This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
These was another kind of marine engine that I think should not be passed over without notice; I allude to Howard's quicksilver engine. The experiments with this engine were persevered in for some considerable time, and it was actually used for practical purposes in propelling a passenger steam-vessel called the Vesta, and running between London and Ramsgate. In that engine the boiler had a double bottom, containing an amalgam of quicksilver and lead. This amalgam served as a reservoir of heat, which it took up from the fire below the double-bottom, and gave forth at intervals to the water above it. There was no water in the boiler, in the ordinary sense of the term, but when steam was wanted to start the engine, a small quantity of water was injected by means of a hand-pump, and after the engine was started, there was pumped by it into the boiler, at each half revolution, as much water as would make the steam needed. This water was flashed on the top surface of the reservoir in which the amalgam was confined, and was entirely turned into steam, the object of the engineers in charge being to send in so much water as would just generate the steam, but so as not to leave any water in the boiler. The engines of the Vesta were made by Mr. Penn, for Mr. Howard, of the King and Queen Ironworks, Rotherhithe. Mr. Howard was, I fear, a considerable loser by his meritorious efforts to improve the steam-engine.
There was used, with this engine, an almost unknown mode of obtaining fresh water for the boiler. Fresh water, it will be seen was a necessity in this mode of evaporation. The presence of salt, or of any other impurity, when the whole of the water was flashed into steam, must have caused a deposit on the top of the amalgam chamber at each operation. Fresh water, therefore, was needed; the problem arose how to get it; and that problem was solved, not by the use of surface condensation, but by the employment of reinjection, that is to say, the water delivered from the hot well was passed into pipes external to the vessel; after traversing them, it came back into the injection tank sufficiently cooled to be used again. The boilers were worked by coke fires, urged by a fan blast in their ashpits, but I am not aware that this mode of firing was a needful part of the system.