The first pair of searchlights were fitted to Cerberus in 1879.

"The Governor of Victoria has received a letter from the Agent General stating that he had shipped an electric light for the use of the Cerberus & six 6-inch Armstrong guns for the Nelson." Otago Witness, 1 March 1879

"The light produced is very weak, being only 5,000 candle-power, as compared with those of the gunboats, which are 12,500 candle-power." Victorian Naval Forces - Torpedo Manual, Whitehead Torpedoes 1889

DateMakerCandle PowerSteam pressureRevs of engineRevs of dynamoAmpsVoltsComments
1880'sWestons120,000  750  Vertical compound
1 After being decommissioned one of the search light dynamos from Victoria or Albert was fitted to Cerberus in 1897 to power the internal lighting and ventilation fans.

Detail in table from the Notebook of Capt. A.B. Thomas & James Breaks courtesy of Bob Nicholls.

1879 Searchlights


photographed courtesy of the Museum of HMAS Cerberus

All evidence suggests that these lights were originally fitted at each end of the flying deck. In 1890 Nordenfelt 6 pounder QF guns were fitted at each end of the flying deck. To make room for these the aft searchlight was moved onto the charthouse. The forward searchlight was placed on a platform. Most likely the new searchlights were accompanied by the more powerful Alcock dynamo.

1893 Searchlights

The 1893 searchlights simply replaced the 1879 searchlights on the charthouse and platform.

Forward searchlight on platform
photo courtesy of Wilfrid Russell Grimwade collection,
University of Melbourne Archives, Image ID:3029

Aft searchlight on charthouse.


The Port Phillip Herald, 5 March 1881

Preparations were then made for the electric light, and shortly after seven o'clock last night the Cliff was brilliantly illuminated. The light was shifted into different positions, and had a very pleasing effect. Persons could be distinctly seen from the Cerberus as they walked on the shore and principal streets of Queenscliff. Throwing the light to the Victoria and the vessels anchored, hearty cheers were given by those on board for the display.

Cerberus Flashing Electric Light on Childers and Victoria
Illustrated Australian News April 15, 1885.

The dynamo machine used was one belonging to the Railway department; and although the effect was very good, it only gave those who were in charge of the lamp, an idea of what the light would be like if the Wilde machine belonging to the Cerberus could be used.

After showing the light Lieutenant Murray endeavored to light both lamps, but this was found to be impossible on acccount of the smallness of the machine, and regret loud and strong were expressed that the boilers which would have allowed the Wilde machine to be used had not been purchased, and put on board.

Wilde Generator.
image courtesy of
Tommy's History of Western Technology

Image from Recent Progress in Dynamo-Electric Machines etc, Prof Sylvanus P. Thompson, D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1884.
courtesy of Chris Ramsey.

Re-positioning of Pumps & Addition of Spindles

The Downton pumps (wheel like objects) were moved from under the ladderways (below) to the outside wall of the officer's toilets (right bottom) possibly during the 1879 refit. Most likely this was to allow their manual operation, using spindles (cranks) when docked.(right) These pumps were also used to supply water for fire fighting when the boilers were not lit.

Fire Stations
The Australasian, 28 May 1898
photo sponsored by Robert Lawson

With pumps under ladderways in the 1870's.

Position of pumps in the 1890's.
photo courtesy of Peter Baxter

Addition of Military Mast

In 1879 the twin signaling Pole Mast configuration (right) was replaced with a single iron "Military Mast" with "Fighting Top". The stated purpose of the Fighting Top was to serve as a look-out & position for a searchlight & gattling gun. However it would seem that it was not used for the the searchlights as these were located at both ends of the Flying Deck. So too were the Nordenfelt "machine guns"(below). The Fighting Top was later lowered so it sat just above the vent on the Flying Deck. (below right, also note the Conning Tower to its left)

photo courtesy of Brian Hutchins Real Estate Agency, Black Rock.

Colour Schemes

There appears to have been 5 colour schemes for Cerberus.

  1. 1872 (early) - white upperworks & turrets. The rest black?
  2. 1872 (later) - gray
  3. 1883 - white & black
  4. 1888 - white, black & yellow funnel
  5. 1903 - ordnance gray

  • 1872 early

    From The Victorian Fleet, 1872 by G.F. Gregory donated by Juanita Scott

  • 1872

    "The Cerberus, by the way, has been new painted lately. She is now of a grey color all over, including the funnel."

