HMS Royal Sovereign (1857)

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HMS Royal Sovereign as she appeared when completed as a turret ship in 1864. This photograph was taken from her port beam.
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Royal Sovereign
Builder: Portsmouth Dockyard
Laid down: 17 December 1849
Launched: 25 April 1857
Fate: Broken up, May 1885
Notes: Converted to turret ship, 20 August 1864
General characteristics
Displacement: 5080 tons
Length: 240 ft 6 in (73.30 m) pp
Beam: 62 ft (19 m)
Draught: 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m) (light),
25 ft (7.6 m) (deep load)
Propulsion: Sails; One-shaft Maudslay return connecting-rod producing 2460 IHP
Speed: 11 kts
Complement: 300 officers and men

5 × 300 lb muzzle loaders
From 1867 :

5 x 9-inch rifled muzzle-loaders

Belt: 5.5 inches midships, 4.5 inches fore and aft;
Backing 36 inches of oak;
Turrets 10 inches front, 5.5 inches sides and rear;

Conning tower 5.5 inches; Deck 1 inch

HMS Royal Sovereign was originally laid down as a 120-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. With the rise of steam and screw propulsion, she was ordered to be converted on the stocks to a 131-gun screw ship, with conversion beginning on 25 January 1855. She was finally launched directly into the Ordinary on April 25 1857. She measured 3,765 tons burthen, with a gundeck of 240 ft 6 inches and breadth of 62 ft, and a crew of 1,100, with engines of 780 nhp. She would have mounted sixteen 8-inch cannon, 114 32-pounder guns, and a 68-pounder pivot gun.

Turret ship

After several years of inactivity, she was selected for conversion again into an experimental turret ship, work begun in April 1862. When this conversion was completed August 20 1864, she was the first British turret-armed battleship, and the only one with a wooden hull.

File:HMS Royal Sovereign 1864.jpg
A plate by Lionel Smythe which appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1864 of Royal Sovereign after her conversion into a turret ship that year.

Her conversion was undertaken under the instigation of Captain Cowper Coles, who believed that a mastless ship armed with turret-mounted artillery would represent the best possible design for a coast-defence ship, which Royal Sovereign was meant to be. The order to proceed with the conversion was issued on April 4, 1862, and the work started three weeks before the keel of HMS Prince Albert was laid. She now measured 3,963 tons burthen (4,955 tons displacement), with a crew of 295.

She was razed down to the lower deck, which was re-named the upper deck, leaving her with between 7 feet and 8 feet of freeboard. The decks and hull sides were strengthened to carry the planned armament, and to absorb the reaction when the guns were fired. There was some delay when it was found that she had been cut down too far, necessitating some re-building of the sides. On completion her length-to-beam ratio was slightly under 4:1, which was the smallest ever ratio used in British armoured ships.


The original design included five turrets, each containing either two 68-pounder smoothbore or one 100-pounder smoothbore cannon. This was modifiied to a four-turret configuration, the forward turret containing two guns and the others one each. It was intended that the weapons carried should be muzzle-loading rifles of 10.5 inches calibre firing a 300-pound shell. Due to manufacturing problems only two of the guns installed were rifled; the other three were smoothbore and fired a 168-pound spherical steel shot. In 1867 they were all replaced by 9-inch muzzle-loading rifles.

The roof of the forward turret was surrounded by a handrail, and was used as a bridge.

On January 15, 1866 experiments were conducted to assess the resistance of Coles-designed turrets to heavy gunfire. Three shots were fired at close range against the after turret of Royal Sovereign from one of the 9-inch guns carried by HMS Bellerophon. It was found that while the armour plates of the turret were displaced, and pierced at the back of the turret, the ability of the turret to turn and the guns to fire was not impaired.

Service history

She was commissioned at Portsmouth for service in the English Channel, where she undertook limited operational service and was used for gun and turret testing and evaluation. She paid off in October 1866, being then re-commissioned in July 1867 for the Naval Review. She was thereafter attached to the naval gunnery school HMS Excellent as gunnery ship until 1873, when she was replaced by HMS Glatton and demoted to 4th class reserve. She saw no further service until her sale in May 1885.

See also



  • Oscar Parkes British Battleships ISBN 0-85052-604-3
  • Conway All the World's Fighting Ships ISBN 0-85177-133-5
  • David Lyon & Rif Winfield The Sail & Steam Navy List 1815-1889 ISBN 1-86176-032-9

da:HMS Royal Sovereign (1857) pl:HMS Royal Sovereign (1864)