HMS Calliope (1884)

HMS Calliope (1884)

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. [Archibald, "The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy" (1970), p. 43.]

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. [Lyon, "Steam, Steel, and Torpedoes" (1980), p. 39.] 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 within, or a follow-on class of, the successful "Comus" class 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. [Archibald, "The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy" (1970), p. 43.]

"Calypso" and "Calliope" differed from the nine ships of the "Comus" class in armament; they were also slightly longer, had a deeper draught, and displaced 390 tons more. [Archibald, "The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy" (1970), p. 49.] "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 incident which made her famous. [Archibald, "The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy" (1970), p. 49.] These compound engines could drive "Calliope" at 13¾ knots, or 14¾ knots with forced draught. She nevertheless was a fully-rigged sailing ship,Some sources states that Calliope has a barque rig. Paine, [ Warships of the World to 1900] (2000), p. 29; Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), p. 96. Drawings and photographs 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"] .] 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.

Regular service

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, [Paine, [ Warships of the World to 1900] (2000), p. 29.] and in 1887 Captain Henry Coey Kane took "Calliope" to the Pacific. [Wilson, [ Glory for the Squadron] (1996), pp. 51–52.] 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, but in early 1888 she was hurriedly sent northward to Samoa to watch over a looming diplomatic crisis and potential military confrontation. [ [ "Calliope"] , Encyclopedia of New Zealand.]

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 sent a squadron to Samoa to assert its interests in the Pacific and to watch the Germans. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), pp. 88-91.]

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. [Wilson, [ Glory for the Squadron] (1996), p. 51.] 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. [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.]

The barometer began to fall that day and a tropical cyclone came up, which increased in ferocity over the next two days. [ Gray, America Samoa (1960), pp. 88-89.] Rain fell in sheets, cutting visibility. Winds of 70 to 100 knots (130–185 kph) blew directly into anchorage, trapping the ships in the V–shaped harbour. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), pp. 93–94.] 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. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), pp. 94–95, 97.] 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. [Wilson, [ Glory for the Squadron] (1996), pp. 52–53.] 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 kph), but the ship was barely able to make headway against the winds and the seas in the harbour, and her anchor cables began parting.Kimberly, [ Report.] ]

On her port and only 20 feet (six metres) away was the coral reef. Ahead were USS "Vandalia" and USS "Trenton"; to starboard were other warships. There was only a narrow opening between the vessels to one side and the ground to the other. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), pp. 96, 97.] 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. Wilson, [ Glory for the Squadron] (1996), pp. 52–53. Captain Kane’s account of the escape is quoted by Admiral Kimberly in [ Samoan Hurricane.] ] 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. The bow and stern of the British ship 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. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), p. 96; Account of Captain Kane, quoted in [ Samoan Hurricane.] ] Taking two hours to travel four cables, [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.] the corvette finally reached the open sea, but her crew was not aware of their escape for some time as seaspray and spume reduced visibility to nothing.

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, [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.] and nearly every crew had been diminished or decimated by the loss of men killed by the storm. [Wilson, [ Glory for the Squadron] (1996), p. 53.] Unable to find the anchor amidst the wreckage, [ Gray, America Samoa (1960), p. 91.] 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.

Captain Kane then took the ship to Sydney, where she and her officers and crew received a hero's welcome. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), p. 103.] 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, [The reciprocating engines had been run at full power for almost twelve hours. [ "Calliope"] , Encyclopedia of New Zealand.] 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. [Wilson, [ Glory for the Squadron] (1996), p. 54; Lind, [ The Epic of HMS Calliope] .] 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." [LondonGazette|issue=25943|startpage=3114|date=7 June 1889|accessdate=2008-02-18] Captain Kane was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1891 Queen's Birthday Honours. [LondonGazette|issue=26167|startpage=2921|date=30 May 1891|accessdate=2008-02-18] 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. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), p. 102; [ Commanding Officers, 1778–1900, HMS Victory] , The National Museum, Royal Navy; LondonGazette|issue=26924|startpage=7854|date=31 December 1897]

"Calliope" returned to service on the Australian station after repairs were complete. At the end of 1889 she was recalled to the United Kingdom. She was at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Review of the Fleet at Spithead in June 1897.Photograph record for "CALLIOPE 60.30 1884, Steel screw corvette (HMS)", accessed by searching for "Calliope" at [ search page] for Historic Photographs Collection, National Maritime Museum. Accessed on 2007-02-18.] She was placed in reserve for a time and served as a tender.

