FULTON, ROBERT. Two-panel watercolor drawing with detailed holograph notes, showing the conversion of old merchant vessels into torpedo ships, n.p., n.d. [ca. 1805-1815]. 2 pages, large folio, 595 x 484mm. (24 1/2 x 19 in.), grey and blue-grey monochromatic washes over pencil, corners chipped, old creases and clean tears neatly reinforced, another clean break across top half, without loss (repairable), verso with elaborate pencil drawings of various mechanical instruments (pistons for steam engines?) and a small oval ink stamp.
FULTON'S PLAN FOR TORPEDO BOATS
A very attractive drawing. The top panel features a lateral view of a three-masted ship under full sail, and a cross-section view of a warship under attack, with the torpedo deployed beneath the waterline on a long spar suspended by various cables. Fulton's main caption reads: "Merchant ship 300 tons filled in with empty puncheons below the waterline and pine cord wood or timber to the deck. Thus she cannot be sunk." Fulton has also labelled the spar, the waterline and the "Torpedo, 300 lb." The lower drawing shows Fulton's conception of the torpedo's deployment as a weapon: in the center is a large ship labelled "The enemy 45 foot beam." Encircling that vessel are seven smaller ships labelled "Torpedo ship," each carrying two spars mounting explosive torpedos. The long caption reads: "These torpedo ships are old merchantmen, they can be bought and prepared for action for 3000 $ each. If 4 or 6 of them run on an enemy at one time, she being at anchor how can she defend herself? How could she defend herself if in our waters underway?"
Fulton was intensely interested in new ideas for maritime weaponry and defense; his first submarine craft was tested as early as 1800 and he soon began to design submarine bombs, torpedos and mines. Torpedos were succesfully tested both in France and England, but the inventor returned to America in 1806, continuing his experiments while working to perfect the first commercially viable steamboat, the Clermont. Various submarine weapons were tested in New York harbor and Fulton published an important pamphlet on the subject, Torpedo War and Submarine Explosions (New York, 1810).
1. Solomon Alofsen, a Dutch-born engineer who worked with Fulton during the latter's late years, given in 1855 to the
2. New Jersey Historical Society (sale, Sotheby's, 26 October 1983, lot 48).
3. The present owner.