Regular readers will know that regular contributor Eric Pemberton is a great collector of postcards and ephemera related to the Island and he often sends some of his latest acquisitions to share with our readers.
This week he has sent a fascinating glimpse into the ship building in Blackwall and especially the famous Thames Ironworks. The launching of ships was often great social occasions for the shipyards and attracted enormous crowds.
Eric managed to acquire an invitation to one such launch in 1863 of the Royal Navy iron clad steamship Minotaur at Thames Ironworks. The London Illustrated News were present and produced the following report.
The Launch of the Minotaur at Thames Ironworks
Her Majesty’s iron-clad screw steamship Minotaur launched on Saturday, December 19th, from the yard of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, Blackwall, in the presence of an assemblage computed at 10,000. Admirable arrangements were made by the company for so large a gathering, and although probably not fewer than 3000 persons were conveyed by pontoon and small boats across the creek that divides the yard— the creek into which the ship was launched — not a single accident occurred.
The dimensions of the Minotaur exceed those or any other ship afloat; and when the Agincourt is launched from the yard of Messrs. Laird at Birkenhead, and the Northumberland from the yard of the Mlllwall Company, there will be three ships of the class. All three were ordered by the Admiralty on September 2nd, 1861, and should, according to contract, have been launched six or seven months ago; but many changes have been introduced into all the ships, and hence the delay.
The launching of the Minotaur was managed to perfection. When the last supports had been knocked away, the first effort of the hydraulic ram moved her. Mrs Romaine then dashed the bottle of wine against the iron bows, and the huge vessel glided majestically into the river, amid the cheers of thousands. The work of fitting the Minotaur with her five iron masts,and generally completing her for sea, will be effected in the Victoria Docks.
The length of the Minotaur between perpendiculars is 400 ft ,her breadth 59 ft, 4 in., and her depth 41 ft, 6 in. She is of 6814 tons burden, builders measurement, and is to be propelled by engines (in course of making by Messrs. Penn) of 1350 horsepower. Her armament is not yet fully decided upon,, but it is expected that she will carry fifty guns of the largest calibre.
The launching of the Minotaur was three years after the launch of the HMS Warrior which was at the time the world’s largest warship and the first iron-hulled armoured frigate. Following the success of HMS Warrior and HMS Minotaur, Thames Ironworks managed to get orders from navies all over the world which allowed the yard to survive the 1866 financial crisis which closed many shipyards.
Minotaur took nearly four years between her launching and commissioning because there was trials with armaments and different sailing rigs. The ship was not a great success and considered slow and sluggish with sails that could not be used in any efficient way. The ship spent the bulk of her active career as flagship of the Channel Squadron, including during the Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Fleet Review in 1887. She became a training ship in 1893 and part of a training school at Harwich. Minotaur was then renamed several times before being sold for scrap in 1922 and broken up the following year.
Many thanks to Eric for sending us a small reminder of the remarkable shipbuilding heritage of Blackwall and the Docklands area.