A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 5 – 1833-1900

The Age of Sail

The age of sail ended with HMS Devastation launched in 1871. She was the first class of battleship to carry no sails. This was an era of major advances in naval architecture. Steel-hulled vessels, turret guns, steam driven propulsion, rifled gun barrels, and advances in propulsion of projectiles, are some of the rapid advances of naval technologies during the late 19th and early 20th century. Often, a naval ship was out of date when launched, her design outdated by rapid advances in naval developments since the vessel was planned.

HMS Victoria was the last first-rate three decker wooden battleship, launched in 1859. She was also the world’s largest and fastest sailing warship. Britain’s first ironclad battleship, HMS Warrior, was launched in 1861; although she still relied on sails as well as engines for propulsion.

HMS Victoria
HMS Victoria

Queen Victoria’s Little Wars

During Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1833 to 1901, Britain was continuously involved in a series of minor wars and skirmishes in all parts of her Empire, which had expanded fourfold during this period. Most of these campaigns, except for the Boer War, were small wars and military expeditions, fought to protect British interests, suppress rebellions and mutinies, to maintain national pride, repel or provoke attack, to save an Englishman in distress, avenge an insult or suppress a rebellion by those who did not understand the “blessings” of an English civilization, or to prevent Russia from expanding her empire.

This was a period of “Queen Victoria’s little wars,” or what Kipling called “savage wars of peace.” There were around 220 wars, campaigns, and expeditions recorded between 1837 and 1901. Most of these “little” wars were fought in India, Afghanistan and Africa where it was the army that played a key role in protecting the Empire, but the Royal Navy had its part to play and there were a number of naval engagements fought in all areas of the empire and other regions, sometimes limited to sending a gunboat up a river to put down disobedient natives, or warships sent to confront a more powerful enemy. Frequently, the navy worked in conjunction with the army in these campaigns and the Opium Wars are a good example of navy/army cooperation.

The following engagements are some of the naval actions that occurred during this period of Victoria’s “little wars.”

First Carlist War – 1833 – 1839

HMS Phoenix
HMS Phoenix

Launched in 1832, broken up in 1864. HMS Phoenix was built as a 6-gun paddle ship, later converted to screw propulsion. She carried a 10” and an 8” pivot mounted gun used to great effect in the Bombardment of Acre in 1840.

This was a civil war fought in Spain between factions over the succession to the throne and the nature of the Spanish monarchy. It was fought between supporters of the regent Maria Christina, acting for Isabella II of Spain, and those of the late king’s brother, Carlos de Borbon, who favoured a return to an absolute Monarchy. All the great European powers backed the Isabeline army. The Battle of Trafalgar had all but shattered the Spanish Navy which seriously impacted Spanish trade with the Americas and the Philippines. With the royal coffers empty, they looked to arrange financing from elsewhere, in particular Paris and London. A large loan from James Rothschild paved the way to the establishment of the Quadruple Alliance that sealed French and British protection to the Spanish government. British interest was to destroy Spanish commercial routes and power which were mainly sustained by the Basque ports; Basque was supported by the Spanish courtiers.

The role of the British Navy in this conflict was to defend the port of Bilbao which was threatened by Carlos. HMS Phoenix was one of the British Ships that served off the coast of Spain. In seizing an important port such as Bilbao, this would give Carlos access to credit from Tsarist and Prussian banks. One of Carlos’ greatest problems was a lack of funds to continue the war. By mid-1840 the war ended and Carlist troops fled to France. However, there was a Second Carlist war which started in 1848.

Bombardment of Acre – 1840

The Second Egyptian-Ottoman War (1839-1841) was a result of the Ottoman Empire’s move to reoccupy lands lost to Muhammad Ali in the First Turko-Egyptian War. Britain, Russia and Austria rushed to support the tottering Ottoman Empire and force Egypt to withdraw from Syria. A small naval fleet under Commodore Charles Napier was dispatched to Beirut to compel the Egyptians to withdraw. Beirut was liberated from the Egyptians and the fleet then continued on Acre, the only coastal town left in Egyptian hands. The gunfire of the Royal Naval ships, which included HMS Phoenix, was devastatingly accurate due to the training associated with the new gunnery school, H.M.S. Excellent. After a shell penetrated the town’s main magazine, it blew up with a loss of 1,000 lives. The guns subsequently grew silent and the town was then occupied by the British.

HMS Phoenix
Cover celebrating 150 years of the gunnery school, HMS Excellent, on Whale Island, Portsmouth

First Opium War – 1841

The cause of the Opium Wars has often been attributed simply to the greed of British merchants in China, but the real causes of the war were cultural rather than commercial. Both regarded their own culture as infinitely superior to all others so it was only natural that where the two cultures met there would be friction. John Quincy Adams stated that “opium was a mere incident to the dispute. . .” “the cause of the war is the kowtow.” The first British official to arrive in Pekin in 1792 refused to kowtow when presented to the emperor. The British felt it a humiliating gesture and this resulted in humiliating treatment by the Chinese and there followed irresponsible talk by responsible men about teaching the Chinese a lesson and putting them in their place.

