HMS TRINCOMALEE: A LIVING PROWESS OF SHIPBUILDING

By Saba Purkar, Project Research Associate, MHS

The average lifespan of a ship at sea is considered as 25-30 years. After that, the maintenance of the ship becomes too expensive and dangerous to voyage in. However, today i.e 12 October marks the launch date of the Royal Navy’s Leda class frigate HMS Trincomalee who carries in her bones over two centuries worth of history, making her the oldest afloat surviving warship of Great Britain. What is interesting and makes it relevant to us is that this ‘Grand Old Lady’ was built in the Bombay dockyards by none other than the famed Wadia shipbuilders.

The ships of East India Company covered a wide range of trade routes and to tap into this network they established a shipbuilding industry in Bombay under the local builders, the Wadia’s in this case. The HMS Trincomalee was built after the end of the Napoleonic wars by the Wadia group in Bombay at a whopping cost of 23,000 pounds back then. It was in May of 1816 that the work of building this ship began after none other than the master builder Mr. Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia himself hammered a ceremonial engraved silver nail into the ship’s keel, which was considered vital for ships well-being, according to the Parsi Zoroastrian tradition. What sets this ship apart from her sisters is that, she is made of teakwood in place of the commonly used oak. This was probably because of the scarcity of oak wood in Britain, in those times, owing to the rapid shipbuilding during the Napoleonic wars.

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