- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Early warships
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Warrego I, HMAS Yarra I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Parramatta I, HMAS Melbourne I
- September 1986 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
THE SHIPS OF THE FIRST FLEET of the Royal Australian Navy were the product of the Imperial Conference of 1909 which culminated more than a decade of discussion by the states of the newly formed Commonwealth. Perhaps the strongest protagonist for a strong and balanced Australian Fleet was Admiral Sir William Creswell. ((Vice Admiral Sir William Creswell, KCMG, KBE. Born Gibraltar on 20th July, 1852. Commanded HMSAS Protector. Commandant Queensland Navy. First Member, Australian Naval Board. Died 20th April, 1933.)) He moulded the various propositions into a policy which was acceptable to both the states of the Commonwealth and the Admiralty.
In 1902 Creswell laid down the principle which is as true today as when it was made. ‘For a maritime state unfurnished with a navy, the sea, so far from being a safe frontier is rather a highway for her enemies; but, with a navy, it surpasses all other frontiers in strength.’
The Imperial Conference agreed that the nucleus of the Royal Australian Navy should be one armoured cruiser (Indomitable class), three unarmoured cruisers (Bristol class), six destroyer gunboats and three submarines. The armored cruiser became the battle cruiser Australia; ((HMAS Australia, Battle Cruiser. John Brown (Clyde) 1913. 19,200 tons, 390 ft. long, 80 ft. beam, 44,000 hp, 4 screws, 25 knots. Guns: 8 x 12 in., 14 x 4 in., 1 x 4 in. AA., 1 x 3 in. AA., 3 x 21 in. torpedo tubes. Armour: belt – 6 in., turrets – 7 in. Complement 800-860. Sunk off Sydney 1924.)) the three unarmoured cruisers became the light cruisers Melbourne, ((HMAS Melbourne, Light Cruiser, Cammell Laird, (Birkenhead) 1913. 5,400 tons. 458 ft. long, 48 ft. beam. 25,000 hp. 4 screws, 25.5 knots. Guns: 8 x 6 in., 1 x 3 in. AA., 2 x 21 in. Torpedo tubes. Armour: belt – 3 in. Complement 475-540. Sold out of service 1928.)) Sydney and Brisbane; ((HMAS Brisbane, Light Cruiser, Cockatoo Docks 1915. 5,400 tons, 430 ft. long, 50 ft. beam. 25,000 hp., 25.5 knots. 4 screws. Guns: 8 x 6 in., 1 x 3 in. AA., 2 x 21 in. Torpedo tubes. Armour: belt – 3 in. Sold out of service 1936. Sydney broken up at Sydney. 1929.)) and ‘six’ destroyer gunboats were initially Parramatta, ((HMAS Parramatta, Destroyer, Fairfield (Clyde) 1910. 700 ton, 245 ft. long, 24½ ft. beam, 9,500 hp, 3 screws, 26 knots. Guns: 1 x 4 in., 3 x 12 pdr., 3 x 8 in. Torpedo tubes. Complement 66. Discarded 1930.)) Yarra ((HMAS Yarra, Destroyer, Denny (Dumbarton) 1910. 700 tons, 245 ft. long, 24½ ft. beam, 9,500 hp, 3 screws, 26 knots. Guns: 1 x 4 in., 3 x 12 pdr., 3 x 18 in. Torpedo tubes. Complement 66. Discarded 1930.)) and Warrego ((HMAS Warrego, Destroyer, Fairfield (Clyde). Assembled at Cockatoo Dock 1911. 700 ton, 245 ft. long, 24½ ft. beam, 9,500 hp, 3 screws, 26 knots. Guns: 1 x 4 in., 3 x 12 pdr., 3 x 18 in. Torpedo tubes. Complement 66. Scrapped 1929.)) and the ‘three’ submarines AE1 and AE2.
The modification to the original agreement was due to two causes. Firstly, in 1910 the Deakin Ministry was replaced by the Labour Fisher Ministry. Secondly, between 1908 and 1911 great advances were made on cruiser design.
‘About this time,’ states an Admiralty report of the period ‘the experiments with the old ironclad HMS Edinburgh showed that ships protected only by a thick deck near the waterline would be exposed to great damage from high explosive shell, which would probably cause considerable havoc in such important compartments as machinery spaces, as shells would pierce the thin sides and burst above the openings in the protective deck. An entirely new method of protection for light cruisers were therefore introduced into the ships of the 1910-11 programme, known as the Chatham class, which were protected amidships by 3 inches of protective plating consisting of side plating of 1-inch high-tensile steel behind 2 inches of nickel steel, the sloping lower deck being comparatively thin. This method of protection has been found in action to be of great value and a distinct improvement upon that of the previous classes. In addition, it allows a more economical distribution of material for strength purposes, and it was adopted for all succeeding classes of light cruisers. The Chathams in other respects resembled the previous Falmouth class, with 150 tons additional displacement.’
An order for the building of Sydney was placed through the Admiralty in 1910 and the contract was won by the Scottish yard of London and Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. of Govan. The cruiser was laid down in February 1911 and launched by Lady Henderson, wife of Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, on 29th August 1912.
Builder’s trials were carried out on the Clyde in early 1913 and acceptable trials in April of that year. The maximum speed achieved on these trials was 26.5 knots.
On 30th June the crew of Australia were witnesses to an historic event which left a deep impression on them. For the first time in three hundred years a British monarch knighted an Admiral on the quarterdeck of his ship. On 4th April 1581 onboard the Golden Hind at Deptford, Queen Elizabeth I knighted Admiral Francis Drake. This occasion was onboard HMAS Australia and King George V knighted the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Australian Squadron, Rear Admiral George Patey. ((Admiral Sir George E. Patey, KCMG KCVO, born Plymouth on 24th February, 1859. C-in-C Royal Australian Fleet 1913 to 1915. C-in-C North America and West Indies Station 1915 to 1916. Died 5th February 1935.))
The investiture was attended by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, the High Commissioner for Australia, Sir George Reid, captains of ships in port and the ship’s company of HMAS Australia.
HMA Ships Australia and Sydney sailed from Portsmouth on 25th July 1913 on their maiden voyage to Australia. Melbourne had departed some weeks before and was to rendezvous with the flagship in Australian waters.
Their first Australian port was the coaling station at Albany in Western Australia. The ships remained for eight days and all hands were engaged in painting ship.
Admiral Patey was under instructions from the Australian Government to avoid putting into the main ports, so the next leg of the voyage was to Jervis Bay which was reached on 2nd October.