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Column for the Curious

The Illustrated London News, vol. 44, no. 1239, p. 47.

January 9, 1864


The History of Steam Navigation is yet to be written. New facts, or novel versions of old facts, are repeatedly turning up, so as to affect claims of priority. Last year three papers were read to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society--1, " On the Introduction of Steam Navigation;" 2 and 3, "Note on Two Events in the History," &c.; and there cropped up the following paragraph:--

A Steam-boat in 1788.--In a letter from Dr. Franklin to Dr. Ingenhauz, dated Philadelphia, Oct. 24, 1788, the Doctor remarks:--We have no philosophical news here at present, except that a boat moved by a steam-engine rows itself against tide in our river, and it is apprehended the construction may be so simplified and improved as to become generally useful."

In going over the ground of the history, even practised writers are continually stumbling. The other day a reviewer, in the Times, referred to a statement that, "three centuries ago, Blasco de Garay attempted to propel a boat by steam in the harbour of Barcelona." To this a Correspondent has replied as follows:--

The evidence cited by the Spaniards for this assertion, often repeated, is a letter from Blasco himself, written in A.D. 1543.

By permission of the Queen of Spain, but after much hindrance, I was enabled to inspect this letter, now preserved with the Archives at Simancas, near Valladolid, and there is not one word about steam in the document. Blasco describes minutely a vessel propelled by paddles worked by 200 men.

The first well authenticated instance of a steam-boat actually used is found in the manuscript correspondence between Leibnitz and Papin, in the Royal Library at Hanover, where Papin relates his experiments with a model steam-boat on the River Fulda in the year 1707. Next, in 1783, De Jouffroy in France and Fitch in America used steam-boats experimentally. The first practically successful steam-boat was worked in 1787 by Mr. Miller, of Dalswinton, in Scotland....

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