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A vessel in the 17th and 18th centuries which carried coal in bulk. These collier brigs, as they were called, carried ‘sea coal’ from the northern east coast ports of Britain to London, and from other ports to other destinations. Loading and discharging arrangements were both primitive and the amount of coal carried was very small, though it sufficed for domestic requirements during the sailing era. A typical collier brig could carry about 300–400 tons of coal, unloading it into lighters moored alongside, by a system known as ‘coal whipping’. Many of the Northumbrian collier brigs were known as ‘cats’ or ‘cat-built’, and it was these vessels which Captain James Cook selected for his three great voyages of exploration by sea 1768–80. He had first apprenticed to the sea in Northumbrian collier brigs and well knew their great strength of construction and hard-weather qualities.

The advent of steam propulsion for ocean-going ships in the mid-19th century and the consequent necessity for establishing coal depots abroad for refuelling purposes, as well as growing industrial needs, gave rise to a requirement for vessels of much greater cargo-carrying capacity, and this was met by steam-driven ships with capacious holds which could carry at least 6,000 tons. Many industries still use large quantities of coal and it is still carried by modern colliers built to carry it in bulk.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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