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Memorabilia of Great Victorian/Edwardian Ships - 1759-1932

Page 18.5
Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has recently preserved.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous discovery is this fine Arts & Crafts style corner chair made from the teak of famous British Victorian cruiser HMS Powerful (1895-1929).

Powerful and her sister ship Terrible were to play a big role in the early months of the Boer War, even though the Boers had no navy of any kind.

But they had huge guns, protecting Pretoria, modern French Creusot guns that British experts dismissed as too heavy to move about the theatre of war and so be a threat to them.

Trouble was, no one told the Boers the guns couldn't be moved; they soon dismounted them from their fort at Pretoria and transported them across country to pound the garrisons at Ladysmith and Mafeking.

What could the British do?

Capt. Percy Scott, commanding Terrible, suggested dismounting the huge 4.7 inch and 12 pounder naval guns from the HMS Powerful, mount them on mobile carriages of his design, and have naval ratings pull them across the veldt. The Boers had met their match...

Admiral Sir Percy Scott is considered the Father of Modern Gunnery in the British Navy.

When the Powerful was finally broken up, in 1929, the ship breakers used the ship's teak decking to fashion mostly small souvenirs to bring in extra money. Lots of people were interested in this famous ship so sales were brisk. This is by far, the largest souvenir item of Powerful and Terrible we've ever seen.

Corner Chair, HMS Powerful, (1895-1929)

Orig. teak corner chair - Size - 69 h x 71 w cms
Found - Stayner, ON

This chair is not souvenir size, but designed for everyday use. The arms extend out far enough that a person of considerable girth can still sit in it comfortably and rest his elbows on the extremities. The chair is entirely pegged and glued together; no nails were used in its construction.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The Powerful and her sister ship HMS Terrible, launched in 1895, were the only members of the Powerful Class of First Class Cruisers.

Both ships had spent three years on the China station and both provided landing parties to suppress the Boxer Rebellion.

The highlight of their service was providing their ships' guns and crews, on land, during the opening months of the Boer War. The heavy fire power they gave the British land armies helped to turn the tables on the Boers with their Long Toms, and ended the siege of the British towns.

After the war both ships were mothballed as they were very expensive to run.

In World War I they were stripped of much of their armament and uses as troopships. After the war they were used as accommodation.

Powerful was scrapped in 1929 and Terrible in 1932.

HMS Powerful Steaming up the English Channel, 1900, Charles Dixon RI
Orig. lithograph - Size - 18 x 28 cm
Found - Limassol, Cyprus
Charles Dixon (1872-1934) made a reputation as one of Britain's finest marine artists in oils and watercolours. He captured this scene at the time Powerful arrived in triumph to a stupendous homecoming in Portsmouth harbour in April 1900.. Dixon lived at Itchenor and with his passion for marine scenics was very likely on hand to see one of the biggest naval celebrations of the Boer War generation.
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Unique big memorabilia items, like the Powerful corner chair, are rare to find, compared to 8 cm teak bowls below or ash trays left made from Terrible (above). The cigarette stains show they overheard many interesting conversations over the past hundred years. Veterans and families of veterans of the Boer War would have picked these up with a passion.

Smaller souvenirs like these came to Canada with immigrants.

The fabulously large corner chair was owned by a Scottish family and ended up in an antique shop that closed years ago. It was left out in the rain for years. But teak is tough, which is why it was used for decking on British ships and today's sailing ships. The chair was rescued by a furniture refinisher who, mildly, sanded off splinters, and covered it with tongue oil, bringing it back virtually to its original condition.

Ashtray Bowls, HMS Terrible, (1895-1932)
Orig. teak - Size - 17 cm
Found - Glasgow, UK

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Probably the largest and most fabulous Boer War tin ever produced, for Keen's Mustard, features Lord Roberts on top with famous exploits of 1900 on different sides.

Without hesitation one panel is given to the Naval Brigade "Bringing up the Guns."

Britons, for all the pride they had in their land armies, could find little to cheer about in their navy of late. Why hadn't the Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet - the most powerful arm of the navy at the time - Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, so embarrassingly given a poor order on maneuvers that it caused a disastrous collision from which he, his flagship, the battleship Victoria, and some 360 sailors went to the bottom off Tripoli. (June 22, 1893).

