Reviving an Old Custom - Circumnavigations in 1847

“What, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense." (Napoleon to Robert Fulton)

Today, 166 years ago, the 1st class steam sloop H.M.S. “Driver” arrived at her berth in Spithead after a voyage of roughly five years, making her the first steamship to circumnavigate the world.

A contemporary picture below shows HMS “Driver” lying in the roads at Wellington.

While the British explorer and administrator Sir George Simpson completed the first “land circumnavigation” via Canada and Siberia a couple of years before and seafaring underdogs like Russia and Austria began their expeditions with sailing ships on purpose, the “Driver” made her historical tour almost by accident.

Originally send to Southeast Asian waters to suppress piracy in 1842, the 1000 ton and 180ft brig rigged paddle steamer sailed as a courier between the British naval bases in the wake of the First Opium War and finally left for Australia and New Zealand where she arrived as the first steamship ever and saw service against the Maori during the New Zealand Wars in 1845.

Together with the sailing frigates HMS Castor and Calliope, the big steam sloop landed more than 600 soldiers near Wellington and caused a sensation especially among the Maori who allegedly gazed in amazement at the foreigners’ ship that could move against wind and currents with fire in her belly.

After the “Driver” was ordered back home to England via Cape Horn and thereby completing her circumnavigation she saw further service during the Crimean War in the Baltics and finally met her fate off the Bahamas where she sank during a storm in 1861.

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