The arrival of our ironclad, the Cerberus, on the 9th. April, created a considerable amount of excitement, it having been the opinion of many that she would never reach Victoria. This opinion was grounded on a letter received from her commander, Captain Panter, about a month previously, and which led many to suppose that she would never be able to carry sufficient coal to cross certain portions of the ocean, her sailing qualities being anything but first-class. We have got her, however, safe and sound, and there is a general opinion that Captain Panter has shown excellent seamanship. There can be no doubt his task was both a very difficult and somewhat perilous one. She steamed up the Bay at the rate of nine miles an hour, and when she arrived at Hobson's Bay, the boys of the Nelson manned the yards, and the Russian gunboat, the Haydamack, was a cloud of gaily coloured bunting. Captain Panter has since been appointed captain and senior naval officer of Victoria. We append an account of the voyage, which will doubtless be found interesting : -
Sir, - In forwarding a copy of the log of this ship since I took charge of her from the Imperial Government, I have the honour to make the following report of my proceedings since I left Melbourne, on the 24th. of April last : -
On my arrival at Suez I visited the British Consul, with a view of getting information about the canal route, and having received a letter from his Excellency the Governor to the Consul-General in Egypt, asking him to afford me all the information he could on the same subject, I called on him at Alexandria, and from the information I gained I came to the following conclusion : -
1st. That it would be useless to ask for a remittance of canal dues for the Cerberus, as it had then become an undoubted fact that vessels of any size could adopt that route, the transport Jumna, of 4000 tons, having gone through; but I found that, by being a man-of-war, I should only have to pay dues on my registered tonnage.
2nd. That there was plenty of water, but that the great difficulty would be in getting a vessel with such great breadth of bottom as the Cerberus has through without touching, particularly as her screws project well out on each quarter.
3rd. That Port Said was the best place for coaling, as it was generally about 38s. per ton there, and 54s. at Suez.
I then made up my mind that on account of the great expense of coals, as by this route it would be entirely a steaming voyage on account of adverse winds, and also the danger of getting the ship through, I would not adopt it if I could possibly avoid it.
On my arrival in England on the 13th. June, I reported my arrival to the agent-general, and also the Admiralty, informing them that I had been sent by the Victorian Government to take charge of the Cerberus for the purpose of navigating her out to Victoria, and that I was ready to receive her as soon as their lordships would hand her over to me.
At that time only two of her guns were in, and a great deal required to be done to her hull before she would be ready for sea.
On the 21st. of June I saw the chief constructor, and spoke to him on the advisability of trying her at sea with her guns and stores in, so as to ascertain her sea-going qualities, as she was the first vessel of this description that had been built, and I had a long voyage to make. He informed me that he considered it most desirable that she should be tried under all circumstances. On the 22nd. I wrote to Mr. Verdon on the subject, drawing his attention to the fact that, as she had never been at sea, I could not decide as to which route to adopt until I knew her sea going qualities, and also that, should I have to try her myself, with my own crew, I might find defects which would require alteration, and that during the time they were being effected I should have to pay my men, which would entail a great expense on the Government; also, that I could not decide about taking my guns in the ship until I had seen her at sea, and that the chief constructor had advised me to apply for a trial.
Mr. Verdon forwarded my letter through the Colonial Office, but I never received any answer except an acknowledgement that my letter had been received.
On the 11th. July, soon after the outbreak of war, England was in such an unsettled state - everyone expecting that she would be involved in it - that I thought it was of the greatest importance that the Cerberus should get out as soon as possible, and I wrote to Mr. Verdon, offering to take her out without a trial, as there did not appear any chance of a speedy one; but at the same time suggesting that I thought it would be of great importance to get the opinion of the Admiralty as to whether they thought there was any cause for me to leave as soon as possible, and also as to the route they advised me to take.
In answer to this letter I was informed that under the existing circumstances they advised my getting to Melbourne as soon as possible, although they strongly advised me to go via the Suez Canal. I also took the opinion of Colonel Pasley and Captain Chamberlaine, superintendent of the Chatham Dockyard, and both gave me the same advice; but they thought I had better send my guns out via the Cape. I then suggested for the second time that the ship should be handed over to me, for at that time I had no control over her. I decided on taking my guns and ammunition in the ship, so as to be in an efficient state on my arrival, and also in case of it being necessary I should be in a position to defend myself during the voyage. I also applied to the Admiralty for the services of naval engineers, but they informed me that they could not spare one, as they expected to require them all in a short time, so I had to get them from private firms.
