The Tragic Story Of The Victorian RMS Tayleur | How The Victorians Built Britain | Absolute History

The Tragic Story Of The Victorian RMS Tayleur | How The Victorians Built Britain | Absolute History

in the long reign of a single queen britain changed the world and was itself utterly transformed queen victoria came to the throne in 1837 by the time she died in 1901 we had made the modern world it was a time of brilliant engineering pioneering innovation all of it driven by fearless men and women who dreamt big and shaped the country we live in today [Music] fast and effective new transport systems shrank the world you travel further faster the railways compress space and time startling innovations above and below ground saved lives we’ve grabbed the saw like this it’s more like carpentry than surgery groundbreaking ideas nurtured our minds and souls it was feeling like you were dancing in one of the great european palaces and a revolution in law and order set us on course for the freedoms we take for granted today you brought from the darkness of the prisons into this glory it’s fantastic isn’t it it is this is the story of how the victorians built britain in the victorian era britain really did rule the waves but rapid changes in technology ignited a naval arms race what nelson would have given for this which britain felt it just had to win a group of victorian visionaries transformed what it meant to go to sea wow this is kind of downton abbey afloat they built a series of majestic and revolutionary ships that shape the future of sea travel in a way that we can still see today [Music] when queen victoria came to the throne ships were the archers of the british empire across the uk rivers like this would be crammed with shipping from all over the world bringing in picking up cargos that made britain the greatest trading nation on earth [Music] all that wealth and territory was held together protected guaranteed by the royal navy the british navy was feared throughout the world it had not long before defeated the french and the spanish at the battle of trafalgar but his supremacy was under threat [Music] across the channel the french had raised their game out when their old wooden ships and in came a terrifying new warship powered by sail and steam and clad in the latest material iron she was called lagroi the glory and the minute she hit the water in 1859 the entire royal navy was obsolete if she was to stay ahead in a dangerous world britain had to act fast in december 1860 the biggest fastest most powerful warship the world had ever seen was launched and here it is hms warrior victorian masterpiece she’s in portsmouth’s historic dockyard now in her day warrior was the wonder of the world she was a giant a floating fortress with a hull of iron powered by sails and the largest engine ever used in a warship britain was set to rule the waves once again you get a real sense of history of the might of the royal navy but more than that the power of this ship at the time must have been immense completely unchallengeable extraordinary vessel what’s so special about the warrior she’s the largest warship in the world she’s the fastest ship in the world she’s the most heavily armed ship in the world and she’s the most heavily armored ship in the world she’s 50 larger than the next largest warship she’s far faster than the next largest warship she’s unlike anything that anybody’s seen before no one knows more about the trials and tribulations of building this iron colossus than the royal navy’s andrew baines access to raw materials for iron is quite difficult so the ships actually made um largely from scrap in the form of scissors railways locomotives or bedsteads before it was turned into but how did they turn that into a warship how did that work they actually employed the local women from the east end of london to sort through piles of scrap feed them into machines to chop them up into small pieces stack them up together and then put it into a furnace to form these huge slabs of iron building the warrior was an extraordinary feat in two years during one of the coldest winters two thousand workers plus the ladies of the east end changed the face of modern warfare all together she cost 378 000 pounds that is about a billion pounds it’s just over a billion actually so it’s the equivalent of one of our newest aircraft carriers so we’re standing on the starship enterprise of the victorian era absolutely [Music] to boldly go where no warship had gone before hms warrior pioneered some of the latest developments in ship technology like her retractable funnels if you’re using sails you don’t want to obstruct the wind in any way so the funnels can telescope down into the ship below decks watertight compartments were designed to be sealed off if the ship was hit enabling her to stay afloat right down into the dungeon here and though she had sails for backup the real power came from her 5 700 horsepower steam engine what nelson would have given for this absolutely what an engine room the engine burned 10 tons of coal an hour enabling her to reach speeds of 20 miles an hour making her the fastest ship on the seas how much did steam engines like this change the whole technology of naval warfare beyond recognition there’s a huge worry um that steam has bridged the channel that we’re going