User Rating:  / 8

Composite Shipbuilding

By the beginning of the nineteenth century shipbuilders began using iron components in wooden vessel construction. A patent from 1849 saw a shipbuilder named John Jordan specify the first vessel with a complete iron frame. The Tubal Cain was one of the early vessels built under this patent and launched in 1851. Interestingly this ship was sunk in a collision 200 miles WSW of Cape Otway in August of 1862. The firm of Jordan and Getty left the business, but others carried on developing composite shipbuilding principles, notable amongst these was Alexander Stephen Jr.

Through the early 1860’s Alexander developed and refined composite construction and was finally able to get recognition and ultimate endorsement from Lloyds for this form of ship construction. However it wasn’t until 1867 that they finally issued their rules for composite construction. Until then all such vessels were labeled “experimental”. One of the early problems that shipbuilders had to address was the corrosion of iron frames through contact with non-ferrous bolts. One of the factors favoring composite construction over the parallel developing iron construction involved hull fouling. A timber planked, but iron framed, vessel could be clad in copper or “yellow metal” over the underwater portion, this controlled the growth of hull fouling organisms. This meant the ship could make faster passages, without the constant need to be slipped or careened to clean the bottom. At this point in time there were no anti-fouling paints.

The remaining examples of this important, but short era of shipbuilding, are the City of Adelaide (built in 1864) and the Cutty Sark (built in 1867). Both these vessels are equally important to the development of composite vessels.

Industrial Revelations

On Discovery Channel's "Industrial Revelations", host Mark Williams takes us for a tour of the construction of the 'City of Adelaide'. Please click here to go to Discovery Channel website to see the video (opens in new window).

Composite Ship Framing - showing method of diagonal bracing
Composite Ship Framing - showing method of diagonal bracing (Source: Lloyds Register of Shipping 1874.)

Lloyds Survey of 1864

The City of Adelaide is a composite built vessel, timber planked over an iron framework. She was built by William Pile, Hay and Co. at Sunderland. Her principle dimensions, taken from her original Lloyds Survey of June 3rd 1864, are as follows:

Tonnage (new)791.33 tons 
Length aloft176.8 ft(53.89 m)
Extreme breadth outside33.35 ft(10.17 m)
Depth of hold18.8 ft(5.73 m)


The vessel was built under Special Survey between the 1st October 1863 and June 3rd 1864.

Midship Section of a Composite Ship
Midship Section of a Composite Ship (Source: Paasch H, (1885), From Keel to Truck; A Marine Dictionary in English, French and German, Antwerp.)

A number of species of timber were used in the vessels construction:

  • Her Keel was made of Elm and American Elm
  • The main piece of the Rudder is of English Oak
  • The main piece of the Windlass is of teak
  • The Stem and Stern post are of English Oak
  • The Knight Heads and Hawse Chocks are of English Oak
  • The Deadwood is of American Elm, Teak and English Oak
  • Planking from Keel to (possibly turn of bilge) is of American Elm
  • Planking from that point to the Light Water Mark is of German Oak
  • Planking from Light Water Mark to the Wales is of Teak
  • The Wales and Black Strakes are of Teak
  • The Topsides and Sheer Strakes are of Teak
  • The Spirketting and Plank Sheers are of Teak
  • The Water-ways are of Teak
  • The Decks are of Yellow Pine

The hull below the waterline was sheathed in Yellow Metal and Felt in May of 1864.

Source: Transcribed from the Lloyds Survey of 1864 by Adrian Brown of Adelaide, South Australia.

Member Login

Find Us on Facebook and Twitter

Facebook Image
Follow Us On Twitter - Image
You are here: Home The Ship Construction
Bring Her Home