Friday 30 July 2010

Archimedes and Croydon: The Engines of Erebus and Terror?

Part 1.

When I delivered my part of the Newcomen Society talk which I shared with William Battersby at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry last February I was wondering whether the engines fitted by Maudslay's to Erebus and Terror in the spring of 1845 could have been of Edward Bury's bar-frame design - so easy to remove the wheels and connect a shaft coupling...

However, further research suggests that the engines were originally No 2, Croydon, and No 6, Archimedes built by G & J Rennie in 1838 and 1839 respectively for the London and Croydon Railway. They were of 2-2-2 wheel arrangement with outside bearings, and inside cylinders.

The Archimedes locomotive was named after the Screw Steamship of the same name fitted out by Messrs. Rennie in 1839, so it is a nice irony that it should end its days connected to a screw propeller.

The locomotive pictured above, Nordstern, is an example of the type, albeit rebuilt a couple of times before the photograph was taken in 1865.

The accepted view, that one of the ships was equipped with a Planet type engine, and the other a Samson type, does not seem to stand up to close scrutiny.

Richard Cyriax says that Erebus's engine was supplied by the Greenwich Railway, apparently based on the following snippet from the Illustrated London News (ILN):

Only the very end of the article as shown above contains original material as most if not all of the preceding body of the article is copied nearly verbatim from other publications. Some of the details above may well have come from those whose cabins were sketched, most likely Commander Fitzjames.
Although the text shown mentions Erebus specifically and is mostly written in the singular it is clear that the description of the engine can apply identically to both ships. This would fit with a rule imposed by Sir Edward Parry for an earlier expedition, that the steam engines:

Parry had adopted a version of this rule more than twenty years earlier for the rigging and equipment of Arctic discovery ships. I think it inconceivable that he would abandon such an obviously wise principle for the 1845 expedition.

Another point is that the ILN doesn't actually say that that anything came from the Greenwich Railway company, but instead uses the phrase "ran upon the Greenwich Railway" which could reasonably be interpreted as meaning the physical track owned by that company but which was also used by three others (the Brighton, Croydon, and Dover companies) as their gateway to London.

The London & Greenwich Railway was the first railway in London, later the London & Croydon Railway branched off from it. The London & Brighton Railway then extended south from the Croydon terminus to Brighton and then the Dover company (strictly the South Eastern Railway) branched of westwards to Dover.

Terror's captain, Francis Crozier, mentions the engine of his ship in a lengthy grumbling letter to Sir James Clark Ross, the original of which survives in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge:

The reference to "the Dover line" tallies perfectly with the ILN information. A train travelling from London to Dover would necessarily start on the tracks of the Greenwich Railway, then run on the tracks of the Croydon company before finishing its journey on the tracks of the Dover company.

As a further detail, in 1845 the Dover company permanently leased the assets and business of the Greenwich company which remained in existence as a shell company purely to distribute the leasing income to its shareholders.

Earlier, in an attempt to achieve economies of scale, the Brighton, Croydon, and Dover companies had pooled all their rolling stock under a "Joint Committee" which then charged the companies in proportion to their usage of engines and carriages. When an engine needed repair it was put into the workshops at New Cross and a replacement was issued from a reserve stock (totalling 18 in March 1845) of engines in working order. Thus, at different times in its history, an engine could be running between London and either Croydon, Brighton, or Dover, or working as an assistant engine to help heavy trains ascend at one of several places of the network with difficult gradients.
In 1845 this cooperative arrangement was in the process of being dismantled.

The suggestion that both engines came from the same source is at odds with Lieutenant John Irving's comment in a letter to Katie, his brother's wife (often erroneously referred to as his sister) :

There are several reasons for questioning the accuracy of this comment.
  • It contradicts Captain Crozier, Irving's commanding officer.
  • The records of London & Birmingham Railway have survived and there are no engines unaccounted for.
  • The above quote does not come from a primary source ie. written or printed in 1845. Instead it comes from a book published in 1881. It is conceivable that Irving actually wrote "Brighton" instead of "Birmingham" (or B'ton for B'ham) but poor legibility of the original caused the transcriber to guess wrongly. Without seeing the original we can never be certain.
An entry (not perfectly legible) in the Admiralty's digest of correspondence dated 29 March 1845 can be read as "Engine & boilers are ready & Board desire that the Engines may be put in without delay - Messrs. Maudslay to do." Alternatively, it may read "Engine rooms are ready...".

