State Library of South Australia
Manning Index of South Australian History
  • South Australia
  • Adelaide
  • Port Adelaide
  • Place Names

  • About the Index
  • Searching
  • Text-based menus
    (Use this option if your browser will not open the folders.)

    South Australia - Defence of the Colony

    "The Services on Parade" is reported upon in the Advertiser, 1 September 1936 (special edition), page 47.

    Naval Matters

    A History of South Australia's Colonial Navy

    In the early 1850s Governor Henry Young examined ways of protecting the colony of South Australia and informed the Home authorities that 'it would accord great satisfaction and increased confidence to this government if the English pendant was more frequently seen in these waters, and if a naval force, more proportioned to the nature and amount of the funds available in the colonies, were established on the Australian coast.' However, it would appear that his submission was looked upon as altogether too 'startling' to be even considered by the Lords of the Admiralty.

    In 1862, Colonel F. Blyth, of the Volunteer Military Force, recommended, as additional protection for the colony, the stationing of a gunboat 'at the outer bar' of the Port River. Three years later Commander Parkin advocated six gun boats, each carrying a gun capable of firing a 100-pound shot - this notion was prompted by the exploits of the ironclad Monitor, used by the northern states in the American civil war.

    At the same time Mr H.B.T. Strangways, MP, went one better by suggesting the procurement of a 'quick turret ship' capable of carrying two 150-pound shot guns and able to steam at 18-20 knots - a rather colossal speed at that time. At this time Sir William Wiseman arrived in the colony from the United Kingdom and, following the receipt of his recommendations the matter of procuring a war vessel remained in abeyance for more than ten years.

    In 1867 the government considered the introduction of a naval training ship upon which an industrial establishment for the reception of boys 'liable to be sent to gaol on the commission of petty offences.' However, the Editor of the Advertiser was one of many voices opposed to the idea:

    Despite this plea those in favour of the proposal proved to be in the majority and it was decided to go ahead with the purchase of a suitable vessel:

    for such a scheme existed at the time in Victoria on the vessel Nelson and:

    Subsequently, the hulk Fitzjames was purchased from its Victorian owner, towed to South Australia and anchored off the coast where she served as, among other things, a 'training' ship from 1876 to 1891. Although South Australia has an extensive seaboard, in reality she offered little scope for a naval or maritime career. Accordingly, for some time prior to 1891 it was realised that a land reformatory would best meet the requirements of the colony. Finally, on 28 May 1891 the rickety old hulk ceased to be the scene of reformatory work and was vacated by its inmates for quarters at Magill.

    In 1876 another wave of enthusiasm or fright seemed to have aroused the sleepers, for a defence commission was appointed and it recommended the purchase of three gunboats carrying 18 ton guns. The commissioners also voiced the opinion that, in peace time, these gunboats might be used as tugs, a suggestion which must certainly have aroused the ire of any real navy man.

    The Treasurer, John Colton, suggested that a turret ship similar to the Victorian Cerberus might be useful and asked the price of such a vessel.. He passed the question on to the Agent-General in London, F.S. Dutton, adding that all that was needed was 'a movable raft able to crawl about and defy boats.' Mr Dutton consulted Mr E.J. Reed, chief constructor for the British navy, and learned that a 1,000 ton ironclad carrying one 25 ton gun would cost 69,000 while a smaller unarmed vessel could be constructed for 29,500; this information was carefully pigeon-holed in the South Australian government's archive.

    All preceding recommendations were eclipsed by that of W.F.D. Jervois for, in 1877, he declared that safety could only be obtained by the possession of a vessel superior to any that 'seemed likely to appear.' Consequently, he advised the purchase of a 2,500 ton ironclad having 10-inch armour and heavy guns for about 150,000, which sum naturally discouraged taxpayers and caused naval defences to slumber for another five years.

