Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

Reminding the modern-day reader that a voyage from England to France was once a considerable undertaking, it was with great excitement that The Engineer reported on a maritime innovation that promised to ‘overcome the horrors of the channel passage.’

September 1875. Allan’s Floating Cabin

Reminding the modern-day reader that a voyage from England to France was once a considerable undertaking, it was with great excitement that The Engineer reported on a maritime innovation that promised to ‘overcome the horrors of the channel passage.’

The article explains an invention that ‘takes advantage of the natural tendency of a vessel containing a fluid, when set in motion, to rotate round the fluid, which will keep its proper level so long as no wave is generated in it.’

Invented by a Mr Alexander Allan of Scarborough, the plans for the system show a hemispherical dock fitted in the ship and containing water, in which floats another hemispherical vessel ‘of such a diameter as only to leave a space of some 3in or 4in between it and the outer vessel or dock.’

According to The Engineer: ‘As the ship pitches and rolls, the water between the floating cabin and the dock always maintains its horizontal level…and the floating cabin, therefore, also remains level, being kept by an arrangement of a pillar and universal joint from being projected against the sides of the dock.’

The article goes on to describe successful trials involving a scale model of the system in choppy seas of the coast of Scarborough. ‘though it was most carefully watched, not the slightest shake, oscillation, or vibration was perceptible.’

The ‘extraordinary success’, declared The Engineer, ‘leads us to hope that a practical solution has at last been arrived at of the problem of the best means of securing a comfortable passage across the channel, which so many inventors have cudgelled their brains to find out.’

‘Before long,’ the article concluded, ‘we shall be able to start from London on a continental tour without shuddering as we think of the fatal strip of blue water which has to be traversed before we arrive at our destination.’