The wooden block, an essential component of any ship’s rigging, is a direct link between Admiral Lord Nelson and Marc Isambard Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the builder of some the greatest steam ships the world has ever seen.
At that time, a first rate ship of the line required about 1000 blocks of different sizes, and every year the Royal Navy required over 100,000 blocks. HMS Victory carried over 900. For centuries, blocks had been hand-made by outside tradesmen but the resulting quality was inconsistent, the supply irregular and the blocks were expensive.
In 1802, Brunel proposed a system of making blocks using machinery and in August of that year he was authorized by the Admiralty to proceed.
What Nelson witnessed that day was an assortment of machines driven by two 22.4 kw (30 hp) steam engines including circular saws, pin turning machines and mortising machines. By using these mechanical devises, 10 men could produce, in any given time, as many blocks as 110 skilled craftsmen.
Refs: Wikipedia pagesPics: Mast and rigging HMS Victory (2006), HM Bark Endeavour and Bark Europa, Nelson figure-head and statue - Portsmouth, England.