    The name Protector struck a responsive chord in many colonists' hearts, since for a score of years she was the colony's navy - years when the Chief Secretary had the added portfolio of Minister of Defence and Largs was a colonial Chatham in embryo. One of Governor Jervois's expensive crazes, she left Newcastle on Tyne on 27 June 1884 and arrived at the Semaphore anchorage on 30 September with Captain Walcot and a crew of 80, following stops at Gibraltar and Malta for coaling purposes.

    She was a screw steel gunboat with a rig of a topsail schooner, her dimensions being overall length, 185 feet; length in water line, 180 feet; beam, 30 feet; draught, 12 feet six inches and displacement between 900 and 1,000 tons. Her armament comprised of one 8-inch gun in the bow, four of similar character on the broadside and five machine guns - all fitted with carriages, working gear and all accessories, including ammunition. There were also five of 'the terrible Gatling guns' and she was driven by two pairs of condensing engines of about 750 horsepower each. She could race and out range the Nelson, Victoria's cumbersome flagship of the Australian station, a vessel five times her size.

    The circumstances under which the Protector was ordered was that in the first half of 1882 Europe was in a most unquiet state chiefly owing to the Egyptian difficulty, and a general feeling of insecurity prevailed in those colonies where defences did not exist or were insufficient. This colony felt the infection and Sir William Jervois, our then governor, suggested, as mentioned previously, the acquisition of a warship which, in conjunction with the forts, could be fairly effective in coping with inquisitorial cruisers attempting a raid on our chief port. On a previous occasion he had recommended an iron clad, and he did so a second time but, knowing it was unlikely that Parliament would consent to such a costly luxury, he opted for a vessel of light draught capable of steaming 14 knots per hour and carrying a heavy armament.

    Governor Jervois was in England for some months in 1878 and while there had been approached by shipbuilders, who had heard that the South Australian Government wished to obtain a warship. In 1882 he submitted a memorandum to that body on 'Vessels of War for the Defence of South Australia' in which he stated that 'after due consideration of the proposals' 'by some of the best ship-building firms in England' submitted to him 'about four years ago', he recommended that the Agent-General be directed 'to obtain drawings and a tender for the supply of the vessel... from the firm of Sir William Armstrong and Co.' All things considered, the government thought a medium-sized vessel the most suitable for the colony and, accordingly, in July 1882, authority was given for the construction of the ship.

    During negotiations there were many people in the colony who regarded with disfavour everything that savoured of warlike preparation, and who deprecated the introduction of the engines of strife and bloodshed, whether by land or sea, upon scenes which had, hitherto, happily been free from the horrors of war. Australia was, indeed, the only considerable portion of the earth's surface on which the influences of what is called 'civilised warfare' had never wrought devastation and death, and those who deprecated the rise of a warlike spirit among the people of Australia were, so far, acting wisely. But when defence alone was the object aimed at, the matter wore quite a different aspect and the comparative activity, characterising the military and naval preparations at this time, did not in any sense indicate a desire for war, but a determination to repel its approach.

    During a war scare in the 1880s a temporary torpedo station was established at the North Arm 'on the site of the old fort' and, later, a substantial building was erected where all the gear in connection with torpedo warfare was stored. The galvanised iron building, 110 feet long, was divided into three compartments, namely, a store, an electrical lecture room and a dwelling for the torpedo officer, Mr Parnell. It was built by old reservists who reclaimed the site with mud trundled in barrows along planks. In the process many of the men fell into the mud to the accompaniment of loud laughter of their mates. Unfortunately, the whole of the area was submerged at high water spring tides.

    A jetty ran out from the station into the river and a light tramway was laid down from the building to the sea end of the jetty to facilitate the dispatch or landing of goods. The whole place breathed war. At one end of the shed the implements of slaughter were present in bulk and, individually, there were haversacks, waterbags, belts, leggings, swords, rifles, pistols and other deadly weapons. From the back of the station there was a road running towards the False Arm and, in case of necessity, this could have been connected with the mainland by means of a light bridge. In earlier years a bridge did exist there but it was either burnt down or fell away and all that remained was a few piles. The station was extended in 1890 the whole of the work being undertaken by the men of the Protector, with the exception of a few stokers. A large amount of the wood used had been stored at the station for some considerable time, having been purchased for blocking the river during a war scare.

