- Gillett, Ross
- Colonial navies
- RAN Ships
- HMAS AE2, HMAS Cerberus, HMAS AE1, HMAS Platypus (Shore Base)
- December 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
One Ship, One Navy – No Collisions The Story of HMCS Protector
IN JULY 1882, motions were brought forward in both houses of the South Australian Parliament for a cruiser-type warship, capable of defending the local coastline. At the suggestion of Sir Wm. Jervois, Sir Wm. Armstrong & Co. of Newcastle upon Tyne were chosen to build the vessel, named Protector, for approximately 40,000 to 50,000 pounds sterling. The builder’s estimate was 63,600 pounds. The contract authorising construction was signed on 16th November 1882, the time allotted being fourteen months.
A considerable number of alterations were incorporated during the vessel’s time on the builder’s slip, delaying completion until May 1884. On 19th June, Protector was ready for sea. She was officially commissioned and during the day undertook her initial speed trial run over a four hour period, the average speed attained being 14 knots. The guns were then tested in the open sea.
Sir Wm. Jervois recommended Protector would be most suitable for Marine Board duties, but the Board denied this, claiming she would only be of service to them so far as ‘an eagle might be used for catching flies’. Despite the Marine Board’s rather poor opinion of Protector, she nevertheless was the perfect ship for her role. An armament comprising one 8 inch and five 6 inch guns ranked her amongst the most powerful gunboat type vessels yet constructed. The South Australian authorities rightly classed her as a cruiser, and as a cruiser she was referred to up until her transfer to Commonwealth and RAN control. It was estimated that maintenance costs would amount to 10,000 pounds sterling per annum.
Protector sailed from Newcastle upon Tyne on 27th June 1884, and arrived in Gibraltar on 5th July. Sailing via Malta and Port Said, Protector anchored at Suez on 25th July. Rigged as a topsail schooner the ‘cruiser’ sailed on to Colombo, leaving there on 25th August. During her voyage to Adelaide Protector flew the blue ensign. She left King George’s Sound on 24th September, and on 30th September, arrived at Port Adelaide.
Protector’s first commanding officer was Commander J.C.P. Walcott, RN, who brought Protector out from England and served as C-in-C of the South Australian Naval Forces until August 1893, when he was succeeded by Captain Creswell.
Protector’s largest weapon, the 8 inch Woolwich-Armstrong rifle breech-loading gun, was mounted at the bow. The gun weighed 12 tons and could fire a 180lb shell 7,500 yards using a charge of 60lbs of black powder. The gun measured 18 feet in length and was mounted on an 11½ ton Elswick carriage.
The smaller 6 inch BL variants were mounted two on each beam and one at the stern. Like the larger weapon, the 6 inch guns were manufactured by Woolwich-Armstrong, and could shoot a projectile over 7,200 yards. Each 6 inch gun weighed 4 tons, was 14.4 feet long and was protected by 1 inch thick steel shields. An 80lb shot was fired using a 34lb charge.
Four 3 pounder Hotchkiss guns were mounted on the hurricane deck and amidships near the funnel. Each weighed ¼ ton and was 6.72 feet long. Five Gatling machine guns capable of firing 1,200 rounds per minute were also carried. Originally 32 Martini-Henri rifles, 12 revolvers, 30 swords and a quantity of boarding pikes and axes were carried onboard. Later in her career the number of small arms increased to 200 x 4.5 inch rifles, 100 breech-load revolvers, 100 cutlasses and 30 boarding pikes.
During World War One Protector lost most of her original guns and was re-armed with 2×4 inch, 2 x 12 pdr., and 4×3 pdr.
Upon her arrival in Adelaide The Advertiser reported inter alia:
‘Protector’s outward appearance is that of a low decked vessel built up several feet from the bow to right aft. She is divided into watertight compartments by 4 transverse bulkheads. The main deck is laid with teak planks 2½ inches thick. On the main deck are the galleys, officers’ quarters and principal steering gear. The Captain’s cabin is on the lower deck, there being an entrance to it aft, just in front of the stern gun. It is upholstered in Morocco, the woodwork being of mahogany.
‘Crew’s quarters are on the lower deck forward. Magazines are on the main deck, one fore and one aft. They are built of steel plates lined with lead so as to be perfectly watertight.
Above the main deck, extending from about midships to the low forward deck, is a square hurricane deck, on which is fixed a conning tower formed of inch steel plates. It contained duplicate steering wheels, with speaking tubes to various parts of the vessel, as well as chart tables and boxes.’
During her career, Protector carried several paint schemes, the last being naval grey. In 1914 her eight inch gun was removed and the bow built up. Years later she was sold out of service and again altered when converted to a lighter.