Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Barnaby, Nathaniel

BARNABY, Sir NATHANIEL (1829-1915), naval architect, the eldest son of Nathaniel Barnaby, by his wife, Anna Fowler, was born at Chatham 25 February 1829. His father was an inspector of ship- wrights at Sheerness dockyard. Here, at the age of fourteen, young Barnaby became a shipwright apprentice; and after five years of apprenticeship won a scholarship at the Portsmouth central school of mathematics and naval construction (1848). On leaving the school in 1852 he was appointed draughtsman in the royal dockyard at Woolwich; two years later he became overseer of the Viper and the Wrangler, ships building in the Thames for service in the Crimean War. In 1854 he was appointed to the naval construction department of the Admiralty; there he assisted in the preparation of the designs for the last of the wooden sailing ‘line of battle’ ships and also in the design of the Warrior, the first British iron-armoured seagoing battleship.

When Sir Edward James Reed [q. v.], who had married Barnaby’s sister, became chief constructor of the navy in 1863, he made Barnaby head of his staff, and in this capacity Barnaby worked on most of Reed’s designs, including that of the Monarch, Reed’s conception of a fully-rigged seagoing turret ship as compared with the Captain (which subsequently capsized) designed by Captain Cowper Phipps Coles [q. v.].

On Sir Edward Reed’s retirement from the Admiralty in 1870, his work was carried on for a short time by a council of construction with Barnaby as president. In 1872 Barnaby was appointed chief naval architect, a title changed in 1875 to director of naval construction. As successor to Reed he had to deal with the designs of the Devastation and Thunderer and of the Fury, afterwards named Dreadnought: the first two vessels, of 9,380 tons displacement, with no sail power, had an ‘all big gun’ armament of four 12-inch 35-ton muzzle-loading guns, two in each of two turrets at the ends of the vessel; the Fury was of similar general design but somewhat larger with increased armour protection. In one bold stride Reed had evolved a design embodying the most important features of many battleships down to the time of the modern Dreadnought (launched 1906), if not indeed to the present day. His designs were much criticized at the time of the loss of the Captain (7 September 1870) which they were thought to resemble. A committee of investigation was appointed, and Barnaby proposed certain modifications in the Devastation and Thunderer, to which Reed objected; the Admiralty, however, adopted them. In the Dreadnought, the third vessel of the class, of 10,820 tons, carrying four 12·5-inch 38-ton muzzleloading guns, further changes were made which met Reed’s objections.

Barnaby’s first important design for a battleship was that for the Inflexible of 11,400 tons displacement. She had moderate sail power, and a one calibre armament of four 16-inch 80-ton muzzleloading guns, two in each of two turrets placed en échélon in a central citadel 110 feet long, protected with armour 24 inches thick. The ends of the vessel were without side armour but were fitted internally with belts of cork upon strong under-water decks. This design met with severe criticism from Reed, who objected that the cork protection could be shot away and the ship rendered unstable. A committee, however, reported favourably on the design. The Inflexible was laid down in 1874; four similar but smaller vessels, Ajax, Agamemnon, Colossus, and Edinburgh, were laid down somewhat later—the last in 1879.

Barnaby’s next design was that for the Collingwood, laid down in 1880. She and five similar vessels, varying somewhat in gun power, and all without sail, were known as the Admiral class. The first five of the vessels had four powerful breech-loading guns, then introduced for the first time, mounted in pairs in barbettes at either end of the ship on the middle line, as in the Devastation design; between the barbettes six 6-inch breech-loaders were carried along the sides of the ship, which were protected by a belt of armour 18 inches thick over, nearly half the length of the ship. The Benbow, the sixth vessel of this class, had a single 16·25-inch breech-loading gun in a barbette at each end of the ship, and ten 6-inch breech-loading guns along the sides of the vessel between the barbettes.

Barnaby designed various armoured vessels, ranging from battleships to cruisers, including the Impérieuse, Warspite, Shannon, Nelson, and Northampton. His cruiser designs were specially noteworthy. The cruisers Iris and Mercury, laid down in 1875 and 1876, were the first vessels for the royal navy built entirely of steel, which he advocated and introduced. His ‘protected’ cruisers of the Mersey class, laid down in 1883 and 1884, were the first of a powerfully armed type of swift vessels protected from end to end by a strong deck, below water at the sides of the ship, but above water at the middle line. His ‘belted’ cruisers of the Orlando class, laid down 1885-1886, were somewhat larger and more heavily armed and armoured; for many years they were in good repute for general all round qualities. He also designed the cruisers Rover, Bacchante, the Leander class, and Comus class. As regards special vessels, Barnaby designed the Vesuvius, the first British vessel fitted with a tube for discharging torpedoes under water; the torpedo-ram Polyphemus, armed with under-water torpedo tubes; and the Rattlesnake, the forerunner of the torpedo boat destroyer class.

Barnaby was one of the founders of the Institution of Naval Architects; he presented many papers, and took an active part in discussing those relating to warship design. He wrote the articles Navy and Shipbuilding in the Encyclopædia Britannica (ninth edition), and published Naval Development in the Nineteenth Century (1902) and other works on naval construction. He read papers before the Iron and Steel Institute in order to promote improvement in the manufacture of steel for shipbuilding purposes. As a debater he was skilful and convincing. The foundation of the royal corps of naval constructors was largely due to him, and he became its first head. He was strongly in favour of designs for the leading classes of merchant vessels being such as to make those vessels’ of use in war.

Barnaby was made C.B. in 1876 and K.C.B. in 1885; he also received several foreign decorations. On account of ill-health he retired from office in 1885. In private life he devoted much time to the Sunday school work of the Baptist chapel at Lee, Kent, and wrote several hymns for it. He died at Lewisham 15 June 1915, and was buried in St. Margaret’s churchyard at Lee. He married in 1855 Sarah (died 1910), daughter of John Webber, of Birmingham, by whom he had one son and two daughters.

[Admiralty records; Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects; personal knowledge.]

P. W.