    In 1885 there were no torpedoes in the colony but, having considered the matter, Messrs A.M. Simpson & Son stated that they could make cases for ordinary torpedoes if the government would fill them with the necessary combustibles. All the men from the Protector received instruction in torpedo work and each course of lessons lasted about six weeks. The members of each class left the Port in the Protector's boat each morning and rowed down and back. By the 1930s a few heaps of stones and an overturned gun on the river bank south of the North Arm was all that remained of the Port Adelaide torpedo station.

    In 1888 there came to be thrust upon the Protector a very interesting and absorbing duty. The Star of Greece, a beautiful sailing ship, was wrecked in a south-west gale at Port Willunga and 17 of its crew of 28 were lost. Many hours after the ship foundered there crawled on to the scene a tired out old man, Frederick Gaskell, the Harbour-Master at Normanville, together with a horse and cart and rocket apparatus that had been housed at Normanville. It was generally conceded that an early arrival with an efficient crew and rocket apparatus would have saved most, if not all, of the crew; indeed, the Protector itself was left at anchor and to many this was the height of folly when her lifeboats could have been used in rescue attempts had she been ordered to the scene of the wreck. The result of the outcry over this tragedy was that the Naval Department was made responsible for the lifesaving service, formerly under the Marine Board. This meant the maintenance and supply of 18 rocket stations and four lifeboat stations.

    From the first, with one exception, the Protector was very fortunate in avoiding serious accidents, but the exception occurred at Glenelg in 1885 when she was firing the anniversary day salute. The breach of a gun blew open and a young able seaman named Lewis was killed and another man seriously hurt.

    In 1892 Captain Walcot left on a year's leave and, with the economic 'crash' of 1893, and in the absence of enemy privateers, the navy spent idle months at moorings in the Port Adelaide river, for diminished naval enthusiasm implied reduced parliamentary grants for cruises and the complement was reduced to half, with a handful of training reservists - chiefly Port Adelaide waterside workers.

    On the 6 August 1900 the Protector sailed from Port Adelaide with a crew of 104 to take part in quelling the Boxer rising in China. Although she did not participate in any actual fighting, because of her shallow draught and speed she carried important despatches - wireless not then being in use.

    The Protector well deserves to have her name perpetuated in the annals of the Royal Australian Navy, as two men who played a leading part in the development of the commonwealth service were associated with the ship, namely, Captain, later Vice-Admiral, Sir William Creswell and Engineer Vice-Admiral, Sir William Clarkson, who was chief engineer on the China trip. When the federation of Australian colonies occurred, state-owned warships were taken over by Commonwealth authorities to form the nucleus of the Royal Australian Navy and for some time the Protector was used to train South Australian and Victorian drafts of compulsory naval trainees.

    With the Protector from this State went a small torpedo boat. It had an unpaid volunteer crew of real 'death or glory boys' as the torpedoes used in those days were attached to a spar projecting from the bow of the boat. The active service of the boat - and crew - would apparently have terminated with one torpedo explosion. The torpedo boat was purchased at Hobart and towed to Port Adelaide by the Protector and early in the voyage the little craft turned over in a heavy sea and had to be righted at Port Arthur.

    As to the ultimate fate of the pride of the colonial navy, the chartroom, steering wheel and bell of the Protector in the Birkenhead naval depot and a six inch gun at Semaphore jetty were memorials to the ship. She was purchased by the Victorian Tug and Lighter Company and used as a cargo lighter, mainly between Melbourne and Geelong and, by the late 1930s, it appeared she was going to end her days in relative peace. However, during World War II she was commandeered by the United States Navy as a store ship and towed to New Guinea where she was bombed on several occasions, but survived. Later, she was, for a time, used as a breakwater at Heron Island and ultimately foundered in New Guinea waters.

