Shipwright artistry: cultural transmission of British colonial ship design and construction during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Author: Kurt Bennett

Bennett, Kurt, 2021 Shipwright artistry: cultural transmission of British colonial ship design and construction during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Previous ship studies often grouped vessels into typologies to demonstrate a linear progression of development. This investigation of Endeavour (built 1771), HMS Buffalo (built 1813) and Edwin Fox (built 1853) employs a thematic approach to demonstrate that hull development is influenced by the cross-temporal transmission of knowledge and technologies. This research addresses how the investigation of design and construction of British East India colonial ships inform us of ship manufacture during the late-eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries. A review of archaeological, archival, material analyses, material identification and dendrochronology is used to answer several lines of enquiry. These include identifying external factors affecting information exchange between shipbuilding industries; interpreting design and construction changes over time using material evidence; exploring innovation and adaptation to new technologies; assessing properties of local ship timbers; and developing a framework to understand ship development. Finally, this study discusses the social, political, economic, cultural and environmental factors that influenced ship development and the exchange of information between shipwrights and is used to more fully develop British colonial and Indian ship studies.

This research is significant to the discipline of nautical archaeology and to the advancement of several nations’ shared maritime heritage. It contributes to understanding colonial ship construction and reveals meaningful insights into resource selection, technological changes and shipwright behaviours during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The ships Endeavour, HMS Buffalo and Edwin Fox are intertwined with several countries and represent multi-faceted historical records that resulted from cultural transmission. Furthermore, this thesis is significant because it investigates for the first time these vessels located within Aotearoa New Zealand that are threatened by natural and cultural site formation processes.

Keywords: Nautical archaeology, British East Indiaman, ship construction, India shipyard, colonial shipwrights, eighteenth century, nineteenth century, Endeavour, HMS Buffalo, Edwin Fox, New Zealand shipwreck

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Wendy van Duivenvoorde