HMS Calliope (1884)

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File:HMS Calliope in port.jpg
HMS Calliope
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Calliope
Builder: HM Dockyard, Portsmouth
Laid down: 1881
Launched: 24 June 1884
Sponsored by: Lady Phipps Hornby
Commissioned: 1887
Maiden voyage: 1 March 1887
Renamed: Helicon (1915–1931); resumed Calliope when 1914 Calliope paid off
Nickname: "Hurricane Jumper"
Fate: sold for breaking 1951
General characteristics
Class and type: Calypso-class corvette
Displacement: 2,770 long tons
Length: 235 ft (72 m) bp
Beam: 44 ft (13 m)
Draught: 19 ft 11 in (6 m)
Installed power: 6 boilers
Propulsion: 2 Compound engines (J and G Rennie), of 4,023 ihp driving single screw
Sail plan: barque rig[1]
Speed: 13.75 kt (25.5 km/h) powered; 14.75 kt (27.3 km/h) forced draught
Range: 4,000 nm (7,400 km) @ 10 kt
Complement: 317
Armour: Deck: 1.5 in (38 mm) over engines

HMS Calliope was a Calypso class third class cruiser of the Royal Navy which served from 1887 until 1951. Classified as both a small cruiser and a corvette, she exemplified the transitional nature of the late Victorian navy. She was a sailing corvette—one of the last—but supplemented her sail rig with powerful engines. Among the first of the smaller cruisers to be given all-metal hulls, she was cased with timber and coppered below the water line, as were wooden ships.[2]

She was known for "one of the most famous episodes of seamanship in the 19th century", where she was the only ship to avoid being sunk or stranded in the tropical cyclone that struck Samoa in 1889.[3] After retirement from active service, she served as a training ship until 1951, when she was sold for breaking.

Design and construction

Calliope and her sister ship Calypso made up the Calypso class, a subclass of the successful C class corvettes designed by Nathaniel Barnaby. These vessels were part of a long line of cruiser classes built for protecting trade routes and colonial police work.[4] The C-class vessels, including Calliope, were among the last sailing corvettes ever built for the Royal Navy. They differed from prior ships in having an all-metal hull, of both steel and iron, although the metal plating of the hull was timber-cased and coppered below the waterline.[2] The only armour was a 1.5-inch (38-mm) armoured deck covering the machinery spaces, but additional protection was provided by coal bunkers along the sides.[5]

Calypso and Calliope differed from their nine half-sisters of the C class in armament; they were also slightly longer, had a deeper draught, and displaced 390 tons more.[6] Originally planned as a ten-gun corvette, Calliope was completed with four 6-inch (152.4 mm) breechloaders in sponsons fore and aft on each side, twelve 5-inch (127.0 mm) breechloaders in broadside between the 6-inch guns, and six quck-firing Nordenfelts.[7]

Calliope's engines were of 4,023 ihp, over 50% more powerful than those of her nine half-sisters, which gave her one more knot of speed, a difference that would be crucial in the event that made her famous.[8] These compound engines could drive Calliope at 13¾ knots, or 14¾ knots with forced draught.[9] She nevertheless was a fully-rigged sailing ship,[1] enabling her to serve in areas where coaling stations were rare. Calliope was well-suited to distant cruising service for the British Empire at its Victorian peak.[9]

Although laid down in 1881, Calliope was not launched until 1884. Upon completion later that year she was placed in reserve at Portsmouth. The ship was not activated until 25 January 1886, when she was placed in commission for the Australian Station,[10] the sort of distant service for which she had been designed.[11]

Service with the fleet

See also: Samoan crisis and 1889 Apia cyclone
File:HMS Calliope stbd quarterdeck.jpg
Starboard quarterdeck, while at Port Chalmers, New Zealand
De Maus Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

The British Empire was the largest on Earth, and Britain protected that empire and its trade routes with the world's largest navy. Great Britain assumed the role of peacekeeper on the world’s oceans, and the Royal Navy was the instrument by which the Pax Britannica was kept.[12] The global reach of the Royal Navy included the western Pacific Ocean, patrolled by the Australia Station. In 1887 Captain Henry Coey Kane took Calliope to the Pacific.[13] At first assigned to the China Station, Calliope was reassigned to the Australia Station later in 1887. She was in New Zealand at the end of that year, and was the first vessel to enter the new Calliope Dock.[14] In early 1888 she was sent north to watch over a looming diplomatic crisis and potential military confrontation in Samoa.[14]

This crisis had its roots in the Great Powers' competition for colonies in the last decades of the 19th century. The German Empire, invigorated by its victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War and by its unification under the Prussian monarchy, had newfound imperial ambitions that stretched beyond Europe. It had shared in the division of Africa, and in the 1880s looked to the Pacific as well. Ships of its Imperial Navy were sent to Apia in Samoa, where German agents had fomented rebellion against the indigenous government. They were countered there by the Asiatic Squadron of the United States Navy. The United States had nearly completed establishing control over its territories on the North American continent, leading American ambitions to stretch beyond its shores. The squadron was at Samoa to assert US interests in the Pacific and to watch the Germans.[15]

