The Yacht Ross Winans, 1866

The illustration above, from the 23 Sep 1865 Harper's Weekly35 (courtesy of the University of Michigan), is an artist's impression of the Ross Winans at sea.  The drawings below, showing a similar design, were published in The Artizan51 the previous spring.  The actual construction, pictured at the launching below, appears to have abandoned the raked masts and funnels.  
     An original pen and watercolor painting72 labeled "Yacht Ross Winans" depicts a very different ship.  My restored image just below shows a tall stack, resembling the steamer stacks, no masts, and no visible propellers.  Since this is a side-on view there may be a pair of stacks side-by-side, like sometimes pictured on the steamer.  The numerous superstructure differences, an indicated length of 450 feet, and superficial resemblance to the steamer suggest that this is a very early impression of the yacht, predating those above.  The non-perspective view hints it was based on a side-view engineering concept sketch. 
The original art, which is heavily damaged, was purchased many years ago from a dealer who acquired it in a house clearance somewhere in Portsmouth or Southampton, UK.

(Original courtesy of Gary Creighton)

     Although Guthrie1 presents a good description of the vessel, the most comprehensive I've seen is probably his source, the three-article series in The Engineer42-44.  The unnamed author of the series states "we have examined her from the stuffing-boxes at either end ... to her sumptuously fitted saloons and state rooms." 
      The Engineer articles describe the yacht's layout in fair detail.   At each end was a small compartment for the rudder head and gear, similar to that described in patent 31845, and a somewhat larger storage room.  Next at the bow were quarters for the firemen and coal stokers, the engine room crew, 14 berths.  At the stern there were quarters for the rest of the crew, eight or ten berths, and the anchor windlass.  The anchors are very like those described in patent 31276.  Next at the bow was the fore saloon or smoking room and then the captain and officers' state rooms.  At the stern the passenger staterooms were next and then the grand saloon, a room with carpets and mirrors and two crystal chandeliers.  The engine rooms, containing four boilers and three steam engines, were amidships, driving a propeller shaft that ran the length of the ship.  175 tons of coal was stored in compartments beneath the main deck and carted to the engine room as needed. 
     The promenade deck had fore and aft companionway housings, a cookhouse and pantry, a semi-sheltered helmsman station, two stacks, and two masts, the top sections of which telescoped from the lower sections.  There were mountings and special davits for two life boats on each side. 
     The vessel was designed with a waterline approximately at the spindle centerline, although she would ride some 30 inches deeper when fully laden. 
     The Ross Winans was furnished and outfitted by Holland & Sons, one of the largest furniture making companies of the era.  Holland & Sons supplied furniture to the Royal Family, the British government, and numerous private clients.  Described as employing some of
England’s leading designers and being at the forefront of fashion, they were an ideal choice to provide the luxurious accommodations mentioned in The Engineer.  The firm’s daybooks78 show that the furnishings cost £1,440.  Using the price index change documented in a 2004 House of Commons Office of National Statistics report84, this translates to nearly £114,000 today.  The daybooks provide incredible detail of the furnishings in the saloons and the staterooms right down to the carpeting.

     In October 1865, the French marine engineer de Benazé drew a plan74 of the "Cigar ship de Wynan" after a "mission to England" to observe maritime technology.  The plan, available on the French Ministry of Defense Historical Services website (see my main Cigar Ship page citations section), includes plan and elevation drawings of the yacht showing the position of the boilers and engines, watertight bulkhead locations and several other details of construction.  The French plan shows none of the other important interior structures such as the saloons and staterooms and actually appears to allocate these areas for coal storage.  Because of this and other omissions and the much shorter promenade deck structure, the source drawing must have been an early concept, before the luxury accommodations were added.   This may be an important insight into the evolution of the yacht’s concept.  I've created a partial facsimile (below) for discussion.  The plan resembles the Winans Russian boat drawings and I believe it is based on a similar drawing the Winans must have produced of the Ross Winans.

Partial facsimile - the complete original was on the French Maritime Archive web site 

The plan does illustrate structural details described in the Artizan51 and Engineer42 articles, including the position and details of the structural rings.  It should be possible to recreate a fairly accurate plan by combining this with data from other sources cited here.  Click the image above for a higher resolution PDF version of the facsimile.

