achievements are indelibly
written into the history of Australia.
- How It Began
Phillip RN - 1st Governor Of New South Wales
Nation celebrates its 100th Anniversary of Federation, (1901-2001),
it would seem fitting to remember that the discovery, settlement
and defence of the Australian colonies were all made possible
because of the ascendancy of British sea power.
of the Royal Navy was to remain, even after the RAN came into
being, and indeed still manifests itself strongly in our customs
and traditions. Perhaps it would not be too much to say that,
but for the British naval presence in this remote outpost
of Empire, the very history of this nation might well now
be written not in English, but in the language of some other
European or even Asian power. Fortunately, any doubts as to
the future sovereignty over this great island-continent were
dispelled largely by Britains command of the seas.
a succession of victories over France and Spain in the 18th
century, and in spite of continual preoccupation with the
French, Britain retained the capacity to reach out over new
horizons in search of lands as yet undiscovered. Hence it
was that Lieutenant James Cook RN, intrepid navigator and
commander of HMS Endeavour, on his epic voyage to the southern
seas, sailed northward along Australias eastern coastline,
named the vast tract of land he had discovered New South Wales
and took formal possession in the name of King George III
on 22 August 1770.
the 1770s, British convicts were being transported to the
western world, but following the declaration of American independence
in 1776, an alternative destination for these prisoners had
to be found, and New South Wales was selected.The Royal Navy
played a major role in this first settlement. Captain Arthur
Phillip RN in the frigate Sirius, with the armed tender Supply,
escorted the transports which carried some 1480 people, including
nearly 800 convicts. The convoy first put into Botany Bay,
then went on to Port Jackson where, on 26 January 1788, a
party landed at Sydney Cove, the British flag was hoisted
and volleys were fired.
Arthur Phillip, RN lands and claims Australia for the Empire.
the years that followed, although no warships were stationed on a
regular basis in New South Wales, the Royal Navy kept a watchful eye
on the fledgling colony, and a vessel of the East Indies squadron
was detached occasionally to visit Port Jackson.
It was not
until 1821 that a man-of-war was maintained regularly in the colony.
This vessel also crossed the Tasman on occasions to inspect the
coasts of the colony of New Zealand. In the ensuing twenty years,
vessels based on Port Jackson included HM Ships (6th rate) Alligator,
Caroline, Conway, Imogene, and Rattlesnake, and the sloops Hyacinth,
Pelorus and Zebra.
The task of
charting the waters around the Australian coast was pursued steadily
by the Royal Navy from the early days of settle ment. One of the
vessels involved in this task was HMS Beagle, the famous little
brig-sloop in which Charles Darwin made his epic world survey voyage
in 1835. There was a great stir of excitement amongst the colonists
when, in January 1846, the first steam vessel to visit Australian
waters arrived in Port Jackson. This was the paddle-steamer HMS
Driver, which en route from Hong Kong to New Zealand, had called
to replenish her bunkers before sailing for Auckland. The Tasman
crossing took eight days.
By the mid l9th
century the Royal Navys presence in New South Wales had increased
considerably, though Australia still remained part of the East Indies
command. Steam was asserting itself as a motive power at sea and
the paddle warships Acheron and Torch augmented the sailing vessels
based on Port Jackson, which included Calliope and the sloops Electra
In the early
1850s relations between Great Britain and Russia were becoming badly
strained. At that same period rich gold strikes were made in New
South Wales and in the newly estab- lished colony of Victoria. These
factors, combined with reports of the sighting of strange warships
cruising in the western Pacific, were the cause of much uneasiness
amongst the colonists as they realised their vulnerability to outside
developed into a state of mild alarm, guns were mounted around Port
Jackson and a 65-ton armed ketch, Spitfire, was built in Sydney,
while the colony of Victoria ordered the 580-ton sloop-of- war Victoria
to be built in England. The British government too, mindful of the
fact that their Australian colonies constituted a rich prize for
any would-be attacker, and in response to the colonists urgent
requests for stronger naval protection, took steps to augment the
naval force based on Port Jackson and at the same time to establish
Australia as a naval command separate from the East Indies Station.
25 March 1859 Captain William Loring of HMS Iris was authorised to
hoist a Commodores Blue Pendant and to assume command as senior
officer of Her Majestys Ships on the Australian Station independently
of the Commander-in-Chief in India.
So, the Royal
Navys Australian Station (later formally called the Australia
Station), came into being. Lorings flagship Iris was a sailing
frigate, the other vessels under his command being the screw corvettes
Pelorus and Niger, and the screw sloop Cordelia a rather
ill-matched collection of vessels and hardly to be rated as a powerful
naval force. Nevertheless it was a beginning, and it set the pattern
for a squadron which was destined to provide Australias defence
by sea for many years, until such time as the nation was able to
build and maintain a navy of its own.
Iris sailed for home in 1861, Commodore Loring having transferred
his command the year before to Commodore F.P. Seymour, who hoisted
his pendant in the screw corvette HMS Pelorus. Although only three
years old, Pelorus had already seen much action, including the Indian
Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 and the second so-called Opium War in China
in the later 1850s. She also took part in the Maori Wars of 1860,
in June of which some 60 of her men landed and participated in the
operations at Puketakuere. An interesting vessel on the station in
1859-60 was the screw sloop Niger which, in 1849, had been pitted
against the paddle sloop Basilisk during tests in the English Channel
to determine the efficiency of the screw propeller as compared with
naval officer, Lieutenant James Cook, discovered Australia
for England on 20 April 1770, and another naval officer, Captain Arthur
Phillip, commanded the First Fleet which landed the first European
settlers at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.
Phillip also was the first governor-in-chief of the new
colony of New South Wales and he was succeeded in turn by three more
naval officers - Governors John Hunter (1795-1800), Philip Gidley
King (1800-1806) and William Bligh (1806-1808).
Australia developed through the Nineteenth Century with the population
growing and new colonies developing, so did the naval and military
forces. The discovery of gold in New South Wales and Victoria in 1851
saw amazing population shifts from the cities to the hinterland.
of seamen seeking their fortunes deserted ships which were pouring
migrants into Australia at an increasing rate. In 1850, after more
than 60 years of settlement, Australias white population was
only 405,000; yet, only seven years later in 1857 Victoria alone had
a white population of 409,000. Although Britains Royal Navy
firmly ruled the waves of the worlds oceans at that time, it
became increasingly apparent as the population grew and spread that
the defence of such a vast land as Australia posed problems for the
ships and their officers have, from the very beginning of the Nation,
played an important role in Australia's founding and development.
Following the landing at Botany Bay by Captain James Cook in 1770,
the young colony of New South Wales had four successive Naval officers
as Governor, Captains Arthur Philip, John Hunter, Philip Gidley King
and William Bligh.
In 1821, Britain
had decided to station only one man-o-war in Sydney. However, excursions
by France on the west coast of Australia alarmed the British, resulting
in the dispatch of HMS CHALLENGER, under the command of Captain Charles
Fremantle RN, to take possession of the remainder of the continent
outside New South Wales.
By the mid-nineteenth
century, Victor ia had become a separate colony and had already established
a naval force of its own. By 1865, the Imperial Colonial Naval Defence
Act gave all the colonies official power to establish their own naval
forces. Subsequently, Queensland and South Australia joined New South
Wales and Victoria in establishing naval forces, including volunteer
brigades and auxiliaries.
navies continued to operate for nearly four decades. Victoria, in
particular, placed considerable importance on its naval force and
acquired HMVS CERBERUS, a large iron-clad turreted ship launched at
Jarrow-on-Tyne in 1868.
is at this present time a rusting hulk lying in Port Phillip Bay in
Melbourne, Australia you may wish to add your support to the Save
Cerberus Project by clicking the link below.
CERBERUS - Click Here for Details
In 1926, no longer
considered economic, she was towed to the Melbourne bayside suburb
of Black Rock and grounded where she lies today as a breakwater.
In 1884, Britain,
recognising Australias economic potential and its strategic
importance in the Pacific, raised the status of the Australian Squadron
to a Rear Admirals command and appointed Rear-Admiral George
Lyon as the Flag Officer commanding the Squadron.
had planned to augment the Australian squadron with seven ships and
assume command of the joint colonial forces. This proposal was considered
by a number of Australian politicians, including the Prime Minister
of the day, as a thinly disguised attempt by the Admiralty to regain
control of the colonies and thwart moves from within Australian for
greater independence and autonomy.
was successful insofar as seven RN ships were stationed in Australia
as an auxiliary squadron to the colonial navies, but, under the command
of the Australian Squadron. Its main purpose was to provide protection
of coastal trade routes and it would not go beyond Australian waters.
