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Navy in South Australia

The navy in South Australia

While under the terms of the British Parliament Colonial Defence Act of 1865, it was possible for any British colony to establish a navy, South Australia did nothing about it until 1882.  In the interim it would continue to rely on the protection of the Royal Navy's Australian Station.

There was however a growing recognition that a raider, either private or a foreign national, could bombard or blockade a port, and demand a ransom. It was suggested that forts should be constructed along the coast of Adelaide, and by October 1880 Fort Glanville was operational. Fort Glanville was manned for the first 18 months on a part-time basis, until the formation of the South Australian Permanent Military Force in mid 1882. Fort Largs, some distance to the north along the coast was operating by April 1884. The third coastal fort, planned for Glenelg, was never built.  However the guns which were purchased for it were eventually mounted at Fort Largs in 1888, thereby giving this fort more firepower than the larger Fort Glanville.

Meanwhile following the 'Russian scare' of 1876/77, two men were sent out from England to discuss the defence of the colonies with their governments. It was recommended that the colonies acquire gunboats or torpedo boats and man these with locally recruited men. This would protect the major ports. WFD Jervois was one of these men, and later as governor of South Australia would continue to push this position in the report.

Finally after the appropriate legislation had been passed, in November 1882, a contract was signed for the construction of a vessel designed for use in the South Australian gulf waters, and sufficiently well armed to engage most 'anticipated' commerce raiders.

In 1884 the Naval Discipline Act was passed which brought into being the Naval Forces of South Australia (under the terms of the 1865 Colonial Defence Act.) HMCS Protector, as the vessel was named underwent sea trials in June 1884, and arrived at Port Adelaide 30 September 1884 to an enthusiastic welcome.

Generally described as a cruiser, built of steel, Protector displaced 920 tons. It was 188 feet long, beam 30 feet, powered with coal fired boilers and engines capable of developing 1640 hp.  She had twin screws, and reached an average 14½ knots during sea trials. For her size she was a heavily armed ship, with one 8-inch, 12 ton breech loading gun, five 6-inch, four ton guns - two on each broadside and the other on the stern. There were also five, 10-barrel Gatling guns. The 8-inch gun had an extreme range of 7,500 yards with a shell of 180 pounds.

Further reading:

Pennock, Robin A warship for South Australia Blackwood, S.A. R. Pennock,  2000

Parsons, Ronald, The Navy in South Australia Lobethal, S.A.: R.H. Parsons, 1974

Parsons, Ronald, Southern passages: a maritime history of South Australia Netley, S. Aust.: Wakefield Press, 1986

Gunboat The Protector
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