HMS Endymion
HMS Endymion

HMS Endymion – Launched in 1797, broken up on 1868. She was the fastest sailing ship in the Royal Navy and remained so long past her war service. She served in the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars, the War of 1812 and the Opium Wars

HMS Rattlesnake
HMS Rattlesnake

HMS Rattlesnake – Launched in 1822, broken up in 1860. She saw service in the East Indies and the First Anglo-Chinese war 1841-42, also known as the Opium Wars

Opium was harvested in the poppy fields of Bengal and then illegally shipped to China through the Canton System which confined trade to the foreign warehouses in Canton; Chinese officials were easily bribed to ignore these shipments. A new unbribable mandarin was sent by the emperor who ordered a blockade of foreign trade which resulted in twenty-nine Chinese war junks being sent to face off against two British warships.

HMS Herald
HMS Herald

Launched in 1822, broken up in 1862. In 1841, she saw service in the First Anglo-Chinese War in action off Canton. Later known for her role in searching for the missing Franklin expedition in the North West Passage.

The subsequent battle did not bode well for China who lost four junks with many others being badly damaged. This was the start of the Opium Wars and for the Royal Navy the commencement of the ‘gunboat years’ on the China Station. British military superiority drew heavily on the success of the Royal Navy. Steam ships were able to move against the wind and tides and three British warships carried more guns than the entire fleet of Chinese junks and these guns could also outrange the vast majority of the Chinese shore-based artillery. Although the Chinese could muster a huge army compared to the British forces, their lack of modern weapons and large naval ships placed them at a distinct disadvantage.

The war ended with the signing of the treaty of Nanking in 1842 in which the Qing Empire recognized Britain as an equal to China and gave British subjects extraterritorial rights in five treaty ports and Hong Kong. It was a major defeat for the Qing government which fought and lost some nineteen skirmishes over a two-year period, up rivers and along the coast. This resulted in a weakening of the Chinese state’s power and legitimacy which led to further hostilities that led to the Second Opium War in 1856, which lasted until 1864.

HMS Tortoise 1812-1860

HMS Tortoise was built in 1805 for the East India Company. In 1806 she was presented to the Admiralty, her fate is unclear, even though the Admiralty issued an order for her to be broken up in Ascension Later, a wreck was discovered in the waters around Ascension that appeared to be Tortoise. These remains of a hull are in shallow water off English Bay.

HMS Tortiose
HMS Tortoise

A brief history of her career:

1812/13 – She was in the Mediterranean and at Gibraltar.

1817 – She was at St Helena where her captain, Tomas Cook, had an audience with Napoleon.

1841 – She was tasked to transport convicts to Van Diemen’s Land then on to New Zealand to gather timber for ships’ masts and spars.

1842 – Arrived in Hobart with 400 convicts. On the 8th or 9th of March, HMS Beagle came into port with Charles Darwin on board.

1842 – She sailed to the Bay of Islands, in Northern New Zealand to gather timber 

1842 – She partook in a punitive expedition against the Te Arawa tribe at Tauranga. The Governor of New Zealand withdrew his forces when he realized his force was too small against the Maori. After the British left, the locals ate some of their prisoners. She returned to England in 1843.

1844 – Commander Arthur Fleming Morrell sailed Tortoise to Ascension Island where he had been appointed Administrator of the Island. Morrell was replaced by Captain Hutton in 1846. Ascension Island was an important supply depot for the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron which had the task of suppressing the slave trade.

See HMS Hydra for further details of Morrell’s commands. (Great-grandfather of the author)

HMS Eurydice – 1843

HMS Eurydice was a very fast 26-gun frigate with a shallow draft designed to operate in shallow waters.

Launched in 1843, foundered in 1878

She saw service on the North American and West Indies stations, then in 1846 was commissioned to the South African Station. She briefly went to the White Sea during the Crimean War.

HMS Eurydice
HMS Eurydice

She saw no further seagoing service for the next twenty years after which she was converted to a training ship.

1878 – She sailed to the Caribbean for a three-month tour; on her return to England she was caught in a heavy snow storm off the isle of Wight where she capsized and sank. Only two of the ship’s 319 crew and trainees survived, one of Britain’s worst peace-time naval disasters.

Over the years, the phantom Eurydice has been frequently sighted by sailors off the isle of Wight, including by a film crew filming a TV series who claimed to have captured the image on film.

HMS Daring – 1844

HMS Daring was a 12 gun-brig, launched 1844, broken up 1865.

In 1844 she formed part of an experimental Brig Squadron. These ships were used to test new techniques of ship design, armaments, and propulsion against old ones.

HMS Daring
HMS Daring

1846 – She served on the North American and West Indies Station. That year she captured two Spanish slave schooners off Guano Point, Cuba.

1855 – She visited the Turks and Caicos Islands

HMS Alecto

HMS Alecto was a 4-gun sloop, launched in 1839, disposed of in 1865

1845: Alecto used a form of steam paddle propulsion. In a famous example of Royal Naval innovation, HMS Rattler was fitted with a screw propulsion system and was able to pull Alecto when they were fitted with a cable connecting the two and pulling in opposite directions. The Royal Navy was constantly innovating and improving the technology behind its warships. This would keep the Royal Navy ruling the waves throughout the 19th Century and beyond.

HMS Alecto
HMS Alecto

1846 – Operations with the French against renegade natives up the River Parana, flowing through Paraguay and Argentina.

Whilst stationed off the West Coast of Africa, Alecto was actively involved in hunting down and seizing slave vessels.

1853 – The ship’s boats travelled up the Lagos river to destroy a slave market set up by Kosoko, the king of Lagos.

1853 – The Bombardment of Lagos. HMS Teazer, HMS Bloodhound and a flotilla of boats mounted an attack against Kosoko at the Oba’s (King) palace. Kosoko fled with his followers and Akitoye was installed as Oba of Lagos with British support.

