Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Digging for Gold at the Library: Freak ships

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

Who amongst us would have such self-control as to be able to walk past a book called Freak Ships and not take a little look see? Friends, not me.

Freak Ships (1936), written by Stanley Rogers is a book of "naval oddities…which in truth is a side-show in the vast bibliography of sea literature" (ix). Listen to Mr. Roger’s exuberance (and hubris) as he describes this book:
As an assiduous student of maritime history who grows a little weary  of the pedantic solemnity of your true sailor, I hold up my discovery with a shout of glee. Freak ships! What a notion. This will fall like a fire-cracker in the academic halls of nautical learning. Here is a side show to disturb the pedants; a frivolous tome to rub shoulders with treatises on naval architecture and nautical dictionaries” (ix).

What follows however is not really going to blow your mind clean out of your head. The author focuses on ships that were strange or unusual for the time, such as the 7-masted schooner Thomas W. Lawson or The Great Eastern, simply for her size.  I was hoping more for strange terrible ships born from the opiatic nightmares of madmen but I got the Monitor.  I think I was looking for something more in the line of this.

There are some interesting sketches and the designs in Roger's Freak Ships and his heart is certainly in the right place.  I suppose this book will always have a place in my heart for chapter titles such as "Some Victorian Freaks" and "Freak Fore-an-Afters."  Just for that it’s definitely worth a read.

By the way, here’s a librarian time wasting - I mean research tip: using your favorite search engine, do an image search for Steampunk AND ship. Wow. I know, right?


  1. Who could resist either freak ships or steampunk ships? If you're a tabletop game player, I just saw this recently: http://monstersinthesky.com/ It's steampunk miniature battleships!