HMS Plumper (1848)

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HMS Plumper (right)
HMS Plumper (right), with HMS Termagant (left) and HMS Alert (background) at Esquimalt in the late 1850s
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Plumper
Ordered: 25 April 1847
Re-ordered 12 August 1847
Builder: Portsmouth dockyard
Cost: £20,446[1]
Laid down: October 1847
Launched: 5 April 1848
Commissioned: 17 December 1848
Fate: Sold for breaking 2 June 1865
General characteristics
Class and type: Screw sloop
Tons burthen: 490 bm[2]
Length: 140 ft (43 m)
Beam: 27 ft 10 in (8.48 m)
Draught: 11 ft 4.5 in (3.467 m)
Installed power: 148 indicated horsepower
  • 2-cylinder vertical single-expansion steam engine
  • Single screw
Sail plan: Barque rig
Speed: 7.4 kn (13.7 km/h) under power
Complement: 100[1]
Armament: As built:  8 guns:
  • Two 32-pdr (56cwt) muzzle-loading smooth-bore guns
  • Six 32-pdr (25cwt) muzzle-loading smooth-bore guns
From 1857:  12 guns

HMS Plumper was an 8-gun wooden screw sloop of the Royal Navy, the fifth and last ship to bear the name. Launched in 1848, she served three commissions, firstly on the West Indies and North American Station, then on the West Africa Station and finally in the Pacific Station. It was during her last commission as a survey ship that she left her most enduring legacy; in charting the west coast of British Columbia she left her name and those of her ship's company scattered across the charts of the region. She paid off for the last time in 1861 and was finally sold for breaking up in 1865.


The Admiralty originally ordered the ship on 25 April 1847 from Woolwich Dockyard as the steam schooner Pincher.[1] She was re-ordered from Portsmouth Dockyard as the screw sloop Plumper on 12 August 1847 to a design by John Fincham, and laid down in October that year. She was launched on 5 April 1848 at Portsmouth[3] and commissioned under Commander Mathew Nolloth on 17 December.[1]

Plumper was the only ship ever built to the design. She was constructed of wood, was 140 feet (43 m) long and 27 feet 10 inches (8.48 m) in the beam, and drew 11 feet 4.5 inches (3.467 m). This hull gave her a displacement of 577 tons.[1]

She was powered by a Miller, Ravenhill & Co two-cylinder vertical single-expansion steam engine driving a single screw. Developing 148 indicated horsepower, this unit was capable of driving her at 7.4 knots (13.7 km/h).[1] Illustrations show her with a barque rig, although this may have been a later alteration.

Her armament of 8 guns consisted of eight 32-pound (15 kg) muzzle-loading smooth-bore guns mounted to fire in a traditional broadside arrangement.[1]


First Commission (1848 - 1853)

After commissioning at Portsmouth, Plumper joined the Channel Fleet under Admiral Sir Charles Napier, and in January 1849 was sent to the North America and West Indies Station. Curiously, a report was published in the Illustrated London News on 14 April 1849 of a sighting of a sea serpent off the Portuguese Coast.

File:HMS Plumper sea serpent 1848.jpg
Supposed Appearance Of The Great Sea-Serpent, From H.M.S. Plumper, Sketched By An Officer On Board, Illustrated London News, 14 April 1849
On the morning of the 31st December, 1848, in lat. 41° 13'N., and long. 12° 31'W., being nearly due west of Oporto, I saw a long black creature with a sharp head, moving slowly, I should think about two knots ... its back was about twenty feet if not more above water; and its head, as near as I could judge, from six to eight...There was something on its back that appeared like a mane, and, as it moved through the water, kept washing about; but before I could examine it more closely, it was too far astern


In June 1851 she deployed to the south-east coast of America[5] and during this period she captured the slavers Flor-do-Mar on 14 June 1851[6] and Sarah on 9 June 1851 (with HMS Cormorant).[7]

She is recorded as arriving in Portsmouth from Brazil with Template:Convert/ozt of gold trans-shipped from the Emperor on 31 December 1852.[8] She paid off at Portsmouth on 6 January 1853.[5]

Second Commission (1853 - 1856)

Plumper recommissioned at Portsmouth on 1 August 1853 under Commander Wharton for service on the west coast of Africa. At the time, the West Africa Squadron was employed overwhelmingly in anti-slavery patrols, and the London Gazette records the capture of a slaving vessel of unknown name by Plumper on 19 October 1855.[9] From 5 April 1855 she was commanded by Commander William Henry Haswell and she paid off at Portsmouth on 9 December 1856.[5]

Third Commission (1857 - 1861)

File:HMS Plumper (1848) at Port Harvey.jpg
HMS Plumper at Port Harvey, Vancouver Island from a drawing by E P Bedwell

For her third commission Plumper was converted to a survey ship, and it is probable that her armament was increased at this time to 12 guns.[8] Her captain from 1857 until January 1861 was Captain Henry Richards. She was used to survey the coast of British Columbia, in particular the Fraser River, Burrard Inlet, Howe Sound, Sunshine Coast[10], Victoria and Esquimalt.[5] Plumper, having embarked a company of Royal Marines, was involved in the Pig War crisis between the United States and Britain in 1859; along with Tribune, which was commanded by Captain Geoffrey Hornby, Plumper and Satellite were dispatched by Governor James Douglas to prevent American soldiers from erecting fortifications on San Juan Island and bringing in reinforcements.[11]

Francis Brockton was the ship's engineer under Captain Richards when, in 1859, Brockton found a vein of coal in the Vancouver area. After the discovery, which Richards reported to Governor James Douglas, Richards named the area of the find Coal Harbour and named Brockton Point, at the east end of what is now Stanley Park in Vancouver, after Francis Brockton.[12]

Commander Anthony Hoskins brought HMS Hecate out to the Pacific Station and swapped commands with Richards, taking command of Plumper in January 1861. He then returned to the United Kingdom, paying the ship off at Portsmouth on 2 July 1861.[5]


Plumper was sold to White of Cowes for breaking on 2 June 1865.[5]


File:Officers of HMS Plumper (1848).jpg
The officers of HMS Plumper
Standing: Dr David Lyall, Paymaster W H J Brown, Capt Richards, Master Daniel Pender; Seated: Master E P Bedwell, Lt Mayne, Mrs Mary Richards, Lt W Moriarity (December 1860)

Several significant features of the coast of British Columbia are named after Plumper, including Plumper Sound in the Southern Gulf Islands region of British Columbia and Plumper Cove at Keats Island (from which Plumper Cove Marine Provincial Park takes its name). Other features were named after the ship's company, including:

An image of the ship appears on the coat-of-arms of the town of Sidney on southern Vancouver Island.[13]

Commanding Officers

From To Captain[5]
6 November 1848 6 January 1853 Commander Mathew Stainton Nolloth
1 August 1853 Commander John Anthony Lawrence Wharton
5 April 1855 9 December 1856 Commander William Henry Haswell
1857 January 1861 Captain George Henry Richards
January 1861 2 July 1861 Commander Anthony Hiley Hoskins


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