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Logo of the Victoria webpage

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THE WAR STEAMER VICTORIA
 
"One of the finest craft in the world"
 
 

Australia's first real* naval vessel -- Her Majesty's Colonial Steam Sloop Victoria -- was designed as a blue water vessel, able to guard the coastline of the Colony of Victoria, as well as defend Port Phillip Bay. It was during the goldrush of the 1850s that harbour defence became urgent. In response to requests for help, the Royal Navy could only send an outdated relic, the sailing ship HMS Electra. It was this `insult' that made the proud colonists determined to have a warship of their own. Designed by brilliant British naval architect Oliver Lang, the Victoria was built at Limehouse, London, of the finest materials, and launched by Lady Constance Talbot in 1855.

In addition to supplying a naval brigade for shore service in the 1st Taranaki War, Victoria transported Maori Chiefs to conferences, and British army staff officers and naval officers to and from the seat of war. The ship in 1861 next took part in the search for lost explorers Burke and Wills by travelling to the Gulf of Carpentaria, where the present city of Normanton was named after Victoria's Commander, William Norman, and the crew was reduced to living on turtles. Traces of the explorers were found, but they had already started back to Melbourne, only to perish of starvation in South Australia. Another rescue mission to the remote sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands in the mid-1860s further tested the crew.

___________
* There may be debate about this.
 
  The inscribed Victoria Tree on the main island of the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands. Victoria in October 1865 was on a 'mission of humanity' to rescue sailors said to be marooned there. The ship brought livestock including goats and rabbits for future shipwrecked people. These animals, and others left by later ships thrived. The islands are managed nowadays by the NZ Department of Conservation. The tree acted as a makeshift Post Office where letters could be left for passing ships. Photo kindly provided by John Macdonald of NZ, who acted as a tourist guide and lecturer in MV Orion in 2008. 
 
 
Plan of the Victoria
Sydney Marine Artist Dean Claflin's plan of HMCSS VIctoria.

 

Launch of the Victoria
The launch of the Victoria in London, 1855. (Illustrated London News).

 

Victoria's first logbook
Victoria's logbook for her maiden voyage to
Melbourne. In a private collection.

 

G. A. Wood's watercolour sketch
A Watercolour sketch of HMCSS Victoria, artist
unknown (probably Lt. G. A. Woods), n.d. Possibly
late 1850s. Used here with permission from a proud
great-grandson of Commander William Henry Norman.
  
HMCSS VICTORIA IN NEW ZEALAND 1860-1861
 
When sailors of HMCSS Victoria served as a naval brigade during the First Taranaki War in New Zealand, they became tthe first Australian unit to see action in a war overseas. At first stationed at Fort Niger in New Plymouth, the brigade later staged at Camp Waitara at the mouth of the Waitara River. From there the brigade took part in several actions including those at Kairau and Matarikoriko Pah. Victoria's Naval Brigade was well equipped with breech-loading rifles, Colt revolvers and cutlasses. Their counterparts in the Imperial Naval Brigade were by contrast poorly equipped.


HMCSS Victoria survives the bar at Manakau Harbour, Auckland, New Zealand
 
I was on board this war steamer when she was nearly swallowed up by giant waves in crossing the bar at the Manukau Heads. The pilot on shore there gave no signal of danger, but when the steamer got out to sea, one great wave succeeded another, rolling up from the south-west in great masses, upon which she climbed and descended on the other side, till the captain on the bridge called out, "hold on every body!" and suddenly the bows disappeared with a roar in a mass of spray; fifty tons of water rushed aft, washed some of the hands, bruised, under the guns forward, swept those of us who were aft off our legs, I clung to the mizen rigging, whilst the interpreter, Mr. Baker, was carried over the side on the top of the waver, but managing to hold on at the gangway was saved. The Governor and others, were below and escaped a wetting, the Maories were drenched to their necks, but seemed to enjoy the excitement. If the sea had reached the fires, or the machinery had become deranged, (at one pitch we seemed to touch the bottom) we must have been driven upon one of the numerous sand banks, among which we were, and miserably perished; but we were providentially preserved.
 
