: 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.
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.Page 14
COUNCIL.THE HORNIMAN MUSEUM AND LIBRARY, FOREST HILL, S.E.23. A HANDBOOK TO THE CASES ILLUSTRATING
SIMPLE MEANS TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT BY LAND AND WATER. Owing to the re-arrangement of many
exhibits, the numbering of cases in this handbook is no
longer applicable. Published bv the LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL,
The exhibits to which this Handbook relates will be found at
that end of the lower hall (South Hall) which is furthest
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.
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT BY WATER.*
In discovering or devising means of travel and transport
by water the difficulties encountered by early man were
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
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
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
* See Pitt-Rivers, A. H. Lane Fox, "Early Modes of
Navigation" in "The Evolution of Culture." 1919 E
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 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
The use of a float as an aid in swimming short distances
no doubt dates back to very early days in the history of
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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