Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

Bien-allons. As I said before, I shall not pretend to give you a full description of the wonders of this interesting place, because I think such descriptions often, if not generally, are tedious both to the reader and writer. Suffice it then that I briefly say that the yard occupies upwards of seventy-five acres, that it contains five slips for building, three single docks and one double for the purpose of repairs. One of these, the “ North New Dock," is constructed in an excavation of the solid rock. Water was first let in in the presence of George the Third, in 1789. Its length at top is two hundred and fifty-four feet, at bottom two hundred and fourteen feet, breadth at the piers fifty-six feet, extreme breadth ninety-seven feet, depth twenty-seven feet and three-quarters. Of the five slips, three are suited to the building of first-rates. All are covered, and some idea of the immensity of these roofs may be conceived from the following dimensions of one of them; length two hundred and sixty-three feet, breadth one hundred and twenty-six feet, and height sixty-seven feet. In this there are ten thousand two hundred and forty-five panes of glass, and the estimated value of the whole is thirteen thousand pounds. It covers more than an acre of ground. I ought to have mentioned that these docks and slips enjoy the great advantage of abutting upon very deep water, so much so that the largest ships with all their equipments on board can come along side any of the jetties which occupy the intermediate spaces. The great rise and fall of the tides (amounting at the springs to about nineteen feet) gives a great facility in docking and

undocking vessels. The mast-house and pond adjoin. ing are interesting objects, exhibiting not only an immense stock of very valuable timber, most of which is kept under water as the best preservative, but also very admirable skill in uniting the several pieces so as to form those immense masts which are required for the large ships of the line. A complete set of masts and yards for a first-rate is estimated at four thousand pounds. The rope-houses, which in common with most of the other buildings are constructed of stone and iron, and therefore fire proof, are amongst the most interesting objects of the yard, not only from their great dimensions, extending to one thousand two hundred feet in length, but from the peculiar method of manufacturing adopted. I cannot pretend to describe this accurately, but I may convey some idea by mentioning that the constituent yarns, besides the twisting usually received, pass through a metallic ring with such force that the rope comes out not only round but smooth and uniform, thus differing, I believe, from ropes manufactured elsewhere. The manufacturing of the signal halyards is another matter of considerable interest to those who can endure the noise of the machinery long enough to appreciate, I can hardly say understand it, for it really passes my comprehension more than stocking weaving or carpet making, and that is saying a good deal. As to the noise, it is more horrible than I can describe, though more of the clattering than of the thundering kind. Just examine a signal halyard in any Queen's ship, (I forget whether the same kind of article is used in merchantmen) and I think you will admit that its manufacture must be curious and ingenious.

Perhaps, however, nothing in the yard has a more striking effect than the walk through the smitheries, where every kind of iron work is performed, and especially the fabric of the huge anchors for the large ships. At the first entrance one cannot but think of those regions

“Where the lame architect the goddess found,
Obscure in smoke, his forges flaming round,
While bath'd in sweat from fire to fire he flew,
And puffing loud the roaring bellows blew.

at once the blast expires
And twenty forges catch at once the fires."

Iliad, book xviji.

In this vast workshop you see at one time the workmen distributed and busy at a dozen different forges, and at another collected in a circle over one great inass of glowing iron, probably an anchor for a first-rate ship, which weighs about ninety-six hundred weight. (By the way each first-rate ship carries five such anchors and three smaller). This is indeed a most interesting sight; there they stand in a circle, perhaps twenty great brawny fellows with their sinewy arms and throats all bare, and at a signal their heavy sledge bammers begin to descend upon the glowing mass in the centre, with celerity and regularity which is really surprising, each one striking in his turn so that the sledges may be seen at the same moment in every different position, dropped beside the knee after striking, then slowly raised behind, then ex

[ocr errors]

tended on high, and lastly descending with tremendous force upon the iron, at the very moment when the hammer of the predecessor in the ring has been withdrawn. It generally happens, perhaps purposely to display adroitness, that some one of the men falls into the centre after the labour has commenced, which he always does with the greatest nicety. The labours of the workmen are occasionally assisted by the use of a ponderous hammer called a Hercules, which is worked by machinery, descending with a force supposed to be equal to nearly eight tons. I may mention that it takes twenty men twenty-six days of ten hours, working hours, each, to make one of those large size anchors.

In point of interest, however, I know not whether I should not be inclined to assign the first place to the last object we visited, viz., the large building in which are preserved the time-honoured figure-heads of different vessels, which have necessarily been taken from their proud positions in consequence of the hard blows received in honourable battle and other casualties, and which have been carefully deposited and ranged on each side of this hall, reposing on their honours, and enjoying the peace and quiet of a sort of Greenwich Hospital of their own. It really was a most interesting sight to behold the grim visages of these warriors looking down upon you, and sitting as it were in grave conclave. Such a glorious conclave of heroes meet not elsewhere, unless it may be at Greenwich, Chelsea, and at Apsley House, where the hero of a hundred fights, the conqueror of Waterloo, annually entertains the gallant officers who there earned laurels, beneath whose shade Europe has since sat in almost uninterrupted peace.*

On emerging from the dock-yard we refreshed ourselves with some luncheon in a very nice shop in the High Street of Devonport, which bespeaks, from the respectability of the shops in general, the thriving character of the place. This, of course, is to be expected in a place where so large a proportion of the British marine obtain their outfit, and every class must participate in the constant employment afforded to numerous artisans by the dock-yard. In peace these may be computed at fifteen hundred, but in war at four thousand. In 1833-4 the wages paid at this yard amounted to one hundred and thirteen thousand pounds. Indeed, it is computed that even in peace seven thousand persons are wholly maintained by the dock-yard.

I should perhaps have mentioned before that only a small portion of the land which the yard occupies belongs to government, no less than sixty-five acres being held upon lease of Sir J. St. Aubyn. I should also mention that the name of Devonport is recent, having been substituted at the request of the inhabitants to the king in 1823, for the old name of Plymouth Dock. To commemorate this a very handsome column has been built in a commanding situation, at a cost of nearly three thousand pounds. It

Alas ! Alas! since this was written this most interesting national gallery, with most of its contents, has been destroyed by fire, a few precious relics only having been snatched from the jaws of the devouring element.

« PoprzedniaDalej »