      A paragraph in London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties92 by Alfred Bennett includes two interesting items.  He recounts that “the cigar-shaped ship built by Mr. Ross Wynan, an American millionaire, gave rise to a lawsuit for patent infringement, a British seaman, Captain Beadon, alleging that he had protected an identical design in 1852”.  He finishes with the assessment that the cigar ships “of which several were built, never did much to justify the great expectations formed of them.  However, they could be worked into effective pictures and accordingly plunged and fended the mighty deep a good deal on paper if nowhere else”.  I continue to search for those many pictures.  Bennett did not remember how the lawsuit was settled but an article in 29 May 1866 Bury and Norwich Post reports that the Vice-Chancellor of the court ruled that the "alleged infringement was not carried out in the way described by the plaintiff, the case was much too vague for the Court to depart from the ordinary practice in patent cases" and "there would be no order upon the present motion"137.  I found what must be the referenced British patent, 1121, dated 21 Dec 1852 and sealed 2 Mar 185392.  George Beadon was a Commander in the Royal Navy and the patent was entitled “Improvements in constructing and propelling ships and vessels”.  The pertinent part of the patent93 appears to be  “the vessel is to be constructed with an under-water bow of a conical form, to which I apply a screw or such like propeller ... which receives motion from from a steam engine or other power”.  The patent figure, which also depicts "the form of screw stern propeller, which receives motion from a steam engine, or other power, by means of its shaft or axis" that pivots to act as a rudder, shows a hull form and propelling and steering system very different from that of the Ross Winans.

     Frank Bowen includes a short description of the Ross Winans in A Hundred Years of Towage90, his history of the William Watkins Towing firm.  He mentions that the Watkins tugs Annette and Britannia "were chartered to attend the yacht during a long series of trials and experiments in the Lower Hope and off the mouth of the Thames".   According to this account the experiments were "an utter failure".  In particular "speed was practically nil" and the yacht "pitched to a really alarming extent in a sea which left the tugs absolutely unaffected".  This agrees with a first hand account recorded by a Mr. Henry Liggens in 1876 in Transactions of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects102.
     Bowen's book says the Ross Winans was towed from the West India Dock to Havre by the tugs Anglia and Victoria in 1870 in a paragraph about scrapping.  If the date is accurate, this cannot be the final scrapping of the yacht but might account for the yacht's appearance in the Taunt photo described below, although it seems odd that it would be towed both ways across the Channel for partial scrapping in France.


     The woodcut at right, from The Illustrated London News, 3 Mar 1866, shows the stern-first launching of the Ross Winans.  The propeller mounts are visible, but the propellers have not yet been installed.

The engraving above is clearly the inspiration for this interesting lithograph.  It shows the yacht at sea, but amusingly, has left out the propellers, and she is apparently steaming in reverse.

(Image used by permission of the National Maritime Museum, London)

The Maryland Historical Society has a nearly identical print published by Gustav Seitz in Germany.

You can order copies of this lithograph, catalog PAH0482, directly from the Maritime Museum (opens in new window).  Note that listing has an incorrect 1856 date.

This print suffers from inaccuracies, but to date I've found three copies, warranting further discussion.  The Maritime Museum copy above appears to be in the best condition.  I've not seen an image of the full original so I don't know if there is a border with any text.  The information on the linked web page is cryptic, uncertain, and probably not accurate.  More recently I saw an image of the copy held by the Maryland Historical Society that includes a large border with the title "The Steam Yacht Ross Winans" in smaller lettering "Verlag u Druck v. Seitz Wandsbeck" (edition and print from Seitz Wandsbeck).  Gustav W. Seitz had a artistic publication firm in Wandsbeck, Germany during this period.  The Historical Society print is not as clean as the Maritime Museum print, and the coloring is slight different.  There is a definite orange cast on the foreground figures, but more interesting, the leftmost flag has a white field instead of red, the middle flag is striped blue, white, and red from the top, and the rightmost is blue with a light colored border.   Most recently I came across another copy on the Hull Museums Collections web site.  This copy, in the worst condition of the three, has a slightly different color cast from the Maritime Museum copy, probably from fading, but has identically colored flags.  This last copy can be seen on the Hull Museums Collections web site.

In 1866, the marine artist Thomas Dutton produced this print.  It may be the most accurate depiction of the yacht.  This copy is currently hanging in my living room.

An article in the 12 Dec 1873 Sacramento Daily Union123 reports a contribution to the Baltimore American by C. C. Fulton reporting a sighting of the Ross Winans coming into Southampton Harbor.  Fulton is familiar with the steamer moored in Baltimore Harbor and notes how different the Ross Winans is.  In addition to the important fact that the yacht was sailing in 1873, his report provides several interesting pieces of information.  He describes the propellers as having only three blades and mentions masts, rigging and sails.  Mysteriously, the yacht stops when Fulton's vessel gets close, reportedly its usual behavior.  He states it was not possible to gauge the speed of the yacht.

Henry Taunt photographed ships at Southampton82 in 1878.  The Ross Winans is easily recognizable in the photograph, which can be viewed on the English Heritage View Finder web site.  The image below is a somewhat subjective schematic interpretation of the yacht based on a high resolution copy the photo; the actual photo doesn't have the crisp edges of the interpretation.  The absence of many superstructure elements is immediately apparent.  There are no stacks, no masts, and no companionways, although the large amorphous shape right of center may be the base of one stack.  Only the ends of the weather deck as pictured by Dutton seem untouched.  We can see that the propellers are missing, although the mounting points are visible.  Other details pictured in the Dutton print or  ILN woodcut above are recognizable, including cleats on the hull halfway to the tips, and safety covers on the very sharp tips themselves, described as spikes in The Engineer.  There appear to be a couple of other small masts (that might actually be on small vessels behind the yacht) and, perhaps more puzzling than the amorphous structure, an odd shape atop the companionway on the right.

