- Walter Burroughs
- History - general, History - pre-Federation
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Royal Naval forces came to Australia in 1788 with Captain Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet and retained a continuous presence for the next 125 years until the flag of Admiral Sir George King-Hall was lowered on 4 October 1913. However during its formative years the colonial administration felt much neglected often having to rely on the presence of a single warship with a chain of command extending from the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station. To overcome these difficulties some small armed colonial vessels were acquired to carry stores and transport troops, prisoners and passengers between various settlements. These were usually manned by free men to avoid the risk of convict escapes. In answer to pleas from Governor Macquarie for more economical naval ships which better met the needs of the Colony the Admiralty purpose built two 10 gun, 220 ton brigs Her Majesty’s Colonial Ships Emu and Kangaroo. Emu (I) never arrived as in November 1812 she became victim of a heavily armed American privateer. Kangaroo arrived on station in January 1814 and a replacement Emu (II) in February 1815.
While the early colonial governors had autocratic rule this only extended to areas under their immediate command and the Admiralty jealously maintained charge of its ships. Following much discontent with this command structure in 1821 the Admiralty instructed Rear Admiral Sir Henry Blackwood commanding the East Indies Station to maintain a man-of-war permanently at Port Jackson. In 1836 with deteriorating conditions in New Zealand between settlers and Maori this was increased to two ships from the East Indies Station. In 1848 a new Australian division of the East Indies Station was created extending from 10 degrees South latitude to the Antarctic Circle at 66.5 degrees South latitude and from 75 degrees East longitude to 170 degrees West longitude. This covered a large portion of the Indian Ocean, all Australia and New Zealand waters and most of the Melanesian and Polynesian Islands. In 1838 the Royal Navy assisted by Royal Marines established an ill fated settlement at Port Essington in Northern Australia, following disease and lack of trade this was abandoned in 1849. The 1850s gold rush stimulated development with a rapid rise in population leading to further demands to strengthen naval forces. The Admiralty finally agreed to a separate Australian Naval Station and in March 1859 Commodore William Loring hoisted his blue pennant in HMS Iris as senior officer of HM Ships on the Australian Station independent of the Commander- in-Chief India. For the first two decades the new squadron was considered a backwater, and it was not until 1885 when the position was upgraded, with Rear Admiral Lord George Tyron in command flying his flag in the modern and well armed cruiser HMS Nelson that the squadron became an effective fighting force. The strength of the squadron was gradually increased and by the turn of the century it comprised the 1st class cruiser HMS Orlando, supported by four 3rd class cruisers and three gunboats. The status of the Australian Station was again reviewed in 1902 when it was upgraded to a Vice Admiral’s command. In 1903 when the subsidy supporting the RN Squadron was increased it grew to one 1st class cruiser HMS Powerful, three 2nd class cruisers, five 3rd class cruisers and three survey vessels which remained until the formation of the RAN in 1911.
The Russian Navy had shown an interest in what was then known as New Holland with numerous ship visits during the earlier part of the 19th century and Captain Bellingshausen used Port Jackson as a base before conducting his Antarctic circumnavigation. The Crimean War 1854-1856 spilled over into the Pacific when a combined British and French squadron besieged a smaller Russian force on the Kamchatka Peninsula where the allies landed but suffered heavy casualties and were obliged to withdraw. This led to a scare that the Russians might seek territorial gains in the South Pacific and launch an expedition upon the Australian Colonies. The Russian fear was not finally allayed until May 1905 when the Japanese Fleet destroyed the Russian China Fleet in the Straits of Tsushima. These events supported by the British Government allowed the Admiralty to reduce capital ships from its China Fleet. More perceptive minds could sense a shift in eastern naval supremacy with Germany, Japan and the United States all rebuilding their naval forces.