to be invaded and that’s because invading great britain with a sailing fleet was very very difficult you need the wind to blow in exactly the right direction steam engines you don’t care what direction the wind’s blowing it tactically when you get into battle being able to harness and use the wind to greatest advantage no longer is that important this boils down to how powerful steam engine do you have therefore how fast will she go all this novelty all this innovation meant it was two years before hms warrior was ready in september 1861 she was ready for battle ready to reassert britain’s domination of the high seas it’s hard to imagine the impact this mighty ship would have had on britain’s rivals the royal navy had staked its reputation on a ship to outclass all others and the world now held its breath 1860 and a new ship prepares to rule the seas britain’s control of the oceans is under threat from a new ironclad fleet of french warships the royal navy has built hms warrior in response the fate of the british empire it seems is at stake hms warrior was fast powerful and armed with the latest naval weapons charles dickens described her as a black vicious ugly customer as ever i saw whale-like in size and with as terrible a row of incisor teeth has ever closed on a french frigate [Music] we’re here on the gun deck which doesn’t seem that dissimilar to nelson’s flagship the victory built a century before the difference is of course the size the scale the central part of the gun deck here is 216 feet long hms victory the whole ship would sit in here with 40 feet to spare and the guns especially what’s different about the guns that’s about twice the size of the heaviest cannon that nelson has available to him but it’s got five times the destructive power and that can fire one round every 55 seconds as well as her awesome firepower below decks the warrior was built to protect her crew to the max [Music] the ship’s sides are four and a half inches of raw tire and armor plate at the back of that is a foot and a half of teak the armored plate sculpts the projectile the teak is there to distribute the shock waves and stop the bolts that hold everything together from breaking and the armor plate falling off the ship’s side inside their armor-plated stronghold the crew ate round tables between the cannons at night they slung hammocks above singing sewing and playing cards some even brought their pet parrots and in the office’s wardroom a quiet revolution was taking place traditionally officers were from wealthy backgrounds but for the first time engineers were given a seat at the table it was a challenge to the old order but warrior changed the rules in more ways than one this extraordinarily powerful warship what action did she see she never fires a shot in anger so in that sense she did her job she’s incredibly successful hms warrior was the ultimate deterrent during her ten glorious years of service she had every country running scared making the seas safe for british trade and passenger travel [Music] it wasn’t only warships that were changing and changing fast steam engines had opened up the globe to victorians journeys that had taken months years were now completed in weeks passenger liners had arrived and behind them one of britain’s greatest engineers isambard kingdom brunel was a man on a mission to link london to new york his great western railway was already whisking passengers from paddington to bristol the transatlantic crossing was the missing link brunel’s first attempt at a passenger liner was a paddle steamer ss great weston but it was a competitive market the great western’s paddles slowed her down brunel had a better idea brunel went back to the drawing board and totally redesigned his passenger liner five years later it was ready and this is the result the ss great britain she’s in bristol now where she’s been painstakingly restored at her launch in 1843 the great britain was described as the greatest experiment since creation [Music] she was made of the victorian material of choice iron and powered by the latest in propeller-driven steam technology more people were traveling to new york than ever before many of them rich with business interests in america to appeal to these wealthy customers brunel and his backers were gambling on their new ship being the ultimate in comfort style and size how much of a risk was brunel running brunel loved risk to take things forward you would need to build bigger and the steamship company agreed because they wanted obviously to make a profit to carry more people to establish the steamship company as a major company on the atlantic line the ship cost a lot more money than originally estimated about 76 000 pounds in the end cost well over a hundred thousand pounds and brunell and his directors had to ask for extra money to enable them to finish the project in fact the ss great britain went so over budget she almost bankrupted the company how much of a sensation was it when it was finally launched oh it was seen as you know one of the greatest works in england thousands of people came to see it bristol thousands of people came to see it when it was in london [Music] its original name was the mammoth that gives you an idea of the scale nothing like this had ever been built before queen victoria visited the ship to give it a