Part of the cost of building and maintaining the ships would be borne
by the colonies.
One of the stated
objectives of the auxiliary squadron was to provide training for Australian
sailors. However, no such benefit resulted.
In some Government
circles within Australia, this proposal was viewed as an attempt by
Britain to regain direct control of the various naval forces. Resentment
of the whole scheme was considerable and gave great impetus to the
movement arguing for the unification of the Australian States, in
particular, the armies and navies. Alfred Deakin, one of the founding
fathers of Federation, publicly declared that defence was a major
stimulus to Federation.
Sydney was the major base for the Royal Navy in Australia, the
New South Wales Government had no incentive to acquire their own
naval forces. However during the Crimean War this sense of security
vanished and in 1854 the government called for tenders for the
construction of a gunboat to help in the defence of Sydney.
named Spitfire was not only the first warship ordered by an Australian
government but also the first warship built in Australia. After
the launch of Spitfire in 1855 no further steps were taken by
the New South Wales Government in establishing a naval force until
1863 when the formation of a Naval Brigade of 120 men was announced.
Support for the Naval Brigade was so great that by 1864 it consisted
of five companies, four in Sydney and one in Newcastle, with an
overall strength of 20() men. Headquarters for the Naval Brigade
was established at Fort Macquarie, where the Opera House stands
today. Unfortunately the Naval Brigade had no ships of its own,
Spitfire having been given to Queensland in 1859.
of not having any vessels for the Naval Brigade was recognised
during the late 1870s when the government ordered the construction
of two second class torpedo boats, Avernus and Acheron. These
vessels were built in Sydney by the Atlas Engineering Company
of Pyrmont. The torpedo boats were later followed by the acquisition,
as a gift from the Imperial Government, of HMS Wolverene in 1882.
forces of the colony were further augmented by arming a number
of government vessels. The Wolverene was paid off and then sold
in 1893 and the other naval auxiliaries were used with less and
less frequency as the per- ceived threats of the early 1880s diminished.
Even though the number of vessels operated as part of the defences
of New South Wales decreased, the membership of the Naval Brigade
con- tinued to increase until it reached a strength of 614 at
Federation. At the time of Federation the entire assets of the
naval forces of New South Wales were transferred to the Commonwealth.
This included the men of the Naval Brigade that were serving as
part of the International Force in China during the Boxer Rebellion.
the lead taken by New South Wales, the Victorian Government ordered
a composite sail-steam sloop, named Victoria from England. This
ship arrived in the colony on the 31 May 1856.
career Victoria carried out a large variety of tasks. including
assisting in the search for Burke and Wills and deliver ing the
first trout eggs to Tasmania.
of Victorias career was when the vessel was dispatched to
New Zealand during the Maori Wars. This was the first occasion
that Australian military or naval forces had been deployed overseas
as part of an impe rial force.
their experience with Victoria the Colonial Govern ment applied
to the Imperial Government for assistance in the acquisition of
an ironclad warship. As a result of these requests the Victorian
Government was given assistance in the purchase of Cerberus as
well as the loan of a composite steam-sail warship, HMS Nelson.
the permanent naval forces which manned the ships was an active
and well-trained Naval Brigade. This Brigade was organised into
two divisions of approximately 150 men each. One of these divisions
was stationed at Port Melbourne and the other was based at the
Williamstown Naval Depot.
l880s further warships, including first and second class torpedo
boats and two gunboats, were added to the Victo rian Naval Forces.
As well as these regular warships there was also a large number
of government vessels which were earmarked for naval service in
times of tension.
By the end
of the 1880s Victoria had by far the most powerful of all the
colonial naval forces. These forces, acting in concert with the
fortifications located at the heads and other sites around Port
Phillip Bay, made Melbourne the most heavily defended city in
Australia and possibly the Empire. As with the other colonies
expenditure on the naval forces and defence in general fluctuated
with the interest and concern shown by the government.
By the early
1890s expenditure on defence had been reduced to such an amount
that the naval force was considerably reduced and the two gunboats
were also paid off. The final act of the Victorian Naval Forces
was to dispatch to China a force to fight the Boxers and to serve
as part of the international group.
