In the early to mid-nineteenth century, hard and soft timbers were internationally traded between British North America and other British Colonies, including the West Indies (Empire Timber Climate, 2016). Advancement in ship construction gained momentum in the beginning of the nineteenth century. During this time, crossing the Atlantic Ocean became cheaper due to the large decline in freight rates, attracting the attention of more investors and encouraging more international trade between British North America and the rest of the World (Pomeranz, 2000). Due to international market expansion and the increased importance of timber, shipping vessels became integral to coastal life and culture, both within British North America and Great Britain. They were considered a symbol of civic pride and prosperity at the time (Sager & Fischer, 1986). The timber being traded was essential for the construction of railways, houses, and sailing vessels which were integral to the success of the colonies within British North America (Lower, 1973).
Knowledge of historic timber origins provide clues into past cultures and climates through a process known as critical dendro-provenancing (Empire Timber, 2016). Dendro-provenancing is a new technique that employs dense networks of dendrochronology to identify the source of the timber. It includes both tree ring and isotope analysis, which use carbon-dating methods to reconstruct both the age and origin of timber (Van Bergen and Poole, 2002).To date, this technique has achieved success in studies on art-historical objects (Wazny, 2002; Haneca et al. 2005), timber imports for ship construction (Bonde et al. 1997), and the reconstruction of former trade connections (Bonde, 1992; Bonde et al. 1997; Wazny, 1992, 2002; Haneca et al. 2005; Eckstein, 2007). Empire, Trees, and Climate in the British North Atlantic: Towards Critical Dendro-Provenancing is an interdisciplinary project currently underway to uncover insights into climatic conditions and resource use of the past. A critical gap in this project is the presense of a visual representation of historical ship movements across the North Atlantic.
Ship movements were recorded in Lloyd’s Register of Ships for the years 1764-1766, 1768-1771, and 1775-1995. The Register contains information on all seagoing, self-propelled, merchant sailing vessels and each vessel remained registered within Lloyd’s Register until the ship was wrecked, scrapped, captured, or sunk. This database has been used as a tool to examine and track historical ship movements, as well as the timber they were carrying (Lloyds Register Foundation, 2016). The Lloyd’s Register data provided by the client included information on the origin and destination of ships as well as the ship type, ownership, and location of construction. It also contained information on the type of timber being transported. These data were essential for tracking timber across the North Atlantic. The analysis provided information that will aid climatologists, geographers, historians and researchers in deciphering the past (Empire Timber, 2016).
A fairly prominent research gap that was acknowledged is the lack of available historical information on the factors that influence ship movements. It is evident that certain factors dictate the routes used by sailing ships to cross the ocean, however, there is a lack of information on these factors at the specific time period in question. The data being used span over a relatively short period of time, making specific information on timber tracking even more difficult for the small subset of years the client provided. As such, some information was pulled from more recent sources, introducing error in the reconstruction of historic routes. Additionally, there is a directional discrepancy between the data being used and the research available for this project. Most literature discusses the movement of timber from British North America to Great Britain (Sager & Fischer, 1986). Lloyd’s Register, however, focuses on ships bringing timber from Britain to British North America. This suggests that Lloyd’s Register is not complete, thus the final product does not account for many of the timber movements that actually occurred historically.
Purpose of the Research
The purpose of this research was to develop a GIS-based model to visually represent and reconstruct realistic timber shipping movements between British North America, Britain, and the West Indies from 1805-1840 across the Atlantic Ocean.