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The Experimental Squadrons of 1844 - 1846

The Royal NavyExperimental squadrons 1846 (1/3) - 1846 (3/3)

Extracts from the Times newspaper
Th 4 June 1846We publish in another part of our impression of this day a series of communications from the squadron of evolution, which form a most striking contrast to the observations we had unfortunately occasion to make on the sluggish performances and inefficient command of the trial-squadron last year. On the present occasion the whole arrangement of the cruise, the nature of the evolutions, the evident improvement, in the ships' companies, and the masterly handling of the vessels, have produced most interesting, satisfactory, and instructive results.

The severe gale which blew in the Channel immediately after the squadron had left Spithead defeated one of the principal objects of this cruise, which was to try the powers of the large steamers under sail, and to put in practice some novel combinations of naval tactics produced by the union of first class steamers of war with a squadron of line-of-battle ships. But the accidental cause which frustrates this project and dispersed the principal steam portion of the fleet, has served to exhibit in a most striking light the vast inferiority of our best steamers to ships of the line at sea, and the inconveniences attached to this whole class of vessels. With the exception of the Rattler, which is, we believe, fitted at this time with WOODCROFT'S screw propeller, and which distinguished herself on all occasions, under sail as well as steam, the large steamers have proved huge incumbrances to the fleet. The Terrible and Cyclops were missing, for they had, in fact, put back into Plymouth to refit after the first gale; the Retribution, though less shaken by the gale, parted company on the 17th of May; and the Gladiator was the only steam-frigate that held on with the fleet, and upon her joining the signal was made to take off her paddle floats. The Devastation had proceeded at once on a particular service. As an experimental steam cruise the failure is complete, but it is all the more instructive. We have never affected to undervalue the importance of steam-vessels as auxiliaries to a fleet, more especially in operations near land, or in rivers, &c.; but it is clear that very large steamers constructed on the present system are comparatively useless at sea. If this fleet had been ordered to proceed to the coast of America on a rapid hostile expedition, or if it had been engaged in one of those terrible chases of an enemy's squadron which have so often tried the whole patience and energy of our seamen, the presence of the steamers would have defeated the object, they would have retarded the squadron, and perhaps proved useless for want of coals on their arrival at their destination. The Rattler, indeed, the only screw-propelled steamer of the squadron, must be excepted from these observations; and the experiment is highly favourable to that ingenious mode of applying steam power. But, generally speaking, the advantage has been in favour of the practical utility of small rather than of first-class steamers, and non of them have, as sea-going ships, the indispensable qualities of the man-of-war under canvass. This experiment has therefore greatly strengthened the conviction we have repeatedly expressed, in opposition to the doctrines of the Prince DE JOINVILLE, who holds that steam-vessels are destined to supersede the ancient bulwarks of the navy.

Commodore Sir Francis COLLIER deserves credit for the spirit and activity he has infused into the movements of the squadron during this cruise. The trial of the 19th of May between the Vanguard and the Rodney, which our correspondent has described with a sailor's enthusiasm, shows how completely the commanders of those fine ships and their gallant crews have now got them in hand. The night exercise at the guns on the 27th of May was performed with astonishing rapidity and precision. At 11 o'clock p.m. the order "Lash-up hammocks" was heard, followed by beating to quarters; in five minutes from that moment the Queen fired her first gun, and within seven minutes more the whole squadron had opened its fire, ending with the deep roar of the huge artillery of the Scourge. Three rounds were fired, and in less than an hour from the first signal the ships had resumed their former appearance, hammocks were piped down, and at midnight the watch was called.

The squadron will probably reach the Cove of Cork about the 9th of June, where some experiments will be made in landing the marines of the squadron, the field-pieces, and a large party of seamen on Spike Island; and another similar demonstration is also projected on Whiddy Island, in Bantry Bay, where the shore is more difficult of access. As, however, it is intended very shortly to re-assemble the whole squadron at Portsmouth, for several important reasons, these operations may possibly be postponed. We may hope that the evolutions of the combined steam-squadron and ships of the line will still be tried, as they may be applied with increased rather than diminished utility within reach of our coasts.

