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Navy in South Australia: HMCS Protector


South Australia had a new state-of-the-art naval vessel, but there was no Defence Department, and the crew and the ship were very much subject to the whims of the government. Commander Walcot trained his crew, as well as the naval reservists - but in a time of peace, manoeuvres and training exercises were the order of the day. And they fulfilled these to a remarkably high standard.

In 1888 subsequent to the wreck of the sailing ship Star of Greece, it was decided that the Protector would train and service the life saving rocket apparatus and their crews. Another of her major duties was visits to the various ports in the Gulfs, sometimes with the Vice Regal party aboard. There were regular gunnery exercises, sometimes with Forts Largs and Glanville, and with the torpedo station at the North Arm of the Port River.

Another duty, one indicative of the South Australian government's parsimony was the call to crew the Marine Board's vessel Governor Musgrave, often at short notice.

However despite these stringencies, HMCS Protector, its officers and crew continued to receive good reports from the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Squadron (of the Royal Navy). Rear Admiral Tryon recorded that he 'thoroughly satisfied with all [he] saw'. Rear Admiral Fairfax recorded in the following year 1887 that the Protector's men were 'clean and well dressed...who went through their drills in a creditable manner'.

Protector was a multi-tasked ship: in 1890 alone she assisted the ship Cathcart which was in difficulties off Cape Jervis; she rescued the swimmers at the Semaphore Baths who were stranded when the jetty was washed away in a storm; and while crewing the Governor Musgrave the crew were instrumental in saving the men of the steamer You Yangs which was wrecked on Kangaroo Island.

Commander Walcot continued to criticise the government over its funding of the naval force, but despite the lack of funding Walcot and his officers maintained Protector as a highly efficient force. This reached a peak during 1892-1895 when the South Australian government considered selling its cruiser. A minimum of 75,000 pounds was required and there was some interest, but eventually the decision to sell her was reversed. Walcot resigned in July 1893, partly in response to the cutbacks. He was replaced by WR Cresswell. Training of the naval reserves continued, but the permanent naval force was reduced. Cresswell resigned in 1900 to take up the same position in Queensland, Commandant of the Queensland Naval Force. Lieutenant Commander CJ Clare was promoted from the Naval Reserve to become Commandant of the South Australian Navy.

Chapman James Clare
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Protector, South Australian naval vessel
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Protector's Gun Crew
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Protector's Officers
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