Liuro da Fabrica das Naus (c. 1580)
The Liuro da Fabrica das Naus has been dated to 1580 and is the earliest surviving treatise on shipbuilding in Portuguese. It's author, father Fernando Oliveira had written a previous treatise in Latin, titled Ars Nautica. The Liuro is the theoretical work of a scholar and not the practical work of a shipwright. It is comprised of a clear text, with few illustrations, and is, unfortunately, incomplete. As it survived, it is divided into nine chapters. Father Oliveira defines the dimensions of the primary structural components of a ship - stem, stern post, midship and tail frames - as simple proportions of the length of the keel. He then describes the use of algorithms similar to the ones described by Timbotta - such as the mezzaluna or the incremental triangle - to calculate the narrowing and rising of the floor timbers in the central portion of the hull, between tail frames (almogamas), the first and the last of the pre-designed frames of a vessel.1
As Father Oliveira described it, all the frames in the central portion of the hull were pre-designed. No indication is given of the conception of the frames before and after the tail frames, but the use of ribbands is suggested.
The midship frame is quite simple: a flat floor and a single circular arc for the futtocks. The chapters on rigging are missing. The Liuro is available in two editions which both contain a facsimile of the original, a transcription and a translation into English. The second edition contains a translation into Cantonese.2
The Life of Fernando Oliveira
Fernando Oliveira was born around 1507 at Aveiro, a coastal city with great mercantile traditions. He studied at the University of Évora where he became a Dominican priest at the age of 25. Soon after he left for Spain, for unknown reasons.
In 1536 he was again in Lisbon where he published his first book, a Portuguese grammar, the first known. Around 1540 he left again to Spain, and from there he sailed to Genoa, where he visited the shipyards. When his ship was seized by a French galley he was made a prisoner but managed to be engaged as a pilot.
Oliveira served as a pilot in the galley of baron Saint-Blancard from where he probably witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose at Portsmouth. In 1546 his galley was taken by the English and he was imprisoned. In England he visited the shipyards, and may have met James Baker, the father of Matthew Baker. His resources must have been many, for soon he was serving as a diplomat near the future King Edward VI, whose protestant inclinations did not seem to prevent from admire Father Oliveira, since he is known to have given him the unusual amount of £110, certainly not for counseling in shipbuilding industry, for it is known that James Baker's salary was not more than 12 pence per day, less than £20 per year, and that even Agustino Levello, one of the Italian shipwrights hired by Henry VIII in 1543, made only 16 pence per day.
We do not know what services Oliveira rendered to the king, but in 1547 he was back in Portugal and was arrested by the Holy Inquisition. He refused to comment on King Henry VIII's religious views, in his own words because "he had been Henry's servant, and eaten his bread." Freed in 1551, Oliveira engaged in the Portuguese expedition of 1552 against Algeria, where he was taken prisoner after the defeat of the Portuguese army. There, once again he visited the shipyards. Freed two years later in 1554, he was back in Portugal, where he published his A Arte da Guerra no Mar and was arrested soon after, again by the Holy Inquisition, although we do not know exactly why. In 1557 he was freed again and probably left Portugal forever.
He died after 1585, presumably in France, leaving a series of unpublished works, among which are the Ars Nautica, now in the Library of the University of Leiden, and the Liuro da Fabrica das Naus presently in the National Library of Lisbon, in the codex 3702.3
Table of Contents
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2. Filipe Castro 2002, ShipLab Website Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University
3. Filipe Castro 2002, ShipLab Website Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University
Barker, Richard, Fernando Oliveira, The English Episode, 1545-47, Lisboa: Academia de Marinha, 1992.
Domingues, Francisco Contente, Os navios do mar oceano, Lisbon, Centro de História dos Descobrimentos, 2004.
Glasgow, Tom "Maturing the Naval Administration," Mariner's Mirror (1970) 56:3-26, 10 and 24.
Mendonça, Henrique Lopes de, O Padre Fernando Oliveira e a sua Obra Náutica, Lisboa: Academia Real das Sciências, 1898.
Oliveira, Fernando 1580, O Liuro da fabrica das naos. Fac-simile, transcription and translations into English and Chinese, ed. Academia de Marinha and Museu Marítimo de Macau, Macau, 1995.