We trust that, to these pacific and inoffensive exercises, the strength of our navy may long be confined, and that the bare reputation of their power may suffice to shield the honour and interests of the country. But if, without our seeking fresh opportunities to raise the renown of British seamen, and in spite of the sincere efforts of a temperate policy to preserve the tranquillity of the world, we are driven to resort to more decided measures, we are proud to think that a finer squadron has never left our ports, and that it would be followed, if necessary, by reinforcements eager to attain the same degree of excellence. Meanwhile, the detachment of Sappers and Artillerymen who arc about to leave Woolwich, under the orders of Captain BLACKWOOD, for the purpose of strengthening the British forts in the Oregon territory, are ready to proceed on their destination, and they will take out with them stores, amply sufficient to provide for the defence of that province by the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Fr 5 June 1846



The following letters relating to the proceedings of the squadron, although, chiefly anticipated by the report of the cruise, which appears exclusively in The Times of this day, will be found interesting, as the opinions of experienced officers of different ships:-

"Her Majesty's ship Rattler, at sea, May 27.
We beat the whole squadron under sail alone. In a trial with the Brilliant, yesterday, she acknowledged by signal we beat her a mile to windward in four hours' sail. The Terrible and Scourge, who parted company the first night, have not made their appearance since. We go into Cork about the 30th.
"The Vanguard, in her trial with the two-deckers, blowing very hard, found herself the best ship. The Rodney next. The Albion carried away her main-topsail-yard. The St. Vincent, in firing her stern guns from the wardroom, knocked down every bulkhead and ornamental work in the wardroom, and required all the carpenters in the fleet to put things to rights. The Rattler has quite surprised everybody. The fleet will be at Spithead about the end of June."

"At sea. Lat. 48 N., Long. 9.30 W., May 25.
"Our gallant commodore has just made the signal, 'An opportunity for letters.'
"We have only had two trials of sailing - first, 15th instant, before the wind, 18 miles. At the finale, Vanguard, 1; Albion, 2; Superb, 3; Queen, 4; Rodney, 5; St. Vincent, 6; Trafalgar, 7. Second trial, 19th instant, blowing strong from south-west, with a heavy head sea (three hours) with the two deckers, with as much sail as she could stagger under,three reefs out, and sometimes top-gallant sails over. Early in the trial, the Albion and Superb split their main topsails, so it was left to Rodney and Vanguard. At the conclusion Vanguard weathered our opponent 800 yards, dead in the wind's eye.
"Queen appears to have fallen off in her sailing. Albion improved. St. Vincent appears to go sluggishly along, under low sail. We can almost spare her a mainsail. The weather (half the time we have been out) has been more like December than May, blowing hard, with an ugly sea.
"The Brilliant, Terrible, and Retribution lost us the first night; the two latter have not yet joined, and the former picked up the squadron a few days ago. The most extraordinary craft is the Rattler, which, I do believe, will beat the whole squadron under sail (low sail, blowing fresh). To-day we have had general quarters, firing three rounds blank; otherwise we have been very quiet, but expect to be roused up nightly to general quarters, firing three rounds as quick as possible. From all I can learn we shall most likely be at Cork early in June."

"Her Majesty's ship, St. Vincent, at sea, May 26.
"I send this by one of the steamers that the Commodore intends to send to Cork the moment his despatches are ready, and he says that we are to be there ourselves three days after the arrival of the steamer, but not to remain longer than 48 hours. Nearly ever since we have been out the weather has been very bad; 4 days under storm sails, and mostly very thick and foggy, so that we have had but few trials. On both occasions we had an advantage over the Queen and Trafalgar. The two deckers perhaps had an advantage over us, but you can scarcely call it a trial. Our principal work has been in exercising a very green ship's company in reefing, and in making and shortening sail, and firing blank cartridges at quarters. We are busy looking after some of our stray sheep, three of the steamers having parted company the first night.
"Vanguard put herself on fire for a minute or two, from the stern port, on lower deck, owing to not being able to have sufficient of the muzzle outboard; that might be remedied by having the two after guns on lower deck, about 18 inches longer.
"On the 22d, our patient being better, an order was given for us to go to general quarters, and fire our stern guns. I think it took us about 40 minutes to clear away abaft, and after having kept up a very good fire (10 rounds from each gun) we found we had done much damage to our gingerbread, especially in ward-room, and admiral's and captain's cabins; such as admiral's stern-walk much shook; officers' cabin, bulkheads, down about our ears; and a variety of other little things, such as glass sashes, &c., knocked to pieces; so that we were compelled to make a signal for two carpenters and joiners from each ship of the fleet to come on board to repair damages, where they remained for two days. Other ships did not suffer.
"On the 26th, at 11 p.m., the night-signal was made, 'Prepare for action and fire three rounds.' Some of the ships commenced very soon, I think all before us. However, not a man in this ship knew a word about it, except the Commodore and Captain, and considering we are a 'green' ship's company, I think we did pretty well; for from the time we beat to quarters, hammocks all stowed on deck, tables, stools, and bags all stowed in their places below the gun decks, and fired the first, in 12 minutes, without a single accident of any sort.
"St. Vincent is certainly the worst in performing any evolution aloft, such as making or shortening sail, reefing, &c.; but consider, she has a new ship's company, with 400 men that scarcely ever saw a man-of-war before, and I am sorry to say that the commodore does not make sufficient allowance, for he expects every thing to be done as well and as smart as the other ships that have been from two to three years in commission.
"P.S. Brilliant had a few hours' trial on wind with Superb, and beat her. Raleigh has just made her number."