    General Notes

    "Naval Defence of the Colonies" is in the Observer,
    26 March 1859, page 6a.

    A proposed naval training ship is discussed in the Register,
    21 September 1867, page 2b,
    10 July 1869, page 2c.

    "Successful Torpedo Practice" is in the Register,
    27 July 1885, page 5d; also see
    9 March 1886, page 5d,
    22 May 1886, page 5d.
    "The Torpedo Station" is in the Register,
    10 July 1886, page 7c,
    11 January 1890, page 5c,
    28 February 1891, page 7a,
    18 January 1890, page 30a.
    "SA Torpedo" and information on its inventor is in the Observer,
    11 July 1891, page 36e.

    "[Legal] Naval Trial" is in theRegister,
    24 August 1887, page 7g.

    A proposed Naval Brigade is discussed in the Register,
    2 July 1883, page 4f,
    4 and 18 August 1883, pages 7c and 5b-6d,
    22 September 1883, page 5a,
    12 July 1884, page 5c,
    "The Beginnings of a Navy" is in the Register,
    3 July 1884, page 4g;
    12 July 1884, page 25a.

    Information on the naval reserve is in the Register,
    21 March 1885, page 6e,
    14, 15 and 17 April 1885, pages 5a, 4h and 7d,
    2 May 1885, page 5a,
    28 March 1885, page 36c,
    18 April 1885, page 32c,
    30 April 1885, page 3c,
    27 June 1894, page 5c,
    28 August 1899, page 6g.
    Photographs of members of the Naval Reserve and cadets are in the Observer,
    9 November 1912, page 31,
    6 January 1912, page 32,
    of a Naval Band on
    3 February 1912, page 30,
    of cadets on
    21 March 1935, page 35.

    A visit of a French warship is reported in the Express,
    19 August 1885, page 5c.

    "Naval Defence" is in the Register,
    15 and 16 July 1886, pages 4h and 3f,
    "Australian Naval Defences" on
    9 October 1886, page 4f.

    "A Naval Sham Fight" is in the Chronicle,
    12 November 1887, page 12e.

    The need for a Naval Brigade is canvassed in the Register,
    17 April 1885, page 7d,
    2 and 4 May 1885, pages 5a and 3g.
    "Naval Defences of SA" are discussed on
    15 November 1887, page 4e,
    28 June 1889, page 5a and
    6 June 1892, page 7e,
    31 August 1892, page 6d,
    22 September 1892, page 5a,
    1 July 1893, page 6d,
    20 January 1894, page 4f,
    15 July 1895, page 6d. "Naval Exercises" is in the Express,
    4 October 1886, page 2g.

    "Naval Defences of SA" is in the Register,
    15 November 1887, page 4e.

    "Training Ship Vernon" is in the Register,
    12 October 1888, page 4g.

    "Our Naval Defences" is in the Register,
    28 June 1889, page 5a,
    23 September 1891, page 4f,
    6 June 1892, page 7e,
    22 September 1892, page 2e,
    20 January 1894, page 4f,
    19 August 1893, page 44b,
    20 January 1894, pages 4f-6a.

    The arrival of the Australian Auxiliary Squadron is reported in the Observer,
    3 and 10 October 1891, pages 32c and 31a.
    "The Auxiliary Squadron" is in the Advertiser,
    2 October 1891, page 5f,
    "Naval and Military Defence" on
    5 October 1896, page 4e,
    1 October 1896, page 7d.

    "A Government Naval and Navigation School" is in the Observer,
    28 January 1899, page 27e.

    Biographical details of Captain W.R. Creswell are in the Register,
    6 April 1900, pages 4g-6e,
    26 April 1900, page 7g,
    14 April 1900, page 16d.
    of Captain C.J. Clare on
    12 May 1900, page 16d,
    5 July 1902, page 12c,
    19 July 1919, page 30d.

