1794 - Ann Radcliffe
Timber Floats on the Rhine
These are formed chiefly at Andernach, but consist of the fellings of almost every German forest, which, by streams, or short land carriage, can be brought to the Rhine. Having passed the rocks of Bingen and the rapids of St. Goar in small detachments, the several rafts are compacted at some town not higher than Andernach, into one immense body, of which an idea may be formed from this list of dimensions.
The length is from 700 to 1000 feet; the breadth from 50 to 90; the depth, when manned with the whole crew, usually seven feet. The trees in the principal rafts are not less than 70 feet long, of which ten compose a raft.
On this sort of floating island, five hundred labourers of different classes are employed, maintained and lodged, during the whole voyage: and a little street of deal huts is built upon it for their reception. The captain's dwelling and the kitchen are distinguished from the other apartments by being somewhat better built.
The first rafts, laid down in this structure, are called the foundation, and are always either of oak, or fir-trees, bound together at their tops, and strengthened with firs, fastened upon them crossways by iron spikes. When this foundation has been carefully compacted, the other rafts are laid upon it, the trees of each being bound together in the same manner, and each stratum fastened to that beneath it. The surface is rendered even; storehouses and other apartments are raised; and the whole is again strengthened by large masts of oak.
Before the main body proceed several thin and narrow rafts, composed only of one floor of timbers, which, being held at a certain distance from the float by masts of oak, are used to give it direction and force, according to the efforts of the labourers upon them.
Behind it, are a great number of small boats, of which fifteen or sixteen, guided by seven men each, are laden with anchors and cables, others contain articles of light rigging, and some are used for messages from this populous and important fleet to the towns, which it passes. There are twelve forts of cordage, each having a name used only by the float-masters; among the largest are cables of four hundred yards long and eleven inches diameter. Iron chains are also used in several parts of the structure.
The consumption of provisions on board such a float is estimated for each voyage at fifteen or twenty thousand pounds of fresh meat, between forty and fifty thousand pounds of bread, ten or fifteen thousand pounds of cheese, one thousand or fifteen hundred pounds of butter, eight hundred or one thousand pounds of dried meat, and five or six hundred tons of beer.
The apartments on the deck are, first, that of the pilot, which is near one of the magazines, and, opposite to it, that of the persons called masters of the float: another class, called masters of the valets, have also their apartment; near it is that of the valets, and then that of the sub-valets ; after this are the cabins of the tyrolois, or last class of persons, employed in the float, of whom eighty or an hundred sleep upon straw in each, to the number of more than four hundred in all. There is, lastly, one large eating-room, in which the greater part of this crew dine at the same time.
The pilot, who conducts the fleet from Andernach to Dusseldorff, quits it there, and another is engaged at the same salary, that is, five hundred florins, or 42 l.; each has his sub-pilot, at nearly the same price. About twenty tolls are paid in the course of the voyage, the amount of which varies with the size of the fleet and the estimation of its value, in which latter respect the proprietors are so much subject to the caprice of custom-house officers, that the first signal of their intention to depart is to collect all these gentlemen from the neighbourhood, and to give them a grand dinner on board. After this, the float is sounded and measured, and their demands upon the owners settled.
On the morning of departure, every labourer takes his post, the rowers on their benches, the guides of the leading rafts on theirs, and each boat's crew in its own vesscl. The eldest of the valet-masters then makes the tour of the whole float, examines the labourers, passes them in review, and dismisses those, who are unfit. He afterwards addresses them in a short speech; recommends regularity and alertness; and repeats the terms of their engagement, that each shall have five crowns and a half, besides provisions, for the ordinary voyage; that, in case of delay by accident, they shall work three days, gratis; but that, after that time, each shall be paid at the rate of twelve creitzers, about four pence, per day.
After this, the labourers have a repast, and then, each being at his post, the pilot, who stands on high near the rudder, takes off his hat and calls out, "Let us all pray." In an instant there is the happy spectacle of all these numbers on their knees, imploring a blessing on their undertaking.
The anchors, which were fastened on the shores, are now brought on board, the pilot gives a signal, and the rowers put the whole float in motion, while the crews of the several boats ply round it to facilitate the departure.
Dort in Holland is the destination of all these floats, the sale of one of which occupies several months, and frequently produces 350,000 florins, or more than 30,000 l.
A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany
Dublin 1795; Reprint 1975