"Her Majesty's ship-----, at sea, May 29.
"We all started in company on the 13th; the next morning we found missing the Brilliant, Terrible, and Cyclops; and the day after the Retribution was also missing. Brilliant we picked up after a week's absence; the three steamers we have seen nothing of since. Gladiator and Scourge we have had in company mostly all the time; Rattler always.
"It is quite evident that the steam-vessels can do nothing in sailing with a fleet or squadron. Rattler (the one with the screw) does very well.
"When we are under very easy sail they are compelled to crowd every stitch they can, and then barely keep up with us. The Gladiator is somewhat better since she unshipped some of her paddle floats; but it took her eight hours to do so, and it would, in all probability, take half as long again to replace them.
"Some of the steam-vessels are not even fitted to disconnect, which is a very great drawback. The Scourge can (comparatively) do nothing under sail, she being so situated.
"For most part of the time we had very bad weather, blowing hard, with a continuation of thick fogs, so that we have had but few trials, and they being mostly with single ships. Rodney and Vanguard had one good trial with a fresh breeze, just able to carry a main top-gallant sail. I think it was allowed that Vanguard had a little advantage. On one occasion the St. Vincent had a four hours' trial with the Queen; in which it was afterwards admitted by Sir Gordon Bremer, by signal, that the St. Vincent had the advantage - both of the above trials were on a wind. Yesterday there was a pretty little trial between the Albion and the Queen, on a wind, with a nice Royal breeze; the former had considerable advantage. There was also at the same time an interesting trial between the Rodney and the Superb, going about two points free; the Superb beat her much; so it is allowed on board here, that the Rodney does not sail quite so well as she did, and the Superb much better. The Trafalgar can do nothing with any."

"Her Majesty's Ship Rodney at sea, May 29. "We (Rodney) have had but two trials; one with Albion Superb, and Vanguard, blowing very hard, single-reefed topsails, top-gallant sails occasionally, in which in three hours and a half Vanguard beat us nearly 800 yards to windward; Superb and Albion having split their main topsails were in a measure out of the race. Queen has fallen off. Superb, perhaps, beats us all. Raleigh, however, to-day, beat her off the wind in a trial of three hours; how much I don't know. We consider the extra 80 tons of water has not improved Rodney's sailing qualities, although the four two-deckers are very equal indeed. We have had but two trials, as I said before. We beat to quarters by signal at 11 o'clock last Monday night. We were half an hour from the beat to the time all the guns were secured again, having fired three rounds from every gun in the ship, anxiety have already sent to the Government their protesta -barring ward room and cabin of course [sic]. Day before yesterday Albion and Queen tried under royals, on a wind. Albion beat. Also Superb and Rodney. Royals set, going ten knots, wind at easy. Superb beat us six thousand yards, however, in fine weather, Symonds' ships have the best chance. As Rodney gets lighter we expect her to improve. Trafalgar very slow; Rattler sails beautifully, never out of her station."

Sa 6 June 1846


Sir,- I am induced to send you these few explanations, in consequence of the remarks in the leading article of The Times of to-day, called forth by the report sent you from a correspondent on board one of Her Majesty's ships forming the squadron of evolution.

From this report you express a conviction that our present war-steamers are encumbrances to the fleet, and unfit for the service required of them; and you instance the separation of several of them from the fleet during the first gale they encountered, and the return of the Cyclops, Terrible, and Retribution to Plymouth to refit, as a confirmation of this opinion.

I am aware, Sir, from what I know personally of you, that it is your desire to render your great journal a powerful medium of communication between the sympathies of the public and the advancement of the Royal navy, so you will, I trust, excuse the liberty I take in warning you not to be too hasty in your conclusion as to what our steam frigates are, and how they are capable of manoeuvring with a fleet, in consequence of what has occurred during these few first days of this year's cruise. I have had the honour myself to command a steam-frigate, one of the same build and description as most of those with our present squadron, and can assure you I have seen her good qualities tested in every description of weather, and can with safety affirm, without fear of contradiction from those of my brother officers who have also had similar commands, that better models than those of the Stromboli, Vesuvius, Devastation, Hecate, Virago, Cyclops, and many others of their build, for the purposes of war-steamers, which must combine the two qualities of sailing and steaming, do not float; and all those steamers I mention have from six to three years' log to show, to prove or confute my assertion.

It must be remembered that it is not a new thing for steam frigates to cruise with a fleet.* From 1834 to 1837 Her Majesty's ship Medea (Captain Austin) was constantly under sail with the fine squadron in the Mediterranean under the active command of the late Admiral Sir Josias Rowley, and neither retarded the line-of-battle ships, nor suffered from the effects of weather, and yet, after constant service in every quarter of the globe, I affirm that in that sea more variable weather is met with, and of a description to cause casualties, than on any other station where Her Majesty's ships are employed.

The Cyclops also (one of the ships said to have run into Plymouth in consequence of the late gale) was constantly employed from 1838 to 1842, commanded by the same excellent officer, Captain Austin, and cruised with Admiral Sir R. Stopford's fleet, the wonder of all the sceptics as to the feasibility of a steamer's power under canvass. And what sailor does not remember the noble behaviour of the Vesuvius (when, during that tremendous gale on the coast of Syria in 1840, Her Majesty's brig Zebra went on shore a wreck, and the Pique dismasted, expecting every moment to part, and the line-of-battle ships, with their topmasts down, at the mercy of their anchors and cables), getting her steam up, trying to save the Zebra, and then going out of the bay under steam and foretrysail during the squall in which the Zebra parted? I fearlessly affirm no Atlantic steam packet now built would have saved herself under similar circumstances. The same vessel I have seen, under canvass, beat a line-of-battle ship and a 28-gun frigate, tack for tack, with an unsteady wind and lee swell.

The Terrible, apparently, had to put into Plymouth Sound in consequence of her rudder head going: this must have been from her having had a rotten or weak rudder head, and no fault of the ship, and might have happened to the best sea boat in the navy. The blame must rest with the dockyard, and cannot be used as an argument against the efficiency of a steamer to cruise with a fleet.

The Retribution, it appears, lost sight of the fleet during the night, bore up for the Sound, imagining the Commodore to be there, and not because she was injured. As for a few planks of her paddle-boxes being blown out or light upper works injured, it is of no consequence, and is the natural result of a sea forcing the confined air to make a way out at the weakest point, which must either be the side or top of the paddle-box. A ship might as well be found fault with for driving her head up, which every ship has done, trader or man-of-war, in every heavy sea she has ever pitched into, and which has happened often enough in the packets without causing a remark; nor ought it, for it is not a casualty in the proper sense of that term.

It appears that the Gladiator easily kept company with the fleet with her floats off, so would any of the steamers if they had been ordered to take theirs off instead of disconnecting, which does not relieve the ship from the impediment of the wheel to the same extent.

It has ever been my conviction that the war-steamer can only be the auxiliary, the powerful auxiliary, to the fleet, and that the great battles must always be fought by the line-of-battle ships; yet pray do not believe too readily what you have asserted in your valuable article, that the steamer will prove, under certain cases, an encumbrance to the fleet; and I am sure that if your attention and interest had been as much awakened to the movements and discipline of our fleets in the Mediterranean from 1834 to 1842, as I am delighted to see it is to the management of these summer squadrons, you would be ready to admit that the late unfortunately-timed accidents ought not to be considered data from which to draw a conclusion as to the future duty to be performed by men-of-war steamers.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
June 4.

* If my memory is correct, there were eight large steamers attached to Sir Robert Stopford's fleet - two post and six commander commands.

Sa 6 June 1846


The reports from the experimental squadron, which, appeared in our columns of yesterday and the day before, allude so frequently and in such unequivocal terms to the superiority of the Rattler screw ship over all the other steamers which were attached to the squadron, that we think it right to call particular attention to the important results developed by her peculiar combination of the steamer and sailing vessel, It is admitted that the Rattler's powers under canvass alone arc nearly, if not quite, equal to the fastest sailing ship in the squadron - a qualification most essential to a man-of-war steamer; but notwithstanding the many trials made under steam by the Rattler with other vessels, opinions are still entertained that the screw will not produce so high a rate of speed as the paddle-wheel under similar circumstances. This may or may not be the case, but it should be borne in mind that the Rattler is of 888 tons burden, and has only 200-horse power, a fair comparison cannot, therefore, be made in this respect by putting her in competition with such ships as the Retribution, Terrible, Gladiator, and the rest of the steam squadron. Surely, (then, in a case of so much importance to the strength and efficiency of the British navy, it behoves the Admiralty to adopt the most active measures with the view to determine this disputed question, by ordering an immediate and complete trial to be made between the Rattler and a paddle vessel of her own class. It has been suggested that the Polyphemus being on the point of joining the squadron of evolution, presents an excellent opportunity for effecting this desirable object, as that vessel corresponds with the Rattler as nearly as possible in model, power, and tonnage. Trials of speed should be made between the two vessels under steam alone in every possible position, under sail and steam, under sail only, towing ships of the line, connecting and disconnecting machinery, &c.; and in the event of even a slightly inferior speed being obtained by the screw vessel, the advantages of remaining an almost unlimited period at sea without consuming fuel, having a clear broadside for guns, and the steam machinery below the water line are too obvious to require comment.

Tu 9 June 1846

(From the Cork Examiner of Friday.)

The event which has kept this part of the world, that is, the fair inhabitants of the Great Island and its localities, as well as the citizens of the "beautiful city," on the qui vive for some time past, has at length, after divers and trying disappointments, taken place. On yesterday morning the slumbers of many a fair one were rudely broken by the startling announcement, delivered by the soubrettes, with faces lengthened with the importance of their intelligence, "that the fleet were coming." But, alas! for the uncertainty of all things in this part of our hemisphere, all that could be descried through a thick haze, which then prevailed, was an immense phantom, which was supernaturally increased by the medium through which it was perceived, and which looked just as like the mysterious and fabulous "Flying Dutchman" as that of a line of battle ship. However, after the lapse of an hour or so, the "monster of the deep" gradually, as it neared, took the shape of a goodly frigate, carrying 50 guns, and commanded by Sir Thomas Herbert. The Raleigh, which anchored in the man-of-war roads, does not belong to the Experimental Squadron. As the day wore on, and none of the expected could be seen, gloom and disappointment once more reigned in the bosoms of the fair; but at length, as there must be a termination to all griefs as well as happiness in this world, a suspicious craft was seen looming in the offing, which, being quickly covered by a hundred telescopes, was, after a long breath, solemnly pronounced to be "a man-of-war." All was now joy and happiness; but still the "duck of a vessel," as many of the fair ones, perplexed, if not dazzled; by the mental contemplation of the balls, the picnics, all kinds of parties, déjeûners, &c., which were of course quickly to follow the advent of the "illustrious strangers," pronounced it to be, remained cruising about the mouth of the harbour, in the most tantalising manner possible. But at 1 o'clock another, and much larger ship hove in sight, and just as she was passing the Light-house, the subdued sound of a salute of 11 guns fired from her, came booming across the bright waters. The salute was quickly answered by the Raleigh, with the same number of guns; but as she lay much nearer to the shore, the effect of the cannonading was of course more startling and grand, actually shaking the houses as if the town of Cove had been visited by a shock of an earthquake. Ship after ship now quickly came in view, majestically gliding under clouds of canvass, as, from the lightness of the wind, every sail had to be set; and assuredly a more magnificent or picturesque sight could not be witnessed. The whole effect was much heightened by the number of beautiful yachts belonging to the Royal Cork Yacht Club, which were close to the men-of-war, and which appeared, from the contrast, like sea-gulls, with their snow white plumage skimming the bright bosom of the harbour, and reflecting back the rays of a burning sun. We should not forget to mention that there are no less than nine Government steamers in the harbour, as well as several fine transports. Never have we remembered seeing our fine harbour looking more beautiful than on yesterday, because it was then, what its various well-known capabilities and advantages so entitle it to be, a naval station. The ships came in in the following order, and anchored in the man-of-war roads :- St. Vincent, 120 guns, carrying the broad pennant, commanded by Captain Francis Collier; Rodney, 90, Captain Sir Ralph Collier; Vanguard, 90, Captain Willis; Brilliant, 26-gun corvette, Captain Watson. The following ships were off the harbour, but dropped in during the evening, anchoring at the same place: - Queen, 110 guns; Trafalgar, 120; Superb, 90. We could not learn how long the fleet are to remain in our harbour, but it was rumoured that it would be of short duration. Of course we only give the rumour as it reached us.


The Royal NavyExperimental squadrons 1846 (1/3) - 1846 (3/3)

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