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HMVS Nelson

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 1805 to 1924
Location: [unknown]
Surname/tag: Australia
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HMS Nelson was a ship that was blown well off her intended course by the winds of change. She was 'laid down' as a line-of-battle ship in 1805, just after the Battle of Trafalgar had been won and the Napoleonic Wars ended. She never saw action, and spent most of her time 'laid up', that is, in a state of readiness for a war that never arrived. She was designed for a style of marine battle in which ships of opposing navies arranged themselves in columns, parallel to the enemy ships and with broadsides of cannons, fired large round lumps if cast iron at each other until, one by one, they were seriously enough damaged to prevent further combat. So Nelson's original purpose was thwarted by the end of war.

When she was launched in 1815 Nelson carried square sails on three masts, but this was to change when, in 1860, she was lengthened and fitted with a steam engine, possibly from another ship[1]. She was, therefore, one of a transitional class of ships that were powered both by wind and by steam, a fairly short-lived class because these ships were prone to setting themselves on fire when hot cinders blew out of the funnels and on to the sails. She would also have been one of the last, if not the last British battle ship to have been constructed entirely of wood, although with a hull of up to three feet thick English Oak she was not short of strength. Nor was she short of firepower, having been designed to carry 120 guns, although she was never fitted out with them at this stage in her life.

Nelson was originally designed as a three-decked ship with enormous freeboard (height out of the water) and pictures suggest that she was almost outstandlingly ugly.[2] That, too, was to change when she was cut down to a a configuration with two gun decks, making her a very attractive ship indeed.

In 1869 Nelson was re-designated from HMS to HMCS (Her Majesty's Colonial Ship) and then to HMVS (Her Majesty's Victorian Ship when she was sent to the Colony od Victoria as a naval training ship.[3] As such she served several functions:
She responded to post-Crimean War fears of Russian hostilities, providing strategic security;
She provided a force to keep a measure of order in the chaos of the goldrush;
She prepared large numbers of young seamen who could be fed into the British Navy; and
She housed and occupied the time of 'numerous waifsand strays', young people of the Colony who might have been without any other support and who were suspected of mischief.

