12 pounder Howitzers (Boat Guns)

In April 1877 the Age and Argus newspapers both reported that Cerberus had fired its Boat Guns. These were small muzzle loading guns mounted in the ship's boats.
As Nelson had six small brass 12-pounders for boat-work, Cerberus may also have used this type.

Michael Kitson states that "the ships' boat shown in the engraving below is manned by a helmsman, ten oarsmen and four, or five, gunners - the gun is, of course, mounted to fire over the bow. I gather that frequently these were field guns issued to the Naval Force, and for boat work they were remounted on a special carriage."

These "boat guns" could be the howitzers referred to in the Cerberus log books.
  • "Fired howitzers at target astern." Cerberus log book, 4 February 1877.
  • Three howitzers & their gear were removed from Cerberus on 23 September 1883 (about the same time that the first nordenfelt was added).
  • "Sent 3 howitzers and gear to marine yard." Cerberus log book 23 October 1884

12-pounder being readied for firing.
photo by Jerry Forkey
Courtesy of America's Historic Lakes, South Hero, VT, USA

Boat Gun in use during Exercises
photo Australasian Sketcher, 18 November 1874.

Just visible on the Flying Deck of Cerberus are three Howitzers.
photo courtesy of Shirley Joy

These boat guns were most likely 12 pounder smooth bore bronze howitzers which were the only secondary armamanent on board Cerberus until the gatling gun was added in 1882 and the nordenfelt machine guns in 1883.

Howitzer Barrels
photographed & reproduced with permission of Museum Victoria.

Shown above are two 12 pounder smooth bore bronze howitzer barrels used by the Victorian Navy. Manufactured in 1859 the barrels weigh 6½ cwts (330 kgs) each.

Howitzer Carriage
photo Illustrated Melbourne Post, 28 March 1868

Shown is a portion of one of the howitzer's gun carriages when they were mounted on Nelson's upper deck. Peter Webster describes these as "rear-chock carriages."

"On the same (upper) deck are half-a-dozen beautiful little 12-pounder howitzers for boat and field practice." The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September 1870.

On 13 May 1878 the Argus reported that Nelson carried four 12 pounder howitzers on her quarterdeck.

Spar Torpedo Boat

The steam launch and steam cutter carried by Cerberus were fitted with spar torpedos in May 1878. A spar torpedo was an explosive charge fitted to a spar (long pole) protruding from the bow of the boat. The aim was to approach the enemy ship (usually under cover of dark) and detonate the charge against the hull.

"Steam Launch fitted with a Spar Torpedo

Torpedo Steam Launch for Victoria, Length 55 feet Breadth 6 feet 6 inches"
The Australasian Sketcher August 31 1878.

Torpedos (mines)

The word Torpedo was originally used to describe what we would now call a mine.

Although not designed for laying torpedos Cerberus obviously, as the 1881 torpedo explosion shows, counted torpedos as part of its arsenal.

"Two types of mines were used: Electro Contact Mines and Electrical Observation Mines. Contact mines were arranged to float below the surface, at a depth that would bring them (or a separate float containing the circuit closer mechanism) into contact with a target vessel. When struck, the circuit closer rang a bell in the fortís test room and warned the operator of the vesselís position. On confirmation that the vessel was an enemy, the mine (or usually a group of four mines, each containing 50 or 100 lbs (23 or 45 kg) of guncotton) was detonated. Alternatively, if necessary these mines could be armed from the test room to explode on contact with a vessel. It was essential that the explosion was sufficient to destroy the target but not to so large as to detonate other mines, and it was also vital for mines to be placed close enough to each other to prevent passage between them. Observation mines were constructed with heavy cases to lie on the bottom and carried larger charges scaled to the depth Ė 250 lbs (114 kg) up to 36 ft (11 m), 500 lbs (227 kg) between 36 and 60 ft (18 m). The position of each mine laid was exactly determined, and when an enemy vessel was seen from the observation station at the fort to be directly over it, the mine (or a group of mines) was exploded."¹

Images from the Australasian Sketcher, June 1 1885. courtesy of "Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria"
¹Text by Michael Kitson with permission from the Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no 35, December 2001


Pattern 1858 Naval Rifle

AWM REL/02398

Pattern 1858 Naval Rifle. Percussion lock marked Crown VR and 1861 over Tower. Barrel marked with TP proofs. Butt tang engraved E over 211 over VV. Ramrod engraved H135. Stock has WGM within a diamond. It is complete with all parts including a black leather sling.

The markings indicate that this rifle was issued to the Victorian Volunteer Navy and subsequently sold to the J C Williamson's Greater Metropolitan Theatre Company. Text & photo from Aust War Memorial website

Snider Rifles

image used with permission courtesy of Adams Guns website

In 1875 when Captain Panter was asked "Are you in want of small arms for the men?" He replied:- "I have none. I had some Sniders, but six months ago the Government sold all the Sniders to the New Zealand Government."

Martini-Henry Rifle

Martini-Henry Mark I (1871-1876)
photo courtesy of Digger History
Captain Panter reported in 1875 that Cerberus carried 50 Martini-Henry rifles.

Martini-Enfield Rifle


On April 16 1900 The Argus newspaper reported that "A new type of rifle, the Martini-Enfield with a bore of .303 was issued to the permanent men on the Cerberus on Wednesday last."

Lee-Enfield Rifle

Lee-Enfield Mk I
photo courtesy of Digger History

On 30 August 1900 William Bertotto's diary, kept during the Boxer Rebellion, stated "Afternoon, re-armed with Lee-Enfield mark II rifles; Made ready for sea."

click to go to Index