Described as "the most magnificent guns in the word"¹ the 10 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) Guns fired a 400 pound shot or shell using a charge of 60 pounds of gunpowder. Weighing 18 tons the range of the guns, at 11 degrees (maximum elevation) was 5,000 yards.
Cerberus was originally fitted with four Mark I versions of this gun. The right gun in the aft turret was replaced with another Mark I in 1885 when the barrel cracked. The left gun in the same turret was replaced with the Mark II version in 1898 when one of its trunnions cracked.
The gun on the left is the damaged gun removed in 1898. It is shown here at HMAS CERBERUS at Crib Point.
Given that at least four of the Mk I guns on HMS Hercules also suffered from cracked barrels it would appear that the Mk I guns had a serious design fault. It would appear that these gun placed on board Cerberus in 1885 (no. 8) was one of the damaged guns from HMS Hercules that had been retubed.
In 1897 two 18 cwt 14 pounder Maxim-Nordenfelt Quick Firing Guns became the secondary armament of Cerberus. The slightly less powerful version, the 18 cwt 12 pounder Q.F. gun, was used on British Light Cruisers as their primary armament as well as on ships such as HMS Dreadnought (1906) as their secondary armament. The even lighter 12 cwt 12 pounder version was used extensively during WWII on hundreds of auxillary vessels.
The 14 pdrs on Cerberus could fire a shell weighing 14 lbs to a range of 8,000 yards with a muzzle velocity of 2,100 ft/second, using a 6.5 lb 1 black powder charge. Additions to 1890 Manual for Victorian Naval Forces, circa. 1895.
1 Hand written notes in Andrew Currer's copy of the 1890 manual give the charge as 7 lb 2 oz P.B.
Note shell at feet of men (enlarged on the right with photo of shell from collection inserted). original photo Weekly Times, 14 July 1900, courtesy of Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria
Two 14 pounder guns were fitted to HMVS Cerberus from 1897 until 1900. These 14 pdrs were not Mk I or Mk II guns but rather were "Exhibition Guns" & hence were the only two of their kind. A report in The Argus on 6 April 1891 refers to the 14 pounder guns at Fort Queenscliff as the "two guns now in the colony having long chambers". The length of the round is about 40 mm longer than for the Mk I projectile and shell casing.
The total length of these guns was 138 inches (3.5352 m)3 as opposed to 150 inches (3.81 m) for the Mk I gun and 155.35 inches (3.94589 m) for the Mk II gun.
It would appear that the 14 pounders were acquired in 18892 and originally intended for fitting to the SS Courier8 in an emergency. It appears that while not required they were loaned to the Land Forces and tested at Fort Queenscliff. The arrival of five Mk I 14 pdr guns with shorter chambers in 1891/2 led to the two earlier guns being returned, most likely for consistency reasons, to the Navy7 where they were assigned to Nelson. On the sale of Nelson the guns were transferred to Cerberus in July 1897. These guns were mounted on the Breastwork Deck, one on the port side & one on the starboard side of the ship.
Even when the guns were mounted on Nelson, some of the ammunition was stored in the Quick-Firing Gun Magazine on board Cerberus.
Off to China
Both guns were removed from Cerberus in 1900 and mounted on carriages built by the Victorian Railway workshops at Newport. Both guns then accompanied the Victorian Naval Contingent to China.
Photo from Bluejackets & Boxers, Bob Nicholls
Given that on 22 December 1901 the 14 pdr ammunition on board Cerberus was transhipped into the Army launch, Vulcan, for transfer to the Military Department, we can assume that the 14 pdr guns did not return from China.
Testing prior to leaving for China. The Leader, 28 July 1900.
From the Diary of W.G. Robertson & Cerberus Log Book entries we know that Shrapnel, Case & Iron Common projectiles were available for use.
"The armament has been increased during the last six months by a couple of quick-firing 14-pounders, which are almost ideal guns. One man puts his shoulder to them, traverses and depresses with the greatest ease, using only the left hand and firing with his right hand, while another couple of mem load. This has the advantage that the man laying the gun fires it without taking his eye from the sights, so that there is much greater likelihood of accuracy than where the work of laying and firing is divided."
Description of a 14 pounder in use at Queenscliff. The Argus, 16 April 1892.
Projectile (in undercoat gray) and shell casing (800 mm) with AA battery for scale.
The shell shown at left was aquired in October 2008 from the Chanter Estate Military Museum in Moama NSW.
Given that only two guns existed that used the 14 pdr fixed round ammununition, it follows that the round shown is from the guns used on board Nelson & Cerberus.