On her arrival in the Colony of Victoria she was introduced to the public (apparently before she was cut down):[4] The screw steam line-of-battle ship Nelson, which arrived in Hudson's Bay yesterday morning, under the command of Acting-Commander C. B. Payne, R.N., is one of the old class of liners of bygone days, when wooden ships alone formed the naval fleets of maritime nations, were constructed on the one principle, with a good breadth of beam, and ample space between the decks. The Nelson is a fine specimen of this ancient and now almost extinct class of sea going ships. Built about twenty-five years ago, at Portsmouth, for a three-decker, the Nelson is modelled after the good old-fashioned principle of those days of peaceful inactivity. She never was placed in commission, and this is, therefore, her first voyage. Some years ago she was cut down and altered into a two-decker, and in that form the now appears in our waters. The Nelson stands very high out of the water, and presents a splendid broadside to an enemy's guns. For her great depth she appears deficient in length, while her bows are of the bluffest, being something after the style of the old Spanish galleons. She has a comfortable poop deck and a stern gallery. with the most roomy and luxurious cabins for the officers. The vessel is very lightly masted indeed. Her lower masts are those of a' line of battle ship ; but she is so far jury-rigged that her topmasts and yards are those of a large-class corvette, Tbe Nelson is a vessel of this class which has ever entered Hobson's Bay. She carries a large armament, and her guns are mostly of heavy calibre. On the main decks there are only six small 12-pounder smooth-bore guns for boat service. On the second deck there are twenty 34-pounder smooth-bore guns, which have been used princincipally for instructing the boys in gunnery exercise, and for this purpose they are very well adapted. In addition, there are two 7-inch guns, converted 6S-ponnders, constructed on Major Palliser's principle for chilled shot and for shell, the materiel being ranged along the deck in shot racks. These guns have been found a most useful and serviceable class of weapon ; and it was not without much careful inquiry, and after many experiments had been tried, that they were selected to form a part of the defence of this colony. The projectiles are of the most formidable description, as they are displayed to view alongside the guns on either side of the deck There is a capital orlop deck of good height and width. Here are stowed away, on either side, and not forward, the bags and baggage belonging to the crew, as well as quantities of 300-pounder shot for the guns which are brought out by the Nelson for the shore batteries. These 300-pounder goes are stowed away below, together with the platforms and carriages. The arrangements for the men are pretty much the same on board the Nelson as upon other men-of-war of the came class, only that upon the second deck forward there is a splendid bath-room, capable of bathing nearly all the boys on board at one time, with a plentiful supply of salt and fresh water always at command. Aft, on the lower deck, is a boys' schoolroom, a fine large roomy apartment, where the young nautical mind has been instructed daring the lengthened voyage out to this colony. The Nelson is about 2700 tons burthen, and. therefore, smaller than the Galatea, although from her great height out of the water she presents a far more imposing appearance; but as a model of naval architecture, she will bear no comparison with the graceful lines and handsome build of the Prince's frigate. The Nelson is a sister ship to the Edgar, and is one of a clan of vessels which during the Crimean war performed good service in the Black Sea before Sevastopol, and formed the most important portion of the fleet under the command of Sir Charles Napier and Admiral B. S. Dundas in the Baltic. The Nelson has come out semi-commissioned; that is, all her officers belong to the Royal Navy, under orders to join the squadron on this Station. She has also on board twenty eight marines and eighty boys, for service in the Squadron. They will be taken to Sydney in H.M.S. Charybdis, which has been ordered round from Sydney for the purpose. The crew consists of a complement of 264 - a very small number for a vessel of this size. The men were only engaged for the voyage, and consequently will be discharged when occasion requires. The names of the officers are: Acting-Commander C. B. Payne; first officer, Mr. Panter (who remains with the Nelson) ; sub-lieutenant Brand, navigating sub-lieutenant Cope; Messrs. Adams, Warburton, Pelly, Warren, Atherton, and Langdon, midshipmen; Mr. Bremer, naval cadet ; Dr. M'Laurin, surgeon; and Mr. Jago, paymaster (who returns to England). The marines, as well as the boys, will be distributed in the various vessels on the station- the Challenger, the Charybdis, and Virargo. Everything is conducted on board in man of war fashion, and sentries were posted yesterday at the gangways and on the forecastle. The engines of the Nelson are 500 horse-power nominal, and the vessel can steam from eight and a half to nine knots an hour. Steam was got up when leaving Portsmouth, off Madeira, on the line, when going into the Cape, and upon arriving off the Australian coast, so that ample opportunities hare been afforded of testing the capabilities of the engines and machinery. Just slx weeks ago, and when sixty days out from England, the Nelson put into the Cape of Good Hope. Some of the crew were suffering from the effects of scurvy, but a supply of fresh meat and vegetables during the three days' stay at the Cape soon set all to rights, and all traces of scurvy disappeared. The voyage has occupied 104 days, during the whole of which time fine, calm, and moderate weather has mostly been experienced. On Christmas Day two events happened— the gunner's wife gave birth to a child, and a boy fell from off the yards and was drowned. The Nelson is fitted up internally with all the ordinary belongings of a man of war. Her cabins are very large, and there being so few officers on board, there has been plenty of space for each. The vessel is lying close to the entrance of the harbour, about mid way between Williamstown and Sandridge. At present she draws 25ft. water, and cannot with safety come in any closer to the shore. Now that we have secured and properly anchored our white elephant, the question arises as to what we are to do with it? As a means of defence, it is not likely that she would render us very much service against such vessels as would be sent to Hobson's Bay. As a training ship the Nelson will be rather expensive to maintain; already a goodly sum has been spent in fitting her out, and also upon the guns and ordinance stores which she has on board which she has on board for service afloat and ashore. At present the Nelson is not particularly clean; but this might be expected after such a lengthened voyage. No doubt, when all her stores have been landed and everything got trim inside and out, the public will have an opportunity of inspecting this new and splendid addition to the Victorian Navy.

