HMAS Protector (I)
Light Cruiser
William Armstrong & Co, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England
19 June 1884
June 1924
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 920 tons
Length 180 feet 6 inches
Beam 30 feet
Draught 12 feet 6 inches
Speed 14 knots
Crew 85
Machinery 2 compound surface condensing engines
Horsepower 1,500
  • 1 x 8-inch Woolwich-Armstrong Rifled Breech-Load gun
  • 5 x 6-inch Woolwich-Armstrong Rifled Breech-Load guns
  • 4 x 3-pounder 1.85 calibre Hotchkiss QF guns
  • 5 x 10-barrel Gatling machine guns
  • 200 x .45 Martini-Henri rifles Mk IV
  • 100 x Breech-load revolvers
  • 2 x 4-inch guns (WWI)
  • 2 x 12-pounder guns (WWI)
  • 4 x 3-pounder guns (WWI)
Other Armament
  • 100 x Cutlasses
  • 30 x Boarding Pikes
Battle Honours
HMAS Protector (I) Badge

Protector was built at a cost of £65,000 for the South Australian Government when that state decided in 1883 to establish a naval force for the protection of its coasts and harbours. For her size she was an exceptionally heavily armed vessel. To conserve fuel (coal) she was originally rigged as a topsail schooner.

Protector was commissioned on 19 June 1884 under the command of Commander John C.P. Walcott RN. She arrived at Port Adelaide from England, flying the Blue Ensign, on 30 September 1884 and remained in South Australian waters for the following fifteen years.

In 1900 she was offered to and accepted by the Imperial Government for China service as part of the Colonial Naval Forces raised to assist in subduing the Boxer Rebellion. Protector sailed from Adelaide, flying the White Ensign, on 6 August 1900 under the command of Commander William R. Creswell, Commandant, Queensland Marine Defence Force and who was later to play a major role in the formation of the Royal Australian Navy. She was temporarily commissioned as HMS Protector for legal reasons and reached Hong Kong on 11 September 1900 and proceeded for Shanghai a week later.

In Chinese waters, the expected use of shallow draught vessels of Protector’s type was not called for but she performed useful work as a survey vessel and in carrying despatches in the Gulf of Pechili. She returned to Australia in time to take part in the ceremonies inaugurating the Australian Commonwealth on 1 January 1901. On 1 March 1901 Protector and all other naval forces of the various Australian states were transferred to the Commonwealth.

As a Commonwealth naval vessel Protector was used to train the Naval Militia Forces of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Her role as a training ship continued following the foundation of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911 and during the period of 1911 to 1913 she was constantly on seagoing service on the Australian coast.

HMAS Protector (I) c1920
HMAS Protector (I) c1920

In September 1913 Protector became a tender to HMAS Cerberus, Williamstown, and was thus serving at the outbreak of World War I, when she was sent to Sydney to act as parent ship to the two Australian submarines AE1 and AE2. On 28 August 1914 she sailed from Sydney as escort to the submarines and as a unit of the Australian Naval Forces assembled to capture the German New Guinea colonies. Following the surrender of these colonies on 17 September 1914, Protector remained at Rabaul as one of the guard ships until 4 October 1914 when she sailed for Sydney in company of HMAS Fantome.

Protector remained in Australian waters, mainly at Melbourne, for the first eight months of 1915, but in October 1915 she was sent off to the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean to report on the wreck of the German cruiser Emden which had been driven ashore on North Keeling Island by HMAS Sydney (I) on 9 November 1914. She returned to Australia in December 1915 and thereafter for the remainder of the war period Protector was employed as a tender to HMAS Cerberus with various periods of seagoing duty as a coastal patrol vessel between Sydney and Cape Howe, and as a minesweeper in Victorian waters.

In the post war period she continued to serve as a tender to HMAS Cerberus at Williamstown. In May 1920 she carried the advance party to Flinders Naval Depot on Westernport Bay in preparation for the official opening which took place on 1 September 1920. On 1 April 1921 she lost her thirty-seven year old identity as Protector when she was renamed HMAS Cerberus and became the tender to Flinders Naval Depot at Westernport.

HMAS Protector (I) as a breakwater on Heron Island
HMAS Protector (I) as a breakwater on Heron Island

In June 1924 she paid off for disposal and was sold to Mr J. Hill of Melbourne for £677.10.0d. She was re-sold in 1931 to the Victorian Lighterage Co who renamed her SIDNEY and who used her as a wool lighter for many years.

In July 1943 she was requisitioned for war service with the United States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA). Subsequently she was damaged in a collision with a tug off Gladstone, while under tow en route to New Guinea, and abandoned. What remains of the old gunboat is now serving a useful purpose as a breakwater on Heron Reef, Queensland.

Further Reading

  1. A Warship for South Australia by Robin Pennock - published by Robin Pennock © S.A. 2001