Warship Wednesday, July 26, 2017: Doctor Jekyll and HM’s gunboat
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, July 26, 2017: Doctor Jekyll and HM’s gunboat
Here we see the Royal Navy Satellite-class barque-rigged, composite-hulled protected sloop (later deemed a corvette) HMS Royalist as she appeared in the late 1880s.
Designed by the noted Sir Nathaniel Barnaby, KCB, the seven ships of the Satellite-class were an amalgam of old sailing era fighting ships and new iron steam vessel. They had an iron keel and frame with wood planking. A steam plant was primary propulsion (up to 13 knots) and they carried enough coal to travel an impressive 6,000nm, but a sail rig was fitted and often used.
Gone were old muzzle-loading cast iron rifles, replaced by new breech-loading 6-inch/100-pounder (81cwt) guns which could fire an 80-pound shell some 7,590 yards and Gardner machine guns (though each of the class carried a different armament pattern and varying engineering suites, making them more half-sisters than anything.). At 200-feet overall, these impressive vessels carried a smattering of armor plate (about an inch) over their sensitive machinery areas, but remained svelte enough to float in less than three fathoms.
Built at Sheerness and Devonport, these ships were soon dispatched to far-flung colonial posts on the Australian Station, the Pacific Station, West Indies and China.
The subject of our tale, the 7th HMS Royalist, commissioned 14 April 1886 then spent some time on station at the Cape of Good Hope and Australia.
Royalist was subsequently sent for a spell to the Gilbert islands, claiming them for the Crown and inspecting the same.
Later, Royalist was sent to Samoa, then a hot topic in the halls of Europe and America.
The “Samoan Question” burned brightly from about 1886 onward, with Germany, the U.S. and Britain all nosing around the islands, and picking sides. This resulted in an eight-year civil war in the archipelago with guns and munitions supplied to Samoan leaders by the powers, all to ultimately claim the land for their growing colonial empires, a struggle that is beyond this blog.
By early March 1899, this low-level tribal conflict had boiled over, with exiled chief Mata’afa Iosefo backed by the Germans and incoming regent Malietoa Tanumafili I backed by the Anglo-Americans, and combat at the offering.
With the balloon going up, the Royalist joined the Alert-class sloop HMS Torch, Archer-class torpedo cruiser HMS Porpoise, and the U.S. Pacific Squadron flag, USS Philadelphia (Cruiser No. 4), in supporting Tanumafili.
British sailors and Royal Marines, joined with U.S. leathernecks and bluejackets to form a force consisting of 26 marines and 88 sailors, reinforced by a company of 136 Samoans loyal to Tanumafili, and set out from Apia toward a plantation at Vailele. The group was led by Lt. Angel H. Freeman, RN, with Lt. Philip V. Lansdale, USN as XO, and carried a Colt-Browning M1895 from Philadelphia just in case.
Another 146 mixed RN/USN landing force, augmented by a single 7-pounder from Royalist and assorted U.S. Marines manning Gatling guns for fire support, surrounded the Tivoli Hotel which was used as a command post and shelter for non-combatants. From there they held off a determined assault from Iosefo loyalists over three days (March 15-17), losing four British and American sailors and marines.
Meanwhile, as Royalist with her big 6-inchers and shallow draft, closed in and shelled two fortified outposts filled with Iosefo supporters– with fire corrected by a pair of Samoan fans in the hands of a signalman on the reef near Fagalii.
However, once the column moved inland to attack Vailele, they were swarmed by 800 of Iosefo’s troops on 1 April while arrayed along the road. Setting up a perimeter supported by the Colt, Freeman was killed and an injured Lansdale took command of the force, only to succumb to his wounds. Also killed in the action were U.S. Navy Seaman Norman E. Edsall, U.S. Ensign John Robert Monaghan (USNA 1879), U.S. Seaman James Butler, RN Leading Seaman Albert Meirs Prout and RN Leading Seaman John Long. Eventually the naval party was able to break contact, covered by Royalist‘s guns, which were once again directed by the fans.
By 25 April, the conflict had settled down with each side agreeing to disagree. The next day, the auxiliary cruiser USS Badger arrived in Apia harbor carrying the Joint High Commission–representatives from Germany, Britain and the U.S. State Department– to begin negotiations on how to carve up the islands more peacefully. By 13 May they had the affair sorted out and a treaty was sent home to be signed by the end of the year.
