HMS Calypso (1883)

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HMS Calypso
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Calpyso
Builder: HM Dockyard, Chatham
Laid down: 1881
Launched: 7 June 1883
Commissioned: 21 September 1885 (first commission)
Renamed: HMS Briton 15 February 1916
Reclassified: Training ship, 2 September 1902
Fate: sold 7 April 1922
General characteristics
Class and type: Calypso-class corvette
Displacement: 2,770 long tons
Length: 235 ft (72 m)
Beam: 44.5 ft (14 m)
Draught: 21 ft (6 m)
Installed power: 6 boilers

2 Compound engines (J and G Rennie)

4,023 ihp ( MW) 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
Armour: Deck: 1.5 in (38 mm) over machinery

HMS Calypso was a third class cruiser of the Royal Navy and the name ship of her class. Built for distant cruising in the heyday of the British Empire, she served as a warship and training vessel until 1922, when she was sold.

Classified as both a small cruiser and a screw corvette,[2] Calypso was one of the Royal Navy’s last sailing corvettes. She supplemented her extensive sail rig with powerful engines. Among the first of the smaller cruisers to be given all-metal hulls, she nevertheless was cased with timber and coppered below the water line, as were wooden ships.[3]

Unlike her more famous sister Calliope, Calypso had a quiet career, consisting mainly of training cruises in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1902 she was sent to the colony of Newfoundland, where she served as a training vessel for the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve before and during the First World War. In 1922 she was declared surplus and sold, then used as a storage hulk. Her hull still exists, awash in a coastal bay off Newfoundland.


Calypso and Calliope made up the Calypso subclass of the successful C class corvettes, all designed by Nathaniel Barnaby. These vessels 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. The metal hull was encased in timber below the waterline, and the timber was in turn sheathed with copper plates, in a manner similar to prior wooden vessels.[3]

The Calypsos differed from the first nine ships of the C (Comus) class in armament, including new 6" rifles in place of the 7" muzzleloaders and 64-pounders that originally armed the parent class. Although similar in general appearance to their older half-sisters, the Calypsos had guns sponsoned out fore and aft and had no gunports under the quarterdeck and foredeck. They were also slightly longer, had a deeper draught, and displaced 390 tons more.[4] Calypso's engines were of 4,023 i.h.p., over 50% more powerful than those of her nine half-sisters, which gave her one more knot of speed.[4] These compound engines could drive Calypso at 13¾ knots, or 14¾ knots with forced draught.[5]

She nevertheless flew a barque rig of sail on three masts,[1] including a full set of studding sails on her fore and mainmast.[6] This rig enabled her to serve in areas where coaling stations were rare, and to rely entirely on her sails for propulsion. The class therefore was well-suited to her designed role: trade protection and distant cruising service for the British Empire at its Victorian peak.[5]

Service with the fleet

While the class was designed for long-range protection of the trade routes of the empire,[7] and Calypso participated in war games, much of her career comprised activities appropriate to an empire at peace.

She served in home waters, and participated in fleet exercises, including a simulated attack on Britain,[8] and visited Kiel,[9] site of a major base of the Imperial German Navy often visited by British vessels. In 1890, Britain gave up the isle of Heligoland in the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, and Calypso was assigned to carry out the ceremony of transfer to the German Empire and bring back the island's last British governor.[10]

File:HMS Calypso 1897.jpg
HMS Calypso in 1897, by W L Wyllie

From the time of her first commission in 1885 until she was placed in reserve in 1898, she was part of the Sail Training Squadron, the "last refuge of the sailing navy" apart from a handful of smaller vessels.[11][12] She made cruises to the West Indies,[13] the Canary Islands, and Norway.[14] In 1895 the ship was part of the squadron which conducted surveys well above the Arctic Circle, and a landfall and cluster of buildings on Svalbard, Norway, now a cultural heritage site, were named for her in honour of her visits to those waters.[15] On other occasions she assisted in the salvage of a civilian ship, for which her officers and crew were awarded salvage money,[16] and passed on hydrographic information from waters near Iceland.[17]

On 26 June 1897 she was present at the Review of the Fleet off Spithead held to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne.[18] Paid off into reserve at Devonport in 1898,[11] she was no longer considered a fighting ship by the turn of the century, and it was felt she could best be employed in training naval reservists for service at sea.[19]

Training ship

File:HMS Calypso c.jpg
Wharfside at St. Johns. The shedlike structure behind the reservists is a drill hall erected atop Calypso's gunwale. Boat davits are shown on port side of vessel (upper left) and at stern (far right); the aft port 6" gun is sponsoned out from the hull (right of top rows of sailors).
Image from Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador

On 2 September 1902 Calypso was placed back into commission,[11] and was sent across the Atlantic to become a training ship for Newfoundland’s branch of the Royal Navy, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).[20][21] The Reserve had been founded in 1900 as an experiment to assist the Admiralty in the manning of ships, and to enable the Newfoundlanders to assist in the defence of the empire and provide their seafarers in the winter months when the fishery was not worked.[22] As the result of the experiment, the Admiralty agreed to provide a vessel, and the colony agreed to pay for the refit, as well as an annual subvention to support the training programme.[22]

The location of the vessel was controversial, with the small community of Placentia proferred as a substitute for the colonial capital of St. John's. Reasons for this proposal included both a desire to protect the larger city from the conjectured debaucheries of sailors, and to protect the reservists, many of whom were married, from the temptations (including prostitution) which might be available in the city.[23] In a time of tensions between Britain and France, Placentia also had the benefit of being closer to the French territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and it was felt beneficial to have a British military force in proximity to the French territory in the event of a dispute.[24] These objections were felt to be outweighed by cost, convenience, and accessibility of staff to the colonial government, and St. John's was chosen to host the ship.

Calypso's masts were removed, as was the funnel from the boilers, and a drill hall was erected on her weather deck. Without sail or working boilers she could no longer go to sea, but was permanently moored wharfside at the western end of the St. John's harbour.[25]

Prior to the outbreak of war candidates had to be fishermen or sailors, and the RVNR maintained a reserve strength of 500–600 men.[26] By 1914, over 1,400 seamen had been trained, and more than 400 answered the call to arms on the outbreak of the Great War.[27] The Reserve provided crew for ships of the Royal Navy,[26] including over 100 seamen taken aboard HMCS Niobe a month after the start of the war, the first group of Newfoundlanders to go to war.[27] It also provided home defence,[26] including manning artillery at the entrance to the St. Johns harbour,[28] and the protection of Newfoundland's shore and shipping.[29] Calypso and a small, slow armed patrol vessel were the colony's only warships.[21]

In 1916, Calypso was renamed HMS Briton, and surrendered her former name to a new light cruiser laid down in that year, which entered service in 1917.[30]

Before the war the owner of the dock where Calypso was berthed had sought the vessel's removal. The matter was held in abeyance during the war years, but after the conclusion of hostilities the subject arose anew. Relocation would have been a significant expense to the Admiralty, and the Colonial Office was informed that the dominion would accept complete withdrawal of the vessel. By 1922 naval estimates were being slashed and the Washington Naval Treaty limited the size of fleets.[31] The Admiralty therefore summarily discontinued the NRNR, and there being no further need of her services, HMS Briton was made available for disposition.[32]

Later use, and legacy

File:6 inch gun from HMS Calypso.jpg
A 6 inch gun from HMS Calypso on display at Fort Nelson

HMS Briton was sold in 1922, and was used in St. John's for the storage of salt.[33][34] In 1952 she was towed to Lewisporte harbour.[35] Some thought was given to preservation,[35] but in 1968 she was towed to a coastal bay near Embree, and burned to the waterline.[36] Her hull still is there, awash in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.[37] Her anchor sits outside a local inn,[36] and other artefacts are in museums.[38]