    A photograph of Japanese midshipmen from the Hashidate is in The Critic,
    16 May 1903, page 4.

    A photograph of the German warship Condor is in The Critic,
    22 August 1903, page 18.

    The arrival of the training ship, HMSPsyche, is reported in the Express,
    9 July 1906, page 1f.

    "The Training of Cadets" is in the Express,
    10 January 1908, page 4g.

    Photographs of naval cadets in training are in the Observer,
    31 July 1909, page 31.

    "The Australian Destroyers - Reception at Port Adelaide" is in the Express,
    6 December 1910, page 1i.

    A photograph of a navy reserve sports' day is in the Chronicle,
    9 November 1912, page 30,
    of a Naval "expeditionary" force on
    22 August 1914, page 32; also see
    4 June 1931, page 33.

    "Australia's Own Fleet - Anchored at Glenelg" is in the Express,
    17 February 1914, page 4b;
    "Our Fleet" is in The Critic,
    18 February 1914, pages 3 and 4.

    "RAN Reserve - Roll of Honour Unveiled" is in the Observer,
    9 July 1921, pages 11d-25 (photos).

    An obituary of Colonel Benjamin Solomon is in the Register,
    19 September 1922, page 9g.

    An obituary of Lt-Commander E. Argent, RAN, is in the Observer,
    10 November 1923, page 39b.

    The arrival of HMAS Adelaide is reported in the Register,
    5 November 1925, page 10c.

    "Naval Veterans Meet" is in The News,
    14 November 1927, page 8e.

    HMCS Protector

    "The Proposed Ironclad" is in the Register,
    16 October 1878, page 5a,
    Observer, 19 October 1878, page 14a;
    also see Observer, 19 August 1882, page 13c.

    Biographical details of Commander Walcot are in the Observer,
    1 September 1888, page 33b;
    an obituary appears on 26 October 1901, page 33d,
    biographical details of Captain C.J. Clare on 2 and 9 April 1927, pages 48a and 43a,
    of Captain Weir on 2 April 1927, page 48a.

    Information on HMCS Protector is in the Register,
    23 September 1884, page 5g,
    1, 4 and 11 October 1884, pages 6e, 4e-5a-6f and 6d.
    Also see Express,
    30 September 1884, page 2f,
    4, 7, 11 and 29 October 1884, pages 3c, 3d, 3e and 7e,
    5 November 1884, page 6,
    1 and 4 October 1884, pages 6e and 4e,
    13 and 27 December 1884, pages 5b and 5a,
    14 September 1885, page 5b,
    4 November 1885, page 5a,
    5 January 1886, page 7b,
    20 March 1886, page 7a,
    3 May 1886, page 5b,
    10 and 30 August 1886, pages 7b and 5b,
    5 August 1887, page 5c,
    3 December 1888, page 7a,
    9 May 1889, page 6h,
    22 February 1890, page 5a,
    The Lantern,
    15 March 1890, page 5 (cartoon).

    Also seeRegister,
    1 March 1891, page 5a,
    15 May 1891, page 4h,
    27 June 1891, page 6c,
    7 July 1892, page 5a,
    23 September 1892, page 7a,
    27 June 1893, page 5c,
    1, 5 and 13 July 1893, pages 6d, 5a and 5b,
    29 October 1894, page 6g,
    12 November 1894, page 6f, 18 July 1896, page 4h,
    31 August 1896, page 6d,
    11 September 1896, page 5b,
    31 July 1897, page 9i,
    2 August 1897, page 6d,
    13 and 27 July 1899, pages 4h and 4g.

    Also see Advertiser,
    1 and 7 October 1884, pages 6a and 4d,
    7 and 14 July 1900, pages 7h and 6f,
    11 October 1884, page 34c,
    13 and 27 December 1884, pages 29b and 28c,
    13 April 1889, page 29b,
    16 May 1891, page 29d,
    11 February 1893, page 34b,
    1 July 1893, pages 25e-44a,
    24 August 1895, page 15a,
    5 September 1896, page 42e,
    11 December 1897, page 12d,
    14 July 1900, page 30d,
    4 August 1900, page 15a.

