25 June 1883
Abandoned as a hulk in Kerosene Bay, Sydney
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 530 tonnes
Length 145 feet
Beam 27 feet
Draught 11 feet
Speed 12 knots
Crew 44
Horsepower 800
  • 1 x 10-inch (254mm) 25-ton gun (forward)
  • 2 x 12 pounder guns
  • 2 x Nordenfelt machine guns
Battle Honours
Queen Victoria, after whom the colonial gunboat Victoria was patriotically named.

In 1884 the Australian colony of Victoria added two 'flat-iron' type gunboats to its navy. The vessels were patriotically named Victoria and Albert in reverence to Queen Victoria and her late consort Prince Albert.

Each mounted forward, a single heavy gun in a protected citadel, firing over the bows which were barely four feet above the waterline. The vessels were constructed of steel and the design incorporated a slightly ‘turtle’ bow, a rounded stern and a bridge-deck amidships enclosing the engine room. Victoria was the larger of the two vessels.

Victoria was ordered in 1883 from the English shipbuilders Messrs Wm Armstrong, Mitchell & Co Ltd, Elswick, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was launched on 25 June 1883 and completed in January 1884 at which time she undertook pre-acceptance trials.

On 26 January 1884 a crew comprising active and time expired Royal Navy personnel was signed on in Newcastle in readiness for the long delivery voyage to the colony of Victoria. Accompanied by Albert; Victoria sailed to Spithead on 3 February 1884. There, for legal reasons, the two vessels were classified as ‘War Vessels at the disposal of the Imperial Government’ thus enabling them to undertake the passage to Australia as units of the Royal Navy.

Prior to departing on their maiden voyage the gunboats were presented with portraits of  Her Majesty the Queen and her late husband Prince Albert by Queen Victoria and the then Prince of Wales.

HMVS Victoria with one of her boats alongside. Note the low foc'sle.
HMVS Victoria with one of her boats alongside. Note the low foc'sle.

Both vessels sailed for Gibraltar on 14 February 1884 under the overall command of Captain Alan Broderick Thomas, RN, embarked in Victoria, who, on arrival in Australia assumed the role of Commandant of the Victorian Naval Forces.

The vessels did not have good sea-keeping qualities and were described by some as ‘sluggish and unwieldy’ craft owing mainly to their low freeboard which saw their bows and sides continually shipping water. This made for an uncomfortable passage for their crews.

The gunboats arrived at Gibraltar on 21 February before proceeding to Malta, where, on 26 February, they rendezvoused with the new torpedo boat Childers which was also making its maiden voyage to the Victorian colony.

Victoria at sea (State Library of Victoria)
Victoria at sea. (State Library of Victoria)

At that time Britain was engaged in a long-running campaign in the Sudan to put down a revolt by Sudanese Madhists. As the situation there had intensified, the Victorian Colonial Government offered use of the three ships to the Imperial Government. The offer was gratefully accepted and they were subsequently diverted to the Red Sea port of Suakin where they arrived on 19 March 1884; only to learn that the fighting had receded inland as British troops rushed to the relief of Khartoum.  As a consequence their presence was no-longer considered necessary.

On 23 March 1884, the trio resumed their voyage with Childers under the tow of Victoria to conserve the latter’s meagre supply of coal. Following a short passage to Aden the voyage continued across the Indian Ocean bound for Colombo. Throughout the voyage heavy weather was encountered and the tow-line between Victoria and Childers parted numerous times. Childers was constantly swept by the sea with an anxious Captain Thomas, aboard Victoria, observing:

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

In spite of the difficulties the three small ships reached the Gulf of Carpentaria, later making their first Australian landfall at Thursday Island where they arrived in time to observe the Queen’s birthday holiday. The voyage continued down the eastern Australian seaboard via Townsville and Sydney where time was taken to carry out maintenance and repaint the vessels prior to their much anticipated arrival at Melbourne.

At 9 a.m. on 24 June 1884, following a nineteen week voyage, the trio were met in Port Phillip Bay by HMVS Cerberus with members of parliament embarked to celebrate the occasion.

Following her arrival in the colony Victoria served as part of the Victorian Naval Forces, participating in exercises and annual manoeuvres with other ships of Victoria’s navy, chiefly on Port Phillip Bay with an occasional foray into Bass Strait. In 1887 her 10-inch gun was removed and replaced with a more modern 8-inch weapon and the following year her Nordenfelts were replaced by quick-firing 6-pounder guns.

In 1895 the Victorian Defence Department announced that Victoria and Albert were to be laid up and in 1896 Victoria was acquired by the Western Australian Government for use as a tug. Sold in 1902 to the Sydney tug company Fenwicks, Victoria was employed on towing duties based from Newcastle. On 1 April 1920, she was on-sold to J O’Connor of Balmain and eventually abandoned as a hulk in Kerosene Bay, Sydney. She was later broken up.

A sketch of Victoria as she appeared at the time of her service in Western Australia. (Allan C Green, State Library of Victioria)

The tug Victoria stands by a stricken vessel.
Victoria following her conversion to a tug. Note the alterations to her bow.
Victoria following her conversion to a tug. Note the alterations to her bow.

Further reading

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