HMS Calliope (1884)

HMS Calliope was a Calypso-class corvette (later classified as a third-class cruiser) of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom which served from 1887 until 1951. Exemplifying the transitional nature of the late Victorian navy, Calliope was a sailing corvette—the last such ship built for the Royal Navy—but supplemented the full sail rig with a powerful engine. Steel was used for the hull, and like the earlier iron-hulled corvettes, Calliope was cased with timber and coppered below the waterline, in the same manner as wooden ships.[4]

Broadside view of a metal ship, quiet at anchor in a port. Two small boats are alongside. There are three masts but no sails are set. There is a large smokestack amidships. Guns are sponsoned out from the sides, with gunports between them.
HMS Calliope
United Kingdom
NameHMS Calliope
BuilderHM Dockyard Portsmouth
CostHull: £82,000; machinery: £38,000[2]
Laid down1 October 1881[1]
Launched24 June 1884[1]
Sponsored byLady Phipps Hornby
Completed25 January 1887
Commissioned25 January 1887[2]
Maiden voyage1 March 1887
  • Helicon (June 1915 – October 1931)
  • Calliope (October 1931 – 1951)
Nickname(s)"Hurricane Jumper"
FateSold for breaking 1951
General characteristics [2]
Class and type Calypso-class corvette
Displacement2,770 long tons
Length235 ft (71.6 m) pp
Beam44 ft 6 in (13.6 m)
Draught19 ft 11 in (6.1 m)
Installed power
  • 6 boilers
  • 4,023 ihp (3,000 kW)
Propulsion4-cylinder compound-expansion J. and G. Rennie steam engine, driving a single screw
Sail planBarque rig[Note 1]
Speed13.75 kn (25.5 km/h) powered; 14.75 kn (27.3 km/h) forced draught
Range4,000 nmi (7,400 km) @ 10-knot (19 km/h)
Complement293 (later 317)
ArmourDeck: 1.5 in (38 mm) over engines[3]

Calliope was known for "one of the most famous episodes of seamanship in the 19th century", when the vessel was the only ship present to avoid being sunk or stranded in the tropical cyclone that struck Apia, Samoa in 1889.[5] After retirement from active service, Calliope served as a training ship until 1951, when the old corvette was sold for breaking.

Design and constructionEdit

Calliope and sister ship Calypso comprised the Calypso class of corvettes designed by Nathaniel Barnaby. Part of a long line of cruiser classes built for protecting trade routes and colonial police work,[6] they were the last two sailing corvettes built for the Royal Navy. Corvettes had been built of iron since the Volage class of 1867, but the Calypsos and the preceding Comus class were instead built of steel. Corvettes were designed to operate across the vast distances of Britain's maritime empire, and could not rely on dry docks for maintenance. Since iron (and steel) hulls were subject to biofouling, and they could not easily be cleaned, the established practice of copper sheathing was extended to protect them; the metal plating of the hull was timber-cased and coppered below the waterline.[4] The only armour was a 1.5-inch (38-mm) armoured deck covering the machinery spaces, but coal bunkers along the sides gave some protection to the machinery spaces.[7]

Calypso and Calliope differed from their nine predecessors of the Comus class in armament; they were also slightly longer, had a deeper draught, and displaced 390 tons more.[8] Originally planned as a ten-gun corvette, Calliope was completed with four 6-inch (152.4 mm) breechloaders in sponsons fore and aft on each side, twelve 5-inch (127.0 mm) breechloaders in broadside between the 6-inch guns, and six quick-firing Nordenfelts.[9]

The compound-expansion steam engine was supplied with steam by six boilers and developed 4,023 indicated horsepower (3,000 kW). This was 50% more powerful than the predecessor class, which gave the corvette one more knot of speed, a difference that would be crucial in the disaster that made Calliope famous.[10] The engine drove a single feathering screw,[2] and enabled the vessel to reach a speed of 13¾ knots, or 14¾ knots with forced draught.[11] The vessel nevertheless was a fully rigged sailing ship,[Note 1] allowing sustained service in areas where coaling stations were far apart. Calliope was well-suited to distant cruising service for the British Empire at its Victorian peak.[11]