Surely Britain's traditional pride in her navy had taken a blow. And now it was left with a land war against an enemy who had no navy... Could things get worse?

Never mind! We'll put Jack Tar ashore, and let the enemy - not to mention the Gentleman in Khaki - see what naval men were really made of.

Probably not a little of the extreme bravery of the Naval Brigade - and its heavy casualties - were due to its determination to prove a point to all who dared to suggest the Navy had lost its traditional mettle.

Similarly, national euphoria reached new heights when the Powerful returned to Portsmouth, after the Siege of Ladysmith was lifted in March, 1900. Thousands lined the dockside to welcome her home.

"It has been a memorable day. HMS Powerful has arrived in Portsmouth, and the lads of the Naval Brigade have met with a reception they will never forget...

"As the great vessel steamed into Portsmouth Harbour at four o'clock this afternoon, she was greeted with thunders of applause from the two shores, which were black with people. The Victory, the St. Vincent, the Hero, the Trafalgar, and other vessels lying off here were dressed with flags, and their crews, swarming along the yards, swelled the roar of welcome...

"We heard the murmur of distant cheers before we saw the ship. Anon naval eyes discerning her moving masts, and then the great, black hull with funnels and deck fittings painted buff, glided into view. Bluejackets swarmed along the decks, and little faces peered from the portholes. We cheered, we waved hats and handkerchiefs and we were half wild with delight. "

Queen Victoria made a special effort to personally thank the men of the Naval Brigade who reprised their famous march by walking a giant 4.7 inch gun through the streets of London.

The Navy - the Handyman - was back!

Tin, Keen's Mustard - 1900
Orig. tin - Size - 21 cm h
Found - Burlington, ON

Powerful Guns

Top the Powerful shortly after her launch in 1895, her foredeck 9.5" gun, and posed on her teak decking, officers from left Commander AP Ethelston - who would become the most famous - Captain H Lambton, Lt. Nicholas. (Powerful had 50 officers and some 895 crew.)

Powerful and Terrible were capable of 22 knots, were the longest warships in the world when launched, and at 14,200 tons, only some 500 tons lighter than Britain's biggest battleships. The world watched to see how this new class of cruiser would perform.

When Percy Scott of Terrible suggested using ships' guns ashore he had a wide choice to pick from since Victorian war ships sported a variety of hardware for various uses, including 4, below the waterline, torpedo tubes.

On her foredeck Powerful mounted a huge 9.5 inch gun (another one aft), protected by a cylindrical wall of 6 inch armour. Along her decks were arrayed 12 x 6" guns, 16 x 12 pounders, and aloft she had 12 x 3 pounders.

Powerful Teak

Wood was dangerous stuff aboard a warship, once the traffic from incoming shells started to tear the place apart, sending splinters in all directions. (In the days of wooden warships, probably far more dead and wounded fell victims to splinters and chunks of wood than direct bullets or cannon fire.)

Modern warships were made of iron and steel as much as possible, to minimize damage. Even Captain Lambton's cabin below aboard Powerful was allowed very little warming effect from wood. Ceilings are iron for strength but also to minimize flammables and flyables.

Wood, usually teak, was kept for decking. It was tough, resisted insects, rot, and was tight-grained enough to make it resistant to dirt.

The chair was very likely made from teak taken from the deck. So it heard the test firing of the guns, felt the footsteps of Percy Scott, and overheard his conversations with Commander Ethelston - who was to command Powerful's guns ashore - and finally the hubbub as the guns were craned over the side into lighters for taking ashore.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The British Navy's officer corps was a small community in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Left are two candle holders made from the teak of the battleship HMS Iron Duke, which was Lord Jellicoe's flagship during the Battle of Jutland, after which the German Navy retired into port and never left to give battle again.

Jellicoe had been second in command aboard Admiral Tryon's flagship Victoria when she sank in 1893. Luckily Commander Jellicoe could swim and so survived.

These candle holders were well used by the original owner who had another memento as well, a letter opener from HMS Terrible.

Perhaps he served on both ships at one time or another and used them to tie his memories to momentous times that however powerful at the time are relatively brief in the span of a lifetime...

If only they could speak...

Actually they do...

Memorabilia, HMS Iron Duke & HMS Terrible
Orig. teak - Size - candle sticks - 17 cm, letter opener - 27 cm
Found - El Segundo, CA

Admiral Scott got into hot