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Corrugated Iron – Boats!?!

‘Wrinkled tin’ posts have explored the many uses of corrugated iron as a construction material but, until I saw the image below, I’d never thought about it being used to make a boat!

Tin boat Australia
A wonderfully evocative image that set me out on the trail of corrugated iron boats…

Given that all kinds of materials have been used to construct boats I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that corrugated iron was used too.

From the Victorian period, corrugated iron boats, often nicknamed tin boats, developed as prefabricated corrugated iron buildings were shipped to many parts of the world. Spare sheets of corrugated iron being transformed into canoes, rowing and sailing boats.

The idea was further developed by one Joseph Francis, a Bostonian, who realised that corrugated iron could potentially make strong, cheap boats. He was particularly interested in making lifeboats that would survive coming ashore in a storm.

The difficulty was that to create a boat-shape corrugated iron had to contradict one of it’s fundamental properties ie. that the corrugations made it rigid. Joseph Francis solved the problem by building a huge hydraulic press capable of force-bending corrugated sheets into boat shapes.The parts were then bolted together and caulked with water-resistant material such as pitch. Because assembly was as simple as putting Meccano together, they became very popular in pioneer areas.

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A surviving section of a Joseph Francis lifeboat…
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A prototype model of the Joseph Francis lifeboat…

Tin boats were shipped all over the world and existed alongside the corrugated iron bungalows, shops, pubs and churches that colonists built everywhere they went. Inevitably rust limited their life expectancy, and most have disappeared, though tin boats can still be found, often with plants growing in them, on farms all over the dryer parts of Australia in particular.

A slight digression here… Joseph Francis continued developing iron lifeboats, one remarkable invention being his life-car, which was carried on deck ready to be attached to a line shot by cannon from the shore in the event of the ship hitting the rocks.

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A advert for the life-car…
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A surviving example of the remarkable ‘tin’ life-car…

Remarkably this Heath Robinson contraption actually worked, and the system saved more than 200 lives when the immigrant ship Ayshire was wrecked off New Jersey in January 1850.

In the UK too corrugated iron tin boats were popular, as the following image shows:

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Fred Bishop in his ‘tin’ canoe at the Fish Markets sand pits, Guildford.
Fred says, “Canoes, we built two or three of them. This one, named the Lord Epping, was made from a piece of flattened out corrugated iron, pulled off an old shed around the place. The sails were a couple of bits of old canvas. I think we even soldered this one. Did a good job, too, for a change. It was a good canoe, well balanced. When you stopped paddling it glided straight. This high up the river is a little too narrow to get the best out of sails, because the trees break up the wind.”
Photo and text are also in Andrew Gentile’s book, “The Swan River: images from Guildford into the upper reaches” and reproduced here with kind permission of Fred Bishop.

In fact, there’s a whole world of corrugated iron boats out there… as this youtube video shows (just click on the image to view…).

rivetted Corrugated canoe 1
Look at that surprisingly fine bow… what a boat!
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Corrugated iron rowing boat, seemingly solid and stable?
Rob Crosby with Schapelle & 1-20 model
Corrugated iron being clamped around timber formers by Rob Crosby
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And the Rob Crosby boat in action…

Alongside the quirky amateur efforts illustrated above, there are also tin boats created as a result of the imperative of subsistence living. People with few options, little money and a lack of local construction materials have created amazingly effective fishing boats…

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Created from a single sheet of corrugated iron!
west bengal cb boats
Don’t these ‘single sheet’ boats from West Bengal make you want to have a bash?
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The single sheet is able to be folded and hammered into surprisingly streamlined shapes, despite it’s rigidity …
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And seemingly it creates a pretty portable boat too…
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Canoe with stabilising out-rigger, I’d love to have a go…

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