royal seal of approval it was a sensation nobody had seen anything quite like it she was a ship fit for a queen one of the very first to appeal to a new breed of luxury traveler good question wow i love lights this space this is kind of downton abbey afloat it is but at this particular time to have this sort of grandeur afloat must have been extraordinary the passengers were paying 35 guineas which was a lot of money for a first-class passenger so they expected a high standard of of journey and and this is what you got did they really dine in such luxury it would have been in the typical victorian fashion foul fish lots of courses and very long-winded affairs as i would imagine the sumptuous meals were included in the price of a first-class ticket along with luxury extras like hot water and steward service first class passengers on later voyages were even treated to fresh milk for their tea from the ship’s cow and brunel lavished the vip treatment on the ship’s interiors columns were gilded and archways beautifully carved there were private sitting rooms for the ladies and the sleeping compartments came with bathrooms each with a cast iron bath and this is the promenade deck it is where you promenaded him exactly the first class passengers even had their own covered deck where they could take a stroll in bad weather it was typical of the victorian class system to keep the wealthy and the poor firmly apart there was literally a big dividing line between the two on this ship there was because up on the deck there is a line across which only first class passengers could go exclusivity below decks as well as above decks below decks was a world away from the five-star first-class saloons third class or steerage passengers were crammed into stuffy bunks near the engines in the noisiest parts of the ship rats were rife there were reports of rats biting toes eating people’s clothes and even their money one disgruntled passenger wrote about his experience of the pokey conditions below decks [Music] this is one of the few accounts from people who traveled steerage the poorer people packed into the into the front of the ship a scot called alan gilmore gives an account what it was like in steerage in 1852 going to australia our births are pretty well ventilated but very confined and dark the distance between our births for the purpose of dressing is two feet broad and six feet long so confined that only one can dress it once and even in this small space we have to build part of our luggage even better than that there’s a drawing here of what it was like in steerage and you can see how how close-packed those births were a passage here and a pantry and so on it really gives you some idea of what it was actually like today we’re still grumbling about economy class but it’s remarkable to think that long-haul travel as we know it has its origins in the pioneering passenger liner ss great britain brunel shrank the world the uss great britain enabled people to travel much quicker and much safer than they’d ever done before but the restless victorians were eager to move on size was everything the bigger the ship the more passengers and the more profit and while this inspired some of their most brilliant creations it also set the scene for one of their darkest days [Music] queen victoria’s british engineers had revolutionized ship design and more or less invented long-haul travel but the new technology was expensive which led to some companies cutting corners ambitious ship owners were building ever bigger ships to maximize their profits one of the biggest was the rms taylor she was designed for a very particular purpose to bring long distance travel to the masses in the 1850s a new passenger route had opened up australia was in the grip of gold rush fever hundreds of thousands of people were prepared to brave three months at sea for a new life in the australian gold fields the iron hull taylor was designed to carry upwards of 600 people on the long voyage from liverpool to melbourne author jill hofs has spent many years uncovering the ship’s untold story so what was it like when they eventually set off on their main voyage celebration streamers ribbons bottles of wine everyone throwing their hats up and wafting their shawls people were saying goodbye to the loved ones but feeling really glad that they would hopefully get to australia really pretty quickly for the time maybe a hundred days but the ship had only just left liverpool when the crew spotted something strange campuses on board wouldn’t match up but they thought it wasn’t too big a degree of difference they’d sort it out as they as they got on as the tailor reached the irish sea she was hit by an epic storm the crew battling with the sails discovered the ropes hadn’t been seasoned properly making them unmanageable and that wasn’t all originally she was meant to have two engines as well as sails however they rushed making her so they didn’t actually put them in so the engines weren’t there at all no they’re in a storm they can’t work the sails what more could go wrong they couldn’t really steer the ship why the rudder had been cut down to allow the ship to actually go from warrington where she was built down the mersey to liverpool where she was fitted out and what this meant was they couldn’t direct her in any way shape or form [Music] the storm raged on [Music] by now it was clear to everyone on board the ship was in deep trouble [Music] after two days there was a shout of land ahoy the children heard the shouts of land and got dead excited because they were too little to know two days isn’t 100 days and they thought it was australia in fact the land they could see was the island of lambay off the dublin coast its gaelic name island of the shipwreck some of the men tried to hack down the sails with axes because the tide was powering the men but the force of the waves was sweeping the ship relentlessly towards the rocks she jammed onto the rock side on and open up the ship to the water yes the first people to get off literally just jumped and that was them [Music] and they started putting ropes and spars across and trying to help people over it’s hard to imagine the terror that must have gripped those poor passengers that day the ship was now sinking some decided to try and swim for the shore but the motion of the waves and the tides pulled the ship back and it meant that people were getting crushed in between the ship and the rock women were also hampered by the weight of their skirts and petticoats out of a hundred women on board just three survived its original scene out of hell hasn’t it totally it’s estimated that day around 400 people died remarkably a few precious artifacts have been salvaged from the wreckage of the taylor which still lies beneath the waves of the irish coast [Music] what sort of impact did it make when the news of this broke it was a gut punch for victorian britain it was a complete shock they fully expected that the next time they would hear about this magnificent vessel it would be because she’d landed in glory in australia they’ve made the mark upon the worlds and instead it was it was this you know that they really couldn’t have imagined it there were five inquiries into the disaster which found fault with the shipping company white star for not checking the compasses or carrying out sea trials although no one went to jail white star eventually went bankrupt but its name was taken by another shipping company which went on to launch the most famously ill-fated ship of all the titanic despite the tragic setbacks the victorians were relentless in their desire to travel and explore the world’s remotest corners but it wasn’t all about discovery and adventure closer to home a small but miraculous invention was transforming our lives making this little fellow on the thames in london the unsung hero of victorian shipping the ss robin the last intact example of the victorian coastal steamer it was smaller than many of the cargo ships of the period which allowed it to get into all of the major ports on the british coast these little steamers were the lifeblood of the cargo train they made a living chugging from port to port picking up coal iron or whatever paying goods they could find [Music] but the steamers were special each and every one of them carried a secret weapon dr roy fenton an expert on this neglected piece of maritime history has promised to show me more so she’s not the least bit glamorous in fact didn’t they call them steamers cramping was a derogatory term the people who worked in line has looked down on them what a tramps knocking in a steamer but in the belly of this unassuming little boat is a piece of victorian engineering so advanced it would shape the entire future of the shipping industry the triple expansion engine it’s a rusty old beast isn’t it it looks a bit ramshackled now but to the victorians what made it modern what made it effective it was more efficient you were burning less coal and it was less expensive to run simple all the advantages yes remember they were going all the time they didn’t stop at night they just just carried on chugged on [Music] the triple expansion engine played a crucial role in driving the industrial revolution britain’s mills were powered by the technology found here in the humble robin this was in every sense the engine room of victorian trade absolutely absolutely slow but sure the plucky little robin did her bit to keep the country running [Music] but beyond our coastal waters a very different kind of ship was busy securing britain as a power player in global trade there were fortunes up for grabs on the hugely profitable trade routes if the ships were fast enough the urge for speed to have the fastest trading vessel to cross the world’s oceans led to perhaps the most famous ship of the victorian era the cutty sark [Music] with her streamlined hull and mask that held 32 000 square feet of sail the cutty sark was one of a new breed of superships called clippers because they moved at such a clip she was the very fastest ship of her time and was built in dumbarton for the victorian shipping magnate jock willis what sort of man was he well jock willis was quite a character he was well known around the city particularly because he wore a distinctive white top hat so he would have been would have been easy to spot why did he want this ship built crucially there was an awful lot of money to be made in the tea trade and it paid to be fast now cutty sark is a clipper ship she is built for speed speed was of the essence in the tea business tea was fast becoming the nation’s favorite drink a cup of tea was the very definition