Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gower, Richard Hall

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GOWER, RICHARD HALL (1767–1833), naval architect, youngest son of the Rev. Foote Gower, M.D. [q. v.], was baptised at Chelmsford 26 Nov. 1767, and after spending some time at Ipswich grammar school obtained a scholarship at Winchester in 1778 (Kirby, Winchester Scholars, p. 271). In 1780 he entered as midshipman on board a vessel in the East India Company's service. Returning to England in 1783, Gower was taught for a short time by a navigation master at Edmonton, and upon rejoining his ship was called ‘the young philosopher.’ When he was twenty he devised an instrument which secured far greater accuracy than had before been obtainable in measuring a vessel's way through the water. Gower next turned his attention to effecting improvements in the construction of ships, and eventually quitted the service altogether in order to devote himself fully to following up his plans. In 1800 a ship of remarkable speed, called the Transit, was built from his designs at Itchenor, Sussex. She was four-masted, with sails of peculiar character. She beat the government sloop Osprey out of all comparison in a trial of speed; but, greatly to Gower's disappointment, the East India Company did not purchase his vessel. Subsequently the government obtained from Gower plans for a similar ship. Meantime Gower had married, and published ‘A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Seamanship’ (1793, 2nd edit. 1796), which long remained a standard work. A third edition was called for in 1808. Gower wrote a separate ‘Supplement’ containing a description of the Transit (1807, 2nd edit. 1810). He now considerably altered his vessel's lines, and published ‘A Narrative of a Mode pursued by the British Government to effect Improvements in Naval Architecture’ (1811). In 1819 Gower built a yacht on his improved plan for Lord Vernon, with three masts in place of four. This vessel's behaviour in the water was much admired by nautical and engineering authorities, her speed and easiness of handling being remarkable.

Previously Gower had written some ‘Remarks relative to the Danger attendant upon Convoy, with a Proposition for the better Protection of Commerce’ (1811), suggesting that cruisers should be stationed along the coast communicating with signal stations. In 1812 he competed unsuccessfully for a hundred guinea prize offered for an improved lock in the Regent's Canal; though some years later he discovered that locks similar to those suggested by him had been erected in the canal. Gower next constructed a further improved yacht, the Unique, economising timber and securing light draft. He invented also an ingenious fly-boat intended for use against the small and swift American cruisers. He then projected a set of signals formed of shapes instead of flags, and effected many more naval improvements, including the adoption of the round stern in ships. Other valuable inventions of Gower, brought out in the face of much discouragement, were the long useful catamaran for forming a raft; a lifeboat on a novel plan for employment at Landguard Fort; a sound tube connecting top and deck; a propeller or floating anchor; and numerous ingenious articles of minor note. Gower died near Ipswich towards the end of 1833.

[Gent. Mag. memoir 1833, vol. ii.]

J. B-y.