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Title: H.M.S. Pylades, The Last of Her Class
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302291h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

Produced by: Walter Moore

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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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