The Let's Play Archive

Empire: Total War

by Yukitsu

Part 84: Q&A - March 1

Empire Total War: The Second 80 Years War quick online Q&A

Q: Steam ships seem like a fairly dramatic advancement. Were they in development for along period prior to their creation?

A: The idea of steam ships was very old by the 1750s, the English and Germans having experimented on the concept as far back as half a century earlier. Many investors thought the concept of putting such a great amount of fire and heat into a ship was ludicrous which completely ruined the idea's opportunity for funding.

It wasn't until the Dutch had realized tremendous control over the world's iron and steel supplies that investors seriously considered the feasibility of the idea. With the possibility of a heavily steel reinforced engine room, people were taking a shine to the general idea. James Watt, an English inventor who had worked intensely on coal power had tried to put forward the idea to the British admiralty 20 years prior, but could not receive funding from them. Drakenboch, the Dutch barrister operating in the British patents office had overheard the idea, and though he could not obtain and concrete evidence of its implementation sent a note back to Amsterdam of the general idea.

By this time, many experimental builds, mostly of personal ships and for river boats and other light transit had come into existence. Few were reliable enough or powerful enough to power anything like a steam ship of war, and many had very short life spans before a boiler explosion ruined the vessel. At this time, the general concept was highly experimental, with inventors attempting to fund their own creations.

The Dutch scholar Francois Hemsterhuis, son of the scholar Tiberius Hemsterhuis had come across his fathers notes from his time in Germany at around the time the Dutch scientific community had come across the general idea that James Watt was currently working on. Tiberius Hemsterhuis had come to study many notable German authors, one of which was papers by Gottfried Leibniz. Leibniz had evidently been looking into the concept as early as 1704. Assessing both the papers of Leibniz, as well as investigating more into Watt's papers, which were acquired quite illegally and at considerable price, the relatively unscientific Francois Hemsterhuis funded the creation of a ship using ideas which were largely sound but as yet too expensive to test. Wealthy from his father's work, personal investments into the V.O.C. as well as his own list of patents, Hemsterhuis could put hundreds of thousands of guilders in personal funds into his creation, something his competitors could not match.

Moving to Kolhapur in India, Hemsteruis took advantage of the drop in iron and steel consumption in the theater caused by the relative peace to finalize his design. Many local scholars and workers, which went uncredited for the work were also involved in the construction which was finally finished in 1752. The ship itself was a poorly constructed brig, cut apart to accommodate the engine block, but the ship managed to move without sail into a stiff wind bringing it considerable attention, though most of the onlookers had been waiting for it to explode. The engine was transported back to the larger ports around France, a fifth rate hull was build around the steam engine in Brest, where the design would slowly improve over the years.

The ship was under-gunned in many respects, having only 30 guns rating it a sixth rate frigate. The advantage of it was its incredible manoueverability, as well we the thick iron reinforced hull. The technology still in a fledgling stage, the personally funded and expensive ship was sent to battle more as a test, and while the steam powered ship would become the world standard by the mid 1800s, for now, the biggest ships armed with hundreds of cannon would remain in control of the sea.