A description of Nelson in her later days and of life aboard was provided by a writer using the pseudonym 'The Odd Man Out' [5]
The coal hulk Nelson, which is now the property of the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, has been for some time past a familiar object to wharf habitues. She may be aptly described as .the 'light of other days. She was built at a period when the English naval Jack Tar was a much less public personage than lie is at present, and when the wo'pden walls of England nobly held up the end of the Empire on which the sun never sets, and when we. depended entirely on sailing vessels for communication with the outer world, and for those articles of commerce of which we stood in need. (The life of a sailor in these days is a pleasant one in comparison with what it was at the time that the noble old battleship was put in commission. The Nelson was originally a battleship of three decks, and was turned over to the Victorian Government for the defence of the colonies. In the navy list of 1869 she is described thus: Nelson, 72 guns, screw steamship, *2736 tons, 50 horse power, stationed at 'Melbourne. When one was a young fellow, and took up the sea as an avocation, the Nelson was a prominent feature in Victorian waters. In the year 1882 she was altered from a battleship into a frigate. All Old print shows the process of her dismantling at Williamstown for this purpose, and the alterations which removed her upper deck. The whole of the pier alongside which she was moored was a scene of busy activity, being strewn with beams, cordage, and the material which composed her upper works. She was afterwards used as a training ship for neglected lads, and thousands of youngsters were turned out genuine AB’s, taught to be self-reliant and industrious, and to cultivate assiduously the Philadelphia catechiisms: Six days shalt thou labour and do all thou art able, and rest on tbe seventh, except thou art called upon to do thy duty.
A narrative of life on board the Nelson comes from the pen of a relative of Captain Payne, who commanded the Nelson, and reads thus:— '“ I first recollect the Nelson, as a training ship lying off Williamstown. A Mr. Turner was shipmaster and the boys were neglected children from the slums of Melbourne. Somcwkere in the early seventies the Nelson was cut down and made a frigate, the upper decks being sold and made into mud barges for the Melbourne Harbour Department. There was a figurehead of Lord Nelson on her bow, and a brass plate round the tire of her steering wheel, with the famous signal inscribed upon it: ‘England expects that every man this day will do his duty.’ The stern was a kind of balcony. There used to be a rope ladder with wooden rungs hanging over this balcony for making tbe boats fast to, and the boys used to race up and down it one on each side. When a boat was wanted for the shore there was always a good look-out kept, and one boy used to urge another to keep a good look-out for the captain's missus, meaning the dear old mater, who used ofter to give them little presents of fruit, cake, or pennies. ... an article written some years ago [relates] that Captain Panter brought the Nelson out. 'He was the commander of the Cerberus, and brought her out at a later date. I remember her arriving at Williamstown one Sunday morning, looking terribly rusted after her voyage. Returning to the subject of the Nelson, it is needless to say that everything on the ship was kept scrupulously clean and beautifully bright, and the strictest attention was given to the orthodox ideats of discipline held at that time, in regard to religious and other matters which now after a space of about fifty years, strike us as being very incongruous and fundamentaly wrong. One wonders now if we too, in this generation are conducting affairs on the best basis or we only believe that we are doing so. The first thing in the morning, as Captain Payne went down between decks to conduct Divine service, he just held his handkerchief in his hand, and ran it down the brass railing of the stairs. When he reached the last step he glanced at it, and it there was the least mark of discolouration or dust to be seen on the white linen he sent for the sergeant at arms, and inquired of him: “ Who is the boy who was supposed to clean this railing?". Then the sergeant at arms referred to his book, and having given the name of the lad, was order "Six twenty-six in the morning ” which indicated that when the boatswain blew his whistle for the erring youths to go and be whipped next morning that boy was to be one of them. The boy would have to bend over a cannon, and have another boy to hold his feet down so that the solemn duty might be performed without any interruption. The Nelson today is cut down to her lower deck. Her massive beams are still in evidence, and what is left of the old sheer hulk allows how well the naval architects and' builders of the forgotten past did their work.

After her eventual demise some relics of Nelson remain: The Royal Sydney Exchange will today be decorated with patriotic and national emblems. A feature of the decoration will be the figurehead of the old sailing ship Nelson, built in England some 70 or 80 years ago, and the first vessel named after the hero of Trafalgar. The ship was presented to the Victorian Government, and for many years was used for training purposes. She subsequently was sold, and came to Sydney, where she is still to be seen, or rather what remains of her, in this harbour. Another exhibit of especial interest will be Nelson's old chronometer, which has become an heirloom of a gentleman resident in this city. Some two years ago this relic was an interesting exhibit at a collection of Nelson relics in England.[6]

Croll-284 03:32, 3 February 2021 (UTC)


  1. Trove, National Library of Australia The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954) May 1867 p5. Accessed 17 Oct 2020
  2. Ships of the Victorian Navy Accessed 21 Oct 2020
  3. Wilkinson L. 2015. 'Paynesville - Named After Captain Payne' The Paynesville Maritime Museum Journal Issue 2, December 2015
  4. "Ship%20Nelson" Trove, National Library of Victoria The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954) 5 Feb 1868 p3; Hamilton Spectator and Grange District Advertiser (South Melbourne, Vic. : 1860 - 1870) 8 Feb 1868 p4. Accessed 17 Oct 2020
  5. Trove, National Library of Australia Critic (Hobart, Tas. : 1907 - 1924) Fri 16 Mar 1917 p4 'Notes by the Way'. Accessed 16 Oct 2020
  6. "Ship%20Nelson" Trove, National Library of Australia The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) 21 Oct 1905  p13. Accessed 17 Oct 2020

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