Anti-Seasickness steamer

Sir Henry Bessemer, the inventor of a revolutionary steel-making process that would become a very important technique of making steel in the 19th century, was a constant traveler and a very poor sailor.

Sir Henry Bessemer

He suffered from seasickness in 1868. Due to this, he designed the SS Bessemer (also called the “Bessemer Saloon”), a swinging passenger steamship with a cabin on gimbals, with the help of a naval architect, R. J. Reed.

Gimbals are pivoted supports that allow the rotation of an object about a single axis.

A simple three-axis gimbal set. The ring in the centre can be vertically fixed

Gimbals are pivoted supports that allow the rotation of an object about a single axis.

The gimbals were designed so that the saloon would be balanced on a central pivot and would stay level, no matter how rough or harsh the sea was, in an attempt to save passengers from seasickness.

The cross section shows how the saloon was positioned inside the ship, built with the intent that no matter the turbulence of the sea, those inside would feel better than those on the upper deck

However, in the event, it rolled violently and the passengers fared worse than those on the upper deck. So, Sir Henry introduced a hydraulic brake, which would be operated by steersman watching a spirit level.

This hydraulic mechanism worked in model form and also in a trial version built in his garden in Denmark Hill, London. However, it could never receive a proper seagoing test as, the ship demolished part of the Calais pier on her maiden voyage. This is because every time the ship rolled, the brakeman was supposed to check the motion of the saloon. This worked even worse than the pivot. So the saloon was locked in position and the ship would be ultimately unsteerable. She repeated her performance on her return journey to Dover. Therefore, investors lost confidence and interest.

The ship was scrapped. Sir Henry sold her for scrap, but the saloon found a home at the Horticultural College in Hextable, Kent.

It was finally ‘sunk’ there by a German bomb in the Second World War.


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