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The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, Volume 2

Date: 1794
Overall: 265 x 215 x 35 mm
Medium: leather, paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Marie Dale
Classification:Books and journals
Object Name: Book
Object No: 00045824

User Terms

    Steel's 'The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship' was the first work published in the English language that was really designed as a compendium of the knowledge required by a seaman. It was essentially a practical man's guide to a practical business.

    SignificanceIn compiling this work, Steel set out to record, articulate and illustrate best practice in British shipbuilding and rigging, a task made difficult not only by the reluctance of British shipwrights and seamen to divulge for publication what were prized as secrets of the craft but also by the fact that those he interviewed were generally 'inexpert in the use of the pencil'. The result, however, provides an invaluable record of British naval and merchant marine practice on the eve of the Napoleonic period.

    History'The Elements and Practice of Riggings and Seamanship' first appeared in London in 1794, relatively early in Steel's career as a naval writer and publisher. The success of the work confirmed Steel's reputation as a publisher of nautical works and no doubt spurred him on to produce his other great discourse on ship construction 'The Elements and Practice of Naval Architecture' - aimed at those aspiring to succeed in shipping and ship building, the largest single industry in Britain, and probably the world.

    The working of ships, declared Steel in the preface to this volume 'like all sciences, consists of theory and practice'. This work embodies the best of both, with copious mathematical and scientific explanations supported by illustrations and practical advice, much of it aimed at 'the juvenile seaman'. Every skill required by a Master Mariner is covered in the work by Steel, written in a logical sequence and simple language: the essence of Steel's style.

    This work was the bible for many midshipmen who joined the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars and the American War of 1812. The coverage includes how to make sails, masts, anchors, how to tie knots, rig the ship, sail the ship and lastly, how to fight the ship. In his preface to this work David Steel writes 'In Great Britain the naval arts are indigenous, and flourish with a superiority, which is the result of a vast demand for their various labours. But, singular though it is, the British Nation cannot boast of having taught or considerably improved them by the efforts of her press'. He goes on to compare the paucity of British writers on naval matters with the wealth of French writers on the subject, attributing the latter to the French 'consciousness of practical superiority', which is in contrast to the 'almost proverbial' reserve of the British.

    Not satisfied with resting on his laurels Steel and later his son, also called David, produced a string of practical, no-nonsense guides to shipping, shipbuilding, ship handling and navigation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many of their works went through various editions, reprints and in some cases republication under different authors' names - not an uncommon event in the years before copyright law. Some of these works included 'The Ship-Masters Assistant and Owners' Manual...', 1790 and 1801; 'Seamanship both in Theory and Practice', 1795; 'The Art of Sailmaking...', 1809; 'Steel's Original and Correct List of the Royal Navy and the Hon. East India Company's Shipping', 1802 and 1809; 'The Art of Making Masts, Yards, Gaffs...',1841; 'The art of Rigging', 1841, and 'The Art of Sail Making', 1841.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, Vol.2

    Web title: The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, Volume 2

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