HMS Rattler (1843)

HMS Rattler was a 9-gun wooden sloop of war of the Royal Navy and the first British warship to adopt a screw propeller powered by a steam engine. She was arguably the first such warship in the world—the sloop USS Princeton was launched after Rattler, but was placed in commission much sooner.

Alecto and Rattler.jpg
Rattler (left) and Alecto (right) in their 1845 competition
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgUnited Kingdom
Name: HMS Rattler
Ordered: 24 February 1842[1]
Builder: Sheerness Dockyard
Cost: £9,400 plus £17,413 for fitting[1]
Laid down: April 1842[1]
Launched: 13 April 1843[1]
Commissioned: 30 January 1845,[1] Woolwich
Fate: Broken up, 1856
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Screw sloop[2]
Displacement: 894 tonnes
Tons burthen: 8668094 (bm)[1]
Length: 185 ft (56.4 m)
Beam: 32 ft 8 12 in (10.0 m)
Draught: 11 ft 5 12 in (3.5 m) (mean)
Depth of hold: 18 ft 7.5 in (5.7 m)
Installed power:
  • 200 nhp
  • 437 ihp (326 kW)
Sail plan: Barquentine
Speed: 9.6 knots (17.8 km/h)
Complement: 180
  • 1 × 8-inch (60 cwt) pivot gun
  • 8 × 32-pounder (25cwt) broadside guns


Screw propulsion had some obvious potential advantages for warships over paddle propulsion. Firstly, paddlewheels were exposed to enemy fire in combat, whereas a propeller and its machinery were tucked away safely well below deck. Secondly, the space taken up by paddlewheels restricted the number of guns a warship could carry, thus reducing its broadside. These potential advantages were well understood by the British Admiralty, but it was not convinced that the propeller was an effective propulsion system. It was only in 1840, when the world's first propeller-driven steamship, SS Archimedes, successfully completed a series of trials against fast paddle-wheelers, that the Navy decided to conduct further tests of the technology. For this purpose, the Navy built Rattler.


Rattler was launched on 13 April 1843[1] at Sheerness Dockyard and towed to Maudslay's yard to have her machinery installed.[1] She received a four-cylinder vertical single-expansion steam engine with double cylinders, rated at 200 nhp and developing 437 indicated horsepower (326 kW).[1] She was coppered at Woolwich Dockyard and spent two years on trials, with her first day at sea on 30 October 1843.[1] Her armament consisted of a single 8-inch (60 cwt) pivot gun and eight 32-pounder (25cwt) broadside guns.[1] She was commissioned at Woolwich on 30 January 1845 and was first commanded by Commander Henry Smith.

Service historyEdit


Between 1843 to 1845 the Navy pitted Rattler against a number of paddlewheelers. These extended trials proved conclusively that the screw propeller was as good as, indeed superior to, the paddlewheel as a propulsion system. The most famous of these trials took place in March 1845 when Rattler conclusively beat Alecto in a series of races, followed by a tug-of-war contest in which Rattler towed Alecto backwards at a speed of 2 knots (3.7 km/h). It is this which is commemorated to this day in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.[3] A large number of propellers were also tested on Rattler during this period to find the most effective screw design.

On 17 May 1845 Rattler and steamers HMS Monkey and HMS Blazer towed HMS Erebus and Terror toward Orkney but abandoned the tow 60 nautical miles (110 km; 69 mi) north-west of Stromness. Rattler returned to Woolwich on 10 June. In June 1845 Rattler served with the 1845 Experimental Squadron. On 29 August 1846, while serving with the Squadron of Evolution, she ran aground at Lisbon, Portugal; she was refloated.[4] She departed the Squadron in November 1846 for Gibraltar, from which she towed HMS Superb (1842). She also visited Lisbon and South America, returning to be paid off in September 1847.

Anti slaveryEdit

Commander Arthur Cumming commanded Rattler from 12 February 1849 to 15 April 1851.[5] During this time she was stationed off the west coast of Africa. On 30 October 1849 she captured the Brazilian slave brigantine Alepide.[6] In March 1853, Rattler struck a sunken rock at Amoy, China and was severely damaged. She was beached at Tae-tan (today's Dadan Island, Lieyu Township, Kinmen County, Fujian, Republic of China (Taiwan)) for repairs.[7]

Battle of Tai O BayEdit

On 4 August 1855, Rattler, HMS Eaglet, and the USS Powhatan fought a naval battle near Tai O village, Lantau, with Chinese pirates.

Second Anglo-Burmese WarEdit

She later served in Africa and the East Indies, taking part in the Second Anglo-Burmese War.


Rattler was broken up at Woolwich between July and November 1856.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Winfield (2004), p.210
  2. ^ College, p. 287.
  3. ^ "Memorials and Monuments in Portsmouth – HMS Rattler". Memorials and Monuments in Portsmouth. Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2008.
  4. ^ "Affairs of Portugal". The Times (19343). London. 16 September 1846. col A, p. 5.
  5. ^ Davis, Peter. "Captain Authur Cumming RN". Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  6. ^ "No. 21252". The London Gazette. 10 October 1851. p. 2545.
  7. ^ "Sunken Rock at Amoy". The Standard (8976). London. 16 May 1853.


External linksEdit