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HMS Calliope in port.jpg
HMS Calliope
Career (United Kingdom)
Class and type: Calypso
Name: HMS Calliope
Builder: HM Dockyard, Portsmouth
Launched: 24 June 1884
Sponsored by: Lady Phipps Hornby
Commissioned: 1887
Maiden voyage: 1 March 1887
Renamed: Helicon (1915-1931)
Nickname: "Hurricane Jumper"
Fate: sold for breaking 1951
General characteristics
Type: Corvette (small cruiser)
Displacement: 2,770 long tons
Length: 235 ft (72 m)
Beam: 44 ft (13 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
Complement: 291
Armour: Deck: .5 in (13 mm) over engines
Notes: took back her original name after HMS Calliope (1914) was paid off

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 among the last of the sailing corvettes 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", when she was the only ship to avoid being sunk or stranded in the tropical cyclone which struck Samoa in 1889.[3] After retirement from active service, she served as a training ship until 1951, when she was sold for breaking.



Calliope and her sister Calypso made up the Calypso class, a subclass of the successful C class corvettes 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, although the metal plating of the hull was timber-cased and coppered below the waterline.[4]

Calypso and Calliope differed from their nine half-sisters ships of the C class in armament; they were also slightly longer, had a deeper draught, and displaced 390 tons more.[5] Calliope'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, a difference which would be crucial in the event that made her famous.[6] These compound engines could drive Calliope at 13¾ knots, or 14¾ knots with forced draught.[7] 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.[7]

Service with the fleet

At Port Chalmers, New Zealand
De Maus Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

The British Empire was the largest on earth, and to protect that empire and its trade routes Britain had the 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. That naval force had a global reach, including the western Pacific Ocean, patrolled by the Australia Station. Calliope had been designed for long-range protection of the trade routes of the empire,[8] and in 1887 Captain Henry Coey Kane took Calliope to the Pacific.[9] She was first assigned to the China Station, and 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.[10] In early 1888 she was hurriedly sent northward to Samoa to watch over a looming diplomatic crisis and potential military confrontation.[10]

This crisis had its roots in the Great Powers' competition for colonies in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The German Empire had been invigorated by its victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War and unification under the Prussian monarchy, and its imperial ambitions which were no longer limited to the continent of 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' continental expansion had almost reached its limits in the North American continent, and American ambitions had also become transoceanic. The US therefore had sent a squadron to Samoa to assert its interests in the Pacific and to watch the Germans.[11]

Starboard bow quarter view

Hence suspicious and competing squadrons of the Imperial German and United States navies found themselves in the harbour at Apia in March 1889. They were watched over by the new corvette HMS Calliope, the sole British vessel present, which had been sent to keep the peace and protect Britain’s own interests in Samoa.[12] The harbour at Apia was primitive, small and nearly surrounded by reefs. Perhaps fit for four ships, it held seven warships and six merchant vessels on 14 March.[13]

The barometer began to fall that day and a tropical cyclone came up, which increased in ferocity over the next two days.[14] Rain fell in sheets, cutting visibility. Winds of 70 to 100 knots (130–185 km/h) blew directly into anchorage, trapping the ships in the V–shaped harbour.[15] 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.[16] By 0900 on the 16th, Calliope, though still riding at anchor, had been hit by one ship and narrowly missed by another, and Captain Kane decided to try to escape the anchorage.[17] In order to relieve the strain on her five anchor cables, Calliope had 90 pounds of steam in her boilers; her engines were being worked “red hot”, and her propeller was making 74 revolutions, sufficient for 15 knots (28 km/h), but the ship was barely able to make headway against the winds and the seas in the harbour, and her anchor cables began parting.[18]

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.

On her port and only 20 feet (six metres) away was the coral reef. Ahead were United States 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.[19] Hemmed in by the other vessels and the reef, and with her rudder at times within six feet (two metres) of the latter, Calliope manoeuvred while still attached to her cables, and when Captain Kane saw an opening, he slipped the anchors and drove forward.[20] 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 and lifted the yard over the Trenton. The crew of the helpless and doomed American ship loudly 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."[21]

Making for the harbour exit, the British ship's bow and stern alternately rose and plunged into the incoming waves; her propeller at times was spinning in air, and green seas were boarding her and running the length of her deck. There were ten men on her wheel and more below handling relieving tackle on her tiller.[22] Taking two hours to travel four cables,[23] the corvette finally escaped the anchorage into the open sea, an achievement not known to Calliope's crew for some time, as seaspray and spume had reduced visibility to nothing.[18]

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 every other ship — twelve in total — had been wrecked or sunk,[24] and nearly every crew had been diminished or decimated by the loss of men killed by the storm.[25] Unable to find the anchor amidst the wreckage,[26] 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.[18]