HMS Hydra – 1845 – Syrian war of 1840 and Anti-Slavery

HMS Hydra was a wooden steam paddle sloop, launched in 1838, broken up 1870. 

She took part in operations during the Syrian war in 1840, she then served in anti-slavery operations and also as a survey vessel.

HMS Hydra
HMS Hydra

Commander Arthur Fleming Morrell (great grandfather of the author) was appointed to command her in November 1846, and further anti-slavery operations followed on the African coast, until she was paid off at Woolwich on 20 April 1847.

Hydra was recommissioned in 1847 and was involved in anti-slavery operations off the South East Coast of America.

Following this she undertook a cruise to the Cape Colony as a survey vessel. She conducted survey voyages from the Cape to the Comoros Islands, after which she served on the North American and West Indies stations.

In 1844, Commander Morrell sailed HMS Tortoise to Ascension Island where he was appointed Governor; he served there for three years. 

HMS Philomel and the Blockade of Rio de la Plata – 1845

HMS Philomel was an Alert-class 8-gun brig launched as a survey vessel until 1857 when she was given over to the Coast Guards. Launched in 1842, foundered in 1869 and was broken up.

1842-1846 Under Admiral B. J. Sullivan she was stationed in the South American Station and surveyed the Falkland Islands.

HMS Philomel & Admiral Sullivan
HMS Philomel & Admiral Sullivan

1845 – Philomel participated in an Anglo-French action in Uruguay where a five year long naval blockade of the Rio de la Plata was imposed by Britain and France to support the Colorado Party in the Uruguayan Civil War.

1850-1854 – She was on anti-slave patrols in the South Atlantic, African and American coasts. During this commission, George Truman Morrell (1830-1912) served on board; a great-grandfather of the author.

1869 – She foundered in the Swale, the narrow strip of sea separating Kent from the Isle of Sheppey; the wreck was sold for break up.

HMS Sealark – 1849

HMS Sealark was an 18-gun brig, launched in 1843, sold in 1898.

She was tasked with slave patrols off the African coast and in the South Atlantic, where she detained some 11 slave ships.

HMS Sealark
HMS Sealark

In 1851 she was present off Lagos when operations commenced against King Kosoko (see HMS Alecto – 1839)

In 1875 she was converted into a training brig for sail-training.

Described below are some actions that involved HMS Teazer, which were typical of British gunboat diplomacy on the West Coast of Africa.

Action in The Gambia – 1849

HMS Teazer
HMS Teazer
She was a Teazer-class gunship, launched in 1846, broken up in 1864. She took part in the Nunez Affair, Action in The Gambia and slavery actions against the Portuguese in Nigeria.

This is another example of British gunboat imperialism where British power was exercised by shooting cannon fire into helpless villages. In 1849 there was action in The Gambia where captured sailors from shipwrecks had been murdered and/or held for ransom. A joint French and British expedition was assembled to “teach the inhabitants a lesson.” The British contingent consisted of HMS Teazer and HMS Centaur, accompanied by 50 soldiers from the Bathurst regiment. The operations were short but decisive.

The Nunez Affair – 1850

HMS Teazer

1850 – Sierra Leone: The Rio Nunez was in a disturbed state and the governor took steps to protect British subjects in the area. A military force was assembled to accompany commissioners up river. 67 men of the West India Regiment were boarded on HMS Teazer which travelled upriver to Ropass. No satisfactory arrangement was arrived on here so the group travelled further up river to Walkariah were matters were amicably settled and the party returned to Sierra Leone.

Actions in Lagos – 1851

HMS Teazer

Britain was determined to end the Portuguese run slave trade in Nigeria. The Nigerian king Kosoko refused to sign a peace treaty with Britain to end slavery. A naval expedition arrived off Lagos consisting of HMS Teazer, HMS Penelope, HMS Bloodhound and HMS Sampson. The Teazer and Penelope crossed the bar on Christmas eve. Resistance was fierce from well protected shore gun emplacements and at one-point Teazer ran aground on a shoal. A landing party stormed the gun emplacements and seized the guns whilst the Teazer was lightened and floated off the shoal.  The British occupied Lagos and installed Akitoye, the uncle of King Kosoko who had earlier been ousted form Lagos.

Action on Vancouver Island 1853

HMS Thetis
HMS Thetis

Launched in 1846, transferred to the Prussian Navy in 1855. Captained by Augustus Kuper, she spent time around the British Columbian coast. Kuper Island in the Straits of Georgia is named after the captain and several localities on Vancouver Island are named after the ship; Thetis Lake, Thetis Cove, Thetis Crescent and Thetis Lane.

HMS Thetis

When a colony was first established on Vancouver Island, in 1849, there was a large and varied population of upwards of 30,000 First Nations. In 1853 there was an expedition undertaken by a party from HMS Thetis, under Captain Augustus Leopold Kuper, C.B., against some troublesome Indians on Vancouver Island. It was well managed and useful, but of little intrinsic importance, although Thetis did lend her name to a lake, a cove and streets on Vancouver Island.

In November of 1952, a Hudson Bay employee was killed by two Cowegin Indians. It took two months for the investigation to determine who the murderers were, after which a company of sailors and marines from Thetis were dispatched to apprehend the culprits. They were captured and after a historic trial onboard the steamer Beaver, they were hanged at the entrance to Nanaimo harbour.

