HMS Congo (1816)

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HMS Congo was the first steam-powered warship built for the British Royal Navy, though it must be recorded that she was not very successful as such.

She was classified as a "steam sloop" and was built in 1816 at Deptford specifically for an exploration of the Congo River.

Armament is recorded as one carronade and twelve small swivel guns. The steam engine is recorded as weighing 30 tons and was capable of developing 20 Horse Power.

Trials proved that this power, when transmitted to the paddle wheels, could only propel the vessel at about three knots. Such a rate of progress, coupled with unsatisfactory handling characteristics (she was described as very crank) resulted in the engines and paddle wheels being removed. Examination of the situation by James Watt Junior, son of James Watt, could only come up with a recommendation to use the engine for pumping out docks at Plymouth. Thus, the Congo sailed to her destination without the steam engine, rigged as a schooner.

The Congo expedition

The expedition, under James Kingston Tuckey, was the first attempt to map the Congo River, and did little beyond prove that the lower river was not navigable beyond one hundred miles (160 km) from the sea. The other thing it proved was that such expeditions were little more than suicide until medical science had improved - all of the officers and most of the crew were dead of disease (especially yellow fever) before they reached the rapids which blocked further progress. It was to be another fifty years before the river was mapped, by Henry Morton Stanley.