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Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau (1700-1782) Papers

Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau (1700-1782) Papers

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Processing and conservation of this collection was funded in part by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Duhamel du Monceau, M., 1700-1782
Title:Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau (1700-1782) Papers
Quantity:4.5 linear feet (6 boxes)
Abstract:The Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau papers consist of manuscripts, correspondence, and memoranda related to naval activities such as ship design, port installation and maintenance, navigation, and the sailors themselves.
Collection Number:MH 25

Series List

SERIES I. Ship Design and Shipbuilding
A. General Ship Design and Building
B. Wood for Building
C. Rope Making and Strength
D. Preservation of Wood and Rope
E. Pumps
F. Miscellaneous Ship Equipment
SERIES II. Cartridge Paper
SERIES III. Ports and Port Installations
SERIES IV. Miscellaneous Correspondence
SERIES V. Navigation
SERIES VI. Ship Personnel, Operations, and Health

Scope and Content Note

The Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau papers consist of manuscripts, correspondence, and memoranda related to naval activities such as ship design, port installation and maintenance, navigation, and the sailors themselves. Many of the letters and memoranda are neither to nor from Duhamel, but appear to have been referred or copied to him because of his position as Inspector General or because of his interests. The documents in this collection often lack a desirable identifier, such as the name of the addressee, sender, or date. However, there are a large number of expected names such as ministers, secretaries, port intendants, commanders, ship designers, officers, and administrators. In most cases, item-level descriptions have been provided so that the researcher can use the original descriptions and translations provided by earlier processors. The entire collection is in French; it is unknown who provided the English translations for the item descriptions. A copy of the original inventory of the collection can be found in the collection register. This collection has been divided into six series. All of the large drawings, sketches, plans, and engravings were removed from this collection, and added to the Peabody Essex Museum's Maritime Art and History department's collection.

Series I. Ship Design and Shipbuilding consists of six subseries containing memoranda, correspondence, and manuscripts relating to all aspects of designing and building naval vessels. Subseries A. General Ship Design and Building contains construction plans, instructions for performing different calculations and measurements, comparisons to English shipbuilding, and manuscripts. The first manuscript in the subseries, which says "Pour la Construction des Vaisseaux" on the cover, is partly in the hand of Duhamel, and is probably the first chapter of Elemens de l'Architecture Navale. The next manuscript, "Idee de la [construction]," gives the methods of construction used at the end of the seventeenth century into the beginning of the eighteenth century. According to Clément Denoy, this manuscript was written between 1715 and 1735; the material and its corresponding drawings were incorporated into Architecture Navale which was printed in 1752. The text and plates have additions and changes in the hand of Duhamel.

Subseries B. Wood for Building contains reports on different types of wood, dimensions of the pieces of wood for different locations on the vessels, and memoranda about wood from different regions. Subseries C. Rope Making and Strength contains test results about different types of ropes, memoranda on different types of rope and hemp, sales records of rope in certain areas. This subseries also contains correspondence about tests, experiments, and results on rope and rope making. Subseries D. Preservation of Wood and Rope contains correspondence and manuscripts about using tar as a preservative for rope and wood, its composition, methods for applying, and effectiveness. There are also documents discussing tests and comparisons of different types of preservatives.

Subseries E. Pumps contains comparisons of different types of pumps that were in use, descriptions of new pumps, and correspondence about types of pumps. In box 6, folder 11, one of the manuscripts is an explanation of a diagram of a specific pump. The diagram has been removed from this collection, and is in the Maritime Art and History department's collection, item numbers M10433 and M10435.

Subseries F. Miscellaneous Ship Equipment contains correspondence, memoranda, and drawings about other parts and materials of ships, such as dividers, nails, and capstans.

Series II. Cartridge Paper contains memoranda and correspondence about cartridge paper for the use in cannons. The majority of the documents are about a manufacturer named Mr. de la Roche; however, there is some correspondence about other manufacturers.

Series III. Ports and Port Installations contains memoranda and correspondence about enlarging and improving ports, and memoranda on the need for improvements, particularly at the Port de Bouc. This series also contains reports and memoranda about dry docks, including comparisons to some outside of France.

Series IV. Miscellaneous Correspondence contains correspondence not related topics in the other series in this collection. Many of the letters are neither to nor from Duhamel, but appear to have been referred or copied to him because of his position as Inspector General or because of his interests.

Series V. Navigation contains reports, descriptions, and recommendations about new instruments. There are also essays, treaties, and notes on instruments for navigation.

Series VI. Ship Personnel, Operations, and Health contains reports and memoranda on a number of topics such as: removing bad air from the ship, shortage of surgeons, laundry, food and liquid provisions and the preservation of such, Russia's method of salting and how they cured scurvy, and keeping water fresh on long voyages. Also included in this series are the names of personnel, memoranda about the need to educated superintendents, what the duties of the Secretary of War and Marine should be, and criticism and remarks about the Department of War's maritime fortifications.

Biographical Sketch

Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau, Inspector General of the French Navy and scientist, was born in Paris, France, in 1700 to Alexandre Duhamel de Denainvilliers and Anne Trottier. Duhamel was educated in and around Paris, earned a law degree at Orleans, and went on to make many varied contributions to the arts and sciences. Coming from a prosperous family, he never had to earn a living; his eldest brother managed his estate. He was very close to his elder brother, whose family name was Duhamel de Denainvilliers and who carried out many of Duhamel's experiments, especially in agriculture and botany. One of his nephews, Auguste-Denis Fougeroux de Bondary (1732-1789), also worked closely with Duhamel and was his colleague in the Academie des Sciences.

