Home' Navy News : September 17th 2009 Contents Fleet Network Pty Ltd D/L No. 20462
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WHILE the rest of the
world played with sails
and fixed gun turrets, the
Victorian Colonial Navy was at the
peak of technology in 1868 with
the launch of the ironclad monitor,
Before Federation in 1901, each
Australian colony was responsi-
ble for operating and maintaining
its own Navy. Victoria had the larg-
est fleet of all the colonies and the
most powerful warship of colonial
Ordered in 1866 by the Victorian
Government, Cerberus was built by
the Royal Navy's chief naval archi-
tect, Sir Edward J. Reed in England
and, after conducting sea trials in
the English Channel, set sail for
Australia in October 1870.
Being designed to run on steam
power alone, Cerberus was tempo-
rarily fitted with a higher freeboard
and sails for the journey to Australia.
Once she arrived in Port Phillip Bay
in April 1871, these were removed
and the ship began her life as a har-
bour defence vessel.
HMVS Cerberus was the most
advanced warship of her day. Several
features of Cerberus would shape the
way modern warships were built and
operated. She was the first warship
built entirely of iron and powered by
steam, no wood or sail to be seen.
She was the first ironclad warship
to transit the Suez Canal and the first
to have traversing gun turrets fitted
fore and aft of a central superstruc-
ture on a breastwork deck.
During her service, Cerberus
was fitted with four 10 inch bore
loading guns, two per turret with a
400 pound shell and a range of 5000
yards. Well trained gun crews were
able to reload and maintain a rate of
fire of one round per gun every 90
HMVS Cerberus spent her entire
Cutting edge technology 1868 style
service life in Port Phillip Bay. Her
primary role was to protect the city
of Melbourne, which was one of the
In 1868 the Victorian Colonial Navy was one of
the most advanced navies in the world. Now
the most advanced warship and the mother of
warships to come lies rusting in Port Phillip Bay.
LSPH Paul McCallum investigates.
THE FUTURE OF THE WARSHIP: Cerberus
alongside at Williamstown Naval Depot some-
time after 1902 with her 10inch main armament
visible in the aft turret.
Image courtesy of AWM (ID P00444.163)
richest cites in the world at the time as
findings from the Victorian goldfields
were transported through the port.
Cerberus continued to operate in Port
Phillip Bay with nothing other than rou-
tine maintenance and upgrades under-
taken. Her square boilers were replaced
with locally-manufactured cylindrical
items and small, four-barrelled machine
guns fitted to her upper decks.
The Victorian Navy sold the flagship
HMVS Nelson in 1897 and handed the
title of Flagship of the Victorian Navy to
HMVS Cerberus. Cerberus had always
been superior to Nelson in speed and fire-
power. However, it is believed Nelson
remained the flagship as living condi-
tions were better suited to the fleet offic-
ers than the dark confines of the ironclad
As Cerberus aged, her duties around
the harbour were reduced. During the
Boxer Rebellion in China, 1900, two of
Cerberus's 14 pounder guns were modi-
fied for land operations and deployed
with the Australian contingent.
With the advent of Federation in
1901, all colonial navies were trans-
ferred to the Commonwealth and served
as the inaugural ships of the Australian
Commonwealth Navy. Cerberus was still
the most powerful ship in the inventory
but her role was confined to Port Phillip
Bay.By decree of King George V, HMVS
Cerberus became one of the founding
ships of the Royal Australian Navy on
July 10, 1911.
With age taking its toll, Cerberus
eventually decommissioned in 1921 and
re-commissioned as HMAS Platypus II.
She was towed to Corio Bay at Geelong
where she operated as a submarine sup-
ply ship for the Navy's new J class sub-
The Navy was finally finished with
Cerberus and in 1924 she was sold to a
local salvage company.
The story doesn't end there. The ship
was to be stripped and sunk outside the
heads of the bay but this was protested
against by the Williamstown council.
After much debate, the ship was towed
to Half Moon Bay in Sandringham and
scuttled to act as a breakwater.
For the next 44 years, Cerberus con-
tinued to serve the Melbourne communi-
ty in her new role. In 1970 the Victorian
Premier Sir Henry Bolte launched a cam-
paign to rescue Cerberus from her loca-
tion and restore her as a colonial war
Lack of funding halted the plan to
tow the wreck to Williamstown for resto-
ration and the theme has continued.
Many attempts have been made to
save the Cerberus. Prime Minister Bob
Hawke who had a house overlooking
Half Moon Bay pledged his support to
save the ship in 1985 but was blocked by
After suffering a major collapse in
1993, more urgency was placed on recov-
ering the ship and supporting her on a
series of pylons as she was too far per-
ished to tow to a restoration point.
To this day, the Cerberus remains
rusting away, one of our most significant
historical artefacts left to rot at the whim
of the sea. Cerberus was the first of her
kind and is the only remaining Ironclad
Breastwork Monitor remaining in the
world and is Australia's only remaining
pre-Federation ship. For more informa-
tion on the plight of the Cerberus, visit
September 17, 2009
SUNKEN TREASURE: HMVS Cerberus
lies at rest in Half Moon Bay, Melbourne.
Following her most recent collapse in
1993, Cerberus continues to deterio-
Photo courtesy CMDR John Toogood (Victorian
Navy) Save the Cerberus Foundation.
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