HMAS
Countess of Hopetoun
(HMVS)

Type
First Class Torpedo Boat
Nickname
Countess
Commissioned
25 July 1891
Fate
Sold for scrap in April 1924
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 75 tons
Length 130 feet overall
Beam 13 feet 6 inches
Draught 7 feet 4 inches
Performance
Speed 24 knots
Complement
Crew 19
Propulsion
Machinery Compound surface condensing
Horsepower 1186
Armament
Guns
  • 2 x 1-inch guns
  • 2 x BL Nordenfelt guns
Torpedoes
  • 3 x 14 inch torpedo tubes. One fixed, two rotating
  • 4 x sets of torpedo dropping gear

The Countess of Hopetoun, wife of the Victorian Governor, John Adrian Lous Hope, the Seventh Earl of Hopetoun (State Library of Victoria).

The Countess of Hopetoun, wife of the Victorian Governor, John Adrian Louis Hope, the Seventh Earl of Hopetoun (State Library of Victoria).

The first class torpedo boat Countess of Hopetoun was the last vessel to be ordered for the Victorian colonial naval forces. The 75 ton First Class Torpedo Boat was laid down in 1890 in the yards of Yarrow & Co. at Poplar in London and launched the following year. She was completed as Torpedo Boat No: 905 on 25 August 1891 at which time she embarked a crew of 27 to undertake builder’s trials.

For her long delivery voyage to Melbourne the vessel was rigged as a three masted schooner carrying 1,800 square feet of sail. A sleek vessel, the Countess of Hopetoun was 130 feet long with a single funnel situated between the fore and main masts. She had a top speed of 24 knots. The voyage to Australia took seven months and she arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 22 May 1891.

TB.905 rigged as a three-masted schooner for her voyage to Australia.
TB.905 rigged as a three-masted schooner for her voyage to Australia.

TB. 905 was officially christened Countess of Hopetoun on 25 July 1892. She was named after Hersey Alice Eveleigh-de-Moleyns, the wife of the then Governor of Victoria, John Adrian Louis Hope, the Seventh Earl of Hopetoun, who later became Australia’s first Governor General.

The christening took place in the Alfred Graving Dock, Williamstown as reported in the Williamstown Chronicle of 25 July 1892.

On the bows of the torpedo-boat had been recently painted the inscription "The Countess of Hopetoun," the name by which it is to be known for the future. The act of christening in the time honoured fashion, by breaking a bottle of champagne over the bows, was performed in a manner which was viewed with great curiosity by the onlookers. The bottle was suspended at the bows in front of the fore torpedo tube, which was connected with a galvanic battery on shore. In order to break the bottle Lady Hopetoun had simply to touch the galvanic battery, the immediate result being that a torpedo was fired and the bottle, shattered to atoms, its contents descending on the bows of the little vessel amidst cheers from the spectators and the strains of "Rule Britannia" from the band.

The christening of Countess of Hopetoun in the Alfred Dock, Williamstown, Victoria. Note the torpedo leaving its tube in the vessel's bow.
The christening of Countess of Hopetoun in the Alfred Dock, Williamstown, Victoria. Note the torpedo leaving its tube in the vessel's bow.

Following her commissioning, Countess of Hopetoun participated in the usual pattern of exercises conducted on Port Phillip Bay by the Victorian Naval Forces. This saw her launch mock torpedo attacks on other ships including the venerable flagship HMVS Cerberus.

Countess of Hopetoun following her delivery to the colony of Victoria
Countess of Hopetoun following her delivery to the colony of Victoria
Countess of Hopetoun conducting mock torpedo attacks in Port Phillip Bay (State Library of Victoria)
Countess of Hopetoun conducting mock torpedo attacks in Port Phillip Bay (State Library of Victoria)

Following Federation in 1901, the vessels of the Victorian Naval Forces became part of the Commonwealth Naval Forces (CNF). In practice little changed and for the next few years the former Victorian warships continued to exercise as they had done as colonial vessels. With the appointment of Captain William Creswell as the Director of the Commonwealth Naval Forces in 1904 this soon changed, as he began transforming the CNF into what would become the Royal Australian Navy.

Left: Officers of the Victorian Naval Forces on board 'Countess' c.1897. Right: Captain W R Creswell overseeing manoeuvres on Port Phillip Bay while embarked in 'Countess' c.1905.
Left: Officers of the Victorian Naval Forces on board 'Countess' c.1897. Right: Captain W R Creswell overseeing manoeuvres on Port Phillip Bay while embarked in 'Countess' c.1905.

In February 1905 the “Countess” steamed in company with Childers to Launceston, Tasmania; a voyage she repeated in December 1907 when the two visited Devonport and Hobart. Both vessels shipped large amounts of water during the outward and return passage through Bass Strait and it was with some relief that they arrived back in Williamstown on 14 January 1908.