    The Illustrated Australian News, 23 April 1872
  • 1883 "The turrets, funnels, flying deck, and all the iron work above water have been painted white,..."

    The Argus, 17 December 1883
  • 1884 "Her low black hull shows but some 3 ft out of the water. This is only relieved by her two white-painted turrets, the overhead deck supported by massive ironwork, her short smoke funnel, the steering house, and a stumpy little mast, which can be used for lookout and signalling purposes."

    Willamstown Chronicle, 23 February & 1 March 1884
  • 1885

    "There was no mistaking the gigantic Cerberus, over towards Williamstown, with her hull a mere black band on the water, and her conspicuous white turrets, rising up in contrast against the darker background."

    The Argus, 1 June 1885
  • 1888

    From The Victorian Fleet, 1888 by A.V. Gregory courtesy of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria

  • 1891

    "Regilding ship's name."

    Cerberus Log Book, 14 April 1891
  • 1893 April 27 - "painter painting riband & lettering after turret."

    Dec 20 - "Two hands painting breastwork white, two hands painting black on breastwork."

    Dec 27 - "One hand painting Breastwork Port Side, blacking hooks & lower deck, paint black ribbon on starboard side."

    Cerberus Log, 1893
  • 1894

    January 10 - "paint black ribbon on breastwork." Cerberus Log, 1894
    A particularly frustrating pair of entries.
    (If only they had mentioned the colour.) October 26 -

    2.50 - To Nelson from Cerberus. "Please telephone to depot from Mr. Smith to Mr. Robinson to send off funnel colour paint for Cerberus."

    3.30 - To Cerberus from telephone "Send sample of paint you require for funnel."

    Cerberus Signals Log, 1894

  • 1895

    April 17 - To Cerberus from Nelson via semaphore - "From Mr. Breaks to Mr. Forsyth, give **** yellow paint for topmast."

    Cerberus Signals Log, 1895
  • 1897

    January 3 - "painting starboard side of ship black."

    March 22 - "Two hands masking in black ribbon round breastwork."

    Cerberus Log, 1897

    Black Ribbon on Breastwork Deck.
    photo courtesy of Peter Baxter

  • 1904

    "The white paint of the Cerberus has been covered with a coat of dull slate which makes her much less conspicuous."

    The Argus, 4 April 1904
  • 1906

    "We require another pot of black paint to finish second coat for band around breastwork. Also pot of white paint for ventilators and inside of skylights."

    Signals Log Book, 20 February 1906
  • 1908

    "They fired the usual salute as a compliment to the port; then the admiral's guns in greeting to the British cruisers and to the Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Poore, in compliment also to our own conglomerate navy, the nuggetty little Protector and the flat old Cerberus, imposing only in sharing with the Powerful and her consorts the national fighting cloak of grey."

    The Argus, 31 August 1908


Sometime during 1898 the emblem on the ends of the flying deck was changed from a star to a coronet. Presumably this was done when Cerberus replaced Nelson as the flagship of the Victorian Navy.

Ventilation & Lighting

"Hitherto kerosene lamps and lanterns have had to be used in the cabins and the forecastle, although there was electrical apparatus for the search-lights....the necessary insulations and switches were made by the naval artificers."

The Argus, April 19 1897

"By those whose duty it is to pay only an annual visit to the Cerberus it was seen that great improvements in lighting & ventilation had been effected since last year. The ward-room has been enlarged, but it is in the men's quarters that the best work has been done. The improvements were carried out by the fleet engineer Mr. Breaks."The Argus, April 11 1898

Improvements to the Watertight Doors

"Another simple but very valuable contrivance has been utilised for closing the large iron doors connecting the various watertight compartments of which the vessel is composed. Formerly, in the event of a shot going through any portion of the vessel below the waterline, it was necessary to send men on deck to close the doors of the adjoining compartments, in order to prevent the water obtaining access to them. The cranks by which they were composed were all in exposed positions on the upper deck, and with an enemy in close quarters, concentrating the fire of a body of riflemen on these points, it would be possible to prevent the work being carried out with sufficient celerity to save the vessel from foundering. This would have exposed those operating the cranks in a battle situation. This was an evident defect, and was remedied by adding to the crank a very simple apparatus, by means of which the huge waterproof doors can be closed from the shield deck. Now it can be truly said that the vessel can be worked in action without a single man being exposed to the fire of the enemy."

The Argus, 10 May 1882

The Notebook of Captain Thomas gives the location of all 26 watertight doors and states that they can be operated from the upper and lower decks.

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