SS Bessemer

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Name: Bessemer
Owner: Bessemer Steamship Co Ltd
Builder: Earle's, Hull
Yard number: 197
Launched: 24 September 1874
Completed: April 1875
Maiden voyage: April 1875
Out of service: May 1875
Identification: United Kingdom Official Number 70698[1]
Fate: Scrapped 1879
General characteristics
Class and type: 1,974 GRT
Length: 350 feet (106.68 m)
Beam: 40 feet (12.19 m) (deck)
65 feet (19.81 m) (overall)
Draught: 7 feet 5 inches (2.26 m)
Propulsion: 4 paddle wheels

The SS Bessemer (also called the Bessemer Saloon) was an experimental Victorian cross-Channel passenger paddle steamer with a swinging cabin, a concept devised by the engineer and inventor Sir Henry Bessemer, intended to combat seasickness.


Bessemer, a severe seasickness sufferer, devised in 1868 the idea of a ship whose passenger cabin - the Saloon - would be suspended on gimbals and kept horizontal mechanically to isolate the occupants from the ship's motion: an idea he patented in December 1869. After successful trials with a model, the levelling achieved by hydraulics controlled by a steersman watching a spirit level, Bessemer set up a limited joint stock company, the Saloon Ship Company, to run steamships between England and France. This gained £250,000 capital, financing the construction of a ship, the SS Bessemer, with the naval constructor Edward James Reed as chief designer.[2]


The SS Bessemer was a 4-paddle steamer (2 paddles port and starboard, length 350 feet (106.68 m), breadth at deck beam 40 feet (12.19 m), outside breadth across paddle-boxes, 65 feet (19.81 m), draught 7 feet 5 inches (2.26 m), gross register tonnage 1974 tons). The internal Saloon was a room 70 ft long (21 m) by 30 ft wide (9.1 m), with a ceiling 20 feet (6.1 m) from the floor, morocco-covered seats, divisions and spiral columns of carved oak, and gilt moulded panels with hand-painted murals. [2] Bessemer was built by Earle's Shipbuilding of Hull. She was yard number 197 and was launched on 24 September 1874.[1]


The ship sailed from Dover to Calais on a private trial in April 1875. On arrival, it sustained damage to a paddle-wheel when it hit the pier at Calais, due to its failure to answer to the helm at slow speed. The first and only public voyage took place on 8 May 1875, the ship sailing with the swinging cabin locked (some observers suggested due to its serious instability.[3], although Bessemer ascribed it to insufficient time to fix the previous damage). [2] The ship was operated by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway.[4] After two attempts to enter the harbour, it crashed into the Calais pier again, this time demolishing part of it.[3]

The poor performance lost the confidence of investors, leading to the winding-up of the Saloon Ship Company in 1876. The ship remained in dock at Dover until being sold for scrap in 1879. When the ship was broken up, its designer Reed had the Saloon cabin moved to his home, Hextable House, Swanley,[5] where it was used as a billiard room.[6] When the house later became a women's college, Swanley Agricultural College, the Saloon was used as a lecture hall, but was destroyed by a direct hit when the college was bombed in World War II.[7]


Primary reference: The Bessemer Saloon Steam-Ship, Chapter XX, Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S. An Autobiography, online at University of Rochester.

  1. 1.0 1.1 ""1070698"" (subscription required). Miramar Ship Index. R.B. Haworth. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Bessemer Saloon Steam-Ship, Chapter XX, Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S., An Autobiography
  3. 3.0 3.1 Short Works of Percy Hethrington Fitzgerald, Percy Hethrington Fitzgerald, BiblioBazaar, 2008, ISBN 1-4375-2495-8
  4. "London, Chatham & Dover Railway Company". The Ships List. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  5. County Agricultural Surveys, Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1954
  6. Boat Trains and Channel Packets: The English Short Sea Routes, Rixon Bucknall, V. Stuart, 1957
  7. The Story of the Paddle Steamer, Bernard Dumpleton, Intellect Books, 2002, ISBN 1-84150-801-2