Schematic representation of Taunt photo detail     The Ross Winans is not the focus of the Taunt photo, but only one of a dozen vessels.  It is in the distance, positioned well to left of center and occupies only about 15% of the full width of the photo.  It appears to be viewed very close to side-on, possibly with the right-hand end turned very slightly toward the camera.  Nonetheless there is measurable perspective and camera distortion.  If I knew the details of Taunt's camera and how far he was from the Ross Winans when he took the photo, I could create an orthogonal image from the photo.  Lacking this information I used perspective correcting software to force the published proportion of a 130' long, centered deck to create the image below.  The corrections are not obvious to the eye.     Which end is which?  There are not a lot of clues for distinguishing the bow from the stern in the image.  If the large shape right of center is in fact the remains of one of the stacks, then the vessel is facing right.  It's not apparent in the interpretations above, which have been leveled, but in the photo the right end of the hull is higher than the left end.  This would be expected if the missing stacks represent significant weight or if some internal boiler and engine machinery were removed as well.  There are some subtle clues that favor the opposite orientation.  There is no obvious sign of the eagle figurehead, but there is a slight bump on the superstructure left-end edge.  The right-hand edge is straight and a lighter patch on the side of the superstructure there could be part of the shield seen in the Dutton print and ILN engraving.  Some small shadows over the left-hand companionway cover resemble the ship's bell in the Dutton print.
     In 2021 I came across a second photo of the Ross Winans82a.  Apparently taken by Plymouth photographer William Gilhen, the photo is centered on the yacht very close to a shore that looks to be a maritime or industrial waterfront.  Several figures, some in a small boat, appear to be working on the right end of hull, about 15 feet from the tip.  This end appears to be a bit higher above the water than the other end, as in the Taunt photo.  There seems to be less superstructure than in the that photo, but more detail is visible.  What looks like a row of rectangular scuppers runs the length of the middle section of the bulwark. The left end shows the same bump visible in the Taunt (indicating it is oriented the same way) as are the flagpoles at either end.  Except for short, narrow cylindrical object on the outside of the superstructure right end, most other possible features are more likely structures on shore or in the background. 

Plymouth Barbican Association Photo

Click here to view my very early 3D reconstruction of the Ross Winans.  This old version is based almost entirely on a low resolution copy of the Illustrated London News launching engraving.  I plan a new reconstruction to reflect information from The Engineer, Dutton, Taunt, and other sources.

The Gravesend and Milton Cemetery mariners burial records66 hint at a serious accident or other incident involving the Ross Winans crew.  Three young crew members were buried within a few weeks in 1867:
  • James Earl, age 21, buried 10 Feb 1867
  • Thomas Mills, age 18, buried 12 Feb 1867
  • John Winser, age 28, buried 14 Mar 1867

The New York Times reported seven crewmen missing after one of the Ross Winans' boats was found capsized on the Thames at the end of December 186677.  These men may have been three of them, found some time later.  This cryptic text in a short July 1867 article in Scientific American91 on another subject may identify another victim:  "The last time we had the pleasure of seeing him it was in company with poor Holliday [sic], formerly Penn's out-door engineer, and who, while chief engineer of the Ross Winans cigar ship, was lost one night in the Thames, when returning to his ship from Northfleet". 

Tony Lugton, whose great-great-great uncle was Thomas Halliday, sent me an obituary122 that records Halliday's death at age 49 on 27 Dec 1866 "at Northfleet, Gravesend, by the upsetting of a boat whilst endeavouring  to go aboard the Rose Wynans, cigar ship".  It identifies him as the ship's chief engineer and indicates that his brother-in-law John Winser, noted above, was on the engineer's staff and died in the same accident.

(Source references are in the bibliography on the main cigar ships page.)

Walden Models Oliver Weiss has a very nice 1:250 paper card model of the Ross Winans for sale on his Walden Models "Curiosities for the experienced card modeler" website.

Click for information about the model.

John Taylor Ships John Taylor, an artist with an original vision, created a fascinating sculpture of the Ross Winans.  "Using materials at hand, found, and brought to him, he seeks the tipping point between the reality of objects and their ability to act as a nautical time portal."  Images of his unique interpretation of the Ross Winans are not currently available on the John Taylor Ships Facebook page but this article includes one.

John Taylor's Ross Winans image Copyright © 2007 Heather Taylor. All rights reserved.

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Michael & Karen Crisafulli. 
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18 Oct 21