The Cerberus Guns

10 inch R.M.L. (rifled muzzle loading) guns
History Details Hi-res scans Specifications

"the most magnificent guns in the world"

When built, Cerberus was fitted with four 18 ton guns, 2 in each of the 2 turrets. Although built at the Royal Gun Factory in Woolwich they are generally described as Armstrong Guns as they were built on the Armstrong pattern. In 1872 The Mechanics Magazine described these guns as "the most magnificent guns in the world". The gun barrel had a bore of 10 inches and was rifled. The rifling gave the gun accuracy and targets were regularly hit by the gun crews on Cerberus.

Muzzle loading, the four guns were the Mark I version of which at least 25 were built. Built in 1869 the guns were fitted to Cerberus in 1870. Although test fired at Woolwich the Franco-Prussian war caused such concern that Captain Panter decided to leave for Victoria before on board test firing of the guns could be carried out. The first test firing on board Cerberus took place on 26 August 1871 in Port Phillip Bay.

The Treatise on the Construction & Manufacture of Ordnance in the British Service published in 1877 stated that the Mk I version "was introduced in 1868 for the Navy as a most powerful broardside gun".

As the guns on Cerberus were never upgraded, she still has her original pattern guns. Being muzzle loading the barrel had to be short enough so that the muzzle could be reached from within the turret. Only when breech loading guns were introduced could barrel length and hence range be extended.

The muzzle loading guns of Cerberus fully protruding from the turret.

Original guns of Magdala (sister ship of Cerberus) were replaced by 8 inch breech loading guns (above) in 1892.
The long barrels are more similar to those on a modern warship.

photo courtesy of Peter Webster.

Gun Turret, ready to fire.

Gun Turret fig 1, Ready to Fire.

During the Easter Manoeuvres of 1872 Cerberus fired 114 shots and at one stage each gun was firing one shot (albeit untargeted) every 1½ minutes. The guns, which were electrically fired, could fire traditional round shot as well as various shells, including shells with time fuses.

Gun Turret, Loading.

Gun Turret fig 2, Loading.

In 1884 the right gun in the aft turret suffered a cracked barrel when a shell burst on leaving the barrel. This gun was replaced with another Mark I gun. The damaged gun was sent "home" to Britain.

In 1897 the left gun in the same turret suffered a cracked trunnion.

Installation of the replacement for the second damaged gun.

The second replacement gun being installed on Nov 30 1898.
The damaged gun was sent to Ballarat to be repaired.

The Second damaged gun in Ballarat.

The second damaged gun (a Mk I) while "on holiday" in Ballarat for 89 years.

When repairs were not possible the damaged gun was mounted on the foreshore of Lake Wendouree and eventually sent to HMAS Cerberus naval base at Flinders in 1987. This gun was replaced by a Mark II gun shipped out from Britain.

 The Second damaged gun at HMAS Cerberus.

The second damaged gun, a Mark I, at HMAS Cerberus Navy Base, Crib Point.

Markings on the Second damaged gun at HMAS Cerberus.

Just visible on the left trunnion of the second damaged gun is R.G.F. (Royal Gun Factory).
At the top, No 17 in the centre and 1 (mark no.) below.
The date of manufacture (1869) can almost be made out at the bottom.

Both guns in the fore turret escaped damage until attempts were being made to scrap the ship in 1924. A buildup of gases from an oxy-acetylene torch caused an explosion breaking off the end of the barrel of the right hand gun.

The left gun in the forward turret would seem to
qualify for the title of "the third damaged gun".

Photo: Glen Agnew 1989

Throughout her career the guns were fired both independently and all at once (broadside). When firing broadside, as with other big-gun ships, such as Bismark, it was normal for some of the ship's fittings to be damaged. This was considered an acceptable price to pay for the damage that broadside firing could inflict on the enemy.

Click to read about Cerberus firing Broadside using the Director

elevating the left hand gun in one of the two turrets.

"Number 2" elevating the left hand gun in one of the two turrets.
Photo: "Newspaper Collection", State Library of Victoria

Being muzzle loading the guns were labour intensive and required 12 men to operate each gun. Although many plans were drawn up to replace the guns from 1884 until 1904 Cerberus was never re-armed. The colonial Victorian government was not interested in spending a lot of money on a ship about to be handed over to the new nation of Australia. The new Australian government, having promised the states all customs duties for the first 8 years of federation was not in a position to rearm Cerberus until 1909. By then the second set of boilers had been condemned and the engines were 40 years old.

Unlike her sister ship, Magdala, near sister ship Abyssinia and the larger versions HMS Devastation, HMS Thunderer and the fifth HMS Dreadnought, Cerberus never had her guns upgraded. Fortunately for us Cerberus is still fitted with the guns for which she was designed.


4 Muzzle Loading Rifled (RML) Armstrong guns mounted in 2 turrets.

Calibre - 10 inches

Weight of Gun - 18 tons

Preponderance - 8 cwt

Length of gun - 15 feet

Length of bore - 12 feet 1 inch

Length of rifling - 118 inches

Range - 5.538 kms (70 lbs. charge firing a 410 lbs.
             palliser shell, elevation 13o 12')

Muzzle Velocity - 1,379 f. s.

Rifling - increases from 1 in 100 calibres at breech to 1 in 40 at muzzle

Number of rifling grooves - seven

Rifling groove width - 1.5 inches

Penetration - 9 inches of armour plate at 1 km.

Electrically fired

Manual for Victorian Naval Forces 1887 - courtesy of "State Library of Victoria"
Gun Dimensions

Known Gun Details

Year Mfg. Mark Weight
ton cwt qtr lb
Number Maker Current location Notes
Fore Turret
1869*I17-18-1-08 or 18Royal Gun FactoryHMVS Cerberus (left)
currently on sea floor
1869*I18-0-2-08 or 18Royal Gun FactoryHMVS Cerberus (right)
currently on sea floor
damaged during scrapping
Aft Turret
?II17-18-2-0?Royal Gun FactoryHMVS Cerberus (left)
currently on sea floor
installed 30/11/1898
?I17-18-2-14possibly 24Royal Gun FactoryHMVS Cerberus (right)
currently on sea floor
installed 12/02/1885
Damaged Guns
1869*I??Royal Gun Factoryreturned to Britaindamaged 26/8/1884
1869I18-1-0-017Royal Gun FactoryHMAS Cerberus Depotdamage noticed 16/9/1897

Weight details from: Victoria's Guns: A field guide., Major Bill Billett, Scienceworks Museum of Victoria, 1994.
Details on the Mark II Gun courtesy of Peter Webster Australian Coast Defence & Fortification Ordnance Information

Hi-res scans

click image to download


244 kb

Installing the 2nd replacement gun

547 kb

Guns in the Aft turret

photo Peter De Gruchy 1991
3.82 mb

Divers Susan Newham (left) & Lynette Snow show the size of the aft turret guns

photo courtesy of Glen Agnew 1989
74.8 kb

Aft turret guns

photo courtesy of John King 1968
76.2 kb

Aft turret guns

photo courtesy of "City of Bayside"
355 kb

Turret Plan fig 1, Ready to Fire

244 kb

Turret Plan

956.2 kb

Turret Plan fig 2, Loading.

211 kb

"Friends of the Cerberus" logo

30 kb

Gun dimensions

courtesy of Peter Webster
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1904 Cerberus with a 2004 sky

colourised by Kade Rogers (RAN)
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Aft Turret Guns

photo by George Scott
111 kb

Range Table

Manual of Victorian Naval Forces 1887
252 kb

Mark II Gun, Aft Turret

photo by George Scott
108 kb