File:HMS Calliope 1880s.jpg
Starboard bow quarter view

In March 1889, the new corvette HMS Calliope—sent to keep the peace and protect Britain's interests in Samoa—joined the competing squardrons of the Imperial German and United States navies at Apia.[16] The harbour there was primitive, small and nearly surrounded by reefs. Perhaps fit for four ships, it held seven warships and six merchant vessels on 14 March.[17]

The barometer began to fall that day and a tropical cyclone began to form. The 1889 Apia cyclone increased in ferocity over the next two days.[18] Rain fell in sheets, cutting visibility. Winds of 70 to 100 knots (130–185 km/h) blew directly into the anchorage, trapping the ships in the V-shaped harbour.[19] The harbour bottom was scoured by currents and anchors lost their purchase. Operating their engines at full speed to resist the wind and waves, ships nevertheless dragged their anchors and were inexorably driven landward. Vessels collided and were thrown on the reefs or ashore, and some sank.[20] By 09:00 on the 16th, Calliope, although still riding at anchor, had been hit by one ship and narrowly missed by another, and Captain Kane decided to attempt to escape.[21] In order to relieve the strain on her five anchor cables, Calliope's boilers were producing maximum pressure; her engines were being worked "red hot", and her propeller was making 74 revolutions per minute, sufficient for 15 knots (28 km/h). In spite of this titanic effort, the ship was barely able to make headway against the winds and the seas in the harbour, and her anchor cables began to part.[22]

On her port and only 20 feet (6 metres) away was the coral reef. Ahead were the American ships Vandalia and Trenton; to starboard were other warships. There was only a narrow opening between the vessels to one side and the ground to the other.[23] Hemmed in by these obstacles and with her rudder at times within 6 feet (2 metres) of the reef, Calliope manoeuvred while still attached to her cables, which began to give way. When Captain Kane saw an opening, he slipped the anchors and drove forward.[24] Avoiding the helpless USS Vandalia, he approached the sinking Trenton, coming so close that Calliope’s fore yard-arm was over the American's deck, which it cleared only because Calliope rolled to port which lifted the yard over the Trenton. The crew of the helpless and doomed American ship cheered Calliope as the corvette slipped past. This attempt was called by the American commander on the scene "one of the grandest sights a seaman or anyone else ever saw; the lives of 250 souls depended on the hazardous adventure."[25]

File:Illustrated London News.jpg
Illustrated London News for 27 April 1889; artist’s conception of HMS Calliope being cheered on by the crew of USS Trenton as Calliope escapes from Apia Harbour. Calliope actually passed to Trenton's port.

Making for the harbour mouth, the British ship's bow and stern alternately rose and plunged into the incoming waves; her propeller at times was spinning in air, requiring a careful hand on the throttle to keep the shaft from running away to destruction. Green seas were boarding the ship and running the length of her deck. There were ten men on her wheel and more below handling relieving tackle on her tiller to assist in maitaining control of the rudder.[26] Taking two hours to travel four cables,[27] the corvette finally escaped the anchorage into the open sea, an achievement not known to Calliope's crew for some time, as sea spray and spume had reduced visibility to zero.[22]

The storm kept Calliope at sea the next two days. Re-entering the harbour on the 19th to search for her anchor, her crew discovered that all of the other ships—twelve in all—had been wrecked or sunk.[28] and nearly every crew had been diminished by the loss of men killed by the storm.[29] Unable to find the anchor amidst the wreckage,[30] and his ship having sustained significant damage, Captain Kane decided to return to Australia. He turned over Calliope’s diving outfit to the US Navy to assist it in salvage, and received in return boats from the wrecked American ships to replace the boats which had been stripped from her by the storm.[22]

Captain Kane then took the ship to Sydney, where she and her officers and crew received a hero's welcome.[31] The narrowness of Calliope's escape; the excellence of her engines and the dedication of her crew, who kept the power plant in operation for many hours during the ordeal;[32] the seamanship of her captain and officers; their bravery in letting go of their anchor and facing the storm, trusting only in their ship and themselves; and the respect and encouragement given to her by the crew of the Trenton; made Calliope famous.[33]

The Engineer of the Calliope, Henry George Bourke, was specially promoted from Staff Engineer to Fleet Engineer on 28 May 1889, "for his services in Her Majesty's ship 'Calliope,' during the recent hurricane at Samoa."[34] He attributed his success to the superior properties of West Coast coal from New Zealand used to fire the ship's boilers; this statement attracted the custom of the British Admiralty.[35]

Captain Kane was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1891 Queen's Birthday Honours.[36] He was cited by the Admiralty for his "nerve and decisions", given the command of HMS Victory in 1892, and in 1897 was promoted to rear-admiral.[37]

Calliope returned to service on the Australian station after repairs were complete. At the end of 1889 she was recalled to the United Kingdom.