Action on the Sierra Leone River – 1853

HMS Teazer
HMS Teazer

On March 11th, 1853, as a consequence of the detention of a British subject at Medina on the Sierra Leone river by the chief Kali Modoo (also known as Kelch Moodah), who was moreover suspected of complicity in the slave trade, HMS Teazer and a screw tender to the HMS Penelope, proceeded to the Bullom shore towing the boats of the Linnet, under Commander Henry Need, with Need and Lieutenant Frederic Dampier Rich in command. A party was landed and marched up to the town. Need asked Kali Modoo for the release of the prisoner, which was refused. Need then retired and half an hour later Teazer and the boats opened fire with such good effect that the place was presently abandoned. After some further short negotiations, Kali Modoo gave way and the prisoner was released.

Actions on the Melakori River – 1854

HMS Teazer
HMS Teazer

The Melakori River in Sierra Leone had long been a centre of the lucrative groundnut business, controlled by English and French traders. In 1854, unhappy with their activity, the Maligia chief gave the traders ten days to leave. Three British gunboats arrived in December with 400 troops to persuade him to reverse his decision. Bamba Minha Lahai initially caved to this pressure and agreed to pay compensation to the traders, but the promised money was not forthcoming; HMS Teazer returned in May 1855 on a follow-up mission to secure what was due. Following established tradition on the West Coast of Africa, the British ship would indicate its presence by attacking the town from a safe distance with Congreve rockets. On this occasion the ship had none available and 200 soldiers went ashore to collect the money. Initially the chief’s men offered no resistance, but the town’s mosque and Bamba Minha Lahai’s house was burned down and the chief’s men fired on the re-embarking soldiers. On the following day, as the British set fire to other houses with Lucifer matches, they were shot at from the bush. Retreating to the shore, the soldiers escaped in a small boat, to return to the Teazer. The boat capsized, and although the Teazer picked up a handful of survivors, nearly eighty men were lost. It had been a disastrous expedition for the British, one of their worst military disasters in Sierra Leone during more than a half a century of occupation.

Sierra Leone, west coast of Africa

The Crimean War (also known as The Russian War) of 1853 – 1856

HMS Basilisk
HMS Basilisk

HMS Basilisk – Launched in 1848, broken up in 1882. She was a first-class paddle-wheel sloop. She served in the Baltic during the war, sinking grain and salt transports.

HMS Curacao
HMS Curacao

HMS Curacoa – Launched in 1854, broken up in 1869. She was a 31-gun screw frigate and served in the Black Sea during the Crimea War.

Britain declared war on Russia together with France, Turkey and Sardinia as allies, chiefly to prevent Russia from expanding its empire. This war has been described as the worst managed war in the century. Inexperienced officers and soldiers who had not been in a battle since Waterloo, forty years ago, dressed in gorgeous uniforms were ill-trained and ill-equipped.

HMS Sidon
HMS Sidon

HMS Sidon – Launched in 1846, sold in 1864. She was a first-class paddle frigate. She served in the Black Sea during the Crimea War.

The best and most experienced officers and troops remained in India and never took part in the war due to great contempt by Lord Raglan, the British commander, of “Indian officers” and refused to allow them to serve under him. The famous charge of the light brigade was a classic example of the state of incompetence that existed in the British army. The entire brigade, half of the British cavalry in the Crimea, charged in the wrong direction. The result was that the brigade suffered very heavy casualties with no decisive gains being made.

HMS Phoenix
HMS Phoenix

Phoenix served in the Baltic during the war. She rescued the crew of the Breadalbane which was crushed by ice in 1853

There were some naval actions where British ships in the Black Sea bombarded Sebastopol and there were also some actions in the Baltic Sea. But there was no coordination between the navy and the army. Sebastopol was besieged and shelled and after the Russians blew up the fortress at Sebastopol and retired, the allies also had had enough and went home.

HMS Virago The Siege of Petropavlovsk – 1854

HMS Virago
HMS Virago

HMS Virago was a 1st-class paddle sloop launched in 1842.
Virago took part in this siege, a military operation during the Crimea War in the pacific theatre involving French and British ships and troops. The allies were attempting to attack Russian ships operating in the area. The attack on a heavily fortified spit in Avoca Bay was unsuccessful. The Allies withdrew to the Colony of Vancouver Island.

HMS Victoria – 1859

HMS Victoria
HMS Victoria

HMS Victoria was the last British wooden first-rate three-decked ship of the line and was the largest wooden battleship to ever enter service. She carried a total of 121 guns and achieved a top speed of just under 12 knots; making her the fastest three-decker worldwide. She was launched in 1859, scrapped in 1893.

After launching, she was laid up as part of the reserve fleet and did not entered active service until 1864. She became the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet and was based in Malta until 1867.

She returned home in 1867 and became part of the reserve fleet and was eventually sold for scrap in 1893 without ever having entered service again.

HMS Galatea – 1859

HMS Galatea was an Ariadne class 26-gun, sixth-rate, wooden, screw frigate. Launched in 1859, broken up in 1883.

HMS Galatea
HMS Galatea

She was first assigned to the Channel Squadron, then from 1863-65 was assigned to the North American and West Indies Squadron based in Bermuda and Halifax. Whilst in this squadron she assisted in suppressing an insurrection in Jamaica, The Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, which was brutally put down with the execution (murder) and flogging and imprisonment of hundreds of black Jamaicans.

In 1868 she commenced on a world cruise and called in at Tristan da Cunha on the way south in the Atlantic. This cruise took the ship to Australia and New Zealand carrying the Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred Earnest Albert.

