Warship Wednesday Feb.8, 2017: Victoria’s very busy Vulture
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Feb.8, 2017: Victoria’s very busy Vulture
Here we see Her Majesty’s second-class paddlewheel steam frigate HMS Vulture, of Queen Victoria’s Royal Navy, landing dispatches at Danzig during the Crimean War.
A one-of-a-kind vessel, she was ordered 18 March 1841 from the Royal Navy dockyard in Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, Wales for a cost of £46,718, of which half of that was the price of her engineering suite. While based on the Pembroke-built HMS Cyclops, that ship was a near-sister at best.
As befitting her time, Vulture‘s steam plant, meticulously described in The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine of the day, was novel. Two paddle wheels, each 26.5-feet in diameter and arranged port and starboard about centerline, were driven by direct-action steam engines of some 476 horses designed by William Fairbairn and Co., London. Her steam plant consisted of four locomotive style boilers, “placed back to back, 26 feet 10 inches in total breadth, and 13 feet high.” She could carry 420tns coal, and make 9.5 knots with everything glowing.
A wooden-hulled ship with an auxiliary two-masted sailing rig, Vulture, the ninth such ship to carry the name for the Crown, weighed in at 1,960-tons full load. Armed with for 4×68-pdr shell guns, 5x56pdrs, and 2x24pdr carronades, she was placed in service 15 February 1845 under the command of Captain John Macdougall with a complement of 175 men and boys. At the time, she was considered a first-class frigate.
She soon would see action in the Far East as the largest ship in Major-General George D’Aguilar’s punitive expedition to Canton in 1847. The city was guarded by 13 ancient batteries and forts along the Canton river. For this, Vulture embarked 24 officers and 403 men of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot, and along with the smaller HMS Espiegle, East Indian steamer Pluto, the armed privateer Corsair and a pair of “lorchas”– small trawler style craft of shallow draft, took them on.
With her big 68-pdrs supplying naval gunfire support and her small boats leading the way for the other craft in the fleet– who could affect amphibious operations due to their shallower draft– the forts fell one by one in a four-day period with nearly 900 Chinese cannon captured without a loss among the British forces.
Grounded at Hong Kong 9 Oct 1847 as a result of a typhoon (the severest reported in 10 years) she returned to the Home Isles and was placed in ordinary.
Recommissioned after refit as a second-class frigate, Vulture sailed for Devonport for Pendennis Castle, Falmouth with replacement troops in April 1851. Her armament was changed out for six guns, all 8-inchers with 98-pounder smoothbore shell guns on bow and stern pivots and four lighter 68-pounders on broadside trucks.
She would soon need them.
On 25 November 1852, she was placed under the helm of Capt. Frederick Henry Hastings Glasse, and operated out of Devonport until the Crimean War sent her abroad looking for trouble. She was one of seven other paddle steamers assigned to Rear-Admiral Plumridge, dispatched to harass the Russians in the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Bothnia in May 1854.
After destroying vessels and storehouses, etc., at Brahestad and Uleaborg, and capturing several gunboats, Vulture and the 16-gun frigate HMS Odin was sent to capture the Russian dockyard at Gamlakarleby (Kokkola) 7 June 1854 and, after landing a 180-man force, was rebuffed with the loss of 17 Sailors and Royal Marines and one of her paddle-box whaleboats captured. Apparently, the locals did not agree to terms.
By August, Vulture had rejoined the main British fleet first to capture the Russian Bomarsund fortress on Åhland Islands, where she landed French troops, then for the impressive but ultimately pyrrhic attempt to capture the Russian positions at Sveaborg outside Helsinki.
Known today in Finland as the Battle of Suomenlinna, 77 British ships hammered the Russians for three days without the obsolete Russian artillery able to respond. However, with the Tsar having over 15,000 regulars ashore and the Brits not having a superior land force to match, the battle stalemated after Victoria’s fleet flattened the old coastal batteries.
The war ended without much more action by the RN in the Baltic, which was always a sideshow to the efforts in the Crimea regardless. During the war, Vulture was credited with capturing the Russian brig Patrioten, and merchant vessel Victor, for which her crew was awarded prize money per the London Gazette of 21 Jul 1857.
Present at the Fleet Review at Spithead in April 1856 under Captain Glasse, by 3 June 1856, Vulture picked up her fourth skipper, Capt. Frederick Archibald Campbell, and was reassigned to the Med– then shortly decommissioned.
In 1858, Vulture, under Captain C. Packer, was again on the move, helping to ship the 71st (Lord Macleod’s) Highlanders to Bombay.
In the end, she was laid up for a final time in 1860 then sold in 1866 to Castle & Son, Charlton, to be broken up.
Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, served in the Syrian Campaign of 1840, fought in the Kaffir War, then served in the Black Sea during the Crimean War before helping to survey the Atlantic telegraph cable from Ireland to Newfoundland and London to India. She paid off in 1860.
Little is left of Vulture, though a screw gunboat carried her name in the late 19th century as did a Clydebank three funnel 30-knot destroyer in the Great War. The Navy List has not held the name “Vulture” on an active ship since 1919 though a gunnery range at Treligga, west of Delabole, Cornwall, carried the designation HMS Vulture II through WWII.
Oh, remember that whaleboat lost in Finland in 1854? Well, they still have it, under glass, along with the carefully maintained graves of nine Royal Marines and a stark memorial to what the Finns call the “Skirmish of Halkokari.”
Only one other paddle-box boat, from HM 2nd class paddle frigate Firebrand, is in existence. The RN still has it at the Royal Dockyards, Portsmouth.
Displacement: 1,960 tons FL
Length: 190 ft. (gun deck) 163.6 ft. (keel)
Beam: 37.5 feet.
Draft: 23 feet
Propulsion: Two Fairburn 2-cyl vertical direct-acting 476-hp engines, four tubular boilers, two paddlewheels, 420-tons coal, max speed 9.5knts
Armament: 4×68-pdr shell guns, 5x56pdrs, and 2x24pdr carronades (as built) 6×8-inch Paixhans style ML shell guns, two 98-pdr, four 68-pdr(1851)
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