Warship Wednesday Sep 11 The First Cruiser of Oz

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Sep 11 The First Cruiser of Oz

HMAS Encounter_0002

Here we see the Challenger-class protected cruiser HMAS Encounter steaming quietly along the coastline in her wartime grey scheme.

The pair of sisters, Challenger and Encounter were largely built for Australian service. Their Keyham 4-cylinder triple expansion steam engines could push them at 10-knots for well over 5,000-miles before refueling. This made them the perfect ships for showing the flag in far off lands where they would be more likely to have to bombard local native villages than to tangle with first class foreign warships. They were colonial cruisers, mounting eleven BL 6 inch Mk VII naval guns, but having little in the way of armor plate.

Her only sistership, HMS Challenger

Her only sister-ship, HMS Challenger

Challenger spent eight years on Australian station before returning to the UK to be put up in reserve. During WWI, she was reactivated but only to patrol the African coastline then sold for scrap in 1920. Her younger sister, Encounter, however, had a more interesting career.

Commissioned 21 November 1905, she was sent to join Challenger on the Austrialian patrol before being loaned to the infant Royal Australian Navy in 1912. She was still ‘owned’ by the Brits and flew the same battle flag as the Royal Navy, but she was a RAN ship.

Captain and crew of the Encounter in 1913. She was the first Aussie controlled cruiser and as such helped start the Royal Australian Navy

Captain and crew of the Encounter in 1913. She was the first Aussie controlled cruiser and as such helped start the Royal Australian Navy

The feline mascot of the Australian light cruiser HMAS Encounter, peering from the muzzle of a 6 inch gun. circa. 1914

The feline mascot of the Australian light cruiser HMAS Encounter, peering from the muzzle of a 6 inch gun. circa. 1914

Just eight days after the British Empire entered into war with the Kaiser, this plucky cruiser captured the German merchant steamer Zambezi on 12 August.

HMAS Encounter capturing Zambezi in August 1914. Painting by Phil Belbin (Naval Heritage Collection)

HMAS Encounter capturing Zambezi in August 1914. Painting by Phil Belbin (Naval Heritage Collection)

The Encounter had the distinction of firing the first Australian shot of World War One on 14 September 1914 when she opened fire in long range bombardment of Toma Ridge, outside Rabaul on New Britain, which at the time was the colony of Imperial German New Guinea. Ashore were 40 German infantry (mainly local colonists who had been activated into the reserves) and 110 policemen led by the 48-year old Governor of the Colony Johann Karl Emil Eduard Haber.  This show of force (and the 200 Aussie infantry landed on the island) convinced Haber to surrender and to this day, New Guinea does not speak German.

In peacetime before the war, she sported a crisp white scheme

In peacetime before the war, she sported a crisp white scheme

She later captured another German merchant ship, looked for the raiders Emden, Wolf, and Seedler unsuccessfully, and an away team of hers found a pair of ancient bronze cannons on Carronade Island in 1916 which later helped advance the belief that the Portugese discovered Australia first.


After the war the Brits finally transferred the well-worn 15-year old cruiser to the Australians in December 1919. Renamed the HMAS Penguin in 1923, she continued to serve as a submarine depot ship for another decade before being scuttled off Sydney in 1932. As such she was one of the longest living pre-Tsuhuma British protected cruisers.

She never took a life, nor lost a life, and today is visited as a popular dive site.

Displacement:     5,880 tons standard
Length:     376 ft 1.75 in (114.65 m) overall
355 ft (108.20 m) between perpendiculars
Beam:     56 ft 2.125 in (17.12 m)
Draught:     21.25 ft (6.48 m)
Propulsion:     Two sets of four-cylinder, triple expansion steam engines; twelve Durr boilers; twin screws
Speed:     21 knots (38.9 km/h; 24.2 mph)
Complement:     RN: 475
RAN: 26 officers, 269 sailors
Armament:     As completed:
11 x 6-inch guns
9 x 12-pounder guns
6 x 3-pounder guns
3 x machine guns
2 x 18-inch torpedo tubes

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO)

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

3 responses to “Warship Wednesday Sep 11 The First Cruiser of Oz”

  1. LorryM says :

    Hi, I am the grandaughter of Lieutenant William Beastall Wilkinson RANR(S) during the 1914 conflict in the Pacific. He was aboard the HMAS Encounter when the AE1 went missing and also the taking of the ‘Zambesi’. I do have an old photograph obtained from the internet some years ago with the boarding party about to board the ‘Zambesi’. I have seen the wonderful photo of the original crew in 1913 that you have, is there any chance that a 1914 photo is available with the crew from someone.

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