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Honour for genius of Charles Parsons.

Byline: Dave Morton Remember When Editor

IT was the Tyneside-based genius Charles Parsons who invented the steam turbine in the 1880s.

And it was his vessel, the Turbinia, that became the first steam turbine-powered steamship.

Built as an experimental vessel in 1894, and easily the fastest ship in the world at that time, Turbinia was demonstrated dramatically at the Spithead Navy Review in 1897 and set the standard for the next generation of steamships, the majority of which were turbine powered.

Today Turbinia can be seen in Discovery Museum, Newcastle, where it embodies Parsons' engineering brilliance and competitive spirit.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has just rededicated a plaque to the vessel that revolutionised the maritime industry at the start of the twentieth century.

The new plaque, which was first awarded in 1995, was unveiled by Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, Chris Briggs, IMechE chairman, Tyne & Wear area committee, and Iain Watson, director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. The unveiling was followed by a lecture in Discovery's Great Hall by Geoff Horseman, chief turbine engineer at the CA Parsons Works in Newcastle, now part of Siemens Energy.

Ms Onwurah said: "As a child I would often visit the old Science Museum in Exhibition Park and I remember staring at Turbinia and just thinking how beautiful it was. At the time I fell in love with it I didn't realise its huge contribution to the history of transport or the future of shipbuilding in the region."

There are currently only 87 recipients of the IMechE's Engineering Heritage Award around the world.

Chris Briggs said: "It's right that 120 years on, people still take pride in being associated with the great engineering achievement that is the Turbinia."

While Parsons' achievements in the North East are many, it was the experimental vessel Turbinia, built in a Wallsend shipyard and launched in 1894, which demonstrated just how pivotal his turbines would be in propelling vessels to previously unimaginable speeds.

In trials Turbinia achieved a top speed of over 34 knots (63 km/h), earning its reputation as Charles Parsons' winning North Sea greyhound.

However, it was the vessel's impromptu showing at the Navy Review for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee at Spithead, in 26 June 1897, that proved to the world just how much of an improvement turbine engines were in relation to previous feats of marine engineering.

As an audacious publicity stunt, and in front of the Prince of Wales, Lords of the Admiralty and foreign dignitaries, Turbinia raced between two lines of large ships and steamed up and down in front of the crowd and princes with impunity, while easily evading a Navy picket boat that tried to stop her.

Very quickly, all industrialised countries took notice and started building turbine powered ships. Initially, small ships such as passenger ferries and naval destroyers were constructed, but by 1906, the largest battleships and trans-oceanic liners were powered by Parsons turbines.

Such was the impact made by the steam turbine that it also became the main power sources for the generation of electricity across the world. Further developments ensured that Parsons-type turbines were kept at the forefront of marine engineering well into the 1960s.

Turbinia was previously on display at the Municipal Museum of Science and Industry in Newcastle's Exhibition Park between 1961 -1983 after which it spent some time in storage.

It was transported to the Discovery Museum in 1994.


Children at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, in 2004 with the Turbinia. Right, the Turbinia revolutionised the world of shipping; bottom right, Charles Parsons
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 4, 2013
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