Wednesday 1 January 2014


In September, 1812, around the same time that Napoleon was entering a deserted Moscow on his push to the Kremlin, HMS Terror’s keel was being laid down in Topsham shipyard on the River Exe. Her keel construction exposes much about her design; it incorporated some traits of a merchant vessel of her size (ca. 325 tons), but was generally overbuilt to the standards of much larger ships. The Vesuvius class bomb ships were based on the lines of merchant vessels (Ware 1994:64), but with a much stronger frame to withstand the punishing recoil of the mortars. Sir Henry Peake, Terror’s designer, achieved this sturdiness by incorporating some aspects typically reserved for 36 gun frigates (ca. 1000 tons) and even 74 gun third rates (ca. 1500 tons).

Scantlings for Terror’s Keel:

Sided = 12 and 1/2 inches (consistent with merchant vessel of the same tonnage)

Depth of keel = 1 foot 3 inches (consistent with a small fifth rate frigate)
Number of pieces = 4 (consistent with merchant vessel of the same tonnage)

Scarphs in length = 4 feet (consistent with 36 gun frigate)
Scarph type = plain (with tables)

Lips of the scarphs = 3 inches (consistent with standards for a 12 ½ inch sided keel)
Bolts = 8 (consistent with 76 gun vessel, standard for bomb vessels)

Bolt diameters = 1 and 1/8 inches (consistent with 36 and 74 gun vessels, standard for bomb vessels)
Depth of False keel = 7 inches (thicker than a 74 gun vessel)

The keel of my Terror model is made from swiss pear, with black dyed paper vellum used to simulate the tarred flannel used to line the scarphs in a real vessel. I use acid and lignin free vellum which is both colour stable and dimensionally stable, and takes wood glue very well. As in many model ships, my scarphs aren’t tabled as they won’t be visible when glued.


Ware, Chris.
1994    The Bomb Vessel: Shore Bombardment Ships of the Age of Sail. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis.

Vertical keel scarphs prior to gluing.
Dry fit of keel scarph.
Vellum glued to scarph.
Trimmed vellum on horizontal scarph (stern).

Keel scarph with vellum.

Profile of scarph with vellum.

Gluing the keel sections.
Finished keel section.


  1. I always look forward to new updates on your project, and appreciate how easy to follow your explanations are for people who've never constructed a ship (like me). The pictures, too, really build up the anticipation.

  2. Hi Kristina! Thanks for your kind words. I hope to post more frequently than I have over the past six weeks. Now that winter has arrived I'll be spending much more time in my workshop, so stay tuned!

  3. hey! I'm an Archaeology grad student and I have always loved the HMS Terror Tale. From it's days bombing my home state of Connecticut i 1812 to its last days in the ice of the Arctic. I love your project. PS It still has not been found and I would love to form a search party.

  4. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you are enjoying the blog!