Windmill-powered rafts invade Britain

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Or not. But at the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon was intent on crossing the Channel and invading Britain: “Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours and we are masters of the world.” (That was before he met Nelson.)

As during any war, rumours were rife – and one of them involved a fleet of rafts powered by wind and watermills. One engraving of the day (price one shilling) purported to show “an exact Representation of a RAFT, and its APPARATUS, as invented by the FRENCH for their proposed INVASION OF ENGLAND (from a Drawing of a Prisoner who has made his Escape from France).

Image from Ptak Science Books

“This tremendous Machine extends 2,500 feet in length, and 1,800 feet in breadth, is to be navigated by four wheels, turned in the water by the action of the wind, and moving with equal facility, from whatever point it may blow. In the middle is a Fort, which encloses mortars and perriers, for the defence of the troops in the disembarkation. The Raft is armed at each side, and at the ends with 36 and 48 pounders, to the amount of 500 pieces, and is intended to carry 50,000 men.”

Image from No Tech magazine

One glance at these Heath Robinson contraptions is enough to raise doubts in most people’s minds about the feasibility of such vessels surviving the choppy Channel waters, but the French seemed to believe that such propaganda would convince a credulous public about the seriousness of their intent.

More information and illustrations at No Tech magazine and Ptak Science Books. Hat tip to Shirley McCullagh.

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