HMS Waterwitch (1892)

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HMS Waterwitch
HMS Waterwitch in 1897
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: The White Lady
Owner: Lillie Langtry
Launched: 1878
Acquired: Given by an admirer[1]
Fate: Sold 1892(?), renamed Lancashire Witch, then purchased by the Admiralty
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Waterwitch
Acquired: Purchased 17 March 1893[2]
Fate: Sank in collision at Singapore, 1 September 1912
Salvaged and sold
General characteristics
Type: Sloop/Survey Vessel
Displacement: 750 long tons (760 t)
Length: 220 ft (67 m)
Installed power: 450 hp (340 kW)[3]
Sail plan: Barquentine Rigged
Complement: 81

HMS Waterwitch was a British hydrographic survey vessel active in eastern Asian waters in the early 20th century. She was a wooden vessel, purchased from a private owner specifically for survey work. She was lost in a collision in Singapore harbour in 1912.

Construction and Acquisition

She was originally built as a private vessel in 1878 as The White Lady, and given by an admirer to Lillie Langtry, famous as the mistress of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).[1] The vessel was sold and renamed Lancashire Witch, then purchased by the British Admiralty on 17 March 1893, renamed Waterwitch and rated as a sloop for survey work.


Much of Waterwitch's surveying was done in Malayan waters; a postcard from a member of the crew shows she was in Port Swettenham in September 1908.[1] According to Korean accounts, Waterwitch surveyed Socotra Rock in 1910, and confirmed a depth of less than 18 ft (5.5 m).[4] Some of the ocean features surveyed by Waterwitch include:[5]

Feature Position Date Remarks
Hayward Bank 34°57′N 11°56′W / 34.95°N 11.933°W / 34.95; -11.933 19 August 1894
Dacia Bank 31°10′N 13°40′W / 31.167°N 13.667°W / 31.167; -13.667 23 August 1894 Named for the cable ship Dacia
Waterwitch Bank 12°31′S 176°44′W / 12.517°S 176.733°W / -12.517; -176.733 23 September 1895 Named for Waterwitch
Combe Bank 12°33′S 177°38′W / 12.55°S 177.633°W / -12.55; -177.633 26 September 1895 Named for J W Combe, CO of Waterwitch
Isabella Bank 12°24′S 177°25′W / 12.4°S 177.417°W / -12.4; -177.417 28 September 1895
Balmoral Reef 15°40′S 175°52′W / 15.667°S 175.867°W / -15.667; -175.867 6 November 1896
Norfolk Ridge 28°34.7′S 167°50.7′E / 28.5783°S 167.845°E / -28.5783; 167.845 Unknown Named for Norfolk Island


H.M.S. Waterwitch, the Admiralty survey ship … was sunk in the harbour yesterday in extraordinary circumstances. She was rammed amidships by the Colonial yacht Seamew, commanded by Captain Chamberlain, and went down before she could be beached at a convenient spot

The Straits Times, 2 September 1912

File:HMS Waterwitch (1892) wrecked.jpg
HMS Waterwitch awash at low water at Singapore, 1912

On 1 September 1912, while lying at anchor off the north-eastern end of the mole at Singapore Harbour, Waterwitch was struck amidships by Seamew, the personal launch of the Governor of Singapore. Seamew had been heading around the breakwater for her usual berth and paid little enough attention to the position of Waterwitch that she drove right at her. The launch's sharp prow pierced Waterwitch's wooden side, and she then compounded her error by putting her engines hard astern. Waterwitch's bridge collapsed, her mainmast fell over the port side, and the resulting gaping wound in her side allowed an overpowering in-rush of water.[6]

Since her fires were out[7], no power could be raised, and so her anchor watch manned the pumps and a tug took her in tow. The wash from the tug increased the flooding and Waterwitch sank in 24 ft (7.3 m) of water. At low water, her masts, funnel, and the highest parts of her superstructure remained above water. Two members of her ship's company were drowned: Marine Sturgess knocked himself out diving overboard and was drowned, and an unnamed Chinese boy drowned between decks.[1] She was later raised, repaired and sold.[1] A Board of Trade inquiry was held at Singapore from 20-23 September 1912.