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Title: H.M.S. Pylades, The Last of Her Class
Author: John Arthur Barry
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eBook No.: 1302291.txt
Language: English
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Title: H.M.S. Pylades, The Last of Her Class
Author: John Arthur Barry


H.M.S. Pylades.
(Author of "The Luck of the Native Born," "In The Great Deep,"
"Red Sun and Blue Star," etc.).


Published in the Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW)
Wednesday, June 1, 1904


Prominent among the naval patrols that England sends to police the
southern seas and guard the island fringes of the Empire, making the
while their headquarters in Port Jackson, is the Pylades, now on
another cruise among the British possessions and protectorates in
Oceania. Peculiar interest attaches to this vessel, because she is
absolutely the last of the barque-rigged craft, of which the British
Navy once possessed so many. Of course, there are still men-of-war to
be found in commission rigged as barquentines, three-masted, but with
yards on the foremast only, and as topsail schooners, two-masted, and
square on the fore. But the Pylades, with her barque-rig of yards on
both fore and main mast, and fore-and-aft sails on her mizzen, is the
last survival of the type, as apart from the absolute square-rig, or
full-rigged ship, which has long disappeared out of actual service.
Built at Sheerness in 1884, the third-class cruiser was named after the
bosom friend of Orestes, a hero of Greek tragedy, and the son of
Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Twenty years ago we went to the ancients
for the nomenclature of warships more frequently than is now the case;
twice twenty years ago the practice was even more common, and in many
instances the names then given have been perpetuated, and will be so
while the British Navy exists.

The Pylades is what is known as "composite" built. Soon after the
building of ships with iron was commenced, this composite system of
construction was adopted in the British merchant service, and some very
fast and celebrated vessels were thus constructed. The iron framing,
with wooden skin planking, admitted of considerable strength being
obtained, and the possibility of sheathing the bottom with metal in
order to avoid fouling, appeared to be another advantage in favour of
the composite system. Soon, however, it was shown that the galvanic
action set up between the copper on the "yellow metal" sheathing and
the iron frames tended to rapidly deteriorate the ironwork, and
perhaps, sooner or later, hasten the loss of the vessel. So rapid,
indeed, was this wasting of the frame found to be, that for some time
past the composite system has been, so far as regards merchantmen,
quite abandoned. Some ships, however, are still built "composite" for
the Royal Navy, especially such craft as are intended for use on
foreign stations, and whose duties would render frequent docking
impossible. Such vessels are built with frames of steel, then sheathed
with wood, and coppered.

Such is the explanation of the laconic description "composite," which
stands against the Pylades' name in the Navy List. For the rest, she
has one screw and one funnel; her length is 200ft, and her beam 38ft.
Her mean draught is 14ft 7in, with a displacement of 1420 tons. Her
indicated h.p., with natural draught, is 950, equal to a speed of 11.5
knots; with forced draught it is supposed to be equal to 13.1 knots.
She can carry enough coal to steam 6000 miles at a 10 knot rate. Her
engines are by Laird; horizontal-compound in type. Her protection is
partial, consisting of a 1.5in steel deck. She carries fourteen 5in
38cwt breech-loaders; she has also eight machine and one light gun. The
crew numbers 159.

Like most of the other third-class cruisers of her day--such, for
instance, as the Cordelia, Calliope, and Calypso, all built about the
early eighties, but all longer than the Pylades--she must, for all
practical purposes of modern warfare, be considered quite obsolete. In
the British Navy there are 30 or 40 of these ships still in commission,
and used, many of them, for that policing of the seas that is so
largely left to Great Britain to maintain single-handed. And it must be
granted that most of these obsolete vessels are quite equal to the duty
thus imposed upon them. They can, if necessary, make long passages
under steam alone; also, in consequence, they are much cheaper to
maintain, and are quite as efficient in peace time as more modern ships
would be. As to the wisdom of keeping such a fleet in commission and
taking the risk of, in case of war, losing between three and four
thousand men off the strength of the navy, opinions may perhaps differ.
But to return to the Pylades.

In May, 1899, she arrived on the Australian station to relieve the
little Ringdove, a screw gunboat of the first class. After a stay of
two months in port she left on her first cruise among the Islands, her
first calls being at Fiji and Samoa. And, as illustrating the duties as
well as the pleasures which fall to the lot of the naval patroller,
some experiences of the cruise will be found of interest. After
clearing the Heads of Port Jackson she was driven at full speed for 24
hours, averaging 12 knots. Sail was used after this steam trial nearly
all the way to Suva. The period was just subsequent to the Samoan
trouble, and there had been a general gathering of warships of
different nationalities in Apia Harbour. But when the Pylades called
there the second time there were left only the Torch, the German
Cormoran, and the Abarenda, a U.S. supply ship. While at Apia a sports
gathering was got up by the officers and crews of the two British
warships, and, naturally, the Germans and the Americans were invited.
The Americans accepted, and had "a real good time," but the Germans
sulked and refused, an attitude, it is to be feared, growing typical of
late years where anything British is concerned.

Before this incident, however, the Pylades had been visiting many of
the more distant islands, in company as far as Nassan with her sister
patrol, the Torch, with which vessel the new arrival joined in shooting
away their quarterly allowance of ammunition, as provided for by the
regulations. Neither of the warships anchored at Nassau, which belongs
to the Union Group, one among the many similar collections of islets,
atolls, and other lumps of inhabited coral, coloured "all Red" in the
South Pacific. The captains of the two vessels, however, landed, and
had a look round to see that all was safe in the little possession.

Thence the Torch made her way back to Apia, while the Pylades continued
on her patrol to Hanger Island, in the same group, and from there to
Humphrey Island, one of the Manahikl cluster. Although received
everywhere with enthusiasm and acclamation by the natives, their
reception of the Pylades at Tongarema, one of the last-mentioned
islands, was fervent in the extreme. It was rare, indeed, that the
natives were visited by a warship, and the islanders made the most of
the occasion. In her honour dances were arranged, and feasts held with
much ceremonial display, reciprocated on the part of the Pylades by
concerts and the allowance of a wholesale inspection by the natives, on
which occasions the cruiser simply swarmed with coloured humanity "from
truck to keelson." And to make matters pleasanter, not once during the
course of her patrol did the policeman find anything wrong on her beat,
or have occasion to shell a village, or smash up canoes, or in any
fashion whatever mete out punishment. Had the islanders of the various
groups known of the custom, the Pylades would have had enough white
gloves presented to her during this first cruise to have kept her
wardroom in supplies for a good year to come.

Leaving Tongarowa, after a stay of five days, the Pylades returned to
Apia, via Suwarrow, and there in conjunction with the "Torches," gave a
grand concert in aid of the "Coffee House and Free Library of All
Nations." As a passenger as far as Suva, on her return trip, she had
Malietoa, one of the rival Samoan chiefs, whose name in these days was
very much in people's mouth. In pursuance of one of her duties as
keeper of the seas, she discovered a danger to navigation at the
entrance to Suva Harbour, in the shape of a coral reef, and treated it
satisfactorily with gun-cotton. The cruiser entered Sydney Heads on her
return under sail, and many people will remember the pretty picture she
made on that occasion, taking, as it did, five hours to get to her
moorings, because of a strong head wind. And it is just possible that,
in addition to being the last of the naval barques, the Pylades may
also bear the record of being the last British man-o'-war to enter Port
Jackson under canvas.


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