These remnants are not her sole remaining legacy. Calypso, created as a ship of war, has inspired another training institution, but one with more peaceful purposes. Inspired by the traditions of the ship where Newfoundlanders once trained to be competent and able seamen for the Royal Navy, the Calypso Foundation of Lewisporte trains developmentally disabled individuals to become productive workers and live independently.[39] This charitable foundation carries on the name of HMS Calypso.[40]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Published sources state the class had barque rigs, Paine (2000), vol. 799, p. 29, which is shown in some images. Other drawings and photographs show a ship rig, with yards and square sails on the mizzenmast. Archibald(1970), p. 49; J.S. Virtue & Co., lithograph of HMS "Calliope", 3rd Class Cruiser. See Commons images linked immediated above at See also, and photographs linked below.
  2. A screw corvette was a propeller-driven small cruiser.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Archibald (1971), p. 43.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Archibald (1971), p. 49.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Navy Historical Center, HMS Calliope (1884-1951).
  6. Harland, John H. (1985), Seamanship in the Age of Sail, p. 172. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis. ISBN 0-87021-955-3.
  7. Paine (2000), p. 29.
  8. Tryon's Brilliant Tactics, The New York Times (2 July 1893), p. 16.
  9. Dodd, Francis (1917), Admirals of the British Navy (1917–1918), Chapter X.
  10. Hertslet, Edward (1891), The Map of Europe by Treaty, vol. IV, pp. 3288–89. Harrison and Sons, for Her Majesty's Stationary Office.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Osbon (1964), p. 207.
  12. Archibald (1971), p. 42.
  13. Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 24 May 1886, vol. 35 cc 1834–35 (question to Secretary to the Admiralty on breakdown of machinery while with training squadron on cruise to West Indies)
  14. Papers of Vice Admiral A C Scott, Archives, Imperial War Museum.
  15. Johansen, Bjørn Fossli (ed.); Henriksen, Jørn; Overreinand, Øystein; and Prestvold, Kristin; Calypsobyen, Cruise Handbook for Svalbard, Norwegian Polar Institute (May 2009). The site lies within South Spitsbergen National Park.
  16. The London Gazette, 6 October 1891, p. 5231 and 11 December 1891, p. 6846.
  17. The London Gazette, 4 Sept 1896, p. 4991.
  18. The London Gazette Extraordinary, 14 March, 1898, pp. 1616, 1621.
  19. Hunter, p. 39.
  20. "Newfoundland", entry in Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events (1902), Volume 6, p. 384.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Jane, p. 100.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Hunter, p. 36.
  23. Hunter, passim.
  24. Hunter, p. 41. The discussion on location took place only a few years after the Fashoda Incident in 1898, where the two nations came close to war, before Imperial Germany supplanted France as Britain's principal rival and before the Anglo-French Entente of 1904, which resolved colonial difficulties.
  25. Hunter, pp. 39, 44–45.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Hillier.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Parsons, p. 147.
  28. Maple Leaf, p.10.
  29. HMS Calypso fonds.
  30. Jane, p. 57.
  31. Hunter, pp. 47–52.
  32. Hadley, p. 255.
  33. Colledge (2006), p. 57.
  34. Guide to the business collections of A.H. Murray and Company, Maritime History Archive. Briton Series 7.0 HMS Briton
  35. 35.0 35.1 Osbon (1963), p. 208.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Lewisporte.
  37. More precisely, the hull lies in Jobs Cove, off Burnt Bay (an arm of Notre Dame Bay) on the north coast of Newfoundland. A satellite image can be accessed through the title coordinates listed above. Calypso is the larger and northly of the two hulls shown. An image is here (the hull on the left is that of Calypso), and a search of YouTube will yield amateur footage of the hull.
  38. Exhibits: The H.M.S. Calypso/Briton, Admiralty House Museum & Archives]. Room housing original artefacts.
  39. "Community Profits", Social Enterprise in Newfoundland and Labrador (2008). p. 38; Calypso Foundation - Work Oriented Rehabilitation Centre (WORC), Community Services Council, Newfoundland and Labrador (October 2001).
  40. Extension Service, Memorial University of Newfoundland (1978), Calypso (video), beginning at 53 seconds into 18-minute video.

Principal sources

  • Archibald, E.H.H.; Ray Woodward (ill.) (1971). The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy 1860-1970. New York: Arco Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-6680-2509-3. 
  • Hadley, Michael L.; Hubert, Robert Neal; & Crickard, Fred W. (1992). A Nation's Navy: In Quest of Canadian Naval Identity. McGill–Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1506-2.
  • Hunter, Mark C. "HMS Calypso: Locating the Newfoundland Royal Naval reserve drill ship, 1900-22". The Great Circle: Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History, 28:1 (2006), 36-60. ISSN 0156-8698.
  • Jane, Fred T. (1990). Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War I. London: Studio Editions. ISBN 1 85170 378 0.  Facsimile of 1919 edition Of Janes’s Fighting Ships published by Jane’s Publishing Company, supplemented by entries from 1914 edition.
  • Parsons, W. David (2003), "Newfoundland and the Great War", published in Canada and the Great War: Western Front Association Papers. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-2546-7.

External links to photographs

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:Calypso class corvette

| Calypso class corvette

  • Black and white drawing, port bow 1/4 view, spectacular view of vessel under full sail including stunsails; appears to show ship rig.
  • Photograph, port broadside view, no sails set, yards on mizzen. Boat alongside; vessel appears to be at anchor.
  • Links to photographs showing Calypso/Briton while in Newfoundland, including personnel, and erection on deck.

Coordinates: 49°17′42″N 55°01′06″W / 49.2949°N 55.0183°W / 49.2949; -55.0183