In reserve

File:Helicon 16.jpg
HMS Helicon, ex-Calliope, on the River Tyne in the 1920s.
Courtesy HMS CALLIOPE – RNR Unit, Gateshead

Arriving back home in early 1890, Calliope was placed in reserve, where she remained for the next seven years.[10] In June 1897 she was present at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Review of the Fleet at Spithead.[38] That same year she became a tender to HMS Northampton, an older and larger armoured cruiser used as seagoing training ship for boys.[10]

Calliope was relieved of that duty in 1905, returned to reserve, and promptly stricken from the effective list. She was laid up at Portsmouth,[39] and in 1906 was listed for sale for a time. The next year she was moved to North East England for a new career.[10]

Training ship

On 29 October 1907 Calliope became a drill ship at Newcastle upon Tyne for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Tyne Division, where she served for over four decades.[11] She surrendered her name to another ship between 1915 and 1931, and became the Helicon.[40] After her namesake of 1914 was paid off in the 1930s, Helicon took back her former name of Calliope, which she kept until sold in 1951.[9] When finally scrapped in 1953, her steering wheel was presented to the government of Western Samoa.[31]

Her name also lives on in the Royal Navy. Upon her 1951 retirement, her successor as training ship on the Tyne took her name, and now the shore establishment itself bears the name and honours the memory of HMS Calliope.[41]



  1. 1.0 1.1 The vessel's sail plan may have changed during her career. Published sources states that Calliope has a barque rig, and some photographs (including the lead photograph on this page), show a barque rig. E.g.,Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29; Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96. Other images however show a ship rig, with yards and square sails on the mizzenmast. Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49; J.S. Virtue & Co., "HMS Calliope, 3rd Class Cruiser" (retrieved 1 February 2010); see also the "Starboard bow quarter view" on this page, which shows yards on the mizzen. A full-rigged ship has square sails on the mizzenmast, while a barque has fore-and-aft sails.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 43.
  3. Lyon, Steam, Steel, and Torpedoes (1980), p. 39.
  4. Lyon (1980), pp. 21–22, 35–40.
  5. Osbon (1963), pp. 196, 206.
  6. Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49.
  7. Osbon (1963), pp. 207–08.
  8. Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49; Gray, Amerika Samoa (1960), p. 89.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Naval Historical Center, "HMS Calliope (1884-1951)".
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Osbon (1963), p. 207.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29.
  12. Massie, Robert K., Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War (1991), pp. xx–xxii. New York: Random House, 1991. ISBN 0394528336; Lyon (1980), pp. 7–12.
  13. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), pp. 51–52.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Calliope", Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  15. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 88–91.
  16. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), p. 51.
  17. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), p. 52. While Wilson gives the number of merchantmen as eight, Stevenson states there were six in Chapter X of A Footnote to History, a number consistent with Paine's total at page 29 of Warships of the World to 1900. Other sources give even higher numbers, (Lind, in "The Epic of HMS Calliope" gives a total of 20); the difference appears to lie in whether small coastal trading vessels are included.
  18. Gray, Amerika Samoa (1960), pp. 88–89.
  19. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 93–94.
  20. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 94–95, 97.
  21. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), pp. 52–53.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Kimberly, "Report"; Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96.
  23. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 96–97.
  24. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), pp. 52–53. Captain Kane’s account of the escape is quoted by Admiral Kimberly in "Samoan Hurricane".
  25. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 87.
  26. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96; Account of Captain Kane, quoted in Samoan Hurricane.
  27. Wilson,"Glory for the Squadron" (1996), p. 53. A cable is one-tenth of a nautical mile; hence Calliope had moved only about 2400 feet (740 m) in two hours.
  28. The three German and the three American warships were wrecked, as were all six merchant ships. Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29.
  29. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), p. 53.
  30. Gray, Amerika Samoa (1960), p. 91.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 103.
  32. The reciprocating engines had been run at full power for almost twelve hours. "Calliope", Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  33. Wilson, "Glory for the Squadron" (1996), p. 54; Lind, The Epic of HMS Calliope.
  34. London Gazette: no. 25943, p. 3114, 7 June 1889. Retrieved on 1 February 2010.
  35. "Coal and Coal Mining" (sidebar: "The best coal"), Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (2009). Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  36. London Gazette: no. 26167, p. 2921, 30 May 1891. Retrieved on 1 February 2010.
  37. Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 102; "Commanding Officers, 1778–1900, HMS Victory", The National Museum, Royal Navy; London Gazette: no. 26924, p. 7854, 31 December 1897. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  38. ""Ships Nearly All New; Only Four of the 21 Battleships in the Jubilee Display of 1887"" (PDF). New York Times: p. 2. 27 June 1897. Retrieved 2008-12-15.  A photograph taken at Spithead in the same month and year shows her anchored and dressed overall. Calliope 60.30 1884.
  39. A National Maritime Museum photograph from 1905–06 shows her laid up at Portsmouth in a partially dismantled state. Calliope 60.30 1884.
  40. Colledge, Ships of the Royal Navy (2006), p. 57.
  41. HMS Calliope (Gateshead), "Training Centres", Royal Naval Reserve (retrieved 1 February 2010); History of HMS Calliope, "News, HMS Calliope (Gateshead)", Royal Naval Reserve (retrieved 1 February 2010).


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