In the end, Germany acquired the western islands (Savai’i and ‘Upolu, plus seven smaller islands) with Iosefo declared chief by the German Samoa colonial powers; while the U.S. acquired the eastern islands (Tutuila and the Manu’a group) and established a base at Pago Pago. The Brits quit the chain altogether in exchange for territorial concessions from the Germans in Tonga and the Solomans.
New Zealand was allowed by Britain to annex the Cook Islands and Niue as something of a consolation prize, though the Kiwis had mustered local troops for war in Samoa, that in the end, were not needed. Nonetheless, they stormed German Samoa in 1914 during the Great War and remained in administration of the islands as the Western Samoa Trust Territory until 1962.
Preceding joint monuments for the Great War, WWII, and Korea, the USN and RN established a marker in Samoa to commemorate their combined war dead from 1899.
Beyond the marker, the U.S. Navy preserved relics from the colonial battle including shrapnel and a fuse from the British ship and the famous fans used as signal flags to correct her fire. Below are the images and it is likely the takeaways are still in a box somewhere in a Navy warehouse.
A storyteller who lived in Samoa since 1890 who was on hand for the struggle was a Scot, one Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson. While his Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are much more commonly read, he did craft A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa, his own nonfiction take on the conflict there, in which he mentions Royalist several times.
While it may seem we are finished with our story here, Royalist remained afloat for another half-century past her Samoan encounter.
Leaving the islands once they were partitioned, she sailed for Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland to be converted to a depot and receiving station for ship crews in Haulbowline.
In 1913, on the eve of the Great War, she was renamed HMS Colleen. While she was still afloat, one of HMs submarines and two cruisers went on to carry the name HMS Royalist.
When the lights went out in Europe, the old corvette-turned-hulk wore the flag of CiC Coast of Ireland and later CiC Western Approaches, and was a welcome sight at Queenstown for ships crossing the Atlantic during the war. It was during the conflict that she served as the mother ship to a series of shifting flotillas of motor launches and armed trawlers of the Auxiliary Patrol, which deployed around the British Isles performing search and rescue and anti-submarine patrolling.
Incoming ships to Queensland with sick or injured crew members, or shipmates being transferred or processing out, would assign their transients to Royalist/Colleen, which means there are dozens of wartime graves around the British Isles with headstones marked HMS Colleen.
Noted Irish polar explorer Tom Crean, member of three major expeditions to Antarctica including Captain Scott’s ill-fated 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition, served his last few months in the Royal Navy aboard Colleen until he was retired on medical grounds on 24 March 1920.
With Ireland moving out of the British Empire, the aging Colleen was paid off 15 March 1922, just three months before the Irish Free State was proclaimed.
Still a dominion of the British Empire until 1931, HMS Colleen was transferred to the new Irish government 19 February 1923 to support the recently formed Irish Coastal and Marine Service, joining the commandeered 155-foot armed yacht Helga (rechristened Muirchu, or “Seahound”). However, the CMS was soon disbanded, and Colleen was never used as more than a hulk and oil storage barge, though she was retained until at least 1950, some four years after the founding of the current Irish Naval Service (An tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh) was founded.
Her final fate is unknown, though she is thought to have been broken up. What is known, however, is that she outlived all six of her sister ships.
Paid off or hulked in the early 1900s, Heroine, Hyachinth and Pylades went to the breakers by 1906. Satellite and Caroline managed as training vessels until 1947 and 1929, respectively, though one of the latter’s guns endures on display in Hong Kong. Runner up for the longest life of the class was Rapid, who endured as an accommodation ship and coal bunker until she was disposed of at Gibraltar in 1948.
However, there is always Robert Louis Stevenson, the marker on Samoa, the relics somewhere in the NHHC archives and the heroics of Tom Crean, proving Royalist will remain, as a footnote at least, forever.
Displacement: 1,420 tons
Length: 200 ft. (61 m)
Beam: 38 ft. (12 m)
Draught: 15.7 ft. (4.8 m)
Maudslay, Sons and Field horizontal compound expansion steam engine, 1510hp
Maximum speed: 13 knots
Endurance: 6,000 nm at 10 kts on 400 tons coal
Sail plan: Barque-rigged
Range: Approximately 6,000 nmi (11,000 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h)
Two 6″/26 (15.2 cm) BL Mark II guns
Ten BL 5-inch (127.0 mm) 50-pounder (38cwt) guns
One light gun
Four machine guns
Eight 6″/26 (15.2 cm) BL Mark II guns
1 7-pdr landing gun
4x .45 cal Gardner machine guns
Armor: Internal steel deck, 19-25mmm thick, over machinery and magazines
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