Source Documents
dr. harrison : simple water transport, 1925 

Dr. H.S. Harrison : Simple Water Transport, 1925.
Dr. H. S. Harrison
A handbook to the cases illustrating simple means of travel & transport by land and water.
Horniman Museum and Library.
London County Council, London,1925.

  Hathi Trust

Prepared by the curator for an  exhibition at Horniman Museum, London in 1925, the sections on watercraft is clearly influenced by the extensive work of James Hornell, culminating in his seminal  Water Transport- Origins and Early Evolution. (1946).

Harrison, Herbert Spencer
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Owing to the re-arrangement of many exhibits, the numbering of cases in this handbook is no longer applicable.

The exhibits to which this Handbook relates will be found at that end of the lower hall (South Hall) which is furthest from
the entrance to the Museum.
The Handbook has been prepared by Dr. H. S. Harrison, A.R.C.Sc, F.R.A.T., the Curator of the Museum.
G. Topiiam Forrest, Architect to the Council.



In discovering or devising means of travel and transport by water the difficulties encountered by early man were greater than
those involved in land transport.
To travel over land with his few possessions, savage man needs only time and bodily strength,
and in most cases he has rarely got beyond a few simple expedients for convenience of carriage.
For the crossing of rivers, lakes, or arms of the sea, and still more for long sea-voyages, greater ingenuity is needed, and the considerable variety in the materials and construction of canoes and boats, even amongst the backward peoples, is evidence that this has not been wanting*

The evolution of water-craft has also been greatly stimulated by the advantages they afford for fishing, and for the hunting of such animals as the turtle, the seal, or the whale. It is clear, moreover, that there have always been rewards for the inventiveness of those who could produce vessels of greater strength and stability, and so diminish the dangers of deep waters.
The desire for greater accommodation and speed has also played an important part, whilst competition in Dreadnoughts was only
a later phase of competition in war-canoes.
Very few backward peoples have, however, produced vessels which are safe beyond the limits of rivers, lakes, and bays, and the ocean-going craft of the Polynesian navigators are exceptional.

References are made at a later stage to the general distribution of the chief types of canoe, but it may be mentioned here that the
raft, the bark canoe, and the dug-out, are almost universal in their distribution, though one type may be predominant in particular areas.
The skin canoe is chiefly found in northerly regions,
and it is not improbable that it is a derivative of the bark canoe.
Boats of planks laced or lashed together at their edges are not restricted in their distribution, though they are found chiefly in the Indian and Pacific Oceans; boats (and ships) of planks pegged or nailed together are mainly the creations of the civilisations of Europe and Asia.
Such anomalous types as the earthenware tigare of Eastern Bengal - a bowl-shaped vessel about 2 ft. across and 15 ins. deep - are not common.

The specimens exhibited are chiefly models, and they illustrate all the main types of vessels used by backward races. Not many
paddles or models of paddles are shown, but they are sufficient

* See Pitt-Rivers, A. H. Lane Fox, "Early Modes of Navigation" in "The Evolution of Culture." 1919 E

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to indicate the general range of form.
The origin of the rudder from the paddle (see p. 63), is illustrated in a special series.
Sails are not well represented, but where so little space can be devoted to the collection, it would not be possible to attempt
to deal in detail with such a complex subject.

Although models of some advanced types of sailing-vessels are shown, it must be borne in mind that the chief object of the collection is to give an account of the water-craft of modern backward peoples, and to show how some of these help to the
understanding of the evolution of the simpler built-up vessels of Asia, and of early times in Europe.
The development of the ship proper must be studied elsewhere.


The use of a float as an aid in swimming short distances no doubt dates back to very early days in the history of navigation,
long before rafts or canoes were constructed.
There are many records of modern peoples using this ancient method, in some cases with a natural float, such as the unhusked coconuts occasionally used in India and in the South Seas, in other cases with floats that need some preparation, as when an inflated oxskin or goatskin is used for crossing a river in Africa, India, or Mesopotamia - a form of float employed also by the ancient Assyrians.
The Hottentot may use a drift-log, and the Australian aboriginal may swim with a log under his chest, or sit astride a log which
he has taken the pains to point at both ends; and even to provide with a rail of sticks on each side, upon which his legs may rest
whilst he paddles with his hands.
An efficient kind of float is made by the Buduma of Lake Chad, in Central Africa, amongst whom "each house owned [owns] one or two ambach floats - great logs of the wonderful Herminicra elaphroxylon wood, which is so light that a child can hold in its arms half-a-dozen or more logs, each of which looks heavy enough to form a man's full load.
When dry it is one-fifth the weight of cork."
The floats are roughly shaped in the form of a fish, curved upward at one end, on which a rude head is carved, the other end narrowing off to a point.
On these the men and women lie, and swim almost as rapidly as they can run on land.
The logs form easy means of evading capture when pursued, and a fugitive will seize a log, carry it to the water, swim off to another island in

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the lake, land and carry his log to the other side, and so gain opportunities of putting his pursuers off the track.
Largely in consequence of these special facilities for evasion the lake has become a place of refuge for lawless characters from the west and central Sudan.*
A sample of ambach wood is exhibited.
It is used for rafts as well as for floats.