Although laid down in 1881, Calliope was not launched until 1884, and was placed in reserve at Portsmouth before completion. The ship was not activated until 25 January 1887, when the vessel was placed in commission for the China Station,[12][13] the sort of distant service for which the class had been designed.[14] The same year, all corvettes and frigates were re-classified as "cruisers", with Calliope and Calypso falling into the "third-class cruiser" category.[15]

Service with the fleetEdit

Starboard quarterdeck, while at Port Chalmers, New Zealand
De Maus Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

The British Empire was the largest on Earth, and Britain protected that empire and its trade routes with the world's 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.[16] The global reach of the Royal Navy included the western Pacific Ocean, patrolled by the Australia Station. In 1887 Captain Henry Coey Kane took Calliope to the Pacific.[17] At first assigned to the China Station, the vessel was reassigned to the Australia Station later in 1887. The cruiser was in New Zealand at the end of that year, and was the first vessel to enter the new Calliope Dock.[18] In early 1888 Calliope was sent north to watch over a looming diplomatic crisis and potential military confrontation in Samoa.[18]

This crisis had its roots in the Great Powers' competition for colonies in the last decades of the 19th century. The German Empire, invigorated by its victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War and by its unification under the Prussian monarchy, had newfound imperial ambitions that stretched beyond 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 had nearly completed establishing control over its territories on the North American continent, leading American ambitions to stretch beyond its shores. The squadron was at Samoa to assert US interests in the Pacific and to watch the Germans.[19]

Starboard view

In March 1889, the new corvette Calliope—sent to keep the peace and protect Britain's interests in Samoa—joined the competing squadrons of the Imperial German and United States navies at Apia.[20] The harbour there was primitive, small and nearly surrounded by reefs. Perhaps fit for four ships, the anchorage held seven warships and six merchant vessels on 14 March.[21]

The barometer began to fall that day and a tropical cyclone began to form. The 1889 Apia cyclone increased in ferocity over the next two days.[22] Rain fell in sheets, cutting visibility. Winds of 70 to 100 knots (130–185 km/h, 80-115 mph) blew directly into the anchorage, trapping the ships in the V-shaped harbour.[23] 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.[24] By 09:00 on the 16th, Calliope, although still riding at anchor, had been hit by one ship and narrowly missed by another, and Captain Kane decided to attempt to escape.[25] To relieve the strain on the five anchor cables, Calliope's boilers were producing maximum pressure; the engines were being worked "red hot", and the propeller was making 74 revolutions per minute, sufficient for 15 knots (28 km/h) in calmer waters. In spite of this titanic effort, the ship was barely able to make headway against the winds and the seas in the harbour, and anchor cables began to part.[26]

Illustrated London News for 27 April 1889; artist's conception of HMS Calliope being cheered on by the crew of USS Trenton as Calliope escapes from Apia Harbour. Calliope actually passed to Trenton's port side.
Memorial tablet to Henry Pearson (died 1936) in Winchester Cathedral, with a reference to HMS Calliope and the storm

To port and only 20 feet (6 m) away was the coral reef. Ahead were the US ships 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.[27] Hemmed in by these obstacles and with the rudder at times within 6 feet (2 m) of the reef, Calliope manoeuvred while still attached to the anchor cables, which began to give way. When Captain Kane saw an opening, he slipped the anchors and drove forward.[28] Avoiding the helpless Vandalia, he approached the sinking Trenton, coming so close that Calliope's fore yard-arm passed over the American's deck. As Calliope rolled to port, the yard lifted over Trenton. The crew of the helpless and doomed American ship cheered Calliope as the corvette slipped past. The British ship's drive for the open sea was called by the American commander on the scene "one of the grandest sights a seaman or anyone else ever saw; the lives of 250 souls depended on the hazardous adventure."[29]

Making for the harbour mouth, the British ship's bow and stern alternately rose and plunged into the incoming waves; the propeller at times was spinning in air, requiring a careful hand on the throttle to keep the shaft from running away to destruction. Green seas were boarding the vessel and running the length of the deck. There were ten men on the wheel and more below handling relieving tackle on the tiller to assist in maintaining control of the rudder.[30] Taking two hours to travel four cables,[31][Note 2] the cruiser finally escaped the anchorage into the open sea, an achievement not known to Calliope's crew for some time, as sea spray and spume had reduced visibility to nothing.[26]

