Shonas Wrecks - HMS Vesuvius

This page is an entry in Shonas Wreck Guide.

HMS Vesuvius in Portsmouth harbour
HMS Vesuvius in Portsmouth harbour

HMS VESUVIUS (First Naval torpedo vessel, predating T.B.1 (Lightning) and HMS Polyphemus.)

Type: Iron screw torpedo vessel
Builders: Pembroke Dockyard
Laid down:16th March 1873
Launched: 29th March 1874
Completed:11th September 1874
Dim: 90'pp x 22' x 8.5'
Tonnage: 244
Engines: 2-shaft compound, 350 ihp capable of 9.7 kts. Engines and boilers built by Maudslay as smokeless and noiseless, burning coke and having no funnel.
Arm: Built with one bow 16" submerged TT. Later credited with having 4 TT. Held 10 torpedoes in forward compartment from which her bow tube was operated.
Fate: Towed from Pembroke to Portsmouth for fitting out, and immediately given a tall funnel to make it easier to raise steam. Relegated to experimental and instructional work for the naval torpedo school, HMS Vernon. Sold to Cashmore (to be broken up), Newport on 14th September 1923. Foundered in tow to Newport sometime in 1924.

Commenced soon after the Royal Navy adopted the Whitehead torpedo, Vesuvius has a better claim to the title of that services' first torpedo boat than the celebrated Lightning. She had a fairly deep hull, a very low freeboard, and engines as near to noiseless as could be made. To make her as inconspicuous as possible, she was built without a funnel, smoke being released through vents along her side, and she burnt coke so not much smoke was produced in the first place. She carried a battery of reload torpedoes in the compartment from which her submerged bow tube was operated.

Vesuvius at anchor in 1900
HMS Vesuvius at anchor in 1900

With her low silhouette, and quiet engines she would have stood a fair chance of making successful surprise night attacks on enemy harbours, but contemporary opinion was obsessed by speed and she was overshadowed by the somewhat impractical early torpedo boats. She was soon relegated to experimental and instructional work for the naval torpedo school, HMS Vernon

Steam Horn
Recovered Steam Horn from wreck.

When she was fitting out at Portsmouth after being towed from Pembroke, she was given a tall funnel, to make it easier to raise steam, and never seems to have used her smoke ducts.

Porthole from HMS Vesuvius
Porthole from Bow area

During 1885 the RESISTANCE was prepared for a series of trials on the effect of guns & torpedoes and the protection against them. The ship was moored fore and aft in Portchester Lake. One of the main objects of the trial was to test the effectiveness of torpedo nets and to determine the minimum distance from the hull at which they would be effective. On 21 September 1886 a 80lb charge was exploded 30ft from the side which shock her but caused no damage. This seems to have been in the nature of a calibration shot to see that all was well. On 22 September, the torpedo vessel VESUVIUS fired an old pattern 16in torpedo with a 91lb charge from her bow submerged tube against the nets which were still rigged 30ft from the ship's side. The range was a mere 100 yards, both to ensure the torpedo hit in the desired place and that it impacted the nets at high speed. The explosion was impressive but the damage was very localised, one net supporting boom being unshipped, there was no damage to the ship.

Torpedo testing
Vesuvius testing her torpedos

Since the value of nets had been demonstrated, it was possible to use static charges, hung from a boom, rather than the expense of real torpedoes. A charge was exploded at 20ft, which caused no damage. The next charge was detonated at 15ft from the side and caused some minor leaks in the shell plating. There was then an interval until the new series of trials started on 9 June 1887 which was intended to try a new heavier design of Bullivant net. This used steel booms which were only half the weight of the old wooden design and with stronger and hinged heel fittings. It was so designed that it could be got out or stowed very much more quickly than the older nets. Once again Vesuvius was used to fire a 16in torpedo which tore the net but did no damage to the ship. On the 10 June a 220lb charge was exploded 30ft from the side and 20ft down. The only damage was that some net booms were bent.

A report of the day states:
"The whole affair occupied a very few minutes. As soon as the red pennant was struck on board to show that Mr. Bullivant was satisfied with the arrangements, and that the target was ready, the torpedo vessel Vesuvius got under way, and after circling round the doomed hulk discharged a Whitehead against the netting from her under-water bow torpedo tube at an approximate range of 50 yards. As on former occasions, the missile was one of the old 16 inch pattern, but it was understood that the charge of gun cotton had been reduced to 87 lb., so that the net protection should not bear a greater strain than would be the case in actual hostilities. The torpedo, which was set to a depth of about 10 feet, struck the net in the middle and threw up an immense spout of water, but without getting to the ship, which was apparently uninjured. Although it hit the net immediately below the center boom, no fracture occurred, and the points remained intact. Although at the short range the torpedo would spin through the water at from 30 to 40 horse power, and would deliver a formidable blow upon the net, the thrust was effectually resisted, though as a matter of course the net was much torn by the explosion of the baffled projectile."

Vesuvius under way sometime between 1904 and 1914
HMS Vesuvius underway

1881 Census return for "H M S Vesuvius" at Portsmouth, Hampshire, England

Name Marr Age Sex Birthplace
William POLLARD M 34 M East Meon Petersfield, Sussex, England Leading Stoker
Charles STEWART U 36 M Woolwich, Kent, England Stoker
Alfred WRIGHT U 27 M Braunston, Northampton, England Able Seaman
William BECKETT U 20 M Wymering, Hampshire, England Able Seaman
John RUNNALLS M 38 M Hayle, Cornwall, England Engineer
Edwin J.P. GALLWEY U 31 M London, Middlesex, England Lieutenant
John MORLEY M 41 M Brighton, Sussex, England Gunner
John STONE M 36 M Bridport, Dorset, England Quarter Master
Cardigan DANN M 42 M Wimbleton, Surrey, England Engine Room Artificer
Christopher Thos. MILTHORPE U 30 M Bradford, York, England Engine Room Artificer
Joseph JOHNSON M 25 M Landport, Hampshire, England Stoker
John MAYHEAD U 49 M Oving, Sussex, England Stoker
Edward ATTRILL U 34 M East Cowes, Isle of Wight, Hampshire Leading Stoker
Nathanial LIGHTFOOT M 22 M At Sea Able Seaman
Charles STEWART U 34 M Woolwich, Kent, England Stoker
Alfred PRICE M 27 M Chepstow, Monmouth, England Able Seaman
Dominick GALLAGHER U 32 M Kellatruly Mayo, Ireland Stoker

Eccentric bearing
Spare crankshaft eccentric bearing recovered from wreck.

a) "Ships of the Royal Navy", J J Colledge (Greenhill Books, London, 1987)
b) "All The Worlds Fighting Ships - Vol I 1860-1905", Conway
c) The Staff of Lieutenant Torpedo Instructors in the " Vernon " is to consist of four, including the Lieutenant in Command of the " Vesuvius. " The Senior Lieutenant and the Lieutenant in Command of the " Vesuvius " will hold their appointments for three years ; the others for two years. Their time whilst holding these appointments will count as does the time of the Staff Officers in the Gunnery ships.
d) HMS Vernon, the third ship to bear the name, was a fifty gun frigate that saw active service in home waters, the Americas and the East Indies between 1832 and 1848. She was then laid up in Chatham Dockyard until emerging in 1867 for use as a floating coaling jetty. In 1872 she was given a new lease of life as a hulk anchored in Fountain Lake where she was a tender to HMS Excellent for Torpedo and Mining training. From 1874 to 1923 Vesuvius, a gunboat of 250 tons, became Vernon's Whitehead Experimental Tender for the conduct of torpedo trials.

Wreck location
Location of the wreck today

N5381 S'brd bow view 1880
N4255 S'brd beam view 1900
N22227 Port beam view under way off Portsmouth 1904-1914

PLANS (All 1:48 scale)
01.Profile and upper deck
02.Hold and sections
04.Mid section

Vesuvius at anchor in 1880
HMS Vesuvius at anchor in 1880

The Officer standing next to the stack in the first photograph is William White, Lieutenant Commander of HMS Vesuvius around 1907. William joined up as a boy sailor in 1873, learnt to dive at HMS EXcellent in 1877 before leaving as a Lieutenant Commander in 1919.

Lieutenant Commander William White
Lieutenant Commander William White

His service record states that he was at HMS Vernon between 1 Oct 1904 and 1907 and 25 Oct 1907 serving onboard HMS Vesuvius. He actually spent a lot of time at HMS Vernon as he was a torpedo gunner and that was where the training was based. He was so keen on the place that he named his son Vernon!

Through this website, William Whites Great Grandson, Julian, got in touch and subsequently supplied some invaluable information. He was able to visit and collect a restored crankshaft eccentric which had been recovered from the wreck. The picture below shows two of William Whites Great-Grandsons and 7-year old Bejamin, His Great-Great-Grandson.

Great-Great Grandson of the commander of HMS Vesuvius
Great-Grandson of the Lieutenant Commander of HMS Vesuvius holding a crankshaft eccentric from wreck