In the same region of Africa floats are made by attaching two large empty calabashes to the two ends of a stout stick; the native sits astride the stick and paddles with his hands.
With this may be compared the float - almost a raft - of North Arcot (India) in which two inverted pots are joined by two parallel
bamboo rods, on which a man sits and paddles.
Some American Indians of the Gulf of California lash pieces of wood together for a float, which they place under the chest.
The surf-board, or "wave-sliding" board of Hawaii, in the Pacific, is used by the natives in a favourite sport of riding on the huge waves which break on the shores of the islands.
It consists of a board, five or six feet long, and rather more than a foot wide, sometimes flat, but usually slightly convex on both
The native may ride standing or lying down.
These surf-boards are highly-valued and carefully preserved.
In this, as in some other cases, it is not easy to decide whether " float" or "raft" is the more accurate term.
The highest developments of the float are reached in modern life-saving appliances, such as life-buoys, inflatable waistcoats,
and the like.
No specimens or models of floats are on exhibition at the time of writing.

* Talbot, P. A., "The Buduma of Lake Chad," Journal Royal Anthropological Institute., Vol. XLI., 1911.


Two chief kinds of raft occur, both being of wide distribution.
In one type, logs or poles are bound or pegged together, whilst in the other, the raft is made up of bundles of bark, or of thin and
light stems, such as reeds.
When the reed raft is shaped with a point at one or both ends, and has the sides raised above the level of the middle, the vessel becomes a kind of canoe, though it is not watertight.

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Wooden Rafts.

To a large extent, though not exclusively, wooden rafts are used for travel or transport on lakes or rivers, and also for fishing.
They are especially suited for carrying cargo down stream, since in many cases they are too clumsy for effective propulsion by
means of paddles.
They are readily made in an emergency,
if the materials are available, and they have survived for various special purposes, even in civilisation.
Their stability and carrying power are their most useful features.
The Australian aborigines have several forms of raft.
The log with a rail of sticks on each side (referred to in the last section) is almost a raft, especially when the sticks are connected by means of interwoven twigs, as is sometimes done.
A true raft was also made by pegging two logs together, but both forms are one-man craft, and the hands were used for paddling. The natives of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and some other parts, bind together mangrove stems by the narrow ends, forming a raft which is wider at one end than the other.
Sometimes this is completed by the attachment of a four-sided wooden frame.
Wooden rafts of various sizes are used in some of the Pacific Islands for small traffic and fishing, and in New Guinea, for example, there may be found rafts of several tree-trunks bound together, sometimes having a platform raised above the reach
of the water.
(For the New Guinea lakatoi, see p. 59).
On some of the lakes of Southern Abyssinia (Abaya, Chamo). rafts, or canoes, are made of very light wood, with sides and curved bow, but open stern; the vessels are not in any sense watertight, and they float because of the lightness of the wood of which they are made.
The exhibited model from Brazil illustrates a fishing-raft (jangada) of logs pegged together, bearing a small platform carrying a shelter; a mast with triangular sail is fitted, but this is wanting in the model.
In India, on the Ganges, four or five plantain (banana) stems are made into a raft by running across and through them three skewers of bamboo.
Other rafts are made of three large bundles of light sticks bound together and with three bamboo poles lashed across, above and below.*

* See Hornell, J., "The Boats oi the Ganges," Mem. As. Soc. Bengal, Vol. VIII., No.3.

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The fishing-rafts, or catamarans*, which are typical of the east coast of India, consist of three to seven logs or thick planks, the middle one (or more) projecting aft beyond the lateral logs, and being continued forward by an upward-curving stem piece (or pieces.)t
Sometimes, also, the logs are arranged so that the raft is like a canoe with low sides, and either open or closed stern; a wash-strake or weather-board may be added.
The parts are usually lashed together, the raft being built up anew at each occasion of using; pegs are used for fastening the parts together in some forms, and these are not dismantled after use.
Sails are often employed, and sometimes a rowing-rail is attached on one side, but the paddle (of undeveloped form) is the usual
means of propulsion.
The Formosan raft, of which a model is shown, is made of bamboo poles, bent with the aid of fire, and so constructed that the whole is concave above.
It carries a sail, and is steered by means of thin boards let down between the poles. In Sumatra, rafts of tiers of bamboo poles pegged and lashed together have an elevated stage above the reach of the water.
Rafts of timber, or of interwoven reeds and branches, used on the Tigris and Euphrates, are often buoyed with inflated skins of
sheep and goats, the timber being sold, as well as the cargo, at the journey's end.
This method of water transport was practised in Mesopotamia several thousands of years ago.
On the Nile, earthen pots may be used as buoys for the raft, and in this case, cargo, logs, and buoys may all be sold.
These buoyed rafts have their parallels in India.
On parts of the Ganges, skins of buffaloes, turned inside-out, and with the openings tied, are lashed together after inflation, in varying number according to the size of raft required. **
A common form is a charpoy, or native bedstead, tied across two inflated skins.
Two men, each with an inflated skin as a float, guide the raft as it drifts down stream.
In these types of buoyed rafts the skins are deflated at the end of the journey, and are carried back as bundles on the head.
Some rafts on the Ganges are buoyed with inverted earthenware pots; frequently nine pots, arranged in a square, are connected together by bamboo poles.

