Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery
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Pages (PDF): 122
Publication Date: 1820
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This is among the first and rarest of the Hollow Earth books. In the early 19th century, John Cleves Symmes proposed that the earth was actually a set of five nested spheres, each with polar openings. He unsuccessfully lobbied congress to fund an expedition to the poles to investigate this theory. This novel, based on Symmes' theories, was published in 1820. Some believe that Symmes was the author, but this has not been established beyond a shadow of doubt.
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In the year 1817, I projected a voyage of discovery, in the hope of finding a passage to a new and untried world. I flattered myself that I should open the way to new fields for the enterprise of my fellow-citizens, supply new sources of wealth, fresh food for curiosity, and additional means of enjoyment; objects of vast importance, since the resources of the known world have been exhausted by research, its wealth monopolized, its wonders of curiosity explored, its every thing investigated and understood!
The state of the civilized world, and the growing evidences of the perfectibility of the human mind, seemed to indicate the necessity of a more extended sphere of action. Discontent and uneasiness were every where apparent. The faculties of man had begun to dwindle for want of scope, and the happiness of society required new and more copious contributions.
I reasoned with myself as follows: A bountiful Providence provides food for the appetite which it creates; therefore the desire of mankind for a greater world to bustle in, manifested by their dissatisfaction with the one which they possess, is sufficient evidence that the means of gratification are provided. And who can doubt but that this is the time to find the means of satisfying so general a desire?
A great obstacle presented itself at the outset. The aid of steam in the navigation of my ship, was necessary to render my enterprise safe and expeditious against the adverse circumstances which I was sure to meet. But steam vessels were adapted only to smooth water. Every attempt to employ them upon the ocean had been unsuccessful. I foresaw that I must have a vessel capable of encountering severe gales in a dense atmosphere, of being rapidly impelled against strong currents, both of wind and water, and of surmounting, without harm, the impetuous tides, and resisting the violent winds to be expected in the polar seas. Moreover, she must be of such strength as to sustain the shock of floating ice, or of taking the ground; and of such capacity as to contain fuel and provisions for at least fifty men for three years, with apartments from which the external air could be excluded, and which might be artificially warmed during the rigours of a polar winter.
But he whose soul is fired with the true spirit of discovery, is not to be dismayed. I saw the end, and instantly began to use the means of attaining it. I caused a steam vessel of 400 tons to be constructed with double frames; the timbers being inclined from a perpendicular about 45 degrees; so that the outer set crossed the others at right angles. The timbers were let into each other to the depth of three inches, and were secured by powerful bolts. This structure of massive grating was incalculably firmer than the frame of a ship could possibly be made upon the ordinary plan.
The bottom was covered with four inch plank, over which, after they were fastened and caulked, a layer of three inch plank was put on; and the whole was sheathed with copper of unusual thickness.
I remembered the misfortune of the discoverer Sinbad, whose ship, when he approached the magnetic mountain, fell to pieces, in consequence of the iron being all drawn out of it. To guard against a similar disaster, I fastened my vessel first with tree-nails, and then throughout with copper bolts firmly rivetted and clenched. To obviate the dangers of exposed and upright paddles, I built her with double top-sides for a space of thirty feet. Within this space the inner frames sloped in from the bends, on an angle of 45 degrees, and were covered and finished, in all respects, like the sides of a common ship. The outer work was carried up in the usual manner, so that the aperture was not apparent to external observation. Through this outer side a longitudinal port was cut, 30 feet long and 3 feet wide, for the paddles to play through obliquely, like the fins of a seal. The nave of the wheel was two feet within the sill of the port, between the double walls, and supported by both of them. The blades of the paddles, made of the best ash timber, and firmly coaked and rivetted together, were fitted into sockets in the nave; whence they could be easily unshipped for the purpose of closing the ports in bad weather, and rendering the vessel perfectly secure, with the paddles inboard. The shaft by which the power of steam was communicated to the paddles, passed through the inner side of the ship only, so that water could not be forced into the ship, even in the roughest weather, when the ports were closed. The inconvenience caused by the rolling of a vessel with upright wheels, was avoided by the obliquity of my paddles; the ship never rolling so much as to bring them to a perpendicular, or dip the nave to which they were fastened. To avoid accidents from fire, I built beneath and on the sides of the furnace and boiler of the engine, two narrow cisterns, perfectly tight, and of incombustible materials. These were kept constantly filled with the waste water of the engine, which was allowed to escape only by a spout at the top. No fire was permitted out of this enclosure. The economy of fuel, which was necessary from the length of the voyage, and from the emergencies which might happen, obliged me to adopt all the means of motion in my power. I therefore rigged my vessel as a ketch, with one large mast, and a long sliding topmast, which could be easily launched or sent up by the assistance of the engine; and a small mast abaft fitted to be struck at pleasure.
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