First-class Torpedo Boat
15 September 1916
Dimensions & Displacement
Length 118ft 2in
Beam 12.5ft
Draught 5ft 9in
Speed 19.5 knots
Crew 12
Machinery Single Screw
Horsepower 750
Guns 2 x Hotchkiss 1-pounder machine guns
  • 2 x 14 inch torpedo tubes, one of which was fitted in the bows.
  • 4 x sets of torpedo dropping gear

Childers was the first torpedo boat acquired by the colonial navy of Victoria at a cost of £10,500. She was built in England by Thornycroft, of Chiswick, London and was named in honour of a prominent Victorian Government official, Hugh Culling Eardley Childers, who after his return to England later became the first Lord of the Admiralty.

Left: Prominent Victorian Government official, Hugh Culling Eardley Childers. Right: Lieutenant M. Jerram, RN.
Left: Prominent Victorian Government official, Hugh Culling Eardley Childers. Right: Lieutenant M Jerram, RN. (State Library of Victoria)

Launched in 1883, Childers presented as a well-equipped vessel. For her delivery voyage to Australia, Lieutenant THM Jerram, RN (later Admiral Sir Martyn Jerram, who commanded the Second Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet during the Battle of Jutland, 1916) was appointed in command.

Artwork by David Syme and Co depicts the launching of Childers.
Artwork by David Syme and Co, depicting the launching of Childers. (State Library of Victoria)

Leaving Portsmouth on 3 February 1884, Lieutenant Jerram takes up the story:

7a.m. cast off from jetty and commenced our long voyage only a few early boatman giving us a final cheer as we passed out, the Duke and Excellent not even acknowledging our farewell dip of the colours.

On February 10, Childers found herself running short of coal necessitating her being taken in tow.

At 2 a.m., I was informed that there was about two tons of good coal left, ample at any rate to take us to Cadiz and sufficient to take us to Gibraltar. In the forenoon, it was reported that there was less than what had been calculated, but sufficient to reach Cadiz. I therefore altered course for Cadiz, but almost immediately I was informed that we had only coal for 10 miles. Cadiz was then 50 miles off.

The SS Pathan subsequently towed Childers into Gibraltar with a bill being sent to the Victorian Government for £180.

Focsle party onboard childers preparing their lines.
Childer's foc'sle party tending to lines on her upper deck.

Childers arrived in Malta, again with very little coal to spare, a fortnight after her departure from Portsmouth where she was joined by the gunboats Albert and Victoria.

As the three vessels continued their voyage they were made available at Port Sudan for use by the Royal Navy in the Egyptian Campaign, but took no part in hostilities. In order to conserve coal, Childers, was again towed by Victoria.

The voyage soon revealed that Childers was unsuited for ocean passage, taking on sea water through her funnels as she ducked beneath waves. As a result, the tow-rope parted and, according to Jerram it was a ‘nasty a time as I can possibly imagine’ Some of the crew became ill, and were confined to a hospital for one week in Aden. Jerram himself was laid up in Albert for three days due to salt-blistered feet.

Childers did not have good open sea-keeping qualities and conditions onboard, particularly during her delivery voyage to Australia, were arduous.

Once again, under tow by Victoria, Childers glided over the Indian Ocean heading for Colombo where her crew enjoyed brief respite from what was proving to be an arduous voyage.

Captain AB Thomas, the officer-in-charge of the convoy, later commented on Childers condition in a newspaper interview.

At one moment a glistening prow would be seen emerging from the body of an immense wave at an angle of some 45 degrees. While at another a quivering stern with a wildly whirling screw would appear jutting into mid-air.

Steaming via Batavia, Torres Strait and Brisbane, the torpedo boat arrived in Sydney where she anchored in Farm Cove. The crew set to work painting their ship in preparation for her arrival in Melbourne.

Jerram and his men finally received the interest they did not gain upon their departure. The dangers of their journey were portrayed in local newspapers and praise was given to the ‘gallant little ship’ and her crew.

A large portion of the 'gallant little ships' small crew.
Childers' ratings pose for a photo alongside in Williamstown, Victoria.

For the final night of the voyage, poor weather was awaiting Childers, Albert and Victoria and the torpedo boat once again found herself kicking and bucking but with final determination she came through and the trio arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 24 June 1884, 19 weeks after leaving England.

Jerram recorded in one of his last journal entries:

Now the cruise is really over. I need hardly say very much to my relief; and perhaps I may add that I feel not only am I glad it’s over but rather proud of having done it.

The torpedo boat spent her initial years in service conducting regular exercises around Port Phillip Bay. On the 12 October 1885 she conducted an exercise with Albert to experiment with her torpedo dropping gear. In April the following year she was fitted with a signalling mast and was involved in exercises in which she attacked an enemy ship entering the heads. She was then slipped for maintenance.

Artwork by David Syme, illustrates the crew onboard Childers preparing to discharge a torpedo. (State Library of Victoria)
Artwork by David Syme illustrating Childers ratings preparing to discharge a torpedo. (State Library of Victoria)

Following service with the Victorian Naval Forces, Childers became a unit of the Commonwealth Naval Forces after Federation in 1901. Like many boats of her day Childers was frequently laid up and recommissioned.

Childers exercising in Port Phillip Bay with Protector and the Countess of Hopetoun c.1905 (Artwork by Phil Belbin)
Childers exercising in Port Phillip Bay with Protector and the Countess of Hopetoun, circa 1905. (Artwork by Phil Belbin)

Although mainly confined to waters in Port Phillip Bay Childers occasionally ventured further afield. After one such voyage to Launceston in 1905, in company with the Countess of Hopetoun, she required extensive repairs to her hull and boilers.

Childers with Countess of Hopetoun and HMVS Lady Loch berthed in Williamstown, Victoria. (Allan C Green State Library of Victoria)

Again in company with the Countess of Hopetoun, Childers sailed to Devonport, Launceston and Hobart from the 30 December 1907 to 14 January 1908. In November, torpedo practice runs were held in conjunction with Lonsdale, Nepean and Gordon at both fixed and towed targets.

Childers alongside at Williamstown. Note HMVS Nelson in the background.
Childers alongside at Williamstown. Note HMVS Nelson in the background.

On 3 January 1909, his Excellency the Governor of Victoria embarked in Childers and proceeded to Port Melbourne.

Occasional one-day exercises were conducted each month until Childers became a unit of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911.

On 29 April 1912, Childers commissioned with a full complement. In July, she towed Lonsdale and Nepean to Swan Island where her crew beached the two vessels. The following year, on February 11 she steamed towards Western Port. Two days later, she grounded on a sand bank. The Countess of Hopetoun laid out a tow-line but failed to free her. High tide saw Childers float clear and luckily there was no damage to her hull or engines, however, a leak was discovered on the port side of her mess deck. She subsequently underwent repairs in September.

On 3 November 1913 the torpedo boat was laid up yet again until she recommissioned on 23 February 1914 to participate in target practice. After a further break down and exercises the ageing vessel paid off a little over three months later on 26 May 1914.

Following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 Childers was again reactivated proceeding to sea for trials with the cruiser Pioneer. She was fitted with new guns in November.

During World War I Childers undertook patrols of the Port Phillip Bay area and also acted as a tender to Williamstown Naval Depot.

Childers paid off for the final time on 15 September 1916. Before the conclusion of the war she was towed to Swan Island and subsequently beached not far from the hulls of Lonsdale and Nepean. She was sold for scrap to JJ Savage & Co of South Yarra, Victoria in August 1918 for the sum of £20.

Childer's ornate stern board decoration now on display in the Museum of HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria.