply of two separate commodities, plank and masts. In the middle of the 16th century masts had been obtained from Danzig and the Baltic ports; the best from Riga, 18 to 25 inches in diameter, and 70 to 80 feet long. The safe delivery of everything which came from the north was, however, imperilled by war; and the constant wars with France and Holland, and the doubtful attitude of Denmark,* led, in 1652, to two vessels being sent to New England to bring samples of colonial trees. It seems probable that Mr Winthrop's suggestion, made ten years later, reinforced the result of this experiment; as it would appear from correspondence, to be presently referred to, that gradually the yards came to depend solely on the colonial supply. In 1704, by an Act referring generally to naval stores, importation was encouraged by a premium of 17. per tun; and a few years later, in view of the great store of trees fit for masts in Scotland, landowners were encouraged in the same way to make roads for their transport to the sea. In 1721 a statute was passed protecting the forests of Nova Scotia, where there were 'great numbers of white pine trees fit for masting the Royal Navy.'† The benefit of this Act was felt after the American Rebellion.‡
For the supply of all other things which the Navy needed-generically 'naval stores'-necessity had long compelled the purchase of them abroad without the intervention of the Council. Those of greatest importance, and, reverting to Pepys' Report, least to be depended upon from the market, as being (save one) all of forreign growth,' were 'hemp, pitch, tar, rosin, canvas, iron, oyle, and wood.' Cordage came from Danzig and
A combination between Holland and Denmark might close the gates of the Baltic, and 'might exclude England from free access to the tar, cordage, and other prime necessities for the building and rigging of her ships' (Morley's 'Oliver Cromwell,' Bk. iv, ch. 5).
† The forests of the tropical Colonies do not seem to have been regularly exploited for masts or ships' timber. There exist still in Mauritius traces of a 'Chemin des Vergues,' down which tall trees were dragged from the forests to Port Louis, certainly by Labourdonnais, probably by his English successors. Mr Paul Koenig, the present Director of Forests, tells me that the tree was the Tatamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum), which is in high repute for masting, 'being light, even-grained, and wind-strong.' Barham Papers,' II, 192, 223.
Russia, through the medium of the Russia Company. The best iron came from Spain; hemp, pitch, tar, and the rest from Russia and the Scandinavian countries.
To the replenishment of the yards Pepys devoted his energies. The proposition' submitted by him to the King was that each ship should be provided with six months' sea-stores 'separately laid up and preserv'd for use whenever the service shall call for them,' and that there should be a further reserve in magazine for answering the general service of the Navy. The Secretary's work, which earned for him the title 'The right hand of the Navy,' resulted in the obtaining of such an enlargement of magazines and the amassing therein of such a treasure of stores, as England was never before mistress of, nor could now have had its navy longer supported without.' He could say with just pride that he had helped to raise the navy of England from the lowest state of impotence to the most advanced step towards a lasting and solid prosperity that (all circumstances considered) this nation had ever seen it at.'
Thus, and in the several ways here indicated, were the foundations laid of the policy of ships' timber and naval stores in its domestic application. We see it at work in 1704, in the statute of Anne 'for encouraging the importation of naval stores from His Majesty's Plantations in America,' the preamble of which recited the elementary truth, that the Royal Navy and the navigation of England, wherein, under God, the wealth, safety, and strength of this Kingdom is so much concerned, depends on the due supply of stores necessary for the same'; but they were now brought in mostly from foreign parts, in foreign shipping, and at exorbitant and arbitrary rates. There were vast tracts of land in the Plantations lying near the sea and upon navigable rivers, which might with due encouragement commodiously afford great quantities of all sorts of naval stores. Wherefore rewards, or premiums, on importation were to be paid by the Commissioners of the Navy-for tar and pitch, 47. per tun; for rosin and turpentine, 37.; for hemp, 67.; and for masts, yards, and bowsprits, 17. per tun. The Navy was to have the refusal of all stores imported, and a penalty was imposed for destruction of pitch-pine or tar-trees. The Act dealing with the Scotch
forests had also in view the manufacture of pitch, tar, and rosin. These Acts proved very successful,* ́and were renewed in 1721, when additional encouragement was given to the production of hemp.† Further, any sort of wood, plank or timber, wrought or unwrought, or goods commonly called Lumber,' were to be admitted free of duty, except masts, yards, and bowsprits, which remained subject to the premium. The Acts were periodically continued until the American Rebellion, when the Navy was weighed down with the maladministration of Lord Sandwich, which had begun in January 1771. Pepys' work was frittered away, and the evil which he fought once more rose triumphant.
The severely practical recommendations of Pepys' Commission, which, apart from the necessity of importing East-country plank, found a virtue in its superior merits, somewhat jars against the lyrical tradition which has enshrined the English oak in English hearts. But there were many who maintained that old tradition; among them Evelyn, who wrote that the oak is above all the trees of the forrest absolutely necessary in naval architecture,' and that spring and toughness were the special qualities with which our English oak was endued. And Dr Hunter, who was responsible for the edition of 'Silva' issued in 1776, says that the common English oak, for shipbuilding, far excels all the kinds in the known world.' Pepys himself notes that in the old Navy instances were known where the timber had been standing, cut and converted, and the ship built therewith, and launched in six months, without having one plank shifted in them (but for shot) in 8 or 9 years after.' In his dedication of the 4th edition to the King, Evelyn declared that soon after its original publication millions of trees had been propagated and planted 'at the instigation, and by sole direction of this work'; and his editor, writing while the memories of the Seven Years' War were fresh, added,
* One fleet from New England brought home 6000 barrels of pitch, tar, and turpentine to London, in 1715 (Anderson's 'Origin of Commerce,' III, p. 68).
†The consumption of hemp in 1781 was 12,000 tons; but in peace time the amount required annually was about 3000 tons. Two-thirds of what was grown near Petersburg came to England ('Barham Papers,' II, 220).