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Galley

Galley

The Romans used galleys, both as merchant ships for trading, and as warships. They made many long sea journeys in these vessels, but stayed quite close to the shore. Their fighting galleys were powered by rowers sitting in one, two or three lines. The main weapon of the galley was a ram, a pointed piece of wood fixed to the bow of the ship. The ram was crashed into the side of the enemy ship at speed. The ships also carried archers and men with spears. Sometimes the galleys were fitted with a mast and one square sail, but these were taken down during battles.

Herbert Barnard John Everett, 1876-1949
© National Maritime Museum, London


Galleon

Galleon

By the Tudor period, large three masted trading ships called carracks had been developed. There were square sails on two fore masts and a triangular or lateen sail on the mizzen mast at the stern. Some carracks were used as warships and armed with guns. In the 16th century, holes called gunports were cut in the sides of the ship for the cannon to fire through. Ships known as galleons were also a feature of the Tudor period. These were medium or large sailing ships, built flush decked without the high forecastles that were common to carracks. Galleons were normally longer and narrower than carracks, and had superior handling qualities.

The 'Golden Hind', a galleon captained by Francis Drake, circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580. Drake made many important discoveries before returning home to London with amazing treasures. Elizabeth I knighted Drake on board the 'Golden Hind' at Deptford.

Gregory Robinson, Unknown
© National Maritime Museum, London


Steamship

Steamship

By Victorian times there had been a dramatic change in shipbuilding methods and technology. Many vessels were now powered by steam engines, making them faster and more reliable. New construction techniques and materials like iron and steel meant that ships could be built larger and stronger than ever before.

The 'Great Eastern' was a giant steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. At the time of her launch in 1858 she was the largest ship in the world. However, Brunel’s mighty vessel was considered a commercial failure as a passenger liner. After a brief period as a cable-laying ship she ended her career as a floating billboard before being scrapped in 1888.

F. Sala & Co. (publishers), 1858
© National Maritime Museum, London


Heavy cruiser

Heavy cruiser

A heavy cruiser is a type of warship, armed with large calibre guns, but smaller than a battleship.

The heavy cruiser HMS 'Belfast' played an important part during the Second World War. She helped sink the 'Scharnhorst' and was present at the Normandy Landings. She took part in the Korean War and served with the Royal Navy until 1965. After her decommission, it was decided that she should be saved rather than scrapped. Her former captain, Rear Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles, led a campaign to save HMS 'Belfast' as a historic monument to the Royal Navy. In 1971, she was brought to the Thames in 1971 and opened to the public as a museum.

Unknown, 1973-07
© National Maritime Museum, London


Container ship

Container ship

Since the 1950s containers have revolutionised sea-borne trade, and now carry around 90% of all manufactured goods shipped by sea. Containerization is the practice of carrying freight in containers of uniform shape and size for shipping and transport by road and rail. Almost anything can be stored in a container, from cars to frozen food.

The modern container ship evolved from the ideas of Malcolm McLean, a truck operator from North Carolina who had branched out into shipping. He found that containers simplified the loading and unloading of ships.

Unknown, c1986
© National Maritime Museum, London



National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund