Revolutionary Steam Turbine Sloop Gate-crashing the Queens Naval Review

Steam-turbine powered sloop Turbinia with Charles Parsons at the Crows Nest

Sometimes you have to be audacious to show the world your new invention. And this is what Anglo-Irishman Charles Parsons from Birr Castle Co Offaly did when on June 26 1897 he gatecrashed the Queen's diamond jubilee fleet review at Spithead on England’s south coast, being held there for royalty and the Lords of the Admiralty. 

Turbinia gatecrashing the Queens Naval Review

With Captain Christopher Leyland at the helm and Charles Parsons clinging to the Crows Nest the steam-turbine powered sloop Turbinia ran up a red pennant and burst into the four lines of over 165 Navy vessels steaming past for review. Leyland and Parsons zoomed in an out of the lined up naval vessels at over 30 knots and showed off madly for the crowds while easily evading navy boats sent out to catch her.

Charles Algernon Parsons (1854 - 1931) Birr Castle Co Offaly

Anglo-Irish Charles Algernon Parsons, was a gifted mathematician and engineer and the son of the astronomer William Parsons the 3rd Earl of Rosse who himself was the builder  at that time off the world’s largest telescope at 72-inch (6 feet/1.83 m) and situated at the family home Birr Castle, County Offaly. 

Charles Parsons studied mathematics at Trinity College, Dublin and then later at St John’s College, Cambridge where he gratuated in 1877 with a first-class honours degree, the young Parsons then took the unusual step at the time for the son of an Earl and took an apprenticeship to W.G. Armstrong of Newcastle. After his apprenticeship he moved to Kitsons based in Leeds, where he worked on their rocket-powered torpedo project. 

By 1884 and staying in the Newcastle area, Charles Parsons had joined ship-engine manufacturers Clarke, Chapman & Co as their electrical-equipment head of development. It was while working here that he developed a compound turbine engine utilised to drive a electrical generator, which he had also designed. 

Parsons Original Compound Steam Turbine

Parsons compound turbine design allowed a much higher power to size/ weight ratio than any other preceding engine type. His unique design incorporated a radical flow for steam, whereby the steam is introduced near the shaft and then made to flow radically outwards before being conducted back inwards towards the main shaft resulting in a power boost. 

This new combination of turbine and generator paved the way for low-cost readily  available electricity and opened up the idea for turbines in naval applications.

Built in 1894 by Brown & Hood of Wallsend-on-Tyne to the design of Charles Parsons and his Marine Steam Turbine Company, the Turbinia was a steel-built experimental steam-powered sloop built to showcase the potential of the Parsons steam-turbine in maritime vessels. 

Turbina Revolutionary Design

Launched on August 2 1894 the Turbinia began sea trails in November 1894 and her initial turbine-performance results were disappointing as she could only achieve 19.75 knots. 

The cause was traced to being propellers losing performance efficiency at speeds higher than 2000rpm. After a further two years of development work the effects of cavitation on high speed propellers were solved, now rebuilt with three steam turbines each of which drove a shaft with three propellers the sloop in 1897 was easily reaching speeds of 32.76 knots. 

Turbina at full speed of 34.5 knots  

The Turbinia was revolutionary, as not only was she the pinnacle in fast hull design with a length of 104ft and a beam of just 9ft and powered by a single 1000hp steam turbine she could reach a top speed of 34 knots when the Cutty Sark, then considered the fastest tea Clipper afloat could only reach a paltry top speed of 17.5 knots.

Turbinia at full speed of 34.5 knots

While the Institution of Naval Architects were not so keen about the technology of the Turbinia, the Admiralty were interested given that they were at that time in a naval arms race with Germany and France and needed a competitive edge and high speed at sea was a clear advantage. 

Parsons established the Turbinia Works at Wallsend and two prototype turbine-powered engines were constructed for a pair of destroyers; HMS Viper and HMS Cobra both of which went on sea trails in 1899. 
In 1901 the first turbine-powered merchant vessel, the excursion River Clyde steamer TS Kind Edward became the first commercial vessel to be powered by steam turbines. This ship saw a long service life (for a prototype) and steamed from 1901 until 1951. 
Parsons Marine Steam Turbine 

By 1905 the Admiralty confirmed that all future Royal Navy vessels were to be turbine-powered, leading to the 1906 launch of the famous HMS Dreadnought as the world’s first turbine-powered battleship with a top speed of 21 knots. By 1907 the turbines of Charles Parsons were powering ocean giants like the transatlantic Lusitania and Mauretania. 

Turbinia dwarfed by the Cunard Line Flagship Mauretania

Displacement: 44.5 tons

Length: 104 ft 9 in (31.93 m)

Beam: 9 ft (2.7 m)

Draught: 3 ft (0.91 m)

Propulsion: Three-stage axial-flow direct-acting Parsons steam turbine driving two 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m) outer shafts, each with three 18-inch-diameter (460 mm), 24-inch-pitch (610 mm) propellers, and one inner shaft with three propellers. 

2,100 hp (1,600 kW) three-drum water-tube coal-fired boiler with double-ended 1,100-square-foot (100 m2) heating surface. 

200 psi (1.4 MPa), 170 psi (1.2 MPa) at the turbine

Speed: 34.5 kn (63.9 km/h; 39.7 mph)

EPIC Museum Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction

Research and information gathered at EPIC. @epicmuseumchq 

Visit EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum to learn more about Charles Parsons and other Irish transport pioneers. EPIC is located in Dublin's Docklands and covers the history and extensive journeys of the Irish diaspora and how our emigrants shaped the world.
Two time winner of Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction at the World Travel Awards; EPIC is now open to visitors seven days a week. Start planning your visit today:

Information Sources
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum 
Credit: GB Instructional Limited
Credit: National Historic Ships UK
Credit: Turbinia photos by Alfred John West

Do you have an Irish transport story old or new you would like us to feature? Email us here


Popular posts from this blog

Irish world leader in specialist boat building to supply vessel to Uruguayan river pilots

How do you get a double mattress & an outside kitchen into 4x8 trailer?

Experience the luxury of the World’s only 1930s giant flying boat