The purchase was sponsored by the Antique Arms Collectors Society Aust., John Short, the Port Melbourne Historical Society & Marie Epstein.
Mr Sangster - "I have been informed, on more than one occasion, that the two guns which the contingent are likely to take with them are the only guns of their class in the British Empire, so that the ammunition for them must either be sent from this colony or be specially obtained after the men reach the scene of action." Mr Salmon - "Do you mean the two Maxim-Nordenfelt guns?" Mr Sangster - "Yes; I am informed that these two guns were specially made for exhibition purposes, and that such alterations were made in the guns subsequently manufactured that the same ammunition will not do.
Victorian Naval Contingent Bill, Victorian Hansard 10 July 1900
30 August 1900 - "Received orders to proceed to Woosung as soon as possible. I regret to say that the 14 pounders are to be left behind (in Hong Kong) in favour of 12 pounders. The weight and difficulty in obtaining ammunition for the former, threw them out in favor of the former [latter]. We also being supplied with 4-.45 Maxim guns."
Diary entry for Engineer William Robertson courtesy of the Journal of the Australian Naval Institute, Summer 2001-2002
30 August 1900 - "Forenoon employed taking in 4 12 pdr field guns: 4 Maxims; limbers, ammunition and rifles. Afternoon, re-armed with Lee-Enfield mark II rifles; Made ready for sea."
Diary entry for Able Seaman William Bertotto courtesy of Dennis Bertotto & Shirley Joy.
According to the 1908 Treatise on Ammunition, the only other British ships to mount 14 pounder QF guns were HMS Swiftsure (Mk I version) & HMS Triumph (Mk II). Both ships were completed in 1904 & carried fourteen 14 pdr guns each. Switsure Class Battleship website. As mentioned above these guns were different versions to the ones on Cerberus.
Almost certainly the Gun Carriages built at the Newport Railway Workshops in 1900. The Argus, 12 January 1946
Note the shell being held by the man on the right. photo by Wilfrid Russell Grimwade in 1896 (courtesy of Melbourne University)
Although the Victorian Navy had four quick firing guns in June 1888 two Nordenfelt 6 pounder Quick Firing (QF) guns do not appear to have been added to Cerberus until 1890. One gun was mounted at each end of the Flying Deck. A trained man could fire 25 unaimed rounds per minute or 15 rpm at a target. Engagement range was in the order of 1000 yards, when the launch range of a torpedo boat's weapons at that time was in the region of 400 yards. At 1,000 yards (9,140 m), the penetration of the shell was over 2 inches (51 mm).
The following account leads us to conclude that the QF guns were the "secondary battery" that were fitted to Cerberus in 1890.
"There are also on the Nelson some of the quick firing artillery used on both ships and forts, and worked by one man.....The secondary battery of the Cerberus has been more conveniently placed upon an upper deck, which would have to be provided with temporary breast works in action, but greatly clears the way for the working of the more important turret guns." The Argus, 10 December 1890
Shown above is the 6 pounder Q.F. round purchased by Friends of the Cerberus in January 2008. The AA battery shows the size of the round. The shell (projectile) and shell casing are each enlarged to show the markings.
The Victorian Navy ship's lists show that four of these guns were fitted to their ships, two on Cerberus and two on Nelson. It is likely that the two Nelson guns were transferred to Cerberus to replace the 14 pdrs left in Hong Kong in 1900.
Nordenfelt 6 pdr QF gun photographed courtesy of The Museum of HMAS Cerberus
Nordenfelt 4 barrel 1 inch Machine Gun Mk III (x 4)
The first of four Nordenfelt 1 inch 4 barrel guns was added to Cerberus about September 1883. Two Nordenfelts were being fitted in March 1884. Although machine guns, they were not automatic as the rapid firing was produced by moving a lever rather than using the weapon's recoil. Operated by five men, they could fire at a rate of 400 rounds per minute. Effectively armour piering rounds, the bullets could penetrate two inches (50 mm) of solid plate at 300 yards (275 metres). Two guns were mounted at each end of the Flying Deck.
In 1893 Victoria and Albert carried two 4 barrel one inch Nordenfelts as well as two 2 barrel one inch Nordenfelts.
The Weekly Times, April 29 1905, photo courtesy of "Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria"
"In Mark III gun, the second barrel from the right fires first, next the third barrel from the right, next the right hand barrel, and lastly the left hand."
Manual for Victorian Naval Forces 1887
"In Mark I & II guns the barrels are fired successively, commencing with the right hand one and ending with the left-hand one."