Training ship

"Calliope" was retired in the early 20th century, and was laid up at Portsmouth. In 1907 she became a drill ship at Newcastle upon Tyne for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Tyne Division. [Paine, [ Warships of the World to 1900] (2000), p. 29.] She surrendered her name to another ship between 1914 and 1931, and became the "Helicon". 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.Navy Historical Center, [ HMS "Calliope" (1884-1951).] ] When finally scrapped in 1953, her steering wheel was presented to the government of Western Samoa. [Rousmaniere, "After the Storm" (2002), p. 103.] 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 has the name and honours the memory of HMS "Calliope". [ [ HMS Calliope (Gateshead)] , "Training Centres", Royal Naval Reserve; [ History of HMS Calliope] , "News, HMS Calliope (Gateshead)", Royal Naval Reserve.]

ee also

1889 Apia cyclone




* cite book
last =Archibald
first =E.H.H.
coauthors = Ray Woodward (ill.)
title =The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy 1860-1970
publisher =Arco Publishing Co.
year =1971
location =New York
isbn =0-6680-2509-3

* cite web
title = Calliope
work = An Encyclopedia of New Zealand
publisher = Ministry for Culture and Heritage / Te Manatū Taonga
year = 1966, 2007
url =
(A. H. McLintock, ed.). ISBN 978-0-478-18451-8. Retrieved on 2008-04-28.


* cite book
last =Gray
first =J.A.C.
title =Amerika Samoa: A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration
publisher = U. S. Naval Institute
year =1960
location =Annapolis
isbn = 0-4051-3038-4

* cite web
title = HMS Calliope (Corvette, 1884-1951)
work = Online Library of Selected

publisher = U.S. Navy Historical Center
date =
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-02-12

* cite web
title = Hurricane at Apia, Samoa, 15-16 March 1889
work = Events of the 1880s
publisher = U.S. Navy Historical Center
date =
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-12

* cite web
last = Kimberly
first = L.A.
authorlink = Lewis Kimberly
coauthors =
title = Samoan Hurricane
work = Events of the 1880s
publisher = U.S. Naval Historical Foundation
date =
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-12

* cite web
last = Kimberly
first = L.A.
authorlink = Lewis Kimberly
title = Report of Rear-Admiral L.A. Kimberly
work =
publisher = U.S. Navy Historical Center
date = March 19, 1889
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-22

* cite web
last = Lind
first = L.J.
title = The Epic of HMS Calliope
publisher = Naval Historical Society of Australia
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-24

* cite book
last =Lyon
first =David
title =Steam, Steel and Torpedoes
work = The Ship
publisher =W.S. Cowell, Ltd. for HM Stationery Office
year =1980
location =Ipswich
pages =39
isbn =0-1129-0318-5

* Citation
last = Paine
first = Lincoln P.
title = Warships of the World to 1900
work = Warships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia
place = New York
publisher = Houghton Mifflin
year = 2000
isbn = 0-3959-8414-9

* cite book
last = Rousmaniere
first = John
title = After the Storm: True Stories of Disaster and Recovery at Sea
publisher = International Marine/McGraw-Hill
year = 2002
location = Camden, MN
pages = 87–106
isbn = 0-0713-7795-6

* cite book
last =Stevenson
first =Robert Louis
authorlink =Robert Louis Stevenson
title = A Footnote to History, Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa
publisher =
date =
location =
pages =
url =

* cite book
last =Tute
first =Warren
title =The True Glory: The Story of the Royal Navy over a thousand years
publisher =Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd
year =1984
location =London
pages =143
isbn = 0-3561-0403-6

* Citation
last = Wilson
first = Graham
title = Glory for the Squadron: HMS Calliope in the Great Hurricane at Samoa 1889
journal = Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
volume = 22
issue = 2
pages = 51-54
date = May/July 1996
year =
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-12

External links

* Citation
title = Samoa Hurricane
date = September 2007
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-24
. Website of descendant of a petty officer of HMS "Calliope", with sections devoted to background, ship, officers and crew, hurricane and aftermath, and bibliography.

* Citation
title = Calypso Class Corvettes
date = 27 May 2007
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-29
. Photographs of HMS "Calliope" in port and in dock, and activities on deck.

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