The first steam turbine driven ship was the Turbinia, built by Parsons Marine Turbine Company back in 1894. Charles Parsons (eventually a Sir) designed the engine and the boat and created the company in order to manufacture the engines for anyone that wanted one.
Actually Charles invented the steam turbine back in 1884 and he quickly saw the potential in something that could out run anything on water at the time. His patent assured him of a monopoly in it’s manufacture.
But it didn’t exactly start very well. The initial design called for a single propeller and the test performance was a bit sad. This did not deter Chuck. He went back to the drawing board and came up with an amazing design which eventuates in a total of nine propellers!
This time the tests were amazing and the Turbinia achieved a speed of 34 knots, earning the boat the nickname of the North Sea greyhound. To prove this point, it turned up at the Royal Naval review of 1897, unannounced and ran rings around every other vessel there. Even a boat that was sent out to stop him was easily brushed aside.
The Admiralty saw the obvious potential of Charles’ turbines and he started supplying his engines to the navy for all manner of ships. Meanwhile, poor old Turbinia nearly came a cropper, when, in 1907, she was almost cut in half by the Crosby, which was being launched on the Tyne.
By 1926, Turbinia was starting to look a bit sad and sorry for herself so the company offered her to the Science Museum so she could be part of the permanent exhibition. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room for the whole thing so they cut it in half.
I’ve seen the letters between the museum and the Parsons company and the latter are somewhat dismayed over the thought while the former are adamant it wouldn’t fit. It makes for some fascinating, if lengthy, reading.
So, the Science Museum took the back half complete with engines and propellers while the front bit was given to the Newcastle Corporation for display in their Exhibition Park.
All was well for a bit, but eventually, the Science Museum didn’t want it any more so the back half was sent back up north where it once more met it’s front. A reconstruction took place and the whole thing was put on display in 1996 at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum where it still is today.
Charles sounds like a pretty memorable sort of chap.
He is responsible for the very first recorded, fatal traffic accident caused by a powered vehicle. It was in 1869 and Charles and his brother Richard had constructed a steam powered car. It was their cousin Mary who became the first statistic when she fell out of the car and broke her neck.
Needless to say, I was researching Charles and the Turbinia at work today. While the Science Museum sent the boat back, it kept the original steam turbine engine (a second engine was installed when the extreme propellers were added).
I love my job!