The late-Victorian Navy: Part Two


Following on from Part One in June MB, some idea of the scope of the Victorian Navy can be gleaned from the figures given in the Defence Act of 1889 when 70 new vessels costing £21.5 million over five years were ordered. Of course the Empire that we had at that time called for a large number of ships. We had a large Home Fleet, one in the Mediterranean and the Far East required protection as well. Also, even though it was nominally peace time, three year postings meant Jack Tar would see very little of his family and in addition it should be remembered that the Royal Navy was very active in suppressing the slave trade. What follows is a brief description of the Victorian battleships that I have modelled illustrating their development.


In general all my models have been built in the same way. The hulls are of jelutong using the bread and butter method of construction. The superstructures are of any suitable wood with details in Perspex (acrylic sheet), brass and aluminium. Super-detailing involves custom made brass etchings. I do the designing and artwork for these, but usually rely on a commercial etcher for the final process. You can do the etching yourself, but dedicated machinery, chemicals and know-how produce a better result. The use of brass etchings has become a feature of all my models as it enables very fine and accurate detailing to be incorporated into them.

HMS Devastation, 1871

The first Victorian battleship that I attempted to model was HMS Devastation, Photo 1, sister ship to HMS Thunderer. She was a mastless turret ship and the first RN battleship without sails. She carried her main armament on top of the hull rather than inside. This meant the guns had an arc of fire of 280 degrees. The original weapons were muzzle loaders, but she was refitted with breech loaders which had longer barrels and improved her appearance enormously.

HMS Colossus, 1882

She was a very ugly looking ship and she carried four 12 inch breech loading guns, two per turret, which were in echelon, Photo 2.

HMS Camperdown, 1885

This battleship, Photo 3, will always be remembered as the ship that sank HMS Victoria whilst trying to perform an impossible manoeuvre ordered by Admiral Tryon. This ship had an increased thickness of armour on her barbettes and a lengthened armour belt. Her main armament was in two pairs mounted in barbettes on her centreline giving an arc of fire of 270 degrees.

HMS Victoria, 1887

This battleship, Photo 4, together with her sister ship HMS Sans Pareil were known as ‘A pair of slippers’ as in any sea their forecastles were usually under water because of their low freeboard. They were the first battleships to be driven by triple expansion steam engines and to have their dynamos driven by steam turbines. This picture shows a large suite of ship's boats with the sea boat cutters already swung out.

Photo 5 shows the ram bow of HMS Victoria. These were popular at this time although experience showed they were more of a menace to friendly ships than to the enemy who were unlikely to wait around to be rammed. HMS Victoria was sunk by the ram of HMS Camperdown resulting in more than 300 fatalities. This picture also shows the typical very narrow white boot topping which is an absolute characteristic of Victorian ships. If this is painted too wide on a model the whole ‘atmosphere’ of a Victorian navy battleship will be lost.

HMS Empress of India, 1891

She was one of seven Royal Sovereign class battleships carrying four 13.5 inch barbette mounted guns. There were no turrets to protect the main armament and this saved weight and enabled her to carry her guns higher. An eighth Royal Sovereign class battleship, HMS Hood, was finished with turrets at the express wish of Admiral Hood as a comparison.

Photo 6, shows six cowl vents typical of this era. In this case the cowls were stamped out of copper sheet and soldered to the vertical cylindrical parts which was not an easy job. The picture also shows part of the suite of ship's boats. The Victorian ships always seemed to carry a full set equipped for any task.

HMS Magnificent, 1894

This was the largest battleship ever built when she was launched and the epitome of the pre-dreadnoughts. She was the last battleship to have side by side funnels. The bridge was mounted around the base of the fore mast behind the conning tower. This prevented a battle-damaged bridge collapsing around the tower, Photo 7. Her pear-shaped barbettes with fixed loading positions for the main armament were not used later in her service life.. The main armament was two pairs of 46 ton 12 inch 35 calibre guns in turrets mounted fore and aft and Photo 8 shows the aft turret with its roof removed. It was not realised at this time that increased action ranges meant plunging fire and turret roofs needed armour and not merely wood and canvas. Note also the grey blast deck plates to prevent the wooden deck being burned by the muzzle flack as appearance was all important in the Victorian Navy. She also had the latest Harvey armour together with 150 watertight compartments.

In addition I have built models of non-RN ships of the Victorian era.

RN Duilio, 1876

RN Duilio (RN being Regia Marina) was an Italian battleship which carried a torpedo boat internally in what we would now call a moon pool. The stern had two clam shell doors to allow entry and exit, Photo 9. In layout she was like our HMS Inflexible. She carried 450mm muzzle-loaders, the most powerful guns at the time but they could only be fired four times an hour! The armaments firm that sold these guns was the British company of Armstrong which was developing a 406mm weapon that could fire every two minutes, so one senses a little bit of commercial and nationalistic chicanery. Someone here had made a shrewd assessment of the backwardness of any Mediterranean adversaries and sold them obsolescent technology whilst making enormous profit. These eight giant guns cost the Italians 453,160 lire. To put that into perspective, each of the French-built armoured frigates of the Regia Marina Pia class built some ten years previously had cost less!

Bouvet, 1896

Bouvet was a French battleship and is my other foreign model of the Victorian era. She notably had a hull with a cross section rather like an onion, Photo 10. She was mined in the Dardanelles during WW1 and capsized and sank in two minutes, probably largely due to the hull shape. She pioneered three-shaft propulsion and had face-hardened armour. Unlike British ships she carried all her primary, secondary and tertiary armament in single gun oval turrets.


Editors note:

Brian has been successful at the Naviga Section C World Championships with some of these models listed here, two golds, one silver and one bronze award. With other models of more modern warships he has also won three silver medals in a Naviga Section C World Championship competition and has won 15 gold medals at the annual UK Model Engineer Exhibition sponsored by Model Engineer and MyHobbyStore. A truly remarkable achievement, and he is still building!