Page 513
Previous/Next Page
Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 7

I The First 100 Years 1788-1888

II Railways

III Motorised Vehicles

IV Aviation

V Modern Shipping
i Shipbuilding Industry
ii Changes in the Shipping Industry Through Improved Technology

VI Innovative Small Craft

VII Conclusion

VIII Acknowledgements

IX Contributors



Contact us
Modern Shipping

During the latter part of the nineteenth century and up to the Second World War sailing ships were gradually replaced by steam ships of ever increasing efficiency. The last trade in which square riggers were engaged was the Australian grain trade. Time was not of great consequence, what was needed was a warehouse in which to store grain and carry it across the world. In 1921 there were 68 square rigged ships that took part in the grain race from South Australia to Europe. The Second World War marked the end of the sail era, as the new technology of steam and later, motor ships, provided more reliable and economic service on the sea routes.

The conversion to steam had significant implications for Australia, not least of which was a shortening of the freight time to Europe and North America. In terms of technological change, the steam and motor ships had dramatic impact on port and construction facilities as ships increased in size and efficiency to achieve reduced cost of shipping.

There were two very significant technical advances which affected world-wide shipping during the period 1879-1920. The first was the use of cold storage in steamers which enabled frozen meat, dairy products and fruit to be transported over long distances cheaply and efficiently.

The manufacture of artificial ice had been achieved at Geelong in Victoria by James Harrison, who designed and operated one of the first ice works in the world.[2] Over the period 1850-1879 a number of attempts were made to develop reliable refrigeration for general application, and also in ships. In 1879 Strathleven, loaded with beef, sheep carcases, butter and kegs in a specially constructed cool chamber, sailed from Melbourne to London and arrived with the frozen cargo in good condition. As is pointed out by Geoffrey Blainey in his book The Tyranny of Distance 'few innovations in the nineteenth century did more to improve the health in one part of the world and to relieve waste in another'. His comment refers to the health of people in the Old World, who could now obtain cheap meat and other products through the invention of refrigeration and also to the reduction of waste in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other nations of the New World, where production of food stuffs far exceeded consumption.

The second innovation concerns the work of a Melbourne engineer, A. G. M. Michell (1870-1959), whose major contribution to Australian shipping has been most clearly set down by Sydney Walker, an employee of Michell's Crankless Engines Limited Melbourne:

Mr. Michell's name and reputation were established on an international basis, in the years before World War 1, through his research on the mechanical properties of liquids, and his mathematical studies of fluid motion, viscosity and lubrication. Arising from his work in this field, he developed the Michell thrust bearing, a patent being taken out in England and Australia on January 16, 1905. In a few short years his invention completely revolutionised thrust technology, especially in the field of marine propulsion.

Until this time propeller thrust had been transmitted from a series of plane-faced collars attached to the shaft. These collars made direct contact with a corresponding series of shoes (like horse shoes) which were mounted in a massive housing bolted to the frame of the ship. As wear took place in an orgy of frictional destruction, the shoes were adjusted to maintain some degree of uniformity of contact with the collars. The allowable load bearing was between 40 and 55 Ibs. per square inch, an intensity of loading about one-tenth of the allowable load of a Michell bearing. The co-efficient of resistance was 10-20 times greater than in Michell bearings, which, according to the particular application were able to operate with sliding speeds from 5-30 times faster than were the old shoe and collar bearings.

The unique feature of the Michell invention was the tilting slipper pad. The typical bearing has a ring of sector shaped pads making contact with a fixed collar by a pivot or balljoint. A collar attached to the shaft, bears against the pads, but as the shaft rotates, oil is introduced between collar and pad; the latter tilts on its pivot and assumes an attitude whereby a wedge shaped film of oil is permanently interposed between collar and pad. The bearing load is taken by this oil film, thus eliminating metal to metal contact.

The first installation on an English ship was in the cross-channel steamer Paris. During the Great War, its use was of incalculable benefit to the Navy and from that time it has become a standard requirement for marine installations.

The Michell thrust bearing has, of course, applications in other fields of mechanical engineering e.g. the thrust races of engines, compressors and pumps. Perhaps the most spectacular of such installations are the thrust bearings of immense vertical hydraulic turbines.

One of the most important aspects of shipping economics is the cost associated with the length of time vessels remain in port, and during the years many attempts have been made to improve the means of loading and unloading ships. In the course of time the nature of freight handling and the special purpose vessels designed to accommodate a particular freight, replaced general cargo ships. The port handling facilities in Australia lagged behind the ships they served and many ingenious and novel cargo handling techniques were developed to speed up ship turn around time.

Figure 32

32 A. G. M. Michell, inventor of the tilt-pad thrust bearing (La Trobe Collection State Library of Victoria)

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Crankless Engines (Australia) Pty Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Blainey, G.; Campbell, Robert; Harrison, James; Michell, A. G. M.; Schaetzel, Stanley S.; Walker, Sydney

Previous Page Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Next Page

© 1988 Print Edition pages 517 - 518, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher