HMS Sirius (1813)
HMS Sirius (1813)

Royal NavyVessels

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NameSirius (1813)Explanation
TypeFifth rate   
Launched11 September 1813
Builders measure1090 tons
Ships book
Note1860 target
Snippets concerning this vessels career
(January 1840)Out of commission at Portsmouth
Extracts from the Times newspaper
Sa 15 September 1860The Lords of the Admiralty resumed their inspection of the naval establishments at Portsmouth yesterday. Their lordship left the Osborne In their barge early In the fore-noon, and, crossing the harbour, landed at Haslar, inspecting first the gunboat yard and ship way there. The stay there was but short; some of the skeletons of the decayed gunboats, however, attracting a passing notice from their lordships, With the general state and condition of the yard they appeared well pleased, and gave the necessary orders for laying down the six new boats In No. 6 shed. On leaving this yard their lordships next visited the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, together with the new cemetery attached. In the afternoon, their lordships landed at the Royal Clarence yard, and, entering some carriages that were in waiting, proceeded to Forton-barracks, the head quarters of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. On alighting at the gate of the barrack parade, they were received by Second-Commandant Lieut.-Col. Mitchell, who accompanied their lordships on the parade ground, where the division was drawn up in line, under the command of Col.-Commandant Andersen, with the band and colours in the centre. After a general salute along the line, the men marched past in slow and quick time, and then wheeled into line. After passing along the line, and inspecting the artillery attached to the division, the men were dismissed. A detachment was immediately afterwards formed, and went through a course of drill at the ship gun-battery, in the rear of the barracks. The result of the inspection reflected the highest credit on the officers and men of the division. The Royal Clarence yard, together with the Duke of Wellington, 131, screw, and the Shannon, 51, screw, was shortly inspected by their lordships on Thursday evening. In the visit to the Sirius target ship the same evening the examination of the various targets appeared to excite much interest among their lordships. Last evening the Admiralty gave their customary official dinner at Dent's George Hotel, Portsmouth, to which 40 guests were invited. Their lordships afterwards patronized the ball at Hollingsworth's rooms, in aid of the funds for the Seamen's and Marines' Orphans' Schools.
Sa 22 September 1860


Sir,— As a statement of the following facts may assist to bring the public mind to a safe decision on the question of that great change in the material and character of future war-ships so ably mooted in your article of the 10th inst., recently received here, I beg to offer them for insertion in The Times, if considered of sufficient importance. There are now before me all the data and observations, taken on the spot for my own professional information, of the several trials made off Shoeburyness since January, 1859, to penetrate the sides of the floating battery Trusty, built in 1855 for the purposes of the Russian war, with a scantling of 25 inches of oak timber, covered with 4-inch iron plates. This vessel was prepared for being fired at in the beginning of 1857, and, had the experiments been then carried out, our present state of "indecision" would most probably have been avoided; for at that time no rifled cannon of any power had been produced, and we now know that at the distance then intended of 450 yards the spherical shot of the heaviest smooth-bored gun must have been found quite powerless to enter the ship.
It was not, however, until January, 1859, that the first attempt was made to penetrate the Trusty's side, the gun used being Sir W. Armstrong's rifled 32-pounder, which had given the surprising range of 9,200 yards. Fourteen shot in all were fired, with charges of 61b., and at distances varying from 450 yards to about 20 yards, the material of the shot being cast iron, wrought iron, and steel. Of these latter two stuck into the side, between the joints of the plates, projecting externally 6 inches and 2 inches respectively, and indentations with some cracks were likewise produced on the plates by the other shots; but the gun was evidently powerless to injure seriously the complete protection of the side.
In September, 1859, attempts for two successive days were again made to penetrate the side with Sir William Armstrong's rifled 80-pounder, which, with a 12lb. charge, had also thrown its shot more than 9,000 yards. The first day's distance was 400 yards, at which 10 shots in all were fired, only three of which, however, took effect so as to give proof of the combined resistance of the side; but this, to the surprise of every one, was found to be so practically complete that it was judged necessary to reduce the distance for firing on the second day to 200 yards. At this range 11 shots in all were fired, some of them of 100lb. weight and of hardened steel, but even with these no entry could be effected. One 80lb. steel shot did, however, succeed in entering the ship. Its immediate predecessor had struck a joint of the plates, and opened at three-quarters of an Inch. On this opening the shot in question struck fair, and within two inches of the former shot, which, besides opening the joint, had also shattered the timber; but, although thus assisted, the force of the shot on entering was so expended that it only reached half-way across the deck, throwing before it, however, a formidable splinter of iron; and this single violation of the protection of the Trusty's side was the only result of the 14 shots which in the two days took effect upon her plates.
At the trial made in June last with Mr. Whitworth's rifled 80-pounder I was not present, but have since carefully examined the effects then produced, and found that of the three shots which took effect on the side one only entered the ship. It received no assistance from the effects of any previous shot, but where it struck outside the plate was unsound, and where it entered inside the timber was rotten; and, though a greater power of penetration was here exhibited than in the case of the Armstrong shot, yet, like it, it entered the ship in a spent state, and reached no more than half-way across the deck. Twelve and thirteen pound charges were used on this occasion, the shot being of carefully prepared steel; but, as in the previous trials, no shells were fired, it having been judged useless to do so where solid steel had been so completely foiled.
Excluding, then, altogether the attempt with the 32-pounder, we have thus 17 shots, of from 80lb. to 100lb. weight, made of special material, of special form and temper, fired with the heaviest charges the guns will bear, as far as practicable at right angles, within the shortest safe distance, from the two most powerful pieces of artillery ever yet produced, and the ship's side thus subjected to proof has been penetrated twice. The side which has exhibited this power of protection is one of the first of its description ever constructed. Its outer lining of iron is slighter than that since manufactured; the plates of which it is composed are much smaller; and, instead of being firmly bolted upon the timber beneath them, they were found to be loose, owing to the shrinkage of the wood since the ship was built. When struck near their edges these plates were more or less injured and broken, when near their centres more or less indented and cracked; but the iron splinter which went in with the Armstrong shot was the only mischievous one of any sort which the whole 17 shots produced, and both that shot itself and the Whitworth would have been perfectly harmless to any one on the other side of the deck opposite where they entered. With every advantage, therefore, on the side of the guns to an extent which could never occur in action, these results may, I think, be safely accepted as conclusive proof that, in the terms of your article,— "British manufacturers can, indeed, produce plates of iron capable of affording such protection to the sides of British ships that the best of even British guns cannot penetrate them."
But it will be asked, with such results as these for now a year before us, whence has arisen that "indecision" which, as your article observes, has hitherto characterized our own adoption of this invention, and which still seems to delay its progress?
The only reply is, I believe, to be found in the fact that, simultaneously with the experiments at Shoeburyness, other experiments have been taking place at Portsmouth which have furnished results of a totally different nature. Month after month for far more than a year the public has been informed, in general and in detail, of the entire destruction of armour plates of all descriptions and of almost all thicknesses, effected, not by any new and powerful rifled cannon, but by the old smooth-bored gun of heavy calibre, with its limited range of some 4,000 yards. And although, as you observe, "it is impossible for us to balance our own experiments in this matter against those of the French, inasmuch as we cannot be sure that the conditions were equal," yet it may be well to apply this process to our own two sets of experiments, if only to remove the perplexity caused by the great discrepancy they present; and we shall then readily perceive that the difference in the essential conditions under which they have been respectively made will fully account for the opposite deductions they admit of. The side of the Trusty, as before stated, was built but five years since for the express purpose of sustaining the shock it has shown itself so well able to bear. The sides of the Alfred, the Undaunted, and Sirius, experimented upon at Portsmouth, were built nearer 50 years ago, with a strength of scantling and with fastenings totally unfitted even then to undergo that hammer-and-anvil process of hanging heavy plates upon them to be attacked with the heaviest guns, and under which plates and timbering have both inevitably succumbed when the operation has been performed, after "old age" had of itself already brought these ships to the verge of the breaking-up dock. Why experiments of such a nature were made under such conditions at all I presume neither to know nor inquire; but I cannot doubt that their necessary results have had the natural effect of inducing that doubt and indecision in the public, if not, the official, mind, which it might have seemed so desirable to avoid In a matter so serious and new, and in which only the most practical experiments possible could be expected to afford a safe guidance. But, whatever may have been the especial object of these Portsmouth experiments, we may be assured that whenever British armour-ships may have to contend with those of other nations the timbering which supports their plates will be found, not of the same age and weakness as that of the old ships named, but on the same scale of strength as that of the Trusty; as witness the 24-inch scantling of the Normandie, now receiving her plates in the basin of Cherbourg.
Thus, within a period of 10 years, has the march of human progress twice overtaken with serious change the status of British naval affairs; and, while our requisite force of screw ships of the line is yet far from complete, we find ourselves unavoidably launched into the most complete revolution in the character and construction of ships of war ever yet known. No ship of wood, of whatever size or force, can be expected to contend with the modern projectiles of conical and spherical shot, shells, and molten iron, against even a single-decked ship with sides as impenetrable as those of the Trusty. Even at 200 yards we have seen that favourable accident alone enables such sides to be pierced at all; with sufficient steam speed to enable a fighting distance of 1,000 yards to be maintained, such ships must prove "invulnerable" (except through their portholes) to any gun yet known, while capable themselves of the most effective use of their powers of destruction against any opponent of wood; and the "reconstruction" of the line-of-battle portion of our fleet has, indeed, become an imperious necessity. Nor is our present position that alone of having been surprised into the numerical inferiority which your article places before us, but this time we have lost our usual priority in practical experience too; for, while our own first armour frigate will require still come considerable time before she can be launched, the Gloire appears to be in full course of realizing established data for the future management and improvement of the similar structures of our great neighbour. Doubtless, the superiority in resources of money, material, and skilled labour to meet the occasion are all on our side, and it had been well if such considerations had weighed with our Administrators during those indications of the approaching crisis which were evident to so many, so as to have urged them to secure to ourselves the lead in this great change and this new rivalry. As it is, however the "stern-chase" can be no longer delayed; and if it be wisely and energetically prosecuted, with that united effort which the talent and great practical experience in iron constructions of this country enables us to call forth, every allowance will, no doubt, be made for any over-reluctance which may have been shown to enter on that increase of naval outlay which must now be encountered before England's requisite superiority in the new description of war-ship can be established.
I remain. Sir. yours. &c.,
E.P. Halstead., Captain, R.N., lately commanding the Steam Reserve Fleet in the Medway.
Talladh-a-Bheithe, Perthshire, Sept. 17.

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