- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Early warships
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Fantome, HMS FANTOME (HMAS Fantome)
- March 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS of ‘gunboat diplomacy’, the Royal Navy maintained a large number of sloops designed for overseas service, powered by both steam and sail. By the turn of the century their numbers were dwindling, Fantome being one of the last group built for the purpose.
Well known on the Australian Station as a survey ship, Fantome had been launched as an active fleet member, armed with six QF 4 inch Mark III guns, backed up by four 3 pounders. Her displacement was 1,070 tons, length 185 feet, beam 33 feet and a draught of 11 feet 3 inches. A twin screw ship of 1,400 ihp, her designed speed was 13.25 knots. Built by Sheerness Dockyard, she was launched on 23rd March 1901.
Fantome arrived in Australian waters in 1907 to take over the surveying duties of HMS Penguin, and presented a similar appearance. Her main armament had been removed, the ship mounting only one single 3 pounder. Even this gun wasn’t really required, but it gave the ship full warship status, ensuring that she would not incur harbour dues. As was the usual practice, Fantome carried the survey service livery of a white hull and a buff funnel. She remained on surveying duties until 1914, when she was taken over by the RAN, at the request of the Admiralty, to be re-armed for war duties. On 27th November 1914, Fantome was commissioned as an HMA Ship by Lieutenant G.P.M. Fitzgerald, RN.
As the Admiralty had plans for a strengthening of the Bay of Bengal area, another Royal Navy ship, HMS Psyche, was brought into RAN service, Fantome being earmarked for the Gulf of Aden area. Orders were changed and both Psyche and Fantome were to end up in the Bay of Bengal. One solitary 3 pounder was not a suitable armament for an active warship, so Fantome was quickly rearmed with two QF 4 inch Mark IIIs removed from Psyche, and four QF 12 pounder 12 cwt guns. One of the 12 pounders was taken from the former Queensland Gunboat Gayundah, whilst the other three were obtained from stores. On 27th July 1915 Fantome commissioned for full wartime duties under the command of Acting-Commander L.T. Jones, RN. Departing Sydney on 15th August 1915, Fantome sailed north, not returning to Sydney until September 1917. After a refit, the ship went back into full swing as a patrol vessel, her one interesting episode on this duty was a punitive raid on Malekula in the New Hebrides in October 1918. She finally paid off from the Australian service on 14th January 1919.
In April 1920 Fantome recommissioned as an HM Ship in Sydney, and returned to her former surveying duties. She carried on in this role until she paid off for disposal on 27th April 1925. In 1925 she was sold out of service for scrapping. Her hull was stripped to a bare hulk and, as such, was used as a barge, mainly in Tasmania, until she was sold for demolition in 1956. Fantome had stayed afloat for 55 years, which was a good effort for such a ship, and was the last of her class. Few relics of her remain, but on Garden Island there is at least one engine room telegraph still preserved. A very pretty ship, as the illustrations show, she was also a very efficient ship.
Her composite steam and sail power gave her an extremely long range, useful for duties as a sloop, but more useful as a survey ship. When fitted out for war service in 1915 she lost her main mast permanently, and from then on relied on steam alone for propulsion.
Her hull would have made a good naval museum, but in 1956 not many people were interested in her, and being tucked away in Tasmania, she was far from the eyes of the general public. Her contribution to the oceanic survey of Australian waters ensure that she will not be forgotten.