The storm kept Calliope at sea the next two days. Re-entering the harbour on 19 March to search for the missing anchors, the crew discovered that all the other ships—twelve in all—had been wrecked or sunk,[Note 3] and nearly every crew had been diminished by the loss of men killed by the storm.[32] Unable to find the anchor amidst the wreckage,[33] 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 Calliope by the storm.[26]

Captain Kane then took his ship to Sydney, where they received a hero's welcome.[34] The narrowness of Calliope's escape; the excellence of the engines and the dedication of the crew, who kept the power plant in operation for many hours during the ordeal;[Note 4] the seamanship of Captain Kane and officers; their bravery in slipping their anchor and facing the storm, trusting only in their ship and themselves; and the respect and encouragement given to them by the crew of Trenton; made Calliope famous.[35]

The engineer of 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."[36] He attributed his success to the superior properties of West Coast coal from New Zealand used to fire the ship's boilers; this statement attracted the custom of the British Admiralty when fuelling its ships in those waters.[37]

Captain Kane was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1891 Queen's Birthday Honours.[38] 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.[39]

Calliope returned to service on the Australian station after repairs were complete. At the end of 1889 the cruiser was recalled to the United Kingdom.

In reserveEdit

Calliope at Blyth in Northumberland c. 1920

Arriving back home in early 1890, Calliope was placed in reserve and remained there for the next seven years.[13] In June 1897 the cruiser was present at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Review of the Fleet at Spithead.[40] That same year Calliope became a tender to HMS Northampton, an older and larger armoured cruiser used as seagoing training ship for boys.[13] Calliope also was occasionally used as a training cruiser, and toured the Mediterranean from February to April in 1900 under Captain Henry Peter Routh,[41] and again in March 1901,[42] and March 1902.[43] Captain Erasmus D. St. A. Ommanney commanded the vessel during the summer of 1902 on a training cruise in home waters, visiting Campbeltown, Belfast Lough, Portishead, Dartmouth, Lyme Regis and Guernsey.[44] In November 1902 the cruiser visited the Spanish city of Ferrol,[45] then Gibraltar and Mahón on Menorca.[46]

Relieved of tender duty in 1905, Calliope was returned to reserve and promptly stricken from the effective list. The cruiser laid up at Portsmouth,[47] and in 1906 was listed for sale for a time. The next year Calliope was moved to North East England for a new career.[13]

Training shipEdit

Panelling from Calliope's wardroom in organ casing at Christ Church, North Shields

On 29 October 1907 Calliope became a drill ship at Newcastle upon Tyne for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Tyne Division, and served there for over four decades.[14] The cruiser surrendered the name "Calliope" to a C-class cruiser between 1915 and 1931, and became Helicon.[48] After the newer Calliope was paid off in the 1930s, Helicon reverted to Calliope and retained that name until sold in 1951.[11] When finally scrapped in 1953, the steering wheel was presented to the government of Western Samoa.[34] The mahogany panelling from the officers' wardroom was reclaimed in 1953 and now forms the wings to the 18th century organ in the west gallery of Christ Church, North Shields, Tyne and Wear.[49]

The name "Calliope" also lives on in the Royal Navy. In 1951 the ship's successor as training ship on the Tyne took that name, and now the shore establishment itself bears the title and honours the memory of HMS Calliope.[50]


  1. ^ a b The sail plan likely varied during the ship's career. Published sources say Calliope has a barque rig, and some photographs show a barque rig. E.g.,Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29; Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96. Other images 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., "HMS Calliope, 3rd class cruiser"; see also the "Starboard bow quarter view" on this page, which shows yards on the mizzen. A full-rigged ship has square sails on the mizzenmast, while a barque has fore-and-aft sails.
  2. ^ A cable is one-tenth of a nautical mile; hence Calliope had moved only about 2400 feet (740 m) in two hours.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ The reciprocating engines had been run at full power for almost twelve hours. "Calliope", Encyclopedia of New Zealand.