Queensland Marine Defence Force was established during the early
1880s to help provide for the defence of Queenslands extensive
this force to carry out its assigned tasks, two gunboats were
ordered from the shipyards of Armstrong Mitchell & Company.
named Paluma and Gayundah were shallow draft vessels capable of
operating in the many bays and estuaries along the coast. Shortly
after her arrival in the colony Paluma was lent to the Royal Navy
for use as a survey ship along the Australian east coast.
these ships were torpedo boats and a number of government vessels
modified to act as naval auxiliaries.
Government also established Naval Brigade companies in the major
ports along the Queensland coast. Of all of the colonial naval
forces the Queensland Marine Defence Force was the only one not
to become involved in a foreign adventure.
This did not
mean however that it had an uneventful existence. In September
1888, after a disagreement with the Queensland Government over
certain conditions of service, Captain H.T. Wright RN. commanding
officer of Gayundah, coaled and provisioned her and threatened
to sail her to Sydney.
of this the government ordered a squad of police to relieve Captain
Wright of his command. The problem was eventually resolved but
not before Captain Wright had enquired from his gunner as to the
best line of fire for his guns in order to hit Parliament House.
The second incident of interest occurred in 1893 dur ing a flood
in the Brisbane River when the gunboat Paluma broke its moorings.
When the flood waters receded Paluma was left high and dry in
the Botanical Gardens. While officials were arguing as to the
best means of refloating Paluma another flood struck and refloated
the ship. She was then towed to her moorings and made secure.
South Australia, as in the other colonies, the early l880s saw
the initial moves towards the establishment of a naval force.
The major push for the establishment of a naval force came from
the then governor, Sir William Jervois. As a consequence of the
pressures applied by Sir William and the general concern over
the lack of adequate naval defences., the South Australian Government
ordered the light cruiser Protector.
ship arrived in Adelaide in September 1884 and remained in active
service with the South Australian Naval Forces until she was transferred
to the Commonwealth in 1901. During the later stages of her career
as a colonial warship Protector saw active service in China during
the Boxer Rebellion.
At the time
of her acquisition Protector was the most powerful and modern
warship in service with a colonial navy. To support Protector
the Government also established a Naval Brigade. Also purchased
were a number of Whitehead torpedoes. though there was no torpedo
boat available to fire them. This situation remained unchanged
until the South Australian Government negotiated the purchase
of TB 191 from Tasmania, transfer of which occurred during 1905.
the mid-1830s the colony of Van Diemans Land built and operated
the armed schooner Eliza. This vessel, built at Port Arthur, was
operated by the Convict Marine Service and carried out anti-piracy
patrols as well as helping to maintain the security of penal establishments.
Though she was an armed vessel Elizas function was mainly
that of a coast guard vessel and not a warship.
first and only warship was purchased in 1883. This was a second-class
torpedo boat known simply as TB 191. The ship arrived in Hobart
on 1 May 1884 and remained in the colony until she was transferred
to South Australia. TB 191s career was very uneventful and
consisted mainly of occasional practice runs and long periods
of inactivity. During one of these occasions TB 191 was used to
help carry out a survey of Ralphs Bay. Finally, during the
early 1900s, plans were made for the disposal of TB 191 to South
provisions of the Colonial Naval Defence Act of 1865 were not
applicable to Western Australia until after that colony achieved
the status of a self-governing colony, and until that time she
could not legally operate warships of her own. However, in 1879
a militia unit, known as the Fremantle Naval Artillery. was formed
to assist in the defence of Fremantle Harbour. Personnel for the
Fremantle Naval Artillery were recruited solely from ex- Royal
Navy personnel or merchant seamen of good character.
function of the Naval Artillery was to provide a mobile shore
battery for the defence of Fremantle Harbour. To this end the
unit was equipped with two brass 6-pounder field guns. Unfortunately
there were no limbers for these weapons so they were very restricted
in their mobility. In 1889 these guns were replaced by two 9-pounder
RML guns complete with limbers and wagons. However, by this stage
the Fremantle Naval Artillery had been disbanded and reformed
as the Fremantle Artillery Vol
the men and assets of the various colonial naval forces, including
those of the New South Wales and Victoria Naval contingents
and the crew of Protector who were serving in China, were combined
into the Commonwealth Naval Forces. The Commonwealth Naval Forces
were formed into the Royal Australian Navy in 1911.
Of A Navy - Formation OF The R.A.N.