Preventing Seasickness – The Story of the Bessemer Saloon

The misery of seasickness has tortured travellers for centuries.

Seasickness is a form of motion sickness. Motion sickness occurs when the signals that your brain receives from your vision and inner ear about movement do not match. The sheer misery of the resulting nausea and dizziness are enough to have you vowing never to set foot on a boat again.

Henry Bessemer’s seasickness solution

English inventor Henry Bessemer suffered from chronic seasickness. Rather than find a cure he aimed to build a passenger friendly cabin to place inside a ship. Bessemer hoped that his invention would revolutionise crossing the English channel between Dover and Calais.

The Bessemer Saloon was invented in 1868. The Saloon ‘floated’ inside the hull of the ship. Gimbals and weights stopped the Saloon from tilting when the ship rolled. The lack of motion prevented passengers developing seasickness.

My first thought was “What an amazing invention! Why isn’t every passenger ship fitted with these cabins? The international press agreed. The invention of the Bessemer Saloon was reported in newspapers around the globe.

Development of the Bessemer Saloon

Bessemer tested his Saloon on dryland before installing it in a steam ship. The suspended Saloon appeared to prevent motion sickness by remaining stable as the gimbals moved. It seemed like the perfect solution to seasickness.

Bessemer was so pleased with his invention that he engaged Earle’s shipbuilding company to build a cross-channel paddle steamer to house his Saloon. The Saloon measured 70 x 30 feet with a ceiling height of 20 feet. Lavish Victorian style fittings and furnishing adorned the Saloon interior. The SS Bessemer prepared to sail. Excited investors and guests were invited to sail on the maiden voyage from Dover to France.

A smooth crossing of the channel was enjoyed by all. The gimbal system that kept the Bessemer Saloon stable was a success. The paddle steamer slowed down to approach the port of Calais. The continuous motion of the gimbals that kept the saloon stable made the paddle steamer impossible to maneuver. Disaster struck. The SS Bessemer collided with the wooden pier at the entrance to Calais harbour.

Undeterred by the incident with the Calais pier Bessemer repaired the paddle steamer. A second voyage from Dover to Calais attempted. The Saloon locked in place to prevent excessive movement. Crowds waited to welcome the ship to Calais. The SS Bessemer made a spectacular entrance. The Calais pier was almost destroyed by the unstable ship.

Investors vanished. The project halted. The SS Bessemer was scrapped. The sumptuous Saloon salvaged by Edward James Reed.

Reed installed the Saloon in his home to use as a billiard hall. A direct-hit on Huxtable House during a World War II air-raid dispatched the Bessemer Saloon into the mists of maritime memory.