Additional Examples of Maritime Case Furniture

Eighteenth-century campaign case furniture was normally made in two or more sections for ease of transportation, but for the most part, it was made to the same overall proportions as conventional domestic case furniture with depths ranging from 19″ to 23″. After all, space in a military camp was virtually unlimited and if one’s commodious tent couldn’t accommodate ones’ essentials, then one simply brought along another tent and a pack animal to transport it!
Some situations did necessitate fewer belongings and thus proportionately smaller furniture was made with case depths typically ranging from 16″ to 18″.

Further to A Maritime Bureau?, I thought I would post a few additional examples of maritime case furniture. Case furniture aboard eighteenth-century Naval vessels was technically campaign furniture too, but not in the same sense as transportable terrestrial furniture, as once on board, it could remain stationary for months or even years. What defined maritime and terrestrial campaign furniture was the space afforded it. Eighteenth-century ships’ cabins were extremely cramped, necessitating furniture that hugged the walls; thus case depths of just 8″ to 12″ were common (figs. 1, 2 & 3).

SONY DSCFig. 1. George III mahogany maritime chest, c. 1765.

SONY DSCFig. 2. Total depth is a meagre 8-3/4″.

SONY DSCFig. 3. Top folded out.

One area that can assist in differentiating between regularly dismantled and transported case furniture and that which merely needed to be convenient for occasionally manhandling onto a ship, is the feet. Terrestrial campaign furniture invariably had threaded bun feet that could be unscrewed and safely placed in a drawer while the case sections were packed into their compact transport cases. The majority of maritime furniture on the other hand has fixed feet (figs. 1 & 4).

Geo_IV_teak_maritime_COD_c1820_01aFig. 4. George IV teak maritime chest (13-1/4″ deep), c. 1820. (Richard Gardner)

As can be witnessed with many nineteenth-century examples of maritime furniture, case depths increased with the growth in ships’ tonnage and the enlargement of living quarters. The chest of drawers in fig. 5 belonged to Pownoll Pellew Cotter, master on HMS Terror during the 1840-1843 Ross Antarctic expedition. The chest is of average height and width (38″ tall by 34″ wide) with a depth of 16″.

IMG_5028Fig. 5. Cotter’s Camphor campaign chest, c.1830. (Trinity Marine)

IMG_5044Fig. 6. Label affixed to Cotter’s chest.

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Maritime Furniture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Additional Examples of Maritime Case Furniture

  1. Charles says:

    Great stuff JP, keep it coming!


  2. Eric R says:

    All splendid examples.
    Christopher Schwarz from Lost Art Press has created beautiful pieces of this type as well, from examples he found on display.


    • Jack Plane says:

      The only vaguely relevant piece of furniture Google could find at Lost Art Press was a standard size campaign secretaire chest minus its feet and finished with what appears to be non-slip floor paint.

      Did they make any maritime pieces?



      • burbidge says:

        Ah yes, the legless secretary! [Ah… it rekindles fond memories of Christmas parties past. JP]

        Aside from the thing looking rather daft sitting on the groundsheet of a tent/floorboards, more importantly, there’s no ‘leg racking’ in one of the drawers to store the bottles of wine or spirits: Outrage!


  3. handmadeinwood says:

    Sailing vessels are lively beasts in a heavy sea.
    Do these Maritime Pieces have any means of securely and permanently stowing to a bulkhead or deck?
    I can’t imagine anything worse than a loose chest of drawers flying across the cabin in a force nine!
    ….Skippers are usually tyrants in this respect.


    • Jack Plane says:

      I have no idea, though the same thought crossed my mind too. My first thought would be to screw the piece to the cabin wall, but the very shallow George III chest does not have any holes in its backboards.

      My second thought would be to lash the furniture to hooks or eyes in the walls and partitions, but I can’t speak for any evidence of such fastenings.



      • handmadeinwood says:

        I think that you hit on it when you mentioned the cyclic use of campaign furniture. The stuff was used when camped; at other times it was stowed on the wagons.

        Abord ship, I guess that if it was customary to lash the pieces to the bulkheads you’d see the marks on the sides – besides, lashings will interfere with the opening of drawers etc. I expect that the master of a vessel would take extreme umbrage to all and sundry drilling holes in his ship!

        It’s more likely that so-called ‘maritime’ furniture was used on shore at the start of a voyage, ports of call and at voyage end – at other times it was wrapped in oil-cloth and stowed below. Reference the ‘modern’ steamer trunks that were an essential of travel in the years between the wars. They were well-equipped with drawers etc, but labelled ‘not needed on voyage’ and stowed in the hold, but served the same purpose.

        Passengers on long sailing voyages would have very little room for anything other than the essentials of life. This would explain the relatively unscathed condition of many of the pieces and its small size allowing it to be used in cramped hotel rooms in odd corners of the globe and carried through narrow companionways on board ship. There are illustrations in Brunel’s SS Great Britain, now restored in Bristol, of the tiny amount of space that even first class passengers afforded when she plied the Antipodes route in the 1860s.

        On a vessel, even the master had a relatively small amount of room to stow his gear – and nothing, absolutely nothing is left loose and un-stowed even in still conditions. Everything is secured – the alternative is an injured company.


        • Jack Plane says:

          It was commonplace for masters, captains and passengers to secure their valuables to cabin floors (as did visitors and travellers in houses and inns). Elaborate iron-bound Nuremberg (or ‘Armada’) chests and coffres-forts often had large captive wing-screws in their bases which were first hit with a hammer to drive their points into the floorboards and then wound down tight to anchor the boxes to the floor. There are several examples of extant strong-boxes with such screws, including a very fine brassbound coffre-fort at Goodwood House in West Sussex. There are also accounts of prisoners being spiked to ships’ walls and decks, so I don’t believe ships masters or captains were all that precious about their vessels’ woodwork.

          I don’t know enough about ships to speculate on any methods of securing furniture or other potential missiles to the bulkheads, but I’m sure all aboard ship took what ever steps necessary to secure their belongings and prevent injury during rough weather. I can’t accept though, that expensive furniture made from showy wood would have been stored out of sight and out of reach for the majority of its time at sea.

          There are plenty of accounts – written and pictorial – confirming furniture remained in situ during even the roughest voyages. While some items of furniture admittedly might not have seen daily use, the same cannot be said of items such as Naval officers’ toilet chests (like the George III example from the National Maritime Museum, below) and it’s simply inconceivable that they would have been moved below decks and back again on a daily basis.

          If it were the case that furniture was stowed below decks, then the furniture would have been more simple and robust, and constructed from lesser woods.

          The George III bachelor’s chest illustrated in my post does exhibit some bruising to the front which may be the result of lashing, though admittedly, it could have been caused in any number of ways.

          I don’t have an answer for you regarding means of securing furniture at sea, but cabins were most definitely furnished with some very fine furniture, some of it purpose made for life at sea.



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  9. Ian Wells says:

    Pure speculation on my part, but a simple bead nailed to the floor around the bracket feet might hold them without much evidence that may be determined from normal scuffing?


    • Jack Plane says:

      That would have been a sound solution for a semi-permanent situation, however I fear the bead might have presented a tripping hazard or an insurmountable obstacle for the cannons’ carriage trucks when the decks were cleared.



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