HMS Northumberland (1866)

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Northumberland in her original 5-masted configuration
Career (UK) RN Ensign
Name: HMS Northumberland
Operator:  Royal Navy
Laid down: 10 October 1861
Launched: 17 April 1866
Commissioned: 8 October 1868
Fate: Sold 1927. Scrapped 1935.
General characteristics
Class and type: Minotaur class battleship
Displacement: 10,784 tons
Length: 400 ft (120 m) p/p, 407 ft (124 m) overall
Beam: 59 ft 6 in (18.14 m)
Draught: 27 ft 9 in (8.46 m)
Propulsion: One-shaft Penn horizontal trunk, 6,545 IHP
Sail plan: 5 masts, sail area 32,377 sq ft (3,008 m2)
Speed: 14.13 knots (26 km/h) under power
7 knots (13 km/h) under sail
Complement: Nominal 705, actual 800

As designed:
48 × 68-pounder smoothbore guns
2 × 7-inch breech loading rifles
8 × RBL 40-pounder rifles

From 1868:
4 × 9-inch muzzle-loading rifles
22 × 8-inch muzzle loading rifles
2 × 7-inch muzzle-loading rifles

From 1875:
7 × 9-inch muzzle-loading rifles
20 × 8-inch muzzle-loading rifles
2 × 20-pounder breech-loading rifles

4 × torpedo discharge carriages
Armour: Battery: 5.5 inches
Belt: 5.5 inches amidships, 4.5 inches fore and aft
Transverse bulkheads: 5.5 inches
Conning tower: 4.5 inches

HMS Northumberland was a long-hulled broadside ironclad warship of the Victorian era, and was the third and final ship of the Minotaur class to be commissioned.


File:Gun Deck HMS Northumberland.jpg
Northumberland's gun deck, showing her 8-inch (203 mm) rifled muzzle-loading guns

Although she had been laid down at the Millwall Ironworks as a sister to the other Minotaurs, she was altered while on the building slip after Sir Edward Reed succeeded Isaac Watts as Chief Constructor. It had originally been planned to arm her with smoothbore muzzle-loading cannon; the plans were revised to permit her to carry 7-inch breech loading rifles manufactured by Sir William Armstrong; and by the time of her commissioning the Navy had reverted to the use of muzzle-loading rifles. It was decided to equip her with 9-inch and 8-inch muzzle loaders, as against 9-inch and 7-inch in her sisters. To compensate for the extra weight of these guns, the battery was reduced in length and the armour protection thereof was shortened. This resulted in an armoured conning tower, and a shorter battery with an armoured bulkhead at each end.

She was initially designed with three masts, but she was completed with five in conformity with her sisters. HMS Minotaur and HMS Agincourt. Her first captain, Roderick Dew, had all of her yards painted black so that she could be visually distinguished from the other five-masted ships, whose yards were white.

Northumberland was on the building slip for five years, and when the time came to launch her construction was far advanced, and her weight was greater than the launch-weights of contemporary ships. She was stuck for an hour while the tide ebbed, then slid part-way down and came to a halt with her stern out of the water. She was persuaded into the water at the next spring tide by a combination of pontoons, jacks and tugs.

While she was hung up her builders, Mare and Company, went into liquidation, causing further delay in her completion.


Her first posting was to the Channel Fleet, where she remained until 1873. During this time she helped HMS Agincourt to tow the Bermuda drydock to Madeira (from whence HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince towed it to its ultimate goal of Bermuda). Anchored at Funchal, Madeira, on Christmas Day 1872, a storm parted her anchor chain, allowing her to drift across the ram bow of the battleship HMS Hercules and suffer serious underwater damage (though her compartmented iron hull limited the flooding, leaving her able to steam to Malta to be repaired).

File:HMS Northumberland 1890 USNHC NH 75982.jpg
Northumberland in three-masted configuration, 1890

After these repairs she became Rear Flagship, Channel until 1875, and was then paid off for refit and re-armament, in which she became a three-master and was given a new set of guns. She returned to the Channel Squadron in 1879, and served there right through until 1885; she was refitted from 1885 to 1887, and then returned yet again to the Channel until 1890, even touring as flagship toward the end of that period. Northumberland, now quite outdated, was harborbound.

From the early 1890s onward she was obsolete and confined to harbour, at first in reserve at the Isle of Portland (until 1891) and Devonport (1891-8) and then as a stokers' training ship at the Nore (renamed Acheron). From 1909-1927 served as a coal hulk, renamed C8 (1909-26) and then C68 (1926-27). She was sold by the Navy in 1927, and served at Dakar as the hulk Stedmound from then until scrapping in 1935.

Two large 1870s half-scale models of her are at the Museum in Docklands.


  • Oscar Parkes British Battleships ISBN 0-85052-604-3
  • Conway All the World's Fighting Ships ISBN 0-85177-133-5

External links

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