The Story of HMCS Protector

Colonial navies
RAN Ships
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December 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)

The Career of Protector
Protector led an uninteresting life up to the turn of the century, being based solely in South Australian waters. Her only activities comprised regular deployments on station in Largs Bay. Usually she was placed on the slipway for refitting and then proceeded to the bay. The cruiser’s periods on station after 1893 were from March 1894 to August 1894; October 1894 to May 1895; August 1896 to 1897; and October 1899 to March 1900. On 22nd March 1900, she was taken in tow by the SS Edith to Fletcher’s slip where her hull was cleaned and maintenance carried out.

Protector remained at Port Adelaide until August. The South Australian warship was offered to, and accepted by, the Imperial Government for service in China as part of the Colonial Naval Force. The ship was provisioned and fuelled and sailed for China on 6th August. After visiting Sydney from 10th to 12th August, Protector made for Brisbane, where Captain Creswell assumed command of the ship at 2.30 p.m. on 14th August. Creswell commented, ‘I was glad indeed to see the sturdy little ship steam into a berth in the Brisbane River. It was indeed a stroke of luck that brought me back into my old force, every soul of whom I knew so well.‘ Creswell had previously served as Commandant of the South Australian Naval Forces until April 1900, when he took up the position of command of the Queensland Marine Defence Force.

One day in port proved sufficient to recoal and replenish stores, and on 15th August Protector proceeded down the Brisbane River. The cruiser steamed to Thursday Island via the Barrier Reef in charge of a pilot. At Thursday Island Protector again replenished her small water tanks from the large reservoir at the fort. On 23rd August the vessel got underway and, employing sails when possible, arrived at Manila at the end of the month. Hong Kong was reached on 9th September, a Sunday afternoon. To the surprise of a dockyard official, who enquired about the ship’s defects, he was told that there were none.

The British Commodore received Creswell and immediately asked when would Protector be ready for action. Creswell replied, ‘At once.‘ The Commodore, surprised as he was, ordered the dockyard at the disposal of the Australian warship. Protector in the meantime was being coaled, cleaned and her sides painted.

At 1410 hours on 19th September, Protector steamed for Woosung, arriving there four days later. Another quiet passage found Protector at Shanghai on 26th September. The Tartar city Shan Hai Kuan was Protector’s last port and the site of the Boxer uprising. She arrived there on 11th October, to find preparations in full swing for an attack on the Boxer-controlled forts. However, fate decided otherwise and the Boxer army retreated with the forts capitulating. Protector had steamed thousands of miles and saw no action, her work, as Creswell described it, ‘consisting of odd jobs and services here, there and everywhere.’

The gunboat left for Shan Hai Kuan on 19th October, and returned to Hong Kong harbour on 12th November. Protector left for Amboina twelve days later and sailing via Thursday Island, reached Brisbane on 14th December. After two days Captain Creswell gave up charge of the ship to Captain Clare and Protector sailed for Sydney, and finally Adelaide. When leaving Sydney on 2nd January 1901, the ship was cheered by the fleet as she passed down the harbour. Finally on 6th January, Protector arrived in Adelaide, 153 days out.

In the years up to the creation of the Australian Fleet, Protector was active around the southern and eastern seaboards. As well as maintaining her patrols from Largs Bay, the gunboat steamed to Sydney, Newcastle, Hobart, Port Arthur and Melbourne in 1905. Whilst in Sydney she operated around Broken Bay, including the Hawkesbury River, and in Melbourne exercised at Queenscliff. After these duties Protector sailed once more to Tasmania, calling into Launceston, Devonport and Hobart. During her stopover in Hobart Protector collected the Tasmanian Torpedo Boat TB No. 1 and towed the vessel back to Adelaide, arriving there in early May. The following year she again sailed interstate, visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart.

In 1911, Protector was reboilered and integrated into the Royal Australian Navy. From September 1913, she served as a tender to Cerberus. When war broke out in 1914, Protector began service as a depot ship to the submarines AE 1 and AE 2, and in this role was ordered to German New Guinea on 28th August. After the surrender of these colonies on 17th September, Protector remained based at Rabaul as a port guard ship until she proceeded to Sydney on 4th October.

Up to October 1915, when she sailed to the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, Protector was based in Melbourne. Two months were spent in the Indian Ocean, reporting on the wreck of the German cruiser Emden, before the ship returned to resume duties as tender to Cerberus. Before the end of the War Protector saw some sea-going duty and for a period acted as a minesweeper in Victorian coastal waters.

In May 1920, Protector transported the advance party to Flinders Naval Depot at Westernport Bay in preparation for the official opening on 1st September. On 1st April 1921, Protector was renamed Cerberus, becoming a tender to the new Naval Depot. In turn the old monitor Cerberus was renamed Platypus II.

Finally in June 1924, Protector’s forty year naval career came to a close when she paid off for disposal. Sold to Mr. J. Hill of Melbourne for 677 pounds 10 shillings, Protector was dismantled. Her armament and engines and all movable parts were sold at auction. Conversion work to a lighter was completed in November 1929, her old ammunition magazines now serving as a tank for approximately 300 tons of oil fuel.

In 1931, she was renamed Sidney and sold to the Victorian Lighterage Co. for use as a wool lighter. During July 1943, Protector was requisitioned for war service by the US Army. En-route to New Guinea and off Gladstone, she was damaged in a collision with a tug and abandoned. The hull was taken to Heron Island and later sunk for use as a breakwater. Her rusting remains are still visible to this day.

  • Type – Steel Cruiser (later Gunboat)
  • Displacement – 920 tons (555 gross)
  • Length – 185 feet (overall), 180 ft 6 in (PP)
  • Beam – 30 feet
  • Draught – 12 feet 6 inches
  • Machinery – Two compound surface condensing engines
  • Horsepower – 1,500 (750 hp each engine)
  • Speed – 14 knots (maximum)
  • Bunkers – 150 tons of coal
  • Armament – 1 x 8 inch, 5×6 inch, 4×3 pdr., 5 x 10 barrel Gatling guns, various small arms (see armament notes)
  • Complement – 90 officers and ratings
  • Cost – 65,000 pounds sterling

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