About This Artifact
Admiralty Models were traditionally created at the same time that their large-as-life counterparts were coming into existence. They were typically made out of the same materials, and constructed from identical plans, just scaled down. Why? Opinions vary. Some believe that, like the “half hull” model, they were a physical manifestation of the ship itself and therefore valuable to designers, and shipwrights. Others argue that these amazing pieces of art were both decorative and useful reminders of the might of a specific navy, therefore powerful examples for both politicians and others doing business with the Admiralty. Both are probably true.
HMS Burford was a British “third rate” ship of the line, carrying 68 guns and manned by a crew of 520 officers, men, boys and marines. Her keel had been laid and she was built in England’s Deptford Naval Dockyard on the Thames in 1722 and served until she was broken up in 1752. Burford’s most celebrated service was during the War of Jenkins Ear, as Spain and England fought for trade and colonial control of the Caribbean and Central American colonies that Spain had founded.
The term “battleship” is actually a 20th Century abbreviation of the more formal 18th and 19th Century term Ship-Of-The-Line-of-Battle, which identified those vessels powerful enough to fight in the traditional mêlées of that age. Ships-Of-The-Line (as they were titled then) could sustain the heavy pounding of cannon for hours, appearing almost like floating castles on the sea. During Burford’s era, Ships-Of-The-Line were classified by the number of guns they carried. A “First Rate” carried 100 to 120 cannon, a “second Rate” 90 to 98, a “Third Rate” (like Burford) 64 – 80 and a ‘Fourth Rate” 48 to 60. The Third Rate was the work horse of all international navies at the time, powerful enough to defend itself on independent missions and strong enough to stand in the Line of Battle. Lastly, Third Rates were often much better “sailors” than their larger sisters, whose weight and size made them ungainly. The Third Rate is also the darling of most naval fiction writers like O’Brien, Forester and Kent.
Many believe the Seaport’s model of HMS Burford is one of the best examples of this beautiful artwork which was once also a working plan for shipwrights and others trying to design these great floating weapons.
Questions for Further Thought
- Do you think models like Burford would be useful to ship designers and shipwrights? Why or why not.
- How do you think a Third Rate like Burford could have been practically used during its lifetime? Be specific.
- Why would having a strong navy be important to a nation like Great Britain which relied on trade?