Nautilus was the fictional submarine commanded by Captain Nemo and featured in Jules Verne’s novels “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1870) and “The Mysterious Island” (1874). Verne named the “Nautilus” after Robert Fulton’s real-life submarine Nautilus (1800). Three years before writing his novel, Jules Verne also studied a model of the newly developed French Navy submarine Plongeur at the 1867 Exposition Universelle, which inspired him for the Nautilus submarine.

Anonymous blueprint of  the “Plongeur” (1867), the real life submarine that inspired Verne´s conception of the Nautilus presented at the “Universelle” exposition.

According to Verne´s words, Nautilus was “a masterpiece containing masterpieces” where the main source of electricity was provided by sodium/mercury batteries (with the sodium provided by extraction from seawater) for propulsion and other services.

Nautilus was conceived with a double-hulled, and is further separated into water-tight compartments with a top speed is 50 knots. Its displacement is 1,356.48 French freight tons emerged (1,507 submerged).  In Captain Nemo’s own words:

“Here, M. Aronnax, are the several dimensions of the boat you are in. It is an elongated cylinder with conical ends. It is very like a cigar in shape, a shape already adopted in London in several constructions of the same sort. The length of this cylinder, from stem to stern, is exactly 70 m, and its maximum breadth is eight metres. It is not built on a ratio of ten to one like your long-voyage steamers, but its lines are sufficiently long, and its curves prolonged enough, to allow the water to slide off easily, and oppose no obstacle to its passage. These two dimensions enable you to obtain by a simple calculation the surface and cubic contents of the Nautilus. Its area measures 1011.45 square metres; and its contents 1,500.2 cubic metres; that is to say, when completely immersed it displaces 1500.2 cubic metres of water, or 1500.2 metric tons”

Nautilus was conceived to maneuver in the sea using flood-able tanks in order to adjust buoyancy and depth control. The pumps that evacuate these tanks of water are so powerful that they produce large jets of water when the vessel emerges rapidly from the surface of the water. This leads many early observers of Nautilus to believe that the vessel is some species of big sea creature, or perhaps a sea monster not yet known to science. To submerge deeply in a short time, Nautilus uses a technique called “hydroplaning”, in which the vessel dives down at a steep angle.

Nautilus submarine supports a crew that gathers and farms food from the sea, including a complete infrastructure for food management and preparation, in addition a machine that process a “distillation” from sea water to make it drinkable. The way the submarine manages air supply consists on surfacing to exchange stale air from fresh, the same as a whale and is capable to do, having extended voyages without refuelling with a maximum dive time of five days.

 An illustration extracted from Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1866-69) drawn by George Roux, describing divers working on the seabed. 

Much of the ship is decorated with high end levels of luxury that are unequalled in a seagoing vessel of the era, including a library with boxed collections of valuable oceanic specimens that are unknown to science at the time, expensive paintings and several collections of jewels.

Image of the Nautilus “Salon”  from the 1875 edition made by Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou. Image credit: Boston Public Library Archives.

Nautilus also features a lavish dining room and even an organ that Captain Nemo uses to entertain himself in the evening. By comparison, Nemo’s personal quarters are very sparsely furnished featuring duplicates of the bridge instruments, giving the captain additional “eyes” for tracking the vessel without being present on the bridge. These amenities however, are only available to Nemo, Professor Aronnax and his companions.

Captain nemo room.png
Nemo´s “Room”, illustration made by Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou, 1875 Boston Edition. Image Credit: Boston Public Library Archives.

From her attacks on ships, using a ramming prow to puncture target vessels below the waterline, the world thinks it was a sea monster, but later was identified as an underwater vessel capable of great destructive power, after Abraham Lincoln is attacked and Ned Land attacked the metallic surface of Nautilus with his harpoon.

Its parts are built from France, the United Kingdom, Prussia, Sweden, the United States and elsewhere. Then they are assembled by Nemo’s men on a desert island.

Nautilus most likely returned to this island and later helped castaways in the novel The Mysterious Island.

After Nemo dies on board, the volcanic island erupts, entombing the Captain and Nautilus for eternity.


Author: Jesus Padilla

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