 
During manoeuvres on Port Phillip bay torpedo attacks were routinely simulated against other vessels of the Victorian navy. On completion of the 'attacks' the torpedoes were recovered to be used again.
During manoeuvres on Port Phillip bay torpedo attacks were routinely simulated against other vessels of the Victorian navy. On completion of the 'attacks' the torpedoes were recovered to be used again.

During the annual Easter manoeuvres of April 1908 Countess of Hopetoun joined the torpedo boats Lonsdale, Nepean and Childers for the annual instructional cruise and manoeuvres. In January 1910 she proceeded to Sydney where she was refitted with new water tube boilers at Cockatoo Island.

Countess of Hopetoun transferred to the control of the Royal Australian Navy following the granting of the ‘Royal’ title to the existing naval forces in 1911. As such she became one of a handful of vessels to have served in the colonial, commonwealth and Royal Australian navies.

HMAS Countess of Hopetoun flying the White Ensign and Australian National Flag following her transfer to the Royal Australian Navy (Allan C Green State Library of Victoria)
HMAS Countess of Hopetoun flying the White Ensign and Australian National Flag following her transfer to the Royal Australian Navy (Allan C Green State Library of Victoria)

Between 1911 and 1913 she was employed chiefly in Victorian waters exercising in Port Phillip Bay and off Swan Island. In January 1914 her 3-pounder gun was removed and an assessment made concerning her suitability for continued service. Remaining in service, HMAS Countess of Hopetoun continued to participate in annual exercises and also performed minesweeping duties following the outbreak of World War 1.

Countess of Hopetoun alongside in Williamstown. On the other side of the pier can be seen HMVS Lady Loch (Allan C Green State Library of Victoria)
Countess of Hopetoun alongside in Williamstown. On the other side of the pier can be seen HMVS Lady Loch (Allan C Green State Library of Victoria)
Signalman Percy Baker who was lost overboard from Countess of Hopetoun on 15 December 1915.
Signalman Percy Baker who was lost overboard from Countess of Hopetoun on 15 December 1915.

In December 1915 tragedy struck the vessel when Signalman Sydney Percy Baker, of the Naval Reserve was lost overboard following exercises in Bass Strait with HMAS Childers. A heavy swell was encountered in the strait and at 1230 on 14 December Countess’s engineer reported that a boiler tube had ruptured and that the ship was losing steam. She subsequently lost way. Childers attempted to take Countess of Hopetoun in tow but the rough conditions resulted in the tow-line ripping both the port and starboard bollards from her deck. Consequently a sea anchor was deployed and Childers sent to get help.

At 2045 the tug Nyora was dispatched from Williamstown, rendezvousing with the helpless vessel at 0730 on 15 December. As a consequence of the towing bollards being pulled from her deck, a tow line was passed and secured around the torpedo boat’s circular conning tow. Unfortunately this resulted in pulling the vessel sideways through the water and as Countess of Hopetoun healed over Signalman Baker was lost overboard. Numerous life-rings and buoys were thrown in Baker’s direction but he was unable to reach any of them and subsequently disappeared from view. A search lasting more than two hours failed to find any trace of the rating.

At 1845 that evening all three vessels passed through the heads into Port Phillip Bay arriving at Williamstown two hours later. A court of inquiry into Signalman Baker’s death concluded that it was attributed to the heavy seas and that all possible steps had been taken to rescue the hapless sailor.

 

The gunboats Childers and Protector exercising with Countess of Hopetoun on Port Phillip Bay c.1915 (Artwork by Phil Belbin)
The gunboats Childers and Protector exercising with Countess of Hopetoun on Port Phillip Bay c.1915 (Artwork by Phil Belbin)

Following repairs, Countess of Hopetoun remained in Port Phillip Bay continuing the usual pattern of training cruises on the bay and conducting target practice. In 1918 she operated with HMAS Protector towing targets, patrolling troop transports and visiting the quarantine station at Portsea. These duties continued periodically until 1920 when she was placed in reserve. During the visit to Melbourne by the Prince of Wales in 1920 she was spruced up and briefly reactivated before returning to reserve status.

In April 1924 Countess of Hopetoun was sold as scrap to Edward Hill of 77 Chapman Street, North Melbourne for the sum of £299. She was scrapped the following year although her engines were subsequently in use at the Gordon Institute of Technology, Geelong, Victoria.

Further Reading:

  1. Ross Gillett, Australia’s Colonial Navies, The Naval Historical Society of Australia, Sydney, NSW, 1982.
  2. John Bastock, Australia’s Ships of War, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW, 1975.
  3. Colin Jones, Australian Colonial Navies, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT, 1986.