* Tamil, Kathu maram, or "tied logs."
The term catamaran is often applied in error to the outrigger canoes of Ceylon.
See Hornell, J.," The Origins and Ethnological Significance of Indian Boat Designs"
Mem. As. Soc. Bengal, Vol. VII., 1920.
 ** See Hornell. J , "The Boats of the Ganges."

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In some parts of the East rafts of very large size are made, and those seen on some Chinese rivers are like great floating villages; a raft of this kind may carry twenty huts and a number of people, together with pigs, dogs, fowl, and other property.
In Canton and elsewhere, many natives live permanently afloat on moored rafts of bamboo, some of which support houses containing each several families.
Shops are also built on such rafts.
It seems probable that some broad, flat-bottomed boats are derivatives of the raft.
The model from the Maldive Islands (Indian Ocean) suggests a raft with an upcurved bow and a low parapet on the other three sides, rather than any type of canoe or boat.

Specimens exhibited (Case 91).
Log of ambach wood, used for making floats (and rafts) by the Buduma of Lake Chad; wooden rafts from Brazil, Formosa (of bamboo), and examples of the Madras catamarans with 3, 4, 5 and 7 logs respectively, some with sails; also model of canoecatamaran from Cape Comorin; model of rectangular flat-bottomed boat used for collecting cowries, Maldive Islands.

Reed Rafts and Canoes.

Rafts of rushes or reeds are still used on the Nile, as they were in ancient times.
The "ark" of Moses was made of such materials, and papyrus boats are mentioned by ancient writers.
The Assyrians had reed rafts, some canoe-shaped, for marshy districts, the water being sometimes excluded by a coating of
pitch, or even a covering of leather.
In modern times in the same region, rafts of rushes are made, one type resembling in form a mattress with a pointed end, turned up and over at the front.Some reed rafts are buoyed up with supports, as in the ease of the wooden rafts mentioned above.
The reed raft easily develops into a canoe-shaped vessel, as was the case in ancient Egypt.
The Seri Indians of California use reeds or canes which are tied up in bundles, three of which are joined together to form a vessel, sometimes as much as 30 feet long, pointed at both ends and having the two side bundles higher than the middle one.*
It is very permeable to water, but is safe even in rough seas and strong currents.
The balsa of the Cordillera region of South America (see Plate II.) is of

* See Hodge, F. W. (editor), "Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico." (Boats.

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essentially the same character. It is much used on Lake Titicaca, and even before the discovery of America the natives are said to have employed a square-sail on their balsas.
Canoe-like reed rafts are used on various rivers and lakes of Africa.
An advanced type of "reed" vessel was made by the Moriori of Chatham Islands, near New Zealand, by fastening bundles of stalks of the flax plant on a framework of poles and fern-stalks to form a well-shaped canoe,* though it was not water-tight; it was propelled by rowing and not by paddling.
To be classed with these reed canoes are the only vessels made by the recently-extinct Tasmanians. In this case, however, the material was bark (usually of a Eucalyptus) which was tied up in bundles by means of grass or strips of bark.
Three bundles formed a canoe, those at the sides being higher than that in the middle.
The canoe was pointed at both ends, which were also raised a little above the level of the water, and a large example measured was found to be about 15 feet long and 5 feet broad.
Long poles or strips of bark were used as paddles.
Fire was carried on a bed of earth or cinders.
Six or eight persons could be taken on the larger canoes, and though they were mainly calm-water vessels there is evidence that the Tasmanians were not restricted to coasting along the shore, and rough seas were sometimes safely weathered.

Specimen exhibited (Case 9i).
Model of a reed raft, or balsa, canoe-shaped, from Lake Titicaca, South America (see Plate II.).

Dr. H. S. Harrison

A handbook to the cases illustrating simple means
of travel & transport by land and water.

Horniman Museum and Library.
London County Council, London,1925.

  Hathi Trust


Geoff Cater (2017) : Dr. H. S. Harrison : Simple Water Transport 1925.