formerly the Archives and Collections Society  

Copper Sheathing - (RN?)

1758 / 1761 - Experimental use "which cannot fail" (The Naval Repository, or Young Seaman's Best Instructor, by An Officer in the Navy, Wilson and Fell, 1762) appears to apply to the ALARM, frigate - but Naval Chronicles, 1, 31 gives the year a 1758.

1775 - general interest - the HAWKE, sloop, from India after 5 years - but electrlysis problems with iron fastenings, pintles etc started to become at least visible, if not a limiting factor.

1776 - experimenation on a number of smaller ships, including the PEGASUS, sloop, and the ARIADNE, 20. This after a 'paint' of white lead and linseed oil was applied

1777 Jan - experiments with Kier copper bolts (James Kier and partner Matthew Boulton used an alloy of copper, zinc and iron).

1778 - becoming fairly common. Sandwich, First Lord, was reluctant, his ideas were countered by Sir Charles Middleton, Comptroller of the Navy. The usefullness of a paper electrolysis barrier became recognized - perhaps on the JUPITER, 44.

1778 May - Admiralty General Order to copper all ships below 32 guns

1778 July - ditto all below 44

1779 - Kempenfelt's dictum that 25 coppered ships of the line were enough to tease the combined French and Spanish fleets

1779 February - RUSSELL 74 and IINVINCIBLE 74 ordered copper sheathed

1779 May? - General Order to copper all ships

1779 October - report on bolt corrosion on the UNICORN, 20, appears to be the last on iron and/or unclad copper bolt (Kier/Boulton) electrolysis

1779 - copper plating increased from 18 pound to 28 or even 32 pound (per square foot) - and this not just at the bows (anchor damage).

1780 - Dawson gets "monopoly" of tar paper (the exact details changed rapidly - from white lead and linseed in strong brown paper to cartridge paper containing the same plus tar or oil of tar).

1780 - Rodney attributes his capture of 6 Spanish ships of the line off Gibraltar to the copper sheathing of his own ships.

1780 - Welsh miner Thomas Williams and his London agent William Forbes establish a quasi-monopoly with the Navy for the supply of copper.

1782 - Sandwich claims copper sheathing a great achievement: already coppered 82 capital ships, 14 50s, 115 frigates, 102 sloops and cutters.

1782 September - storm on the Grand Banks, VILLE DE PARIS 110, GLORIEUX, RAMILLIES and CENTAUR (all 74) sink with 3,500 men lost, iron fastenings blamed in some quarters. fastenings continued to be the subject of controversial checking through 1783.

1786 - finalization of a new, mechanically hardened bolt by Westwood and Collins (in associated with Williams and Forbes supra) to replace the Kier/Boulton fastenings.

1786 - Navy decides it is cheaper to replace all iron fastenings than to continue to pay for worm damage (Journal of Transport History, G Rees, 1971)

1832 - George F. Muntz (British) patented 'yellow metal' or 'Muntz metal' (60% copper, 40% zinc hot-rolled into sheets for sheathing). The zinc slowed the eating away of the sheathing, and lowered the costs.


Mariner's Mirror, V59 #3, R.J.B. Knight, Introduction of Copper Sheathing into the RN; and same author, Mariner's Mirror, V62 #3, Early attempts at lead and copper sheething.

Nautical Research Journal, E.A.R Ronnberg, V20 #4 and V26 #3, The coppering of 19th century American merchant sailling ships.

Copper and Shipping in the Eighteenth Century, J.R. Harris, Economic History Review, 1966, vol. 19, issue 3, pages 550-568

Ships' fastenings : from sewn boat to steamship, Mike McCarthy, Texas A&M, 2005.


Revised: 31 March 2002