British fleet at Spithead, 1853.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Plate taken from the 'Illustrated London News'. Spithead is the Eastern Solent between Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight. Despite the launch of the first purpose-built screw-steamer, HMS 'Agamemnon' the previous year, in 1853, the majority of the ships in the Royal Navy's fleet continued to be powered by sail, as early steam paddlers tended to be unreliable and the paddles denied space to weaponry. The outbreak of the Crimean war in 1854 led to a spurt of innovation in maritime steam power.