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M. Dupuy De Lome

M. Dupuy De Lome died on the 1st Feb., 1885, at the age of 68. It may be questioned whether any constructor has ever rendered greater services to the navy of any country than those rendered by M. Dupuy to the French Navy during the thirty years 1840-70. Since the fall of the Empire his connection with the naval service has been terminated, but his professional and scientific standing has been fully maintained, and his energies have found scope in the conduct of the great and growing business of the Forges et Chantiers Company. In him France has undoubtedly lost her greatest naval architect.

The son of a naval officer, M. Dupuy was born in October, 1816, near L'Orient, and entered L'Ecole Polytechnique when nineteen years of age. In that famous establishment he received the thorough preliminary training which France has so long and wisely provided for those who are to become the designers of her war-ships. After finishing his professional education, he came to England about 1842, and made a thorough study of iron shipbuilding and steam navigation, in both of which we then held a long lead of France. His report, subsequently published under the title of "Memoire sur la Construction des Batiments en Fer"—Paris, 1844—is probably the best account given to the world of the state of iron shipbuilding forty years ago: and its perusal not merely enables one to gauge the progress since made, but to form an estimate of the great ability and clear style of the writer. We may assume that this visit to England, coming after the thorough education received in Francem did much toward forming the views to which expression was soon given in designs and reports on new types of war ships.

When the young constructor settled down to his work in the arsenal at Toulon, on his return from England, the only armed steamships in the French Navy were propelled by paddle-wheels, and there was great opposition to the introduction of steam power into line-of-battle ships. The paddle-wheel was seen to be unsuited to such large fighting vessels, and there was no confidence in the screw; while the great majority of naval officers in France, as well as in England, were averse to any decrease in sail spread. M. Dupuy had carefully studied the details of the Great Britain, which he had seen building at Bristol, and was convinced that full steam power should be given to line-of-battle ships. He grasped and held fast to this fundamental idea; and as early as the year 1845 he addressed a remarkable report to the Minister of Marine, suggesting the construction of a full-powered screw frigate, to be built with an iron hull, and protected by a belt of armor formed by several thicknesses of iron plating. This report alone would justify his claim to be considered the leading naval architect of that time; it did not bear fruit fully for some years, but its recommendations were ultimately realized.

M. Dupuy did not stand alone in the feeling that radical changes in the construction and propulsion of ships were imminent. His colleagues in the "Genie Maritime" were impressed with the same idea: and in England, about this date, the earliest screw liners—the wonderful converted "block ships"—were ordered. This action on our part decided the French also to begin the conversion of their sailing line-of-battle ships into vessels with auxiliary steam power. But M. Dupuy conceived and carried out the bolder scheme of designing a full-powered screw liner, and in 1847 the Napoleon was ordered. Her success made the steam reconstruction of the fleets of the world a necessity. She was launched in 1850, tried in 1852, and attained a speed of nearly 14 knots an hour. During the Crimean War her performances attracted great attention, and the type she represented was largely increased in numbers. She was about 240 ft. in length, 55 ft. in breadth, and of 5,000 tons displacement, with two gun decks. In her design boldness and prudence were well combined. The good qualities of the sailing line-of-battle ships which had been secured by the genius of Sané and his colleagues were maintained; while the new conditions involved in the introduction of steam power and large coal supply were thoroughly fulfilled. The steam reconstruction had scarcely attained its full swing when the ironclad reconstructor became imperative. Here again M. Dupuy occupied a distinguished position, and realized his scheme of 1845 with certain modifications. His eminent services led to his appointment in 1857 to the highest office in the Constructive Corps—Directeur du Materiel—and his design for the earliest seagoing ironclad, La Gloire, was approved in the same year. Once started, the French pressed on the construction of their ironclads with all haste, and in the autumn of 1863 they had at sea a squadron of five ironclads, not including in this list La Gloire. It is unnecessary to trace further the progress of the race for maritime supremacy; but to the energy and great ability of M. Dupuy de Lome must be largely attributed the fact that France took, and for a long time kept, such a lead of us in ironclads. In the design of La Gloire, as is well known, he again followed the principle of utilizing known forms and dimensions as far as was consistent with modern conditions, and the Napoleon was nearly reproduced in La Gloire so far as under-water shape was concerned, but with one gun deck instead of two, and with a completely protected battery. So long as he retained office, M. Dupuy consistently adhered to this principle; but he at the same time showed himself ready to consider how best to meet the constantly growing demands for thicker armor, heavier guns, and higher speeds. It is singular, however, especially when his early enthusiasm for iron ships is remembered, to find how small a proportion of the ships added to the French Navy during his occupancy of office were built of anything but wood.

Distinctions were showered upon him. In 1860 he was made a Councilor of State, and represented the French Admiralty in Parliament; from 1869 to 1875 he was a Deputy, and in 1877 he was elected a Life Senator. He was a member of the Academy of Sciences and of other distinguished scientific bodies. Of late his name has been little connected with ship design; but his interest in the subject was unabated.

In 1870 M. Dupuy devoted a large amount of time and thought to perfecting a system of navigable balloons, and the French Government gave him great assistance in carrying out the experiments. It does not seem, however, that any sufficient success was reached to justify further trials. The theoretical investigations on which the design was based, and the ingenuity displayed in carrying out the construction of the balloon, were worthy of M. Dupuy's high reputation. The fleet that he constructed for France has already disappeared to a great extent, and the vessels still remaining will soon fall out of service. But the name and reputation of their designer will live as long as the history of naval construction is studied.

Source: Scientific American Supplement, No. 481, March 21, 1885

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