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Sarah A. Milstead Post

DEFINING HER KIND:  AN HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION OF THE COMPOSITE BUILT GUNVESSEL HMS READY.

(Under the direction of Professor Bradley A. Rodgers) Department of History, April 2007.

The Royal Navy composite gunvessel HMS Ready, built in 1872, was stationed in many parts of the world during its career policing the British colonies and also providing any needed near shore firepower.  The Royal Navy's Gunboat fleet was used to great advantage by Britain during a relative time of peace known as Pax Britannica.  The Ready, and other gunvessels provided an economical method of protecting Britain's assets, pacifying British colonials, and maintaining military pressure with its ability to stay on station to relieve the larger iron vessels from having to remain in far off ports. With a majority of the gunvessels built of composite construction from the late 1860s to 1880s, the composite construction method assisted in making the Gunboat Navy especially relevant for roughly thirty years, until the problem with iron hull fouling was resolved and steel began to take over as a prominent material.  After these thirty years, political and economic factors facing Britain and the Royal Navy also began to change.  This thesis defines both Royal Navy gunboats and composite construction through the archaeological example of the HMS Ready located in St. George's Harbor, Bermuda.

It is Ready's composite construction that has recently brought attention to itself as an item of research, because the composite construction method became a relatively short-lived design concept.  The practicality and use of composite construction was questioned during the mid-to-late nineteenth century after iron hulls had fully become prominent and it is still questioned today by historians and archaeologists.  Through an archaeological and historical study of the Ready, an accessible derelict vessel, composite construction was determined to be viable for Royal Navy gunboats in the context of the political, economic, and material needs in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century.  This study also shed light on understanding the issues associated with the composite construction method as a whole, underlining why the method fell out of use in such a relatively short period of time.