The era of the steam powered warship is generally accepted to be between 1871 and 1914. Oil had been available earlier, but after the outbreak of World War 1 was widely accepted. The Royal Navy reluctantly transitioned from using the wind to using steam engines for propulsion, and there was a growing awareness that secure coal stocks were required to ensure operational efficiency.
During this period the British authorities strove to establish a network of Coaling Stations that could provide the Royal Navy with adequate supplies of good quality coal. Loading the coal onto warships was a particularly unpleasant job as the coal often had to be carried onto the ship in wicker baskets. This was dirty and tiresome work, and where possible local labour was used. Even using local porters, the coal dust coated the vessel requiring the crew to expend a lot of effort in clearing away dust.
The coal to be held was also carefully selected by the Royal Navy who had a list criteria including:
- Maximum amount of energy generated per ton of coal
- The coal retained its’ quality if stored
- Fully burn leaving few cinders, thus not fouling the steam engines
- Did not generate lots of black smoke which would make locating the vessel easier
The coal from South Wales was identified as of the best quality. When it was not available in sufficient amounts, it was often mixed with other more inferior products. Coal was used from other locations such as New Zealand and Japan.