HMS Jersey HMS Jersey – 1869-1873

HMS Jersey, cutter
The cutter HMS Jersey

HMS Jersey was a cutter built for the Royal Navy and launched in 1860.
She was first stationed in Portsmouth as a tender for HMS Dasher.
In 1870 she was stationed in Jersey, again as a tender for HMS Dasher which was a fishery protection and survey vessel when oyster fishing was booming and was under threat from French fishermen who tried to fish in Island waters.
She was sold in 1873.

HMS Rinaldo – 1860

HMS Rinaldo
HMS Rinaldo

HMS Rinaldo was a 17-gun, Camelion-class wooden screw sloop, launched in 1860, broken up in 1844.

She was commissioned on the North American and West Indies Station and then on the China Station.

HMS Warrior – 1860

This cover commemorates the 120th anniversary of the launching of HMS Warrior, a 40-gun steam powered armoured frigate. She is still afloat today at Pembroke Dock as a fully restored museum ship.

She was the first ship to be constructed of iron and was the most powerful warship of its day, even though it had only a single gun deck with a main battery of 4 x 8” guns. Having an impregnable battery and a top speed with sail and steam of 18 knots insured that her reputation was supreme. Enemy fleets were so intimidated by her obvious supremacy that they were deterred from attacking Britain at sea – yet she never fired a shot in anger.

HMS Warrior
HMS Warrior

Her construction triggered a rapid evolution of warship design, which meant she had started to become obsolete only 10 years after her launching. She was not scrapped after WWI due to the large number of ships being scrapped and so there was little demand for scrap steel. She remained in Portsmouth for 4 years and then was modified into a mooring jetty in 1927, then a floating oil jetty in 1929 which she remained as for 50 years.

She was donated to the Maritime Trust in 1983 and a decision was made to restore her to her 1862 condition. She was opened as a museum in Portsmouth in 1987.

HMS Warrior

Māori Wars – Invasion of Waikato – 1863

The invasion of Waikato in 1863 was largest and most important campaign of the 19th century New Zealand wars. It was fought between the colonial government and a federation of Māori tribes known as the Kingitanga Movement. Hostilities lasted for nine months and the invasion was aimed at crushing Kingite power and driving the Māori from their territory in readiness for occupation by European settlers. The defeat and confiscations of 980,000 hectares of land left the tribes with a legacy of poverty and bitterness which lasted until 1995 when it was partly assuaged by the government conceding that the invasion and confiscation was wrongful and appologised for its actions.

HMS Curacao
HMS Curacoa

Launched in 1854, broken up in 1869. She was a 32-gun screw frigate

HMS Curacoa brought 600 troops and firepower up the Waikato river, together with several armoured barges and gunboats, to attack the heart of the Māori defensive line at the Meremere fortifications. The fortifications were found to have been abandoned as the Māori moved back to the Rangiri defensive system. There followed a number of battles as the Māori forces fell back to a series of defensive lines. Although the British did defeat the Māori, it was at the cost of 700 casualties and losses, with the Māori losses at over a 1,000. 

Chart from the medical journal of A.B. Messer, assistant surgeon aboard HMS Curacao

HMS Vixen – 1864

HMS Vixen was an armoured composite gunboat built as an experimental vessel, launched in 1866, sunk as a block-ship in 1896

HMS Vixen
HMS Vixen

 Her hull was of a composite construction with iron frames and bulwarks, but with an outer cladding of teak. parts of the vessel were armoured, including her machine room, and her ram bow was reinforced with a massive iron structure. She had two steam engines each driving a single screw. She was built with a barquentine rig, but this was removed in 1873. Of the three ships built to this design, none of them attained a speed of more than 9.5 knots. They were deemed unsuitable for use in the open sea, one was nearly lost in a storm in the Irish Sea. Two of the three vessels, Vixen and Viper, were towed to Bermuda where they operated within the reefline as floating defense batteries, protecting the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda. Eventually, in 1896, she was sunk as a blockship to close off the Chubb Cut narrows against possible torpedo attacks. 

The Fijian Incidents – 1866 and 1868

HMS Challenger was a steam assisted Pearl-class corvette, launched in 1858, scrapped in 1921.

1866-1870 – Challenger was the flagship of the Australia Station.

HMS Challenger
HMS Challenger

1862 – As part of the North American Station, she took part in operations against Mexico including the occupation of Veracruz.

1866 and 1868 – Challenger took part in punitive operations against some Fijian natives to avenge the murder of a missionary and his dependents.  Settlers and planters quickly came into conflict with the local tribe Wainimala and Challenger conducted a punitive mission against them, deploying a force of 87 men who went to the upper reaches of the Rewa river where they shelled and burnt the village.

The above two stamps portray the technique of Flag Hoists as a method of communication.


These stamps depict Flag hoists which were developed by the British Admiral Lord Richard Howe, who introduced a new signal book which became known as The Howe Code. It used ten coloured flags to represent the numbers from zero to nine, and six additional flags to represent a small number of special control codes. Admiral Sir Home Popham extended the range of codes using double flags and this was adopted by the navy in 1803. The new code was first put to the test at the Battle of Trafalgar where signaling codes were used extensively by the French and English.

HMS Thalia – 1869

HMS Thalia was a 6-gun, Juno-class, wooden hull, screw corvette, launched in 1869, broken up in 1920.

HMS Thalia
HMS Thalia

Thalia was the last ship built in the Woolwich Naval Dockyards. She spent her commission taking various crews to ships in foreign ports.

