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Biography: Dixon Kemp (1839 - 21 November 1899)

The Engineer, 24 Nov. 1899

An eminent authority on yachts and yachting has passed away by the death, on Wednesday morning last, of Mr. Dixon Kemp. In him there was the rare combination of editor and yacht builder. He was born in 1839 at Ryde, and was therefore sixty years of age at the time of his death. For three years - 1859-62 - he was editor of the Isle of Wight Observer, and from that time forward he was yachting editor of The Field. He published a number of books relating to yachts and shipping, many of which are now classical, and largely helped to found, and was for many years secretary of the Yacht Racing Association. He also was largely instrumental in establishing "Lloyd's Yacht Register." He was a member of the Institution of Naval Architects, and was responsible for the design of many of our finest steam and sailing yachts.


Dixon Kemp's early biography is elusive; he was born on the Isle of Wight only eleven years before the yacht America won the Royal Yacht Squadron's £100 Cup. As a young local journalist, he started writing about yachting a few years later, but by the time he was twenty years old in 1859, he had the by-line of 'yachting editor' at The Field, then a major publication. His work for a dozen or so years was perhaps unremarkable, but in 1875, he became first Secretary of the Yacht Racing Association (a role he held until 1898), which introduced a series of short-lived, relatively unreliable, rating formulae leading to the emergence of extreme types and very lightly built yachts.

It is unclear when he started designing yachts; Ian Dear suggests in the Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers that this could have been as early as 1870. Amongst others, he designed Beluga, a 56-ton cutter, built by Payne for Francis Barratt of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club as early as 1872.

In 1877, he became a member of the first board of the Yacht Registration Society under the chairmanship of the Marquis of Exeter, leading to the establishment of LLoyd's Register of Yachts the following year. In 1887, he delivered "50 years of yacht building" (available here in pdf format) to the Institute of Naval Architects, the same year that he introduced an improved measurement rule in England that abandoned the excessive penalty for beam.

In 1892, Dixon Kemp designed the Firecrest, 39' (LOA) x 30' (LWL) x 8'6" x 7', built by P.T. Harris, Rowhedge, Essex, later well known in the hands of Alain Gerbault. It is widely accepted that the designer of the Bluenose, William J. Roué learned much of his expertise from one book, Dixon Kemp's Yacht Architecture.

Bibliographic notes:

Yacht designing

Yacht designing, First edition

Yacht designing : a treatise on the practical application of the scientific principles upon which is based the art of designing yachts, London: "The Field" Office, 346, Strand, W.C. ; 1876, First Edition ; x, [2], 118, xxiv pp. This is the seminal, first work, to write of designing yachts rather than any other type of vessel, based on theory that is furher demonstrated by the practical results of some forty yachts, fully shown in the fold-out drawings. While much of the writing is as valid today as it was 150 year ago, it must be remembered that William Froude had not yet published any tank test papers, so speed calculations, based on Rankine's "augmented surface rule" are, as the author states, "We are now approaching a very weak point in the cahin of calculations." This volume measures some 16 ½ by 12 inches (42x31 cm), with some of the plates measuring up to 3 feet (92 cm) when unfolded.


yacht and boat

Manual of Yacht and Boat
Sailing, First edition

A Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing, London, "The Field" Office, 1878, First edition, 388, 12 adv, errata slip, 25 plates, 125 text pp. ; ill. This copy is the First Edition.


yacht and boat

Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing, Tenth edition

Later editions, revised by the King's Sailing Master, Brooke Heckstall-Smith, were re-titled Dixon Kemp's Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing


kemp architecture

Dixon Kemp, Architecture, second edition

Yacht Architecture: A Treatise on the laws which govern the resistance of bodies moving in water; propulsion by steam and sail; yacht designing; and yacht building, Horace Cox London, 1885, First edition. XII, 470pp. Adverts.84 mostly folding plates (2 colour folding). 184 text illustrations.


practical boat

Practical boat sailing

Practical Boat Building and Sailing. Containing Full Instructions for Designing and Building Punts, Skiffs, Canoes, Sailing Boats, &c., Particulars of the Most Suitable Sailing Boats and Yachts for Amateurs and Instructions for Their Proper Handling: Neison, Adrian; Kemp, Dixon; and Davies, G. Christopher, London L. Upcott, 1st ed. 1881. Part 1. Boat Building 108 pp: Part 2. Boat Sailing 198pp, +16pp ads, many diagrams, 3 fold out plans

Part 1 of above republished as: Practical Boat Building for Amateurs; first printing 1901, London: L. Upcott Gill, 108, [16 ads] p.; originally by Adrian Neison, subsequently revised by Dixon Kemp.


Yacht and boat sailing

Yacht and boat
sailing, édition

Yacht architecture. Yacht and boat sailing. Edition française. Traduite, annotée et augmentée par MM. Boyn et Martinenq. 1st part: Architecture et construction. 2nd part: Navigation à Voile et à Vapeur. KEMP, Dixon, Paris, Bernard et Cie, 1895. 4 volumes. Texte: 2 vol. gr. in-8 de VIII-441 et [11] (pl. dépliantes)-412 pp., Planches: 2 vol. in-4 en ff. de 77 et 133 planches (Polak 4844).

Yacht and boat sailing, 2nd ed., 1896, Paris, Bernard et Cie, [Vol 2; 412, 12 p. texte; 111 plans éd. ang. 31 Série française; facsimile by Chasse-Marée, 1993]

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Additional bibliographic notes can be found here.


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