National Archives, Crown Copyright waived for non-commercial use.

The last recorded existence Archimedes and Croydon occurs two weeks later, in the list of engines allocated to the Dover company on 12 April 1845 in preparation for the dissolution of the Joint Committee planned for January 1846.

However, beside the name of each of these engines in the list are the words "part sold" and the value stated is around one third that of comparable engines. This raises the possibility that important parts of these engines (such as the boilers and cylinders) had been removed, and what remained of each was just a rolling chassis.

National Archives, Crown Copyright waived for non-commercial use.

This is exactly what I would expect. Maudslay's would have no use for the wheels, suspension, or the wood and iron sandwich frame chassis. The rolling chassis left behind would retain a value either for spare parts or to be rebuilt as a locomotive again.

Section through one of the engines built by G & J Rennie, possibly Croydon. Details below.

The Nominal Horsepower, which is purely calculated from the dimensions of the cylinders and bears little relationship to the actual power output, works out at 24.72 which is effectively identical to the value of 25 horse power given in the ILN article.

Although Archimedes and Croydon were 2-2-2 locos with inside cylinders, many books erroneously describe them as 0-4-2 locos with coupled driving wheels and outside cylinders. This is due to a mix-up of drawings published by Samuel Brees in 1840.

Further work remains to be done on this subject, which is why the title is in the form of a question. However, I would suggest that these engines are the only ones which fit all the primary evidence and that there is a considerable body of circumstantial evidence which also supports this claim.


  1. Hello Peter, and congrats on this fascinating blog's first post, well-illustrated and well-documented.

    I wonder, have you been in touch with Michael R. Bailey (the source for the statements on my blog that "Terror" had a Samson engine and Erebus a Planet)? His description certainly sounds authoritative, and he must surely have known of some documentary evidence to support it.

    I also, some 13 years ago, corresponded with one Matthew Searle, a librarian at the Radcliffe Science Library at Oxford. He offered a slightly different view -- different from Bailey's and from yours:

    "The locomotive installed in "Erebus" was London & Greenwich Railway No. 4 "Twells", a 2-2-0 with 5' diameter driving wheels built in 1836. An
    illustration of a locomotive of this type appears in Thomas, R.H.G.,
    London's first railway: the London & Greenwich (1972) p.172.

    The locomotive in "Terror" was the London & Birmingham Railway one. It has usually been assumed that this would have been a Bury type (bar frame) 2-2-0 of the 1830's, for which there are plenty of illustrative sources. However, and coincidentally, a letter in the current (August) issue of the magazine "BackTrack" points out that the L&BR was not disposing of passenger locomotives of this type at the date of the Franklin expedition, and the probable type of locomotive was an 0-4-0 Stephenson goods engine with outside wooden or sandwich (i.e. iron/wood/iron) frames, presumably also of the 1830's."

    I am not a railway expert, or even much of a railway buff -- but it seems from these two accounts, and yours, that the question is much less settled than had been thought. I would just say that, while it's true that there would have been advantages to fitting the Erebus and Terror with identical engines, the relatively rapid chain of events from the initial decision to launch the Franklin expedition, to the decision to outfit the ships with steam, to the deadline needed for the vessels to be ready in time for a May 1845 departure might well have meant that two identical engines simply weren't available to be installed in time.

  2. Well it seems pretty persuasive to me...

  3. Hi Russell, many thanks for your encouraging comments. I have been in touch with Mr Bailey, his advice and encouragement have been immensely helpful to my work on this. He hasn't had the time to examine it in detail but his initial comments echo yours - that the question is interesting but not yet settled.

    I am familiar with RHG Thomas's work on the L&GR. He provides two fairly thin pieces of evidence:

    1. No. 4 "Twells" does not appear in the records of the SER (the Dover company) after they took over the L&GR although the other engines do.
    2. The price paid by the SER for engines, coaches, and equipment was £800 less than the valuation on 21 Jan 1845 - possibly because there was one engine fewer.

    One source (and I need to check) says that Greenwich line was leased and the rolling stock sold to the SER on 11 February 45. Maudslay's were given permission to use second hand engines more that two weeks after that on 1 March 1845. So they would have to have jumped the gun a bit.

    Thomas says that the Greenwich only had seven engines at this time. The Joint Committee had 89 including 18 spare engines in working order.

