Posts Tagged ‘maritime Steampunk’

two of our tour guides dressed the part

two of our tour guides dressed the part

42nd airborne battalion at the Houston Maritime Museum

42nd Airborne battalion at the Houston Maritime Museum

Recently with the help of the Steampunk group, the 42nd Airship Battalion, I organized an outing to the Houston Maritime museum. The tour included over 150 model ship exhibits, spanning the age of exploration to the modern merchant marines and several models of steam powered ships from the Victorian age. As you can see from the photos we all had an amazing time.

Steampunk outing at the Maritime Museum

Steampunk outing at the Maritime Museum

The museum exhibits included models of steam paddle ships. Riverboats conjure images of fun and adventure and are therefore a perfect setting for a Steampunk story. Paddle boats were highly popular in the 18thcentury for navigating well in shallow waters as well as up river against fierce currents. Prior to the development of the railways they were a favorite ways to travel. The interiors of the antebellum riverboats were luxurious with elaborate crystal chandeliers, lush hand carved furniture, oriental rugs, and so much more.  Of course one needs drama and trauma in any novel and there is plenty of opportunity for that on a steam paddle ship.

at the Houston Maritime Museum

at the Houston Maritime Museum

Fire is always s a great disaster for fiction. At the museum I learned the double steam stacks towered so high to keep sparks as far away from the wood boat as possible. Still sometimes an ember would hit the ship. Wood and paint are highly flammable so fire, panic, and catastrophe would ensue. If you want something even more dramatic, the boilers sometimes exploded in a huge, ear splitting, blast of fire and smoke, resulting in the deaths of many passengers and leaving even more injured.  Body parts were literary blown off.  In 1830 the US Congress funded research to end boiler explosions. Here is a website that even list River Boat demise with the reason and year of the loss.

The museum also had an exhibit on the Texas Navy which served the Republic of Texas when it stood as a separate country from 1836 into 1845 after gaining independence from Mexico. The idea of combing the wild west with Victorian nautical influences thrilled my muse. You can see more of these valiant fighting men in tiny but feisty ships on this youtube video.

To me the most important Victorian submarine was the Plongeur, simply because when Jules Verne saw it at the Exposition Universelle in 1867, it served as his inspiration for the Nautilus. However, the museum’s model of and news clipping about the confederate submarine the H. L. Hunley intrigued me. This combat submarine, named after its inventor Horace Lawson Hunley, was the first sub to sink an enemy warship. However, the Hunley itself sunk three times in its short career. The second time it sunk, Horace Lawson Hunley was among one of the men who drowned. After the Hunley’s successful attack on the screw sloop, the USS Housatonic the sub sank for unknown reasons and was lost.

Speaking of the confederacy and the U.S Civil war the museum included models of the ironclad ships, the rebel Merrimac and the union Monitor. Ironclads refer to steam powered warships of that era, protected by iron or steel armor plates. By the end of the U. S. civil war the Union was building triple turreted ironclads with twenty inch mounted guns. By the 1880’s ironclads were equipped with the heaviest guns ever mounted at sea and more sophisticated steam engines. Modern day battleships developed from these ironclad ships.

If you have a maritime museum in your local area, I encourage you to visit. Organize a Steampunk outing there if you are able, I guarantee you it’ll be a lot of fun and I’m sure you’ll gather inspiration for your Steampunk writing. After all, it’s sad to think of this, but if  Jules Verne had not attended the Exposition Universelle in 1867 and seen the Plongeur, we might not have 20,000 Leauges Under The Sea, which readers enjoy to this day, over 140 years after it was first published.

There may well be an exhibit at your local museum just waiting for you to discover it and gain inspiration for your next book.

Maeve Alpin



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Nautical Steampunk Attire

Nautical Steampunk Attire

Airships and Trains weren’t the only steam powered transportation the Victorians used, steam driven ships were a big part of the era. Keep in mind the nautical theme of one of the, if not the, most famous Victorian sci-fi books, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Perhaps the greatest historical steamship episode of the Victorian era is the battle of the  Ironclads during the American Civil War, the southern Merrimac and the northern Monitor,  shown in this youtube video:

Ironclads was the name given to steam powered warships protected by iron or steel armor plates.  By the 1880’s ironclads were equipped with the heaviest guns ever mounted at sea and more sophisticated steam engines, these ships developed into modern day battleships.