Handbook of the 1" 4-Barrel Nordenfelt Gun, 1889.
Five Man Gun Crew
No 1 (centre) aims the gun, No 2 (right) operates the firing lever, No 3 (left) replaces the empty hopper for a full one while Nos 4 & No 5 (kneeling) refill the hoppers. Although the photo above shows a five man gun crew, the Manual for Victorian Naval Forces mentions six men with three reloading the hoppers. (Thanks to John Underwood for pointimg out the hopper loading)
Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, P00952 003.
Two Barrel Version
The Victorian Navy also used two barrel one inch Mk I Nordenfelt guns on Victoria, Albert, The Countess of Hopetoun, Gordon, Batman and Fawkner.
There is no evidence that any other Nordenfelt Machine guns apart from two and four barrel one inch guns were used by the Victorian Navy.
According to Register of Guns on Naval Charge, 1889 there were eight 4 barrel 1 inch Nordenfelts and 15 two barrel 1 inch Nordenfelts.
Two Barrel 1 inch Nordenfelt used by the NSW Naval Brigade Photographed at the Australian War Memorial, ACT.
Gatling Gun (x 1)
British sailors on HMS Shah, using a Gatling Gun with Broadwell Drum in 1877, raking the decks of the Peruvian Turret ship Huascar.
Illustrated London News, 2 March 1878.
A Gatling Gun was added to Cerberus in August 1882¹. This was the gun exhibited by Sir William Armstrong & Co. at the 1880-1 Melbourne International Exhibition4.
It was described as "a .45 inch Gatling Gun having ten barrels, mounted on an iron carriage and having a rack and pinion elevator."5
Although an 1884 engraving (bottom of page) shows a 400 round broadwell drum, according to the description in the 1887 Manual for Victorian Naval Forces, it would appear that the Victorian guns were, by 1887 fitted with Accles Drums, that held (to quote the manual) "about 105 rounds."
At the end of 1883 Cerberus was carrying one Gatling Gun and one 4 barrel one inch Nordenfelt Gun. At some point after this, three more Nordenfelts were added and the Gatling Gun was removed.
By 1893 the Victorian Navy had four Gatling Guns, two of which were used on HMVS Gannet and two on HMVS Nelson. According to the 1887 Manual for Victorian Naval Forces, the specifications for the guns were as follows:-
.45-Inch Gatling Gun.
DESCRIPTION OF GUN.
Length of gun (total), 51 inches.
Length of barrel, 31.95 inches.
Nature of rifling, Henry.
Number of grooves, 7.
Twist of rifling, uniform, 1 turn in 22 inches.
Weight of drum, filled, 28 lbs.
Weight of drum, empty, 16¾ lbs.
Weight of bullet, 480 grains.
Weight of charge, 85 grains.
Total weight of cartridge, including case, 1.8 oz.
Gatling Gun with Accles Drum
Exhibition of Naval & Military weapons, Melbourne. Illustrated Australian News, 1 June 1895. State Library of Victoria.
One of the Victorian Navy's four Gatling Guns.
Most likely the gun exhibited at the 1880-1 Melbourne Exhibition & fitted to Cerberus in 1882 but here mounted on a land carriage.6
Victorian Naval Forces War Trophy Material at the Engineers' Exhibition Click the image for a hi-res version, then click again. The Illustrated Australian News, 23 January 1884 Courtesy of the Rare Books Collection at Monash University.
2 "The Victorian Government have ordered two 14-pounder quick-firing guns, having a muzzle velocity of 2,050 ft per second, and firing 12 aimed shots per minute." The Argus, 11 May 1889 3 Additions to the Manual for the Victorian Naval Forces -1890 (courtesy of Melbourne University Library). 4Argus, 28 August 1882. 5Massina's Popular Guide to the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-1. 6 "...the Gatling Gun, which was shown in the Melbourne International Exhibition, & was afterwards secured for use on board the Nelson & Cerberus, was got ready for firing." The Argus, 17 October 1883. This seems to suggest that there was still only one gatling gun in the navy towards the end of 1883. Most likely this remained the case until the arrival of Albert, Victoria & Childers in June 1884. If this is the case then the gun exhibited at the Engineers' Exhibition in January 1884, & depicted in the engraving above, was the same gun that was exhibited at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880-1. 7 "Note the 2 long chambered 14 P are now on Naval charge." Hand written note on 1892 document detailing the location of land force guns. 8 "2 - 14 pr. Q.F. guns now in colony ordered for the armament of "The Courier"...Note on 1892 document detailing the location of land force guns.