Exploring Africa's Rivers by Steamship
December 11, 2012 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Talk to me about different kinds of steamships, which might have been used to travel around African rivers around the 1860's.

I'm not interested in sailing ships or row-boats, but rather larger passenger or cargo ships powered by some sort of engine.

Also only interested in boats that are designed to be used primarily on the rivers. They don't necessarily need to be ocean-craft.

Any information regarding the structure and design of these boats would be much appreciated! Thank you in advance.
posted by np312 to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild has descriptions and some pictures of steamboats used in the Congo from the 1870s. The focus of the book is not on the boats, but they were a vital tool in exploiting the territory so they do get a fair bit of attention. It has a decent references list so might be a good starting point for further researches.
posted by pont at 12:22 PM on December 11, 2012

My first reaction is that 1860 is extremely early for there to have been many riverine steamships. The first steamship on Lake Victoria did not arrive until 1900-01 (reports vary, I think it's this boat). The warship Gwendolen plied the waters of Eastern Africa beginning in 1897-99. Conrad's river steamer experience on the Congo -- source material he would use in Heart of Darkness -- dates to the 1880s. The British and other colonizers used steamships (especially gunboats) in India extensively as early as the 1830s, so it's quite possible that there were tramp steamers and the like, but these tended to be ocean-going vessels that were capable of the trip and ended up in, say, Cape Town-Bombay service. The fact that they were introduced by King Leopold specifically to exploit the Congo as late as Conrad's time suggests that there wasn't an extensive history up to that point.

There seems to be a good discussion of the technological issues here. The Bessemer process dates from 1864 and made mass production of steel possible only then.

OK, there's a chapter in the book Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present on "Steamboat Imperialism" that should give you a good outline of what was happening -- there were mailboat contracts and the like supporting the missionaries and resource exploiters. In short it seems that they were there but rare.
posted by dhartung at 12:28 PM on December 11, 2012

I don't know any books about the river warfare in what is now southern Central USA, but there was some fighting in the US Civil War using riverine steamboats. That certainly doesn't place them in Africa, but should give you an idea of what the state of technology, configuration, and so on, existed at that time.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:58 PM on December 11, 2012

According to one of dhartung's links, "By the late 1860s the British had perfected a steamboat small enough to be disassembled and carried past the dangerous rapids of many of Africa's rivers."

Does anyone have more information about these kinds of boats?
posted by np312 at 3:15 PM on December 11, 2012

All I could find was this:


1857, with picture of a masted paddle steamer. Looks much like stateside coastal steamers of the same time period.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:24 PM on December 11, 2012

np312, here's one that Livingstone used, the Lady Nyassa, being loaded at Birkenhead (Liverpool) for shipment to Africa. It's called a "steam launch" and you can barely see it. Here is another, the Granger. Still working from the book, here's the Ilala, from Lake Malawi, though it's from 1875.
posted by dhartung at 11:57 PM on December 11, 2012

Thank you!!
posted by np312 at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2012

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