Growth Of The Steam Turbine

The steam turbine has been applied to the propulsion of vessels, and is steadily growing in favor.

The number of vessels so fitted is not large, but the development is none the less remarkable when we remember that pleasure, and cross-channel steamers, torpedo-boat destroyers, and yachts are now fitted with these engines, while ten years ago not one turbine vessel was in service.

Early Types

The "Turbinia," 1894, was the first of the kind, followed by the "Viper," 1898, and the "Cobra." The "King Edward," 1901, was the first passenger steamer so fitted, followed by the "Queen Alexandra," 1902, both for passenger service on the Clyde.

Cross-Channel Boats

The success of these vessels was the immediate cause of the application of the steam turbine to the cross-channel services - the "Queen" for the Dover-Calais route, and the "Brighton," the New-haven-Dieppe boat. On an unofficial trip made in August, 1903, this vessel maintained a speed of 20 knots. The "Brighton" is 282 feet in length, and accommodates 1,000 passengers. Her engines are rated at 7,000 horsepower. The reversing turbines are fitted to the outside screw shafts, and are capable of moving her astern at about 12 knots. The lubrication of the engines is automatic, the oil being supplied at a pressure of 6 lbs. per square inch. The "Queen" has also behaved excellently, running between Dover and Calais within the hour, in a gale of wind.

Irish Boats

Two steam turbine vessels are being built for the Midland Railway service between England, the Isle of Man, and Belfast. Two others of the same class will be fitted with ordinary reciprocating engines, so that relative tests of the two kinds of propulsion will be available under equal conditions. The steamers will be of 20 knots speed, 330 feet long, by 40 feet beam, and 25 feet depth.

Three Yachts have been fitted with steam turbines. Two torpedo-boat destroyers, the "Velox" and the "Eden," and the "Amethyst," third-class cruiser, are designed for turbine propulsion, the first being in commission, the others at the time of writing being on order.

A Commission has been appointed, at the suggestion of Lord Inverclyde, to investigate the question of the economy of steam turbines and their suitability to the new big Cunarders. The commission comprises representatives of the Admiralty, the Cunard Company, Lloyd's, and three shipbuilders. At the time of writing no decision has been published. But the fact of such a commission having been appointed testifies to the rapid headway which the turbine is making. But two or three years since, most shipbuilders would have declined even to seriously entertain or to discuss such a proposal. The Allan Line and the Union Steamship Co. are building a 17 and an 18-knot turbine vessel respectively.


Though the above is not a large list, it must be remembered that shipowners and the Admiralty are naturally very cautious in fitting vessels with novel means of propulsion. The whole history of steam navigation is one of slow but sure advances. The installation of water-tube boilers is another case in point.

The great objection to the use of turbines for driving ocean liners is that this form of engine does not reverse. A separate set of engines is employed for reversing, at lower speeds. The captains of big vessels strongly object to this, because they say that even greater power would be desirable for going astern than ahead, in order to avoid sudden collision.

Land Turbines

On land, Parsons' turbines are being used extensively for driving electric generators, aggregating about 250,000 horsepower, and in sizes up to 5,000 horsepower. Yet the first practical steam turbine was not built until 1884, and that is now in the South Kensington Museum. A recent computation gives the total aggregate power of steam turbines of all types in use, under construction, or ordered, in different parts of the world, at over 500,000 horsepower.

Advantages Of Turbines

The principal point in favor of a turbine is, that it has no reciprocating motion, like that of the piston of a common engine, and therefore the hull of a vessel is not shaken so much as by reciprocating engines. Turbine engines weigh much less, and occupy less room than ordinary engines of the same power, so that passenger accommodation can be increased. Usually three sets of engines are employed, each driving a separate propeller shaft, which again conduces to steadiness of motion.

Expiration Of Parsons' Patent

Several circumstances have occurred latterly to help on the progress of the steam turbine besides its recent successful application to steam yachts, Clyde pleasure steamers, and cross-channel services. One of these is the expiration during the year 1903 of the five years' extension of the patent that was granted to the Hon. C. A. Parsons in 1884. A result of this is that several firms now express their intention of going in for the manufacture of Parsons' turbines. Another is that the success of these turbines has acted as a stimulus to other inventors, and the Parsons turbine will have to face the rivalry of others, including the De Laval, and another promising one, that of Mr. C. G. Curtis, of New York.

It is safe to predict that the old-fashioned steam engines, the big mill type excepted, will gradually give place to the steam turbines, and to the gas and oil engines. Apart from economy and compactness, the turbines are cleaner than any other engines, being self-lubricating and enclosed.

- Daily Mail Year Book, 1904.