of respectability and the rich paid top whack for the new season’s crop the clippers laden with tea raced each other to be first back from china the winner could sell at a premium the first cargo was worth around six million pounds in today’s money there were many other clipper ships like cutty sark who are all competing for that market we have records of the crew betting their rivals whether they could get back first to london the crews were highly skilled chosen for their expert handling of these thoroughbred ships they slept in cabins on the main deck in wooden bunks that were deliberately designed a few inches shorter than the average man the theory was that if the men were squashed into their bunks they wouldn’t roll out in stormy seas [Music] but this brilliantly designed ship had a rival the thermopylae thermopylae was built the year before cutty sark and the owner was professing this was going to be the fastest ship afloat so it was all about pride and prestige and of course crucially about money [Music] in 1872 the cutty sark set out to beat thermopylae on the tea run from shanghai to london it would be one of the most thrilling races in maritime history [Music] the ships were very very close out of china they were so close that their signal flags were launched to communicate with one another so the crew would almost be able to see one another [Music] as they sailed across the indian ocean cutty sark surged ahead by the time she’d reached the tip of africa she was 460 miles in the lead and heading for victory [Music] then disaster off the cape of good hope she was hit by a massive storm which tore her rudder clean off [Music] it’s a huge piece isn’t it and it just came straight off yeah it paints a picture of how severe the gale was about how big the storm was that it could knock that piece of wood entirely off there was no way to steer without the five meter high rudder make a new one the ship would normally go to the nearest port but the captain had other ideas the master george moody was adamant that they were going to build a temporary rudder and try and resume the race how did they possibly make something to replace something as huge as that really really luckily there happened to be two stowaways on this voyage on cuttysake and those stowaways one was a carpenter and one was a blacksmith so it was an incredible stroke of luck quickly a makeshift forge was assembled on deck and together the stowaways and ships carpenter used spars from the rigging to make a temporary rudder it’s an amazing feat of engineering is an incredibly difficult thing to do at the best of times let alone in the middle of the storm the cutty sark was back in the race but it was too late nine days after thermopylae she arrived in london to a hero’s welcome the british board of trade hailed the work of the crew as a model for making a replacement rudder at sea [Music] so the race was lost but the reputation very much was not all of the attention was on cutty sark and this amazing feat of engineering so cuddy sart didn’t win but did become famous absolutely yes the electrifying races of the cargo clippers had gripped the public but as the 20th century approached the thrill-seeking victorians were chasing a new dream a boat so fast it couldn’t be caught throughout victoria’s reign the nation’s most talented engineers had built ships that gave britain her military muscle revolutionized passenger travel and turned her into a trading superpower [Music] but another victorian inventor had a different aim he wanted speed [Music] speed for speed sake was the driving force behind one of britain’s great victorian visionaries charles parsons had already invented the steam turbine engine but in 1894 he began a groundbreaking experiment that he hoped would blow all the other ships out of the water parsons believed that his revolutionary turbine engine would harness all of steam’s potential but to prove it he would have to build a boat that would travel at speeds the world had never seen before the ss turbinia is the world’s first speedboat built here in newcastle and now beautifully preserved at the discovery museum she’s remarkable for her sleek lines and powerful turbine engine she was a marvel of her day kick-starting our love affair with thrill-seeking pursuits parsons planned to sell his experimental design to the royal navy hoping he’d be able to hit speeds of 30 knots or 34 miles per hour but the turbinia’s first test runs were a disaster it should have been the fastest boat on the planet but in those first tests it could only manage 20 knots if charles parsons the inventor couldn’t do better than that then the whole experiment was a failure then parsons had a light bulb moment what if he put not one but three engines and nine propellers in turbinia it was genius the new boat topped 32 knots nearly 37 miles an hour faster than any boat on the seas [Music] by 1897 parsons had perfected his creation now he needed a way to get her noticed that year the queen was holding a special naval pageant at spit head to celebrate her diamond jubilee [Music] parsons came up with a daring plan to turn up uninvited to the royal party maritime historian ian whitehead has the extraordinary story he’s not part of the navy so he’s gate crashing in a way parsons and his pals decided to do a full speed run down in