  1. ^ a b Burgess, Robert (30 March 1952). "Relic of HMS Calliope In Museum Recalls Epic of South Sea Storms". Daily Press (Newport News). p. 43. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Winfield (2004), p. 273
  3. ^ Brassey (1896), p. 262.
  4. ^ a b Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 43.
  5. ^ Lyon, Steam, Steel, and Torpedoes (1980), p. 39.
  6. ^ Lyon (1980), pp. 21–22, 35–40.
  7. ^ Osbon (1963), pp. 196, 206.
  8. ^ Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49.
  9. ^ Osbon (1963), pp. 207–08.
  10. ^ Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy (1970), p. 49; Gray, Amerika Samoa (1960), p. 89.
  11. ^ a b c Naval Historical Center, "HMS Calliope (1884–1951)". Archived 13 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Evans, p. 1.
  13. ^ a b c d Osbon (1963), p. 207.
  14. ^ a b Paine, Warships of the World to 1900 (2000), p. 29.
  15. ^ Winfield (2004), p. 265
  16. ^ Massie, Robert K., Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War (1991), pp. xx–xxii. New York: Random House, 1991. ISBN 0-394-52833-6; Lyon (1980), pp. 7–12.
  17. ^ Wilson (1996), pp. 51–52.
  18. ^ a b "Calliope", Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  19. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 88–91.
  20. ^ Wilson (1996), p. 51.
  21. ^ Wilson (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 Archived 30 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine , 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.
  22. ^ Gray, Amerika Samoa (1960), pp. 88–89.
  23. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 93–94.
  24. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 94–95, 97.
  25. ^ Wilson (1996), pp. 52–53.
  26. ^ a b c Kimberly, "Report" Archived 29 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine; Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96.
  27. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), pp. 96–97.
  28. ^ Wilson (1996), pp. 52–53. Captain Kane's account of the escape is quoted by Admiral Kimberly in "Samoan Hurricane".
  29. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 87.
  30. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 96; Account of Captain Kane, quoted in Samoan Hurricane
  31. ^ Wilson (1996), p. 53
  32. ^ Wilson (1996), p. 53.
  33. ^ Gray, Amerika Samoa (1960), p. 91.
  34. ^ a b Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 103.
  35. ^ Wilson (1996), p. 54; Lind, The Epic of HMS Calliope.
  36. ^ "No. 25943". The London Gazette. 7 June 1889. p. 3114.
  37. ^ "Coal and Coal Mining" (sidebar: "The best coal"), Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (2009). Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  38. ^ "No. 26167". The London Gazette. 30 May 1891. p. 2921.
  39. ^ Rousmaniere, After the Storm (2002), p. 102; "Commanding Officers, 1778–1900, HMS Victory", The National Museum, Royal Navy; "No. 26924". The London Gazette. 31 December 1897. p. 7854. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  40. ^ "Ships Nearly All New; Only Four of the 21 Battleships in the Jubilee Display of 1887" (PDF). New York Times. 27 June 1897. p. 2. Retrieved 15 December 2008. A photograph taken at Spithead in the same month and year shows Calliope anchored and dressed overall. Calliope 60.30 1884.
  41. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36047). London. 24 January 1900. p. 7.
  42. ^ "Naval and Military intelligence". The Times (36391). London. 1 March 1901. p. 11.
  43. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36717). London. 17 March 1902. p. 10.
  44. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36763). London. 9 May 1902. p. 10.
  45. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36918). London. 6 November 1902. p. 9.
  46. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36926). London. 15 November 1902. p. 12.
  47. ^ A National Maritime Museum photograph from 1905–06 shows Calliope laid up at Portsmouth in a partially dismantled state. Calliope 60.30 1884.
  48. ^ Colledge, Ships of the Royal Navy (2006), p. 57.
  49. ^ Scott, Michael (1996). The History of Christ Church, North Shields, p. 23. ISBN 0 9528931 0 X.
  50. ^ Units in Time, Tyneside – HMS Calliope Archived 14 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Royal Navy (retrieved 23 February 2012).


External linksEdit

  • "Samoa Hurricane". Retrieved 12 July 2013. Comprehensive website of descendant of a petty officer of HMS Calliope, with sections devoted to background, ship, officers and crew, hurricane and aftermath, and bibliography.
  • "Calypso Class Corvettes". 27 May 2007. Archived from the original on 10 October 2008. Retrieved 29 February 2008. Photographs of HMS Calliope in port and in dock, and activities on deck.