Duhamel made contributions to the fields of chemistry and physics; however, his most important contributions were in botany, agriculture, and naval ship building and operation. His career as an academic may be considered even more outstanding. The first academy to which Duhamel was elected was the prestigious French Academie des Sciences in 1728. He served three one-year terms as director and two years at vice-director. During his career, he became a member of at least a dozen other academies. Duhamel was a founding member, and participated in, the Commission that organized the Academie de Marine in 1752 under Antoine-Louis de Rouille (1689-1761) (the Count de Jouy and Secretary of the Navy from 1749 until 1754). Located in Brest, this Academie grew out of an informal discussion group maintained by Sebastien-Francois Bigot, the Viscount Morogues (circa 1703-1781), which was visited by Rouille in 1750 and then formalized. It was intended to bring together the emerging sciences, especially mathematics and physics, and practical ship design, operation, and navigation; Bigot de Morogues was the first director. Throughout his life, Duhamel was a very active member of the French academies, attending the meetings and contributing to discussions and results of studies. He was also a major contributor to an encyclopedia of the "useful arts," writing or editing 18 articles between 1761, when the publication began, and 1774.

The first recognition of Duhamel's scientific abilities came in 1727 to 1728, when Antoine de Jussieu (1686-1758), part of a family of famous French botanists, was assigned a study of a disease affecting saffron plants. He entrusted the work to Duhamel, who identified the tuberous parasite and its mode of spreading, and produced a illustrated memorandum published in the Memoires de l'Academie des Sciences in 1728. Thereafter, Duhamel contributed greatly to identifying the source of new wood in trees, which he approached by a study of grafting. At about the same time, he made similar observations on the growth of bones in animals. In chemistry, he was one of the first to distinguish soda from potash clearly and, in physics, he was involved in understanding the connection between lightening and electricity. One example of Duhamel's careful and patient data-taking is that each year, from 1740 to 1780, he published (probably with his brother's help) detailed daily meteorological and botanical observations from their property in Denainvilliers.

Duhamel's marine career started in 1739, as a result of his standing as a scientist and academic, and his interest in silviculture and the properties of wood, the principal materials of ship construction. Jean-Frederic Phelypeaux, the Count de Maurepas (1701-1781), who was the Secretary of the Navy from 1723 to 1749, created for him a position with the resounding title Inspector General of the Navy for the Atlantic and Mediterranean (Inspecteur General de la Marine pour le Ponant et le Levant). He was ordered to visit all the ports, arsenals, yards for ship construction, outfitting, and repair, and identify and disseminate the best methods he found among them all. He continued in this post at least through 1773, perhaps until the end of his life. While this position had no administrative responsibilities, it enabled Duhamel to contribute to many of the Navy's major activities. In ship design and construction, he took part in the review of plans and in the founding (1741) of a school of naval architecture, for which he wrote a widely used treaties. He was concerned with hemp and rope making and with the use of tar to preserve rope and wood. Duhamel was ahead of his time in consideration for sanitary conditions and decent food for ship crews and in 1740 he wrote the charter, for one of three schools founded by Maurepas to train ship surgeons.

Duhamel had no children and never married, his heirs were his sister's children (four sons and a daughter). He died on August 22, 1782 in Paris.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Borda, Jean-Charles de, 1733-1799
Bouguer, M. (Pierre), 1698-1758
Euler, Leonhard, 1707-1783
Agriculture--Crop rotation
Chemistry, Inorganic--Alkalies
Combustion, Spontaneous
Fruit trees--Grafting
Nautical charts
Nautical instruments
Naval architecture--Shipbuilding
Naval education
Plant diseases
France--History, Military
France--History--Louis XV


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau (1700-1782) Papers, MH 25, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material is a reorganization of a dozen boxes and large folders of manuscripts, memoranda, letters, pamphlets, and drawings, purchased in 1959.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Victor A. Lewinson, April 1989. Updated by Hilary Streifer, February 2015.

Related Material

Bouguer, Pierre. Traité du Navire: de sa Construction, et de ses Mouvemens. Paris: Chez Ch. Ant. Jombert, Libraire ..., 1746.

Duhamel du Monceau, Henri-Louis. Élémens de l'architecture navale: ou Traité pratique de la construction des vaisseaux. Paris: C. A. Jombert, 1758.

Duhamel du Monceau, Henri-Louis. Traité la fabrique des manœuvres pour les vaisseaux, ou, L'art de la corderie perfectionné. Paris: De l'Imprimerie Royale, 1747.

Euler, Leonhard. Théorie complete de la construction et de la manœuvre des vaisseaux: mise à la portée de ceux qui s'appliquent à la navigation. Paris: C.A. Jombert, 1776.

Euler, Leonhard. A Complete Theory of the Construction and Properties of Vessels: With Practical Conclusions for the Management of Ships Made Easy to Navigators. Translated from Théorie Complette de la Construction et de la Manoeuvre des Vaisseaux. Translated by Henry Watson. London: P. Elmsley, 1776.

Murray, Mongo. A Treatise on Ship-Building and Navigation: In Three Parts, Wherein the Theory, Practice, and Application of all the Necessary Instruments are Perspicuously Handled. With the Construction and Use of a New Invented Shipwright's Sector: Also Tables of the Sun's Declination, of Meridional Parts: To Which is Added by Way of Appendix, an English Abridgment of Another Treatise on Naval Architecture, Lately Published at Paris by M. Duhamel. London: D. Henry and R. Cave, 1754.

Musee de la Marine. Exposition du Bi-Centenaire du Génie Maritime. Paris: Musee de la Marine, 1966.

Plans, sketches, drawings, and engravings are located in the Maritime Art and History Department of the Peabody Essex Museum.

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