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The Feathering Sidewheel

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The most unusual feature of the wreck site is the pair of iron-framed, "feathering" sidewheels. Although such sidewheels were relatively commonplace on steamships of the period, they are very distinctive and strongly support the identification of the wreck as Denbigh.

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The feathering sidewheel was perhaps the most successful attempt to improve the efficiency of the conventional paddlewheel. The idea was to continually adjust the paddle blades, or "floats," as the wheel turned, to get the best, most effective use of the engine's power. In the feathering wheel, each float was secured in an iron frame (shown in red, above) so that it could pivot slightly. Attached to the rear face of each float was a short arm, which was itself attached to second wheel (gray), attached to the outside frame of the paddlebox, and set to pivot slightly forward of the main wheel. It was a complex arrangement, but it worked well.

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The main components of a "float," or paddle, from Denbigh's feathering wheel.

The feathering paddlewheel was first patented in England in 1829 by Elijah Galloway. In 1838 the rights to the design were transferred to an attorney, James L. Lucena, who turned it over to his partner, William Morgan, an engineer from Surrey. Morgan refined the design considerably, and by about 1850 feathering wheels were becoming increasingly commonplace. Although they were not widely adopted by large transatlantic steamers, due to their cost and "likelihood of derangement," they quickly became the standard for smaller vessels like excursion boats and harbor tugs. Denbigh, which may have originally been built as a small freight or excursion steamer, was equipped with feathering wheels at the Laird & Son Yard in Birkenhead while under construction. Although they were not developed for blockade running, feathering wheels did possess an additional advantage for smugglers -- because the floats entered the water at a more efficient angle, they were quieter and kicked up less spray than conventional wheels, an important consideration sneaking past Federal warships.

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Click these thumbnails for larger images of the reconstruction Denbigh's feathering sidewheel.

Feathering sidewheels quickly lost favor in the latter half of the 19th century as the efficiency of screw propulsion became evident. For a few purposes, though, sidewheels retained an advantage. They were especially useful for harborcraft that needed to maneuver in narrow channels and docks. Frequently, a steam tug equipped with independently-controlled sidewheels could spin on its own axis like a top. Paddlewheel steamers remained in widespread use into the 20th century, particularly in the United Kingdom, where several examples were still in active service in the years after World War II.

Much of the above is drawn from Peter Allington and Basil Greenhill's The First Atlantic Liners: Seamanship in the Age of Paddle Wheel, Sail and Screw (London, Conway Maritime Press, 1997).


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What's New?

new.gif (977 bytes) John Newland Maffitt and the Galveston Blockade | Chasing a Fox new.gif (977 bytes)
new.gif (977 bytes) 2001 Field Crew | In-Kind Contributions  | How Much Coal? new.gif (977 bytes)
new.gif (977 bytes) Denbigh Wallpaper new.gif (977 bytes)


"An Extremely Fast Boat" | The "Mobile Packet" | A "Bold Rascal" | Denbigh Today
Denbigh's Crew | The Erlanger Loan | Birkenhead-Built: An Unrivaled Legacy
Denbigh Primary Source Documents | Galveston During the Civil War | Denbigh, Clwyd, Wales
The U.S. Coast Survey and the Blockade, 1861 | The Ship's Library: Recommended Reading
Running the Blockade Into Galveston: A Personal Narrative | Denbigh Day-by-Day
Denbigh Portrait | Official Number 28,647 | Valve Chest Animation (300kb) | Investors
Links of Interest | Denbigh F.A.Q. | Denbigh's Engines | Denbigh's Boiler
Feathering Sidewheel


April 27-28 Side Scan Survey | May 7-10 Site Mapping
June 16-17 Sub-Bottom Profiling | Site Mapping, July 9-12, 1998 | Dive Trip, October 18-30, 1998
Underwater Images | 1999 Summer Field Season | Denbigh Site Plan
Jerry Williams Speaking Tour | Denbigh Project Benefit Dinner |
Denbigh Artifacts | 2000 Field Crew | 2000 Field Crew Photo Album |
The Denbigh Wreck Site: A Quicktime VR Panaorama
Connecting Rod Recovery, July 22-24, 2000 | Modeling a Shipwreck
Credits & Thank-Yous

J. Barto Arnold et al. 1998-2000, The Denbigh Project, World Wide Web,
Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A&M University, E-mail: (  
Wednesday, January 31, 2001 Revision.

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