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The Bessemer

The ‘Bessemer’ was designed by Sir E.J. Read on a principle  invented by Henry Bessemer. It was hoped that her unique  hanging saloon measuring 70ft by 35ft would help alleviate the  effects of a rough sea and so ease seasickness. The saloon  would be worked by a hydraulic apparatus controlled by one of  the seamen, the complete structure resting on a large rubber  bed to prevent vibration. To ease docking at Calais she was  double ended in order to cut down on the manoeuvres needed in  harbour. From the start the ship lacked speed, managing only 11 knots  instead of the promised 20. Her first crossing to Calais was from  Gravesend in April 1875 but on arrival she smashed into the  pier, damaging it and herself. On 4th May the ‘Bessemer’ sailed  from Dover for Calais, where she again crashed into the pier  causing further damage. On 8th May there was a public trial trip  to Calais and the crossing was made in an impressive 90  minutes. Unfortunately, ‘Bessemer’ entered Calais as the tide  was sweeping through the pierheads, failed to answer the helm  and demolished 50ft of the west pier. On freeing herself she then crashed into the east pier. Poor steering qualities and malfunctioning of the swinging saloon  caused the ‘Bessemer’ to be laid up shortly afterwards.  The  Bessemer Steam Ship Company was liquidated in 1876, and the  ship sat in dock at Dover until it was sold for scrap in 1879.  The saloon survived the ship as it was re-erected as a billiard  room at Sir E.J. Read’s house in Swanley.  The house later  became Swanley Horticultural College and the saloon used as as  a lecture hall. It is mentioned in a letter in the Times of 24 December 1929:   "its crudely painted classical frescoes have caused a good deal  of amusement to generations of new students. It is never called anything else but 'the saloon'. The staterooms are used as  study bedrooms; the smoking room is occupied as an office,  and is entered by means of the original companion way". The Manchester Guardian of 8 October 1934, described it  further:  "the saloon is used as a lecture hall. The old leather seats still  remain in place round the walls, and there are some beautiful  carved panels with the monogram B.S.S. Co. and twisted  mahogany pillars supporting the roof". 
The 'Bessemer' in the Granville Dock. What should have happened.  A diagram of how the saloon was supposed to stay level in heavy seas. The Saloon as a lecture hall in Swanley. The Saloon as a lecture hall in Swanley. Back to Ferries and Shipping Index