    A fatal accident on board is reported in the Chronicle,
    2 January 1886, page 8c;
    also see 14 August 1886, page 5e.

    Also seeExpress,
    10 and 11 August 1886, pages 3f and 5e,
    19 July 1887, page 3e,
    5 August 1887, page 2d,
    17 January 1890, page 3g,
    30 April 1891, page 3g,
    12 and 15 January 1892, pages 2c and 2f,
    28 October 1892, page 4b,
    7 February 1893, page 4a,
    29 June 1893, page 3c,
    1 July 1893, page 5f,
    29 October 1894, page 3d,
    29 July 1895, page 3e,
    21 August 1895, page 2c,
    5 and 17 August 1896, pages 3b and 2c,
    24 October 1896, page 2e,
    19 February 1897, page 4c,
    31 July 1899, page 2b.

    Also see Express,
    5 April 1904, page 1b,
    24 August 1905, page 4f,
    14 February 1906, page 2c,
    17 April 1907, page 4g,
    30 May 1908, page 17b.

    Sketches are in the Pictorial Australian in July 1890, page 92 and
    photographs in theChronicle,
    4 June 1904, page 42,
    26 March 1910, page 32,
    25 January 1913, page 30.

    "The Cruise of the Warships [Katoomba & Protector]" is in the Register,
    19 January 1892, page 6e.

    An obituary of its former boatswain, Thomas Keiller, is in the Register,
    4 March 1890, page 5b,
    4 March 1890, page 2c.

    A presentation to Commander Lundh of the Protector is reported in the Register,
    29 July 1893, page 6f.

    "The Protector's Officers" is in the Chronicle,
    21 July 1900, page 32e.
    Information on the crew is in the Observer,
    11 August 1900, page 9d-e.
    Photographs are in The Critic,
    21 July 1900. page 21,
    11 August 1900, page 10,
    22 August 1903, page 12.

    "The Protector and China" is in the Register,
    7, 9, 10 and 11 July 1900, pages 6e-8a, 6f, 4e and 6c,
    6, 9, 11, 13, 27 and 31 July 1900, pages 2g, 3g, 2b, 2g, 2b
    and 2b,
    3, 4, 6 and 15 August 1900, pages 4c, 4b and 2f.
    Her return from China is reported in the Express,
    26 December 1900, page 3d,
    8 January 1901, page 4c,
    Register on 7 January 1901, page 6f;
    also see Observer,
    14 and 28 June 1902, pages 32b and 31e-33d,
    9 August 1902, page 33d,
    25 March 1905, page 32e.

    The presentation of Chinese War medals is reported upon in the Register,
    1 and 2 June 1903, pages 3c and 4d-6a.

    "On Board HMAS Protector" is in the Observer,
    4 June 1904, page 23;
    also see Register,
    22 November 1905, page 4f,
    26 April 1906, page 4i,
    20 September 1906, page 4f,
    10 January 1907, page 4h,
    13 February 1907, page 4g,
    25 October 1907, page 4g, 3 January 1908, page 4f,
    16 June 1911, page 9b,
    11 June 1912, page 6f,
    13 January 1913, page 8e.

    "The Story of the Protector" is in the Register,
    17, 21 and 26 June 1924, pages 9g, 9f and 10a;
    also see Observer,
    28 June 1924, page 49a, 5 and 12 July 1924, pages 19a and 19a-59d,
    The News,
    6 August 1936, page 22f.

    Biographical details of John Norton, paymaster, are in the Register,
    11 July 1905, page 4i;
    an obituary is in the Observer,
    1 May 1915, page 45a.

    Biographical details of Commander A.C. Dunn are in the Register,
    17 July 1911, page 6g.

    Defence of the Colony - Choose again