When I first started work at Garden Island in January 1955, there was a small wharf at the southern end of Riggers Lane known as Kuttabul Steps, not to be confused with Kuttabul Dolphins where HMAS Kuttabul was moored. Kuttabul Steps were then used by the Master Attendant Staff as a boat landing and fuelling point, there being a fuel bowser on the site. Not surprisingly there was also a substantial bollard for mooring small craft.
In 1986, during the dockyard modernisation, this small boat landing was demolished and the bollard removed. To everyone’s surprise the bollard was found to be a Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) 64 pounder cannon in remarkably good condition. The cannon was restored by the Dockyard, mounted on a makeshift gun carriage and displayed in the historic precinct between the Barracks Building and the Sail Loft/Rigging Shed, near the site of the former Canary Cottage, where it remains.
Quite recently, the figurehead from HMS/HMAS Penguin, the Lady of Penguin, has been refurbished and restored to her former glory, an event which has revived interest in her namesake. HMS Penguin, the seventh ship in the Royal Navy to bear this name, was a 1,130 ton (1,148 tonnes) composite copper-sheathed screw sloop of an early batch of the Wild Swan class. She was launched on the River Clyde on 25 March 1876 and commissioned on 23 August 1877 under the command of Commander Arthur C.H. Paget, RN. She saw service in the Pacific and later on the northwest coast of America before returning to Devonport and paying-off in late 1881. Penguin had originally been fitted with a horizontal, two cylinder, simple return connecting rod engine with cylinders of 45 inches (1.143 m) diameter, built by Hawthorn, which had proved inadequate regarding speed. The opportunity was taken to re-engine her with a compound engine built by Devonport Dockyard which marginally increased her speed and improved her economy.
Following re-engineering Penguin spent five years in the Fleet Reserve until early in 1886 when she was recommissioned under Commander Francis F. Haygarth, RN for services in the East Indies. During this commission she was employed in anti-slavery patrols off Zanzibar. On 4 January 1888 Commander George F. King-Hall, RN took command. Later as Admiral Sir George King-Hall he was the last Imperial Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Australia Station from 1910 to 1913.
Late in 1888 two of Penguin’s officers distinguished themselves in anti-slavery activities and received commendations. In mid-1889 Penguin returned to Sheerness and was fitted out for survey duties. During this process her armament was reduced to two RML 64 pdr cannon mounted broadside. On completion of the conversion Penguin was recommissioned on 14 January 1890 under the command of Commander Wilson N. Moore, RN and sailed via Suez to survey the northwest coast of Australia. On 9 May 1893 she was recommissioned in Hong Kong under the command of Commander Charles J. Balfour, RN to carry out surveys in the Solomon Islands. During this command Penguin set several deep sounding records and in February 1896 she sounded to 5,155 fathoms at a point off the Kermadec Islands known as the ‘Penguin Deep’, named in her honour. Penguin also surveyed the Pacific Cable Route during this commission.
On 1 April 1896 Penguin recommissioned at Sydney under the command of Commander Arthur M. Field, RN. He was later to serve as Captain-in-Charge of Sydney Naval Establishments 1902-1904 and eventually retire as an Admiral. Under a number of commanders Penguin continued to survey Pacific waters, especially in New Zealand, Queensland and Tasmania. She then returned to Sydney and paid-off on 31 March 1907.
The Depot Ship HMAS Penguin
The Admiralty approved expenditure of £650 on 17 February 1908 to convert the now 31 year old Penguin into a depot ship and work began in June to dismast her and roof over the main deck. She next commissioned as a Depot and Receiving Ship on 1 January 1909 and was moored on the southwest end of Garden Island, giving her name to the establishment.
In consideration of the sum of £2,000 HMS Penguin was transferred to the RAN on 18 March 1913 and commissioned as HMAS Penguin on 1 July 1913. For a short time this created an interesting situation as the Garden Island Establishment was not handed over to the RAN until 13 October 1913. The transfer of the ship coincided with the appointment of Captain C.F. Henderson, RN as Captain-in-Charge and therefore Captain of HMAS Penguin, so the situation was of little practical consequence.
Penguin continued in her role as Depot Ship until 1 January 1923, when she paid-off for disposal. However this was not the end of the ship or her name. The ship served as a crane lighter in Sydney Harbour until 13 December 1960, and then the 83 year old hull was burnt out at Kerosene Bay.
The ship’s name was transferred firstly to HMAS Encounter in her new role as a Depot Ship on 1 January 1923 and she in turn was moored at the southeast end of Garden Island until she too paid-off for disposal on 15 August 1929. On the next day the Submarine Depot Ship HMAS Platypus recommissioned as HMAS Penguin and shortly afterwards began duties as Base Depot Ship and continued in this role until February 1941. On 26 February 1941 Penguin was recommissioned under her former name as HMAS Platypus for further service and Garden Island was without a Depot Ship.
On 13 July 1942 the new shore establishment at Balmoral commissioned as HMAS Penguin II. Garden Island was still known as HMAS Penguin and it was not until 1 January 1943 that the confusion ceased when Garden Island was commissioned as HMAS Kuttabul in memory of the accommodation ship and tender of that name sunk by a torpedo fired from a Japanese midget submarine on 1 June 1942. Simultaneously with the renaming of the Garden Island Depot, HMAS Penguin II recommissioned as simply HMAS Penguin.
The 64 Pounder Gun
Readers may wonder about the circuitous route in returning to the obsolete cannon discovered at Garden Island, but the history is possibly necessary in explaining the origin of this piece of ordnance. The description of these guns can be confusing as they are known as RML 64 pounder, 64 cwt Rifled, Muzzle Loading (RML) naval, field or fortification artillery guns. They were manufactured in England during the 19th century. The name of the gun comes from the weight of the projectiles which weigh about 64 pounds (29 kg). Confusingly the main gun assembly weighs 64 cwt (hundredweight – 1 cwt = 112 lbs) so the gun weighs about 7,168 pounds or 3.2 tons (3.25 tonnes). The calibre of the gun was 6.3 inches (160 mm) and they had an effective range of 5,000 yards (4,600 m). The original Mark I gun was made from 1864 and the Mark III from 1867.
Markings on the gun found at Garden Island as stamped on the port side trunion are:
On the barrel near the vent hole is stamped
This translates as ordnance manufactured by the Royal Gun Factory (Royal Arsenal Woolwich), Gun No 566, Mark III, manufactured in 1876 with a weight of 64 hundredweight (cwt), 1 quarter (qtr) and 0 pounds (lbs). Surely this must be one of HMS Penguin VII’s two remaining guns when she became a survey vessel. As an historic relic is not this gun is worthy of an authentic gun carriage?
Other guns of this type to be found in Australia are:
Royal Australian Artillery Memorial, Canberra (Nos. 398 & 407)
Fort Glanville, Adelaide (Nos. 462 & 463)
Townsville (No. 739).