21 April 2005

Features - History

New life for old seadog
Guns rise from 100 year slumber

BIG LIFT: One of the guns being removed from the aft turret of HMVS Cerberus. Photo: John Rogers

BIG LIFT: One of the guns being removed from the aft turret of HMVS Cerberus.

Photo: John Rogers
dFORMER GLORY: HMVS Cerberus as she appeared at the turn of last century. Digital image: ABPH Kade Rogers

FORMER GLORY: HMVS Cerberus as she appeared at the turn of last century.

`Digital image: ABPH Kade Rogers

BREAKWATER: HMVS Cerberus today. Photo: John Rogers

BREAKWATER: HMVS Cerberus today.

Photo: John Rogers

New hope has been breathed into the prospect that HMVS Cerberus be preserved with the dignity that she deserves, given her role in Victoria’s and Australia’s history.

March 3, 2005, was a blue letter day for Cerberus. All four guns were removed from their turrets for the first time in over a century.

As each gun weighs approximately 18 tonnes their removal will ease the load on the remaining structure by 72 tonnes.

Cerberus was launched in December 1868 at the Palmer Ship building Company Works at Jarrow on the Tyne River, UK.

Her voyage to Melbourne took five months and she arrived on April 9, 1871.

Upon her arrival in Melbourne she spent an active and long career within the confines of Port Phillip Bay.She served for over 50 years – which is a remarkable record for any warship. Cerberus was flagship of the Victorian Colonial Navy.

She transferred to the Commonwealth naval forces upon Federation in 1901 and became an inaugural unit of the Royal Australian Navy, when formed in 1911.

Declared surplus to the Navy in 1924, she was sold to a salvage company, stripped of any fixtures of value and the remaining hulk was offered for sale.

Scuttled as a breakwater in September 1926 at Black Rock, Cerberus has remained there ever since. Regretfully, in December 1993, a storm triggered the collapse of her hull making it impossible to refloat her and relocate her.

Marine engineers GHD Pty Ltd have recently completed two reports on Cerberus and conclude that she can still be stabilised by lifting her from above, then placing her on an underwater cradle to return her to the original water line level.

On October 13, 2004 the State Government granted funding of $80,000 to remove the four guns. March 2005, saw the removal of the guns.

After being coated with a preservative and also subjected to electrolysis process the four guns were placed on the seabed.

The salt that has been absorbed by the guns over the years will leach back into the seawater.

Therefore placing them on the seabed will be a preservation measure.

Friends of the Cerberus Inc. has worked very closely with Heritage Victoria, GHD Pty Ltd in addition to the National Trust.

Friends are seeking joint funding from both the Federal and Victorian State Governments for $5.5 million ($2.75 million from both the Federal and the State) required for stabilisation of Cerberus.

However, time is short as Cerberus is in danger of total collapse from the failure of her main beams that support the weight of her two turrets – they weigh about 200 tonnes each (even with the removal of the guns).

The stabilisation works are critical for Cerberus – without them she will have no future whatsoever.

Such works have a design life of 50 years and require minimal maintenance. Cerberus would then arise from the waters. Further details relating to Cerberus and the activities of Friends of the Cerberus Inc. can be obtained from their website www.cerberus.com.au.

Cerberus was a unique warship and notched up a number of firsts:

No sails - masts or yards

Central superstructure

Turrets at ends of superstructure

Conning tower & vitals protected by an armoured breastwork/citadel