Source: Alexander, Col. Sir James E : Incidents of the Maori War : New Zealand : in 1860-61: Richard Bentley : London : 1863 pp. 311-312

 

 
TRAGIC LOSS OF HMS ORPHEUS ON THE MANUKAU BAR
8 February 1863
 
Unlike the Victoria, HMS Orpheus ran onto the sandbar at Manukau harbour
with fatal consequences for 187 of the ship's company of 256.
In rough seas and gusty conditions, the ship grounded twice on the bar where
she broached shortly after 1.30 in the afternoon. The guns were discarded but
by six, the ship began to break up.
The Maori crew of the pilot boat had struggled manfully to take off the crew
which acted with 'heroic resignation'. Commodore Burnett was among those
drowned.
Orpheus had approached the middle of the bar where a channel was shown in
the 1853 chart. The bar had moved considerably in a decade. This movement
had been noted and evidence showed that an ammendment notice had earlier
been sent to Commodore Burnett.
Other than this fatal mistake in not updating the chart, every possible
precaution had been taken to safely take the bar.
Source: Bach, J. P. S.: The Australia Station: NSW University Press: 1986: p. 80.


BATTLE OF MATARIKORIKO, New Zealand, 1861
By R. D. Williams

The total force of approximately 900 was at the camp at Waitara on the 28th December 1860, and they were to leave the camp at 3 am the next day to commence the attach on the Mata-Rikoriko Pa ("Winking Eyes"), which was a short distance inland from Puke-ta-Kauer near the Waitara river.
The Taranaki Herald of Jan 5th 1861 reported; "Sunday, December 30 A heavy fire of small arms was maintained by both sides from 6 am yesterday morning till 2 am, this morning, the enemy keeping close in a gully lined with rifle pits in high fern. The troops expended 70,000 rounds of rifle ammunition. Our casualties are; 3 killed and 21 wounded". (Naval Brigade-1; Royal Artillery-2; Royal Engineers-1; 12th Regiment-1; 40th Regiment-12; 65th Regiment-4.).

Taranaki Herald, Jan 19th 1861. "Monday, Jan. 14th, between 4 and 6 am the General (Pratt) accompanied by Colonel Carey D.A.G. Staff, and a considerable force (1000 men consisting of the 40th, 14th, and Naval Brigade with their 12 pounder howitzer arrived at Kairau where some companies of the 65th and 12th joined the force". The Naval Brigade under the command of Commodore Seymour, were engaged during the day either as flanking guards, working the 12 pounder and 8 inch guns, or on the works".
 
MENTIONS IN DESPATCHES Captain Norman and Lieutenant Woods were both mentioned in the despatches (Woods twice), from Major General Pratt to the War Office, London. Midshipman Horn was also supposedly mentioned in despatches, but there is no evidence of this at this juncture. London Gazette. April 9th 1861. P1490. A despatch and its enclosures of which the following are copies have been received at the War Office from Major General Pratt C. B. Headquarters, Camp Waitara, New Zealand, 31st December 1860. Sir, etc, "I have also to bring to His Royal Highness's notice the conduct of the officers, and to name for his approbation those in command, and at the head of departments., Commodore Seymour, assisted by Lieutenant Battiscombe H.M.'s S. Pelorus, and lieutenant Woods, Chief Officer H.M.'s S Colonial S. Victoria, performed their duties in the usual gallant manner." Etc.

London Gazette. Friday, July 26th 1861. p3037/8. A despatch of which the following is an extract, has been received, with its enclosures, from Major General Pratt. C B. Sir, etc "Commander Norman, Her Majesty's colonial steamsloop Victoria, has with his ship, provided of incalculable value during this service, and his chief officer Mr Woods, late R.N. did good service while attached to the Naval Brigade on shore." Etc.

THE MEDAL ROLL Only those who had served in one of the various shore parties from Victoria became entitled to receive the "Maori War Medal" dated on the reverse 1860-1861, and the following list of names is lodged at he Public Records Office in London under PRO.ADM. 171/16 ff. 72-73, and is headed "List of Officers Seamen & Marines entitles to the New Zealand Medal for services in H.M. Colonial Steamer "Victoria".
Although 40 were obviously entitled, only 10 received the medal. One can only assume that they had to actually apply to receive the medal, hence the late issue in 1905. Of the 10 issued medals, one is known with the dated reverse 1860-61 to Harold Ford AB, and is in a private collection in Sydney. The medal issued to George Marey is known to exist, it came from an auction in London circa 1930, and apparently went to a collector in the U.S.A., present whereabouts unknown. One is known to William Jones AB and has the undated reverse, as have all late issues of the Maori War Medal, this is now in the Australian War Memorial at Canberra, where it forms the nucleus of a "Colonial" collection being put together at the War Memorial. The medal sent to Samuel Smith c/o Department of Defence, Melbourne in 1905, is apparently lost. 