From this date (11th. July) till the 15th. September, I was waiting to receive the ship. She was nearly ready for sea as regards her fittings, but there were no stores on board. I went several times to the Admiralty to ascertain the cause of delay, and I was informed that their lordships had not come to any conclusion as to whether she would go out as a merchant ship or man-of-war. I also looked through the papers regarding the Victoria, to find out in what capacity she left England, and I found out she was not under any act, and therefore her men were not under any discipline act; but as the Cerberus was a different kind of vessel, and there was a European war going on, I did not think it right she should leave England without a clear understanding as to what regulations she was under.
Finally it was settled she should sail with a special pass from the Board of Trade, and on the 15th. Sept. I received a letter from Capt. Chamberlaine, the superintendent of Chatham Dockyard, informing me that he had orders to deliver the ship over to me when I was ready to receive her.
I informed him that I would take charge of her the next day, which I did, and then commenced shipping my officers and crew. I found no great difficulty in getting officers, with the exception of engineers, but I could not get any men. I had previously got the names of all I wanted, but when I placed the "notice" up in the town none came, and I then found that on account of the foundering of H. M. S. Captain, only five days before, the men would not come, and the whole time I was at Chatham getting my stores on board, which took me till the 22nd. of October, I could only get 25 men, and most of them of indifferent character; and to keep them on board I had to get a police boat to pull round the ship all night. When I got my powder and shell on board, I found that, owing to both the shell rooms being on the starboard side, the ship had a heel of 6deg. I wrote to the Admiralty about it, requesting that one of the shell rooms might be shifted to the port side. At first they wished me to fill up one of my compartments with water to counteract it; but I objected to that as I did not think it would be right to have to keep 25 tons of water continually in the ship, as it would increase her draught of water, and prevent her going through the canal, or over the banks at the entrance of Hobson's Bay. They then agreed to alter it, and I had to get all my powder and shell out again, and it took till the 22nd. of October to make the necessary alterations. On the 24th. I proceeded to Sheerness to adjust my compasses, and I found that they had such a great error, 66 degrees, that it was necessary to shift them, which I did, and finished the adjustment on the 28th.
On the 29th. of October, at daylight, I sailed for Plymouth, but soon after passing Dover I experienced such strong head winds, and the weather looked so threatening, and also being so very short-handed, I put into Spithead, and remained there till the 31st., as it was blowing a strong gale all the time, when I started again for Plymouth, arriving there on the 2nd. of November. On my passage I found that there was no means of getting the water off the lower deck except by bailing with buckets, and as I had already had 2ft. of water below, I decided on having two pipes let into the deck, so that the water would run into the main drain pipe. I could then pump it out. This I had done at Plymouth, and after coaling and getting some more men I sailed on the 7th. November for Gibraltar. On my passage across the Bay of Biscay I encountered a very heavy gale, and for some hours on the 15th. I expected she would have turned over, as she was rolling to 40deg. both ways, and at times some of her bottom was out of the water, and I had been informed at the Admiralty a few days previously, that I was never, if possible, to let her go over more than 10deg.
The gale lasted till the 12th., when I was off Finisterre. I then fortunately had fine weather to Gibraltar, where I arrived on the morning of the 27th., (sic - 17th.?) only having five tons of coal left. Here I found great difficulty in keeping my men on board, so much so that I had to get the assistance of the military and police. After coaling I sailed again for Malta, on the 20th., where I arrived on the 27th. The crew broke out of the ship as soon as I anchored, and I had to send twenty-five of them to gaol. I found it was necessary to take strong measures or I should have lost them all. In some cases they said they would sooner go to prison for six weeks with hard labour than toil in the ship. With the exception of the "stokers," I did not fill up their places, as I had already found that I should never be able to do anything with the sails, and therefore should not want so many men. After coaling and cleaning the ship's bottom, which was very dirty, and overhauling the engines, I was on the point of starting when a heavy gale set in, which kept me a week longer in harbour. I sailed from Malta on the 11th. December, and arrived at Port Said on the 19th. During my passage I had fine weather, and I tried the ship under all circumstances. Both sailing and steaming, but she would do nothing under sail.