Captain Kane then took the ship to Sydney, where she and her officers and crew received a hero's welcome.[27] The narrowness of Calliope's escape, the excellence of her engines and the dedication of her crew which kept that power plant in operation for many hours during the ordeal,[28] 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.[29]

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."[30] His success was attributed to the superior properties of West Coast coal from New Zealand used to fire the ship's boilers; this attracted the custom of the British Admiralty.[31]

Captain Kane was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1891 Queen's Birthday Honours.[32] His career prospered as well; 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.[33]

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

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.[34] In June 1897 she was present at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Review of the Fleet at Spithead.[35] That same year she became a tender to HMS Northampton;[34] an older and larger armoured cruiser used as seagoing training ship for boys. Calliope was relieved of that duty in 1905, returned to reserve, and promptly stricken from the effective list. She was laid up at Portsmouth,[36] and in 1906 was listed for sale for a time. The next year she was moved to North East England for a new career.[34]

Training ship

HMS Calliope became a drill ship at Newcastle upon Tyne for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Tyne Division.[37] She surrendered her name to another ship between 1915 and 1931, and became the Helicon.[38] 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.[7] When finally scrapped in 1953, her steering wheel was presented to the government of Western Samoa.[39]

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.[40]




  1. ^ a b The vessel's rig 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., lithograph of HMS "Calliope", 3rd Class Cruiser; see also the second image on this page, with yards on the mizzen. The difference is the sails on the mizzenmast; square sails on a full-rigged ship, and fore-and-aft sails on a barque.
  2. ^ Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 43.
  3. ^ Lyon, Steam, Steel, and Torpedoes (1980), p. 39.
  4. ^ Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 43.
  5. ^ Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49.
  6. ^ Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49.
  7. ^ a b c Navy Historical Center, HMS Calliope (1884-1951).
  8. ^ Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29.
  9. ^ Wilson, Glory for the Squadron (1996), pp. 51–52.
  10. ^ a b Calliope, Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  11. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 88-91.
  12. ^ Wilson, Glory for the Squadron (1996), p. 51.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Gray, America Samoa (1960), pp. 88-89.
  15. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 93–94.
  16. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 94–95, 97.
  17. ^ Wilson, Glory for the Squadron (1996), pp. 52–53.
  18. ^ a b c Kimberly, Report.
  19. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 96, 97.
  20. ^ Wilson, Glory for the Squadron (1996), pp. 52–53. Captain Kane’s account of the escape is quoted by Admiral Kimberly in Samoan Hurricane.
  21. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 87.
  22. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96; Account of Captain Kane, quoted in Samoan Hurricane.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Wilson, Glory for the Squadron (1996), p. 53.
  26. ^ Gray, America Samoa (1960), p. 91.
  27. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 103.
  28. ^ The reciprocating engines had been run at full power for almost twelve hours. Calliope, Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  29. ^ Wilson, Glory for the Squadron (1996), p. 54; Lind, The Epic of HMS Calliope.
  30. ^ London Gazette: no. 25943, p. 3114, 7 June 1889. Retrieved on 2008-02-18.
  31. ^ Coal and Coal Mining (sidebar: The best coal), Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (2009). Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  32. ^ London Gazette: no. 26167, p. 2921, 30 May 1891. Retrieved on 2008-02-18.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ a b c Osbon (1963), p. 207.
  35. ^ "SHIPS NEARLY ALL NEW; Only Four of the 21 Battleships in the Jubilee Display of 1887". New York Times: pp. 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.
  36. ^ A National Maritime Museum photograph from 1905–06 shows her laid up at Portsmouth in a partially dismantled state. Calliope 60.30 1884.
  37. ^ Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29.
  38. ^ Colledge, Ships of the Royal Navy (2006), p. 57.
  39. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 103.
  40. ^ HMS Calliope (Gateshead), Training Centres, Royal Naval Reserve; History of HMS Calliope, News, HMS Calliope (Gateshead), Royal Naval Reserve.


  • 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.  
  • Gray, J.A.C. (1960). Amerika Samoa: A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration. Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute. ISBN 0-4051-3038-4.  
  • Lyon, David (1980). Steam, Steel and Torpedoes. Ipswich: W.S. Cowell, Ltd. for HM Stationery Office. pp. 39. ISBN 0-1129-0318-5.  
  • Paine, Lincoln P. (2000), "Warships of the World to 1900", Warships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia (New York: Houghton Mifflin), ISBN 0-3959-8414-9  .
  • Rousmaniere, John (2002). After the Storm: True Stories of Disaster and Recovery at Sea. Camden, MN: International Marine/McGraw-Hill. pp. 87–106. ISBN 0-0713-7795-6.  
  • Tute, Warren (1984). The True Glory: The Story of the Royal Navy over a thousand years. London: Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd. pp. 143. ISBN 0-3561-0403-6.  

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