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could only send an outdated relic, the sailing ship HMS Electra.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.
Sydney Marine Artist Dean Claflin's plan of
The launch of the Victoria in London, 1855.
(Illustrated London News).
Victoria's logbook for her maiden voyage
Melbourne. In a private
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.
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
TRAGIC LOSS OF HMS ORPHEUSON
THE MANUKAU BAR
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
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
Source: Bach, J. P. S.: The Australia Station: NSW
University Press: 1986: p. 80.
BATTLE OF MATARIKORIKO, New Zealand,
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
McINTYRE, Tho's. Trimmer 2451.
McMYRM, John. Trimmer 2452.
NORMAN, W.H. - 2453.
OVENDEN, Jas., Capt. Fore top. 2454. Sent 5th Dec'r
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.
1st Taranaki War, New Zealand, 1860-1861.
Naval Brigade distinguished itself at
Crew of the Victoria, feted upon their return
from the Taranaki War.
Swivel-link from HMCSS Victoria at