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Ships, galleons, frigates and corvettes

This page is number 3 of seven pages on MexConnect which come originally from the website of CEDEX (Center for Historic Studies of Public Works and Town Planning) in Madrid, Spain. (Links to the other six pages are provided at the end of the article). The pages reflect an exhibition organized by CEDEX in 1988, entitled "Manila 1571–1898, The West in East".

In those days shipping vessels were the most complex machines of the time, the galleon being the most oustanding example of available technology.

Transoceanic voyages meant that traditional vessels had to adapt to ocean-going conditions, and were therefore built to withstand long voyages and heavy storms.
Tonnage was increased, hulls were reinforced, deck installations were improved and the sails occupied a greater ratio of sail-to-deck space.
The galleon, which was the product of a complex port system developed by Spain, had a displacement of between 300 and 800 tons and was some 30 metres long.
New designs were drawn up in the 18th century as different types of ships and frigates were developed and built. With the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment, the warship was a product with a difference, and the technology used was later incorporated into merchant navy vessels. Steam-driven sea-going vessels were not to appear on the scene until the end of the 19th century.
All manner of merchandise was shipped across the oceans. These were the strategic cargoes related to the profits of the Royal Treasury, which were therefore subject to territorial control: precious metals, arms, books, documents and some scientific instruments. Other shipments comprised a variety of goods according to the supply and demand of the times.
The nature of cargoes and the control exercised over them was an essential factor, given the relatively small size of the ships. Techniques for loading on board were usually the object of study, in order to ensure the safety of the vessel, and all available space was usually taken advantage of. In the Philippines, the governing authorities assigned "boletas" for the loading of the galleon with "piezas", which were units of cargo. Different types of packaging and containers were used: barrels for fresh water, protective sacking, boxes, rudimentary crates, etc. Ideas and culture, Christian beliefs and doctrine, technology and art and scientific developments in medical and botanical knowledge all crossed from one frontier to another aboard the vessels that sailed the seas.

Drawing on parchment of a late 17th century vessel. AGI During the greater part of the modern era, there were few differences between ships used for transport and those used as war vessels. In the navy, the ship of the line was to be the star until it was replaced by the steamer.



Longitudinal section of a ship

Longitudinal section of a ship. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN The shape and dimensions of the hull determined its cargo capacity and navigation qualities, while the sails provided the driving force, both in terms of speed and manoeuvrability.

Different types of ships. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN This shows different models of ships, including those used on the voyages between Spain and America.

Different types of ships


Cross section of a ship and drawing of a dry dock. Album marino, by Cesáreo Fernández Duro. MN From the second half of the 15th century onwards, the increase in capacity requirements of vessels called for new methods for careening ships without having to turn them on their sides, and this gave rise to the development of dry docks and careening docks.

Capstan and helm wheel. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN Aboard ship, heavy loads were moved by means of a capstan or vertical-shaft winches which had several times the power of one man. During the modern era, the medieval rudder, which consisted of one or two oars suspended from the sides, was replaced by a single rudder suspended from the stern post, which considerably improved steering operations.

Capstan and helm wheel.



A frigate being constructed on a slipway. Diccionario demostrativo con la configuración o anatomía de toda la arquitectura naval moderna, by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN The most characteristic naval facilities used for the construction of ships on dry land comprised the shipyard, inside which was the slipway, upon which construction of the vessel was begun.

Cargo loaded aboard a vessel. End of the 18th century. MN Merchandise loaded on board for overseas trade was classified in two categories - strategic, which were directly linked to Crown interests, and general, these latter being the object of supply and demand existing in those ports that held a concession for holding markets for exchange of merchandise.




The frigate "Marcelino Jané". Oil painting by W.H. Yorke. 1875. MMB The frigates started life in the 17th century as warships but were used as merchant navy vessels for transoceanic voyages during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Supplies taken on for the long transoceanic voyages. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN In order to avoid the illnesses brought on by poor nutrition during long voyages and which hitherto had claimed so many lives, the 18th century saw the beginnings of an effort to carefully select and preserve all foodstuffs kept in the storehouse of the vessel.




Clothing and kit of a soldier and a sailor serving aboard the King's vessels. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN The reforming policies of the Bourbon era took care to implement and systematize, down to the smallest detail, the uniforms and kit used on the voyages undertaken by the Spanish fleet.

Machines and devices used in the arsenals. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN During the 18th century, the arsenals were centres of technological innovation in naval construction, and here different machines and other elements were developed; the use of these devices spread to the merchant navy and to a multitude of land-based applications, as is the case of lifting machines and portable fire-fighting equipment.

Machines and devices



Different types of vessels for sailing across the Mediterranean. MN The perfecting of techniques in naval construction meant that the most suitable design could be drawn up for each specific purpose and even take into account the particular types of winds that would be encountered on the different kinds of voyages.

Implements used in the hold of a ship. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN From the 17th century onwards, the hold of larger tonnage vessels was divided into several sections and storerooms: anchor chains and mooring ropes, water and wine supply, chests for bullets, food supplies, etc.




52-cannon frigate built and fitted out in the English style. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN In the early 18th century, the Spanish fleet was refurbished and this led to the modernizing of ships used on the communications routes between the old world and the new, and ships with greater cargo capacity and fitted out with more powerful artillery were built.

Instruments and implements used for navigation. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN The "Casa de Contratación" was of valuable assistance to seamen, as it held in its custody the standards against which the quality of nautical instruments could be checked and, on occasions, even manufactured such instruments.




Furniture fitted in the cabins of the captain and officers of the vessels. Diccionario demostrativo... by the Marquis de la Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756. MN Besides the importance of purely technical aspects, the lengthiness of the voyages suggested the need to take care of the small details that would make life aboard more comfortable.

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Published or Updated on: March 31, 2008
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