In 1882 Thalia was in the Mediterranean and participated in the Egyptian War, the Urabi Revolt and the conquest of Egypt.

In 1887 she took crews to Australia and visited Tristan da Cunha on the voyage out.

Blackbirding in the Pacific Ocean– 1868-1872

Blackbirding is a term used to describe the coercion through trickery and kidnapping of people to work as labourers. It probably comes from a contraction of “blackbird catching”; “blackbird” being a slang term for local indigenous people. This started in 1860 in the Pacific to supply workers to mine guano deposits on islands off Peru. In the 1870s the blackbirding trade focused on supplying labourers to the sugar plantations of Queensland, Australia, and Fiji. Blackbirding has continued to this day in developing countries, such as those in Central America. During the 1850s to 1870s, so many ships entered the blackbirding trade that the British Navy sent a number of warships from the Australia Station to the Pacific to suppress the trade, these included HMS Beagle, HMS Basilisk and HMS Blanche.

HMS Basilisk
HMS Basilisk
HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle
A schooner, Launched in 1872, sold to a French agent in 1883

In 1868, Blanche was sent to the Solomon Islands to take part in punitive actions against Island natives which was probably triggered by blackbirding.

In 1873, Beagle commenced service on the Australia Station for anti-blackbirding operations.

HMS Blanche
HMS Blanche
Launched in 1867, scrapped in 1886. A 6-gun wooden hull screw sloop

The British Navy however was not able to suppress the trade due to the large number of ships involved, and the financial incentives of the trade. The British and Queensland governments tried to regulate the recruiting and transport of labourers by limiting the length of recruitment to three years and requiring payment and basic clothes. The Australian government required each ship transporting labourers to carry a government approved person to ensure that the labourers were willingly recruited. However, many of these government observers were corrupt, drunk or plain lazy and did mostly nothing to prevent sea captains from tricking islanders into indentured labor. Most natives were recruited using deceit, such as being invited on board ships with gifts, then locked up and transported. Some captains were known to wear a priest’s collar to lure natives on board.

The Perak War – 1875-76

HMS Egaria
HMS Egaria

HMS Egaria – Launched in 1872, sold in 1911. She was a Fantome-class sloop. After the Perak war she went on to survey duties around Australia and coastal areas of British Columbia. A representation of Egaria is one of eight historic ships honoured in the commemoration tile at the Maritime Building in Vancouver B.C.

This war took place between the British and local forces in Perak, a state in northwest Malaysia. In a rebellion against the British, the Sultan of Upper Perak and local tribesmen attempted to end foreign influence in the region and remove the administrator W.W. Birch. He was subsequently murdered in November of 1875 and British forces were sent in to avenge his murder and end hostilities. After some initial defeats, the British were successful in putting down the insurrection in mid 1876 and so ended any opposition to British control of Perak. HMS Egaria was one of 6 British ships that took part in this expedition.

HMS Beagle – 1889

One of two ships of the Beagle-class, an 8-gun screw steel sloop, launched in 1889, sold for breaking up in 1905.

HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle

In common with other Royal Naval sloops of this period, the Beagle class were not intended or designed to fight in a modern action, but rather to patrol Britain’s extensive maritime empire. Beagle conducted three foreign commissions between 1890 and 1900, two of which were on the South Atlantic Station.

HMS Resolution – 1892

HMS Resolution
HMS Resolution

A Sovereign-class pre-dreadnought battleship, launched in 1892, scrapped in 1914.

HMS Resolution served with the Channel Squadron up until 1901. She took part in the Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review and a number of maneuvres in the Atlantic and South Western Approaches.

HMS Canada – 1881-1897

HMS Canada
HMS Canada

HMS Canada was a Comus-class screw corvette, launched in 1881, scrapped in 1897.

Canada was a metal-hulled corvette. She served in the North America and West Indies stations between 1883 and 1896

She was designed for long voyages away from coaling stations. The hull was metal with a copper sheathing over timber beneath the waterline, the timber separated the iron hull from the copper sheathing to prevent electrolytic corrosion.

HMS Canada’s ship’s badge

The stamp image shows Prince George, the future King George V, who served on the vessel as a sub-lieutenant between 1883 and 1884.

The bow badge was removed prior to being sold and is currently on display in the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

Anglo-Egyptian War – 1882

HMS Monarch
HMS Monarch

HMS Monarch – Launched in 1868, scrapped in 1905. She was the first British naval ship to carry her guns in turrets and the first naval ship to carry 12” guns. Built at a time of great changes in battleship design and as expected, turned out to be a compromise. She fired 125 12” shells at the forts in Alexandria

HMS Penelope
HMS Penelope

HMS Penelope – Launched in 1867, broken up in 1912. She was a sail/steam armoured corvette and was the last of the small ironclads. She was designed for inshore work having a shallow draft.

In 1878, the Egyptian government of the Khedive was overthrown by Ahmed Urabi.  In 1882, with the government now controlled by Urabi Pasha who had stirred up a rise in Egyptian nationalism and anti-European sentiment, the British and French governments declared their support of the Khedive. In order to protect the Suez Canal and foreign interest, an ultimatum was issues by Admiral Seymour for Urabi’s forces to cease fortifying the city or the British fleet would bombard the city. The ultimatum was ignored, the French fleet left for Port Said and so the bombardment followed. British warships began a 10½ hr. bombardment of Alexandria by eight battleships, including HMS Penelope and HMS Monarch. Much of the city was destroyed by shell fire and also by fires set by Urabi seeking to ruin the city. Following this bombardment and the landing of troops, Urabi declared war on the United Kingdom and more battles followed on land which resulted in the occupation of Egypt by the British which lasted until the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936.