(NOTE: A descendant of Samuel Smith  contacted 'Defending Victoria' website in mid-August 2007. 'I am pleased to inform you that Sam Smith's medal is not lost, but is in excellent condition and remains in the hands of the Smith Family').

With the knowledge of the known medals, it is safe to assume that of the 10 issued, 7 were issued with the dated reverse 1860-61, and three were issued with the undated reverse.

The name W.H. Norman (Ship's Captain), appears on the medal roll and it is regrettable that he died in the year that the medal was sanctioned (1st March 1869). It is odd that his name should appear, as the requirement for the Navy was to have participated in a coastal barrage from the ship, or served ashore with the Naval Brigade at one of the actions. It is difficult to understand why all the shore party entitled did not send for or receive the medal, distance from Melbourne has no bearing as two of the medals were sent to the recipients in New Zealand in 1888.
Name Ratings No. on Ship's book When delivered or sent. Remarks etc. Page 72:

ASHWELL, Edw'r , Trimmer. 2426.
BRETT, Geo., A.B. 2427.
BONFIELD, Patrick, A.B. 2428.
COLLINGWOOD, Jo's., A.B. 2429.
CROMARTY, Jas., A.B. 2430.
DUNN. A., A.B. 2431.
DUDLEY, Tho's., A.B. 2432.
DAVIS, Mark, Trimmer. 2433.
EDMONDS, R., A.B. 2434.
FORD, Harry, A.B. 2435. Sent 18th July 1872.
GRAHAM, Cuthbert, Drummer. 2436. Sent to party 14/11/72.
HORN. Wm., Mate. 2437. Sent 13 Jan'y 71
HORSELEY, Wm., Boy 1st Class. 2438.
HOAD, Peter, A.B. 2439.
HAWKINS, Ja's., A.B. 2440.
HAY, John, A.B. 2441. Agent General for New Zealand 29.3.88 Ic 621/1888.
JONES, Wm., A.B. 2421. Agent General for New Zealand 12.6.88. Ic 234/1888
JONES, Wm., Cook's Mate. 2443.
KENSINGTON, Ambrose, Capt. Fore Top. 2444.
LUTHER, Moses, Gunn's mate. 2445.
LONG. Saml., 2n Master. 2446. Sent 18th July 1872.
LINTON. Robt. 2n Master. 2447.
LOCKE. E.J. A.B. 2448.
LAWSON. Alexr. A.B. 2449.
MAREY [Morey], Geo., Stoker 2450. Sent 26 Aug'st 1872.
McINTYRE, Tho's. Trimmer 2451.
McMYRM, John. Trimmer 2452.
NORMAN, W.H. - 2453.
OVENDEN, Jas., Capt. Fore top. 2454. Sent 5th Dec'r 1872
PARKES, Rob't. Trimmer 2455.
REES, Benj. Stoker 2456.
SCHRADER, John. A.B. 2457.
SMITH, David. A.B. 2458.
STEWARD, Jas. A.B. 2459.
SIBBOND, Wm. A.B. 2460.
STROUD, A., A.B. 2461.
SMITH, Saml., Boy 2nd. -. Secretary, Dept of Defence, Melbourne. 13.4.1905. Page 73.
WOODS, G. Lieut. -. Sent 22 July 71.
WHITE, John, A.B. 2463.
TAYLOR, John, Ld Seaman. 2464.

Source: R. D. Williams : Victoria's Victory : in journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia : Vol. 1 : July 1985 : pp.38-48.
 
 
Victoria and Australia's First War, published in 2005 by Mostly Unsung Military History publications, tells the story of the first Australian unit to serve overseas as peace-keepers. The naval brigade from the Victoria served with distinction ashore during notable battles of the First Taranaki War.


Plan of theatre of operations at Waitara
1st Taranaki War, New Zealand, 1860-1861. Victoria's
Naval Brigade distinguished itself at Matarikoriko

 

Crew of the Victoria
Crew of the Victoria, feted upon their return in 1861
from the Taranaki War.

 

Swivel link from the Victoria
Swivel-link from HMCSS Victoria at Queenscliff, Victoria

 


   See also . . . VICTORIANS IN NEW ZEALAND: THE WAIKATO REGIMENTS

   and HMCSS VICTORIA's NAVAL BRIGADE IN THE FIRST TARANAKI WAR

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