    The "BackTrack" information originates from Mr Harry Jack, president of the London and North Western Railway Society, whose help I am also grateful for. Mr Jack's examination of the London & Birmingham archives show that all mainline engines are accounted for. He suggests the 0-4-0 ballast engines in his book "Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division" and although his logic is sound the dates of disposal of these engines are in fact outside of the narrow timeframe necessary.

    It seems to me that the naval historians have long believed that the question was long settled because of the railway evidence, and the railway historians because of the naval evidence, and that almost out of politeness neither side has thought to look too deeply into the claims of the other. I have some further circumstantial evidence which I intend to put in a "Part 2". Until then I'd be grateful for any detailed criticism of the information I've presented.

  4. Harry Jack said:

    I am very glad to see this piece of careful work.

    The suggestion that the engine in 'Terror' came from the London & Birmingham Railway was based solely on the remark in Lt Irving's letter, which I believe was first noticed by the late Edward Craven. Craven was a classics master at Westminster School who did an immense amount of research into pre-1860 locomotive history all over Britain, and discovering this out-of-the way reference seems typical of him. He then realised that L&B No 27, a Bury 2-2-0, seemed to disappear from the L&BR records from about the time of the Franklin Expedition, so he suggested this engine as a "probable" for HMS 'Terror'.

    Years later I went through the L&BR records and those of its successor, the L&NWR, and from the (admittedly incomplete & confusing) monthly totals it appeared that no engine had been removed from stock at that time, and I put 27's disappearance, and some other anomalies, down to Loco Supt J E McConnell's rather carefree way with record-keeping. It could be that No 27 had gone into the workshops as a stationary engine, but had somehow not been reported to the Board.

    Around that time, however, the L&BR was attempting to sell off some old (and smaller) Stephenson-type engines which had worked as ballast engines on p-way repairs. One of these seemed a far more likely suspect, and I suggested this in my book; but no corroborative evidence has been found and, as Peter points out, the timing makes it unlikely.

    So now, after Peter's thorough research, I am very happy to see the back of the possible L&BR connection.

    Although I have a small, lingering regret: I had hoped that some future diving expedition might have brought a London & Birmingham Railway locomotive back into view!

    17 December 2010.

  5. Forgive me for posting another question, but, was Capt. Crozier in ernest when he wrote about the ship's engineer or in jest; does the biography of the engineer having any relationship to the locomotive? Where did the engineers come from? Where they navy personale or railway personale?
    Thanks again!

  6. Good question. It seems that every member who expressed an opinion was extremely optimistic of success except for Captain Crozier. Crozier was pessimistic, rightfully as it turned out, but he was a very professional Captain and I think he was enjoying a good old grumble to his old friend and colleage Captain Ross. My understanding is that the engineers came from within the Navy - I'd assume they had experience of paddle steamers.

  7. Thanks again, Peter, my own limited research the last couple of days is probably old hat to everyone else, but for what it's worth I thought I'd share it to compliment your very nice reply: It seems both engineers came from the navy engineering department and were listed as Woolwich in the muster book - according to Cookman's appendix IV (pp. 228-30). Interestingly John Gregory's grandson was the famous late Victorian painter - Edward John Gregory (1850-1909) named after his father and grandfather. John Gregory's son, Edward, was also a steam engineer and studied at Woolwich and then managed the engineering for the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Co. I wonder if any reminisces, even a sketch or silhouette portrait survives, of/ or about John Gregory, Chief engineer for Sir John's expedition. Does anything exist in any archive of his grandson the painter? Were his papers collected and/or deposited anywheres? He died without issue (Edward John) - surely he must have been intrigued by his grandfather's fate? There needs to be a good one volume Franklin Dictionary or Cyclopedia doesn't there were a dilatante like myself can just look up such detail. Thanks for getting back to me and helping to fill in the gaps.

  8. As this was before the age of mass production and the requirement for standardised parts both steam engines would have been hand fitted thus it is unlikely that parts from one engine would fit the other even if they came from the same manufacturer. Thus the desire for interchangeability is unlikely to be met. Parts of machines from that era are often marked with dots or strikes to show which machine they belonged to.

  9. I am wondering how was the power from the engine transferred to the propeller shaft. I see a reference to it as a "glorified rubber band" in the book "A Farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams"

  10. not 'part sold' but 'past sold' - sold a while ago. It is erroneous to state that there would have been no use for the frames. Quite the opposite !


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