HMS Bacchante (1876)

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Career (United Kingdom)
Class and type: Bacchante-class corvette
Name: HMS Bacchante
Builder: Portsmouth Dockyard
Launched: 19 October 1876
Fate: Sold for scrap in 1897
General characteristics
Displacement: 4,070 tons
Tons burthen: 2,679 tons
Length: 280 ft (85 m)
Beam: 45.5 ft (13.9 m)
  • 14 × 7-inch (177.8 mm) guns
  • 2 × 64 pounder guns

HMS Bacchante was a Bacchante-class ironclad screw-propelled corvette of the Royal Navy. She is particularly famous for being the ship on which the Princes George and Albert served as midshipmen.

Bacchante was built at Portsmouth Dockyard and launched on 19 October 1876, the second ship of the three ship Bacchante class.[1] She was armed with fourteen 7-inch (177.8 mm) muzzle-loading rifle guns and two 64-pounder torpedo carriages, and rated at 4070 tons.[2]

Royal crew

The two oldest sons of the Prince of Wales had entered the navy in 1877, and by 1879 it had been decided by the Royal Family and the Government that the two should undertake a cruise.[3] They were assigned to HMS Bacchante, which was then part of a squadron intended to patrol the sea lanes of the British Empire. Queen Victoria was concerned that the Bacchante might sink, drowning her grandchildren. Confident in their ship, the Admiralty sent Bacchante through a gale to prove she was sturdy enough to weather storms.[4] The Princes, with their tutor John Neale Dalton, duly came aboard on 17 September 1879. The Bacchante was to be their home for the next three years.[3] They made a number of cruises to different parts of the Empire with the squadron. Serving aboard the squadron's flagship, HMS Inconstant at this time was their relation, Prince Louis of Battenberg. The squadron initially consisted of HMS Inconstant, Bacchante, Diamond and Topaze, the composition altering during the voyages as ships left, or were joined by new ones.[5] The Bacchante visited the Mediterranean and the West Indies, followed by later voyages to South America, South Africa, Australia, China and Japan.[3] The Princes made regular diary entries, which were later published as two volumes in 1886 as The Cruise of Her Majesty's Ship Bacchante.[3] Bacchante briefly assisted in the First Boer War, before the squadron sailed again for Australia. Shortly after reaching the coast on 12 May, a heavy storm blew up and when it had abated, the Bacchante was missing. After three days searching, news reached the squadron that Bacchante had had her rudder disabled, but had been able to reach safety at Albany.[6]

Encountering the Flying Dutchman

On 11 July 1881 the Bacchante was off Cape Town when a strange sail was spotted. Prince George, the future King George V later wrote this in his diary:

At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up. The lookout man on the forecastle reported her as close to the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her... Thirteen persons altogether saw her.[7] The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, who were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light... At 10.45 A.M. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.[8]

The Flying Dutchman was again reportedly sighted in the same area where the Bacchante had seen her, but 60 years later, during the Second World War. This time one of the witnesses was the writer Nicholas Montserrat.[7]

Later career

After the encounter with the Flying Dutchman the Bacchante continued on her voyage. Bacchante eventually returned to England in August 1882 and discharged her young Royal midshipmen.[3] She continued in service until 1897 when she was sold to the shipbreakers Cohen, and scrapped.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Colledge. Ships of the Royal Navy. pp. p. 28. 
  2. Gillett, Ross; Melliar-Phelps, Michael (1980). A Century of Ships in Sydney Harbour. Rigby Publishers. p. 22. ISBN 0727012010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Gordon. Royal Education. pp. p. 169. 
  4. Carlton. Royal Warriors. pp. p. 151. 
  5. Scott. Fifty Years in the Navy. pp. p. 35. 
  6. Scott. Fifty Years in the Navy. pp. p. 39. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hopkins. Ghosts of South Africa. pp. p. 8. 
  8. John Wyatt's archives


External links