HMS Imperieuse – 1883

HMS Imperieuse was an Imperieuse-class armoured cruiser, launched in 1883, sold in 1913.

Originally built with two masts, she was found to be too sluggish during her trials and so these were replaced with a single military mast amidships shortly after her completion. This steel-hulled ship was fitted with a ram and the hull sheathed in teak which was covered in copper to reduce biofouling.

HMS Imperieuse
HMS Imperieuse
HMS Imperieuse
HMS Imperieuse

This class of ship was not a success. Overweight, inaccurate design calculations and inefficient control of construction material contributed to the problems this class exhibited.

She served as the flagship of the China and Pacific Stations from 1896 to 1899.

She was converted to a depot ship in 1905 and sold in 1913.

Captain William Henry May became the flag captain to the Commander-in-Chief, China Station, on Imperieuse in 1887. En route to the Far East, he took possession of Christmas Island following the discovery of phosphates.

Ashanti Wars – 1873-74

HMS Rattlesnake
HMS Rattlesnake
A 21-gun corvette, launched in 1861, broken up in 1882.

There were five wars against the Ashanti Empire between 1824 and 1901. The wars were mainly caused by Ashanti attempts to establish control over coastal tribes who came to rely on protection against Ashanti incursions by the British. The Ashanti also relied heavily on revenue from their trade in slaves which the British had outlawed and so this severely reduced slave trade revenues. The Second Ashanti War, 1873, saw British ships, including HMS Rattlesnake carry troops up the Prah river to a battle that resulted in a British victory and the burning of the Ashanti city of Kumasi.

The Perak War – 1875-76

HMS Egaria
HMS Egaria

This war took place between the British and local forces in Perak, a state in northwest Malaysia. In a rebellion against the British, the Sultan of Upper Perak and local tribesmen attempted to end foreign influence in the region and remove the administrator W.W. Birch. He was subsequently murdered in November of 1875 and British forces were sent in to avenge his murder and end hostilities. After some initial defeats, the British were successful in putting down the insurrection and eventually the culprits were brought to account in mid 1876 and so ended any opposition to British control of Perak. HMS Egaria was one of 6 British ships that took part in this expedition.

HMS Canada – 1881

HMS Canada was a Comus-class screw corvette, launched in 1881, scrapped in 1897.

Canada was a metal-hulled corvette. She served in the North America and West Indies stations between 1883 and 1896

HMS Canada
HMS Canada & King George V

She was designed for long voyages away from coaling stations. The hull was metal with a copper sheathing over timber beneath the waterline, the timber separated the iron hull from the copper sheathing to prevent electrolytic corrosion.

The stamp image shows Prince George, the future King George V, who served on the vessel as a sub-lieutenant between 1883 and 1884.

HMS Canada ship’s badge

The bow badge was removed prior to being sold and is currently on display in the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

HMS Penelope
HMS Penelope
HMS Monarch
HMS Monarch

Anglo-Egyptian War – 1882

HMS Penelope
HMS Penelope

In 1878, the Egyptian government of the Khedive was overthrown by Ahmed Urabi. In 1882, with the government now controlled by Urabi Pasha who had stirred up a rise in Egyptian nationalism and anti-European sentiment, the British and French governments declared their support of the Khedive. In order to protect the Suez Canal and foreign interest, an ultimatum was issues by Admiral Seymour for Urabi’s forces to cease fortifying the city or the British fleet would bombard the city. The ultimatum was ignored, the French fleet left for Port Said and so the bombardment followed. Eight British warships began a 10½ hr. bombardment of Alexandria, which included HMS Monarch and HMS Penelope. Much of the city was destroyed by shell fire and also by fires set by Urabi seeking to ruin the city. Following this bombardment and the landing of troops, Urabi declared war on the United Kingdom and more battles followed on land which resulted in the occupation of Egypt by the British which lasted until the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936.

HMS Beagle – 1889

HMS Beagle was one of two ships of the Beagle-class, an 8-gun screw steel sloop, launched in 1889, sold for breaking up in 1905.

In common with other Royal Naval sloops of this period, the Beagle class were not intended or designed to fight in a modern action, but rather to patrol Britain’s extensive maritime empire. Beagle conducted three foreign commissions between 1890 and 1900, two of which were on the South Atlantic Station.

HMS Resolution – 1892

HMS Resolution was a Sovereign-class pre-dreadnought battleship, launched in 1892, scrapped in 1914.

Resolution served with the Channel Squadron up until 1901. She took part in the Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review and a number of manoeuvres in the Atlantic and South Western Approaches.

Actions against the Chief of M’Wele – 1895

HMS Blonde
HMS Blonde
A 6-gun twin screw cruiser launched in 1889, sold for scrap in 1905.

In August 1895, HMS Blonde, commanded by Commander Henry M. Festing, was one of a squadron of five ships under Rear-Admiral H.H. Rawson, with his flag in HMS St George, which took part in the punitive expedition against M’Buruk bin Rashid, Chief of M’Wele, who had failed to comply with an ultimatum on the subject of obedience. On august 12th a Naval Brigade, 400 strong, started inland from Mombassa, accompanied by about 1000 porters and Soudanese troops, and commanded by the Rear Admiral in person. After some resistance the British force rushed the stockades, and though M’Buruk escaped, two of his sons were killed.

The Samoan Crisis – 1887-1898

The Samoan Crisis consisted of two civil wars, the first 1886-94 and the second in 1894. There were a number of actions during these wars of which the Great Apia Cyclone in 1889 was a significant event. The Samoan Unrest was a standoff between the United States, Imperial Germany and the United Kingdom for control of the Samoan islands during the Samoan Civil War. The Treaty of Berlin in 1889 created a condominium (joint protectorate) and a native royal figure was appointed. This caused a rebellion among other chiefs and a civil war ensued. The civil war was instigated by Samoans taking sides over who would be King of Samoa. The German Navy intervened on several occasions but after the Great Apia Cyclone destroyed all six German and American ships stationed in Apia harbour, the stand-off ended and the three countries decided on Laupepa as the King.

HMS Calliope
Launched in 1884, broken up in 1951. A Steel-hulled, sailing/steam powered Calypso-class corvette.
HMS Callope
HMS Calliope
Leaving the harbour during the Great Apia hurricane.

During the cyclone, HMS Calliope, with an incredible show of seamanship, cut her anchor and sailed out of the harbour thus avoiding any damage. The unrest came to an end with the signing of the Tripartite Agreement of 1899 with the archipelago being partitioned into a German and an American sector and the British withdrawing from the islands, gaining extensive compensation from Germany elsewhere.

HMS Royalist
HMS Royalist
HMS Royalist
HMS Royalist
Launched in 883, transferred to the Irish Free State in 1923. A Satellite-class composite screw sloop.

HMS Royalist took part in operations during the Samoan unrest in 1899, together with HMS Porpoise and HMS Tauranga.

Anglo-Zanzibar war – 1896 (The World’s shortest war)

HMS Philomel
HMS (later HMNZS) Philomel
Launched in 1890, Loaned to New Zealand in 1914. By then she was an outdated and aging vessel. Scrapped in 1947. A Pearl-class cruiser.

The Anglo-Zanzibar war was a military conflict fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The conflict lasted between 38 – 45 minutes marking it as the shortest recorded war in history. The Zanzibar sultanate was a sovereign island state with the mainland under German control, German East Africa (today’s Tanzania). After the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, Sultan Khalid succeeded the throne but did not have British permission to do so, they preferring Hamud bin Muhammed. An ultimatum was sent demanding Khalid stand down and leave the palace. In response to this ultimatum, he barricaded himself inside the palace and refused to leave.

Zanzibar Harbour
Position of ships off Zanzibar harbour front.

The British had several naval ships in the harbour which included, HMS Philomel, HMS Rush, HMS Sparrow and HMS St. George. The ultimatum expired and so the British commenced firing. The palace was set on fire and defending artillery disabled after which the flag at the palace was shot down and firing ceased. This took all of between 38 to 45 minutes. The sultan escaped and fled to the mainland, German East Africa, but was eventually captured by the British when German East Africa came under British control at the end of WWI.

Philomel was lent to the New Zealand Navy in 1914 and became HMNZS Philomel, the first New Zealand naval ship. However, by 1916 she was nearing the end of her useful life and she returned to New Zealand. In1921 she was recommissioned as a training base in Wellington until 1947 when she was broken up.

The Sierra Leone Rebellion – 1898

HMS Blonde
HMS Blonde

In 1898, HMS Blonde commanded by Commander Hoskyns took part in the suppressing the Sierra Leone Rebellion. Blonde proceeded to the Sherboro River to keep in check the rebels who were located in the neighbourhood of Bouthe and Imperri. She performed a most useful service, and saved the district of Sherboro from being over whelmed by the Mendi natives. Boat expeditions destroyed Gambia on the Bum Kittam, and on May 4th pushed up the Jong River as far as Bogo, where dreadful massacres had been committed. The rising was finally crushed by the troops, and in the later operations the Navy had little share. Commander Hoskyns was rewarded with the C.M.G. and was promoted to Captain for his services.

The Boxer Rebellion – 1900

HMS Redpole
HMS Redpole
Launched in 1889, decommissioned in 1906. She was an iron and wood built 6-gun gunboat, the last of her kind.

The Boxer Rebellion took place in China from 1899 to 1901 and was motivated by pro-nationalist sentiments and opposition to Western colonialization, and in particular missionary activities associated with it. An uprising was initiated by Boxers, members of a martial arts group who practiced “Chinese Boxing.” This uprising was then supported by the Emperor Dowager followed by the detaining of some 55 foreign diplomats. An eight-nation alliance, including Britain, brought some 20,000 troop to China who defeated the Imperial Army and relieved the siege of the legations. In addition to supplying an army of 10,000 troops, Britain also supplied eight warships, including HMS Redpole, which participated in the various naval actions.

Zanzibar Aftermath – 1902

HMS Monarch
HMS Monarch
Launched in 1868, scrapped in 1905.

HMS Monarch was one of seven naval vessels that visited Zanzibar after the brief war of 1896 as a show of force. Monarch was a “Masted Turret Ship.” She was the first seagoing turret ship, and the first ship to carry 12” guns, also the fastest ship in her day. However, she was a compromise as there was at this time a great change in battleship design moving from wooden hulled iron-clads to steel hulled turret warships, turrets rather than fixed guns, and driven by steam and not so much by sail.

Naval Uniforms

A Royal Marine in dress uniform circa 1805.
Royal Marine Private, 1816
Able Seaman (AS) 1880

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