Another interesting steamship episode from Victorian history is the steamers that tugged the cigar shaped container ship, known as Cleopatra, which held the obelisk, called Cleopatra’s needle, all the way from Egypt. There were three steamers in all, the Olga beset by a storm rescued the survivors of the Cleopatra crew, six drowned, then they had to abandon the container ship, leaving it to drift in the Bay of Biscay. The Fillitz Morris rescued the cylinder and towed it to Northern Spain. From there the Anglia towed Cleopatra to Gravesend. Five days later Cleopatra was pulled up the Thames. On September 13, 1878 the obelisk was erected on a pedestal on the banks of the Thames. The names of the men who drowned due to Cleopatra’s journey are commemorated on the pedestal. The pedestal is also a time capsule representing Victorian Britain, it contains British coins, a railway guide, some daily newspapers, several bibles in different languages and a dozen prints of the world’s most beautiful women. You can see the obelisk here.

Here’s a fictional excerpt of the arrival of Cleopatra at London, from the Steampunk Romance, As Timeless As Magic:

The ship towed a long cylinder, about 200 hands long and about 30 hands wide, across the rippling blue water as the sun peeked through the clouds in the blue–gray sky. Heru was sure it was a royal boat when the whole crowd cheered at its approach.

“Oui, I’m dressed like an ancient Egyptian to commemorate the obelisk.” Now he understood. He fit in with the occasion. That ship hauled something important from his country to be erected along the bank of the river.

His eardrums ached with the bang of the soldiers’ sticks, weapons that blasted into the air, again and again, in praise and fanfare to the long white ship puffing steam out of the tall black pipe and tooting a loud horn. He clamped his hands over his ears.

Men in tall, black, pipe-like hats rushed forward with tools in hand and cracked open the lengthy cylinder. Using a cable from a towering machine, shaped like a barrel with wheels and cogs spinning and rocking, the men hoisted free what lay inside. The crowd all stepped back. As the tall machine clanked, rumbled and puffed steam, it lifted the obelisk to a standing position. The throng cheered.

Heru recognized the type of monument at once. “Oui, what you call obelisks are built in pairs to stand on either side of a temple, the priests use them to tell time by the shadows cast, but there is no temple and there is only one.” Confused, he shook his head.

“Egypt gave it to England in 1819, but neither Parliament nor the king, later the queen, could cover the expense of shipping it, until General Alexander took up the cause.” She cocked her head. “Sir Wilson, who, not to be crude, but honestly, is as rich as they come, paid all the costs of its voyage. They shipped the other one, its twin, to America.”

“America?” It must be another country that didn’t exist in his time, and now they too had an obelisk from Egypt. “Amazing.” The column carved out of a single piece of stone tapered into a pyramidion at the top. He peered at the beautiful hieroglyphics engraved on it.

“Not as amazing as all poor Cleopatra has been through.”

“Cleopatra?” Who or what was Cleopatra? Since he didn’t know anything or at least very little about the future he’d landed in, he shrugged as he watched her lips curve into a smile.

“The watertight cylinder. The first ship that towed her got caught in a storm and six men drowned. Cleopatra drifted in the ocean alone, until a different ship rescued her and brought her to a Spanish port. Then,“ Felicity pointed to the barge in the river, “that ship, the Anglia, brought her and the obelisk she carried, which everyone is calling Cleopatra’s needle, here.”

“This Cleopatra’s needle’s journey to England is almost as unbelievable as mine.”

“I doubt your adventure is more exciting than the obelisk’s.” Felicity set her hand on her small but defined hip.

“You would be surprised.”

Maeve Alpin & Pirate - Space City Con

Maeve Alpin & Pirate – Space City Con

Keep steamships, sea ports, and nautical settings in mind for your Steampunk tales. Also, if you live in the Houston Texas area there’s a great opportunity for maritime research and fun, Saturday, September 15that the Houston Maritime Museum. Here’s a invitation to all who can come.Please join me for an afternoon of nautical Steampunk fun at the Houston Maritime Museum, tie down the date of 09/15/12 at 3:00 PM. Don steampunk attire if you wish, in the fashion of a day at a Victorian yacht club or airship pirates may feel free to become maritime pirates

Captian Jack at Dickens On The Strand 2012

Captian Jack at Dickens On The Strand 2012

for the day, or a member of the Nautilus crew. All Steampunk garb and characters are welcomed as well as modern garb. Board the guided tour of over 150 model ship exhibits, spanning the age of exploration to the modern merchant marines and several models of steam powered ships from the Victorian age. Free parking is a shore thing at the large lot beside the museum. Museum admission is $5.00 per age 12 up, $3.00 for children 3 -11 and children under 3 are free.

Maeve Alpin

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