between the lines of the fleet you can just see them nearly running people down and patrol boats trying to stop them presumably those patrol boats had no hope of catching them absolutely no hope of catching to be here it was a cheeky move but it definitely got turbinian noticed great fun for everybody and it certainly has been remembered to this day the navy was so impressed they eventually adopted parsons engine design the revolutionary turbinia was the very start of our obsession with speed and extreme water spores paving the way for every boat since that relies on speed to do its job terbinium wasn’t just the fastest boat on the planet she was the future technology that would drive the ships of the 20th and 21st centuries it seemed the victorians were willing to take on anything and those fearless pioneers now turned their attention to one of the last frontiers life beneath the waves a design for a boat that could travel underwater was first floated in 1578 by a royal navy gunner william bourne but no one got serious about developing submarines until the victorian era by the late 1800s france america and russia were all experimenting with submersible boats as far as the navy was concerned there were those who wanted to embrace these technological changes and those that wanted to resist them many too who felt that creeping up on your enemy underwater was somehow sneaky and unenglish the result at the turn of the 20th century the world’s most powerful navy was the only one that didn’t have submarines things had to change so in 1900 the royal navy negotiated with the americans to build a version of one of their experimental submersibles it was the creation of irish engineer john holland and would become britain’s first ever submarine and there she blows 122 tons of riveted steel preserved in all her glory her state-of-the-art circular hull could withstand immense pressure underwater she looks so futuristic it’s hard to believe she was built by the victorians the navy’s own submarine expert george malcomson knows how dangerous it was for the first sailors venturing into this brave new underwater world you certainly have to keep your head down here people actually have to live on here and work on here how many in the crew oh well you would have had eight people in the crew eight people living and working cheap by jowl what would it have been like down here though in this metal tube you’ve got the exhaust fumes leaking back in carbon monoxide coming from the engine which is a potential killer there’s many hazards for the crew on board these early submarines a real dangerous job how did they get around that how did they try to protect the crew one of the things was to have three white mice in a cage and when they showed signs of distress or bellied up then it was time to bring the submarine up for the eight men piloting the sub on her first dives it was a voyage into the unknown thirty years earlier jules verne had written about a fantastical undersea journey in twenty thousand leagues under the sea these first submarine crews must have imagined all kinds of terrors waiting for them as they navigated their way beneath the oceans in terms of actually physically operating it steering it surfacing and diving how complex how difficult an operation was that well that that is the problem once you’re under the water you’re you’re subjected to tidal drift knowing where you were at any given time is the challenge one solution came from the navy’s very first captain of submarines reginald bacon earning him the reputation of the cleverest officer in the navy captain bacon came up with the idea of a periscope or they called it an optical tube this would help navigating and carrying out an attack against the surface vessel it must have made a huge difference when you could actually see what was happening on the surface rather than doing everything blind it is a pivotal moment for the royal navy in the space of just a few years the development of the submarine was such that at the outbreak of first world war we had more submarines than anybody britain had the depths of the ocean in her sights the technology of these early subs would be the basis of all british submarine design the victorians dreamed big their willingness to experiment had propelled them into a futuristic world where anything was possible britain’s always been a seafaring nation but in the 64 years of victoria’s reign british ships changed out of all recognition the victorians created the deadliest warship the largest ocean liner they came up with the fastest ships and got hold of the sneakiest submarine the world had ever seen by 1901 britannia really did rule the waves thanks to the inventions of the victorians the engineers the entrepreneurs the pioneers who set us on course for the world we have today next time i discover how the victorians harnessed iron and steel to bridge the nation’s divides it’s the scale of it isn’t it when you go underneath it it’s absolutely incredible uncover the secrets of an engineering great god that’s like a cathedral and see a bridge building revolution that echoed around the world
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The Tragic Story Of The Victorian RMS Tayleur | How The Victorians Built Britain | Absolute History

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