On my arrival at Port Said I visited the canal authorities, and tried to get them to let the ship go through with the tonnage she was before her top-sides were put on, which was only 800 tons. This I found they would not do, so I requested them to re-measure the ship, as I was not satisfied with the measurement I got at Chatham. They did so, and I got through with a tonnage of 1,l54, instead of 1,307 (the Chatham measurement). As her steering qualities were so bad, I deemed it prudent to take a tug through the canal, and, after taking in 198 tons of coal, I started at daylight on the 21st., and arrived at Suez on the evening of the 23rd. I found, owing to her great beam under the water, 43ft., and her screws projecting so far out on each quarter, and also her bottom being only half an inch thick, that it was very dangerous work getting her through, for if her screws had touched they would have broken, and if her bottom had struck at all hard it would have bent it, so I only proceeded at the rate of about two miles per hour. I just touched twice, but not hard enough to take the paint off her bottom.
The Magdala, her sister ship, which came through about a week afterwards, broke her screws. For ordinary ships I don't consider the navigation of the canal is difficult, but the Cerberus took up certainly three times as much room as any other ship would. On the 24th. I took in 30 tons of coal, and proceeded down the Red Sea on Christmas morning at daylight. The first night after I left Suez my compasses altered their deviation, which very nearly put me on shore twice : it was blowing a fresh gale, and there was no anchorage, so I had to go on; the next morning, as soon as I could get observations, I found out the cause. I made a very fair passage to Aden, where I arrived on the 6th. of January, and after overhauling the engines and taking 400 tons of coal on board, 200 tons of which I had to stow on my decks, I started again on the 14th. for Galle. I had to steam nearly 600 miles up the coast of Arabia before I could stand out to sea, on account of the N.E. monsoon, which at this time of the year blows from the E.N.E., and then I kept away from Galle, arriving there on the 31st. January. I found it necessary to clean her bottom again here, and after doing so, and taking in 325 tons of coal, I sailed again on the 4th. February for Batavia.
I experienced very fine weather all the way, and arrived there on the 17th. and after cleaning the boilers and engines and taking in 305 tons of coal, I sailed on the 25th. for Australia. Soon after leaving the Straits of Sunda I got into very rough weather, and for three days I was close to a hurricane. I had run down the south-west side of it to avoid the centre, which would have been fatal to the ship, and consequently I had to go some distance out of my way; and when I got down to the western coast I had strong head winds for three days. I tried to work her down under sail, but I never succeeded in getting more than a knot and a half out of her, so I was obliged to go into Fremantle and get enough coal to take me to the Sound, where I arrived on the 22nd. of March, and after cleaning the ship's bottom and coaling I sailed again on the 30th., and, with the exception of the first two days I have had fine weather all the way. I sighted the Otway at half-past 2 p.m. on the 8th., and arrived in Hobson's Bay at 1 p.m. on the 9th.
In conclusion, I have the honour to inform you that the principal causes of my anxiety during the whole voyage have been -
1st., my never having had a trial, and therefore not knowing what stability the ship had; also the general idea amongst the officers, both at Admiralty and Chatham, Sheerness, Portsmouth, and Plymouth dockyards, that she was not fit for a sea-going ship, and further, the bad steering qualities of the ship, as when it was blowing I seldom got her to steer within three or four points of her course each way, and consequently at times she would get into the trough of the sea, which made it very dangerous, as I have had nearly the whole way upwards of 2000 tons of weight above my water line, and only 1800 below it.
2nd. Her sails being almost useless to her, I had always to trust to my engines, and at times I have had to carry 154 tons of coal on my upper deck, which made her roll very heavily.
I also beg to inform you that I have at all times received every assistance from my officers, who have always shown a great desire to carry out my orders, and have performed their duty to my satisfaction; but as regards the men, I am sorry I can not say the same. Having had such great difficulty in getting any men in England, I had to take any one I could get, and, consequently, with a few exceptions, they were all indifferent characters, and have given me a great deal of trouble. I have had to discharge and leave behind me in prison 32 since I left England. I do not think that their behaviour was entirely due to their being afraid of the ship, as I do not think either men or officers knew the state of her stability, and I have not considered it necessary to let them know there was at any time any danger, except so far as it was necessary to make them careful.
I wish also to bring under your notice that, soon after my arrival in England, I found that I should be called upon to serve in the Royal Navy, but as the Victorian Government had entrusted me with the important charge of bringing the ship out, and had also gone to the expense of sending me home for that purpose, I considered it my duty to accept the alternative, and to go on the retired list of the Royal Navy, so as to be able to carry out the orders and to merit the confidence placed in me, and of which I informed the agent-general at the time of making my election in England.
Hoping that the Government will be satisfied with the way in which I have carried out the duty they have entrusted me with - I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
The "Cerberus" turret ship was recently taken down the Channel, outside the Nore, for the purpose of testing the working of her balance rudder since the alterations made in the steering arrangements of the vessel. During the trial the vessel was found to steer in a far from satisfactory manner, and she will again be docked for the purpose of having some further improvements made in her rudder.
On the afternoon of Wednesday week, the first armour-plated war vessel on the turret principle, built on the Tyne, for the Government, the "Cerberus," was launched from the building-yard of Messrs. Palmer and Co. (limited), Jarrow. She is 500-horse power, and is intended for the colonies, having been designed by Mr. E. J. Reed, the Chief Constructor of the Navy.
Her dimensions are:-
Launching of the almost identical HMS Cyclops 3 years later.
The turrets are situated at the fore end and the other at the after end of the breastwork. Each turret is 21ft. 3in. in diameter, and constructed of a shell skin of ½-inch plates in two thicknesses, upon which is built the backing of wood and the armour-plating, of equal thickness to that in the other portions of the ship. The turrets are revolving, being worked by auxillary engines, and moving upon a centre spindle of great strength. Each turret will be manned by two 450-pounder Armstrong guns, each gun being 18 tons weight.
To give additional protection, however, to the men, the upper deck is of greatly increased strength, to withstand the battering of any raking shot. Along side the base of the turrets, and fore and aft, are placed the berths and cabins of the officers and crew, providing accomodation for thirteen officers, five engineers, twenty-five marines, fourteen stokers, and ninty-eight seamen, making in all 155 men.
Below the turrets and breastwork is a lower deck, on which are arranged the usual store-rooms, powder magazine, shot-rooms, &c. The hull of the "Cerberus" is divided by seven bulkheads, each being water-tight, and the bottom of the ship is double, so that if the outer shell or skin should be damaged by any means, the water can only get into one tank or compartment, and so the safety of the ship and crew is secured. As a further protection in case of temporary damage, there are five if Downton's large pumps on board, and each pump is connected with the whole of the ship, and can be used in cases of fire.
The "Cerberus" is ordered to be sent to Chatham, at which port she is to be fitted and completed, at the charge of the Melbourne Government, it being intended that she shall be sent to Australia.
The new turret ship built by Messrs. Palmer and Co., Jarrow-on-the-Tyne, for the Admiralty, made a trial trip off the Northumberland coast on Saturday, and her performance was deemed satisfactory. She left for Woolwich on Tuesday, and thence she will be despatched to Melbourne, Australia, where she will be kept for the defence of the harbour.
H.M.V.S. turret-ship Cerberus was floated out of the Alfred Graving Dock yard yesterday morning after undergoing her annual overhaul. An examination of her plates showed no signs of deterioration, her hull was found in thoroughly good order.
The floating out was a delicate business, owing to her momentum and proximity to other craft, notably the P. and O. Company's S.S. Hydaspes; but she was so handled that she came out safely, after being turned completely round within scarcely more than her length.
She then steamed down the bay for shot practice, having on board a few visitors, mostly
members of the Naval Torpedo Corps. The sea was rather lumpy, but notwithstanding her undeniably weak boilers, and under a strong head wind, her gun deck being repeatedly washed by heavy seas, the Cerberus made a good eight knots per hour.
When a few miles down the bay, a target was laid out, and at a distance varying from 800 to 1600 yards, 20 shots were fired with solid shot, or shells filled with sand. A few shots fell short, or a little aside, or burst, but they only served as foils to the steady good aim and admirable judgement as to distance generally displayed by the gunners. Shot after shot was direct in line, and scarcely a rowing boat would have escaped. The instructions given to the men in the turrets were, in the main, to fire when they got a good sight, and they gave a good account of themselves.
Captain Mandeville personally directed operations.
The effect on board of the discharge of the guns was peculiar, for the concussion not only splintered in pieces the shutters to the chart-room on the upper deck, but, when a shot passed over the deck side longitudinally, actually broke up a bulk containing stores so as to lay them open to the weather.
When the target - a wooden triangle surmounted by a red flag - was taken in it showed that one of the shots had actually struck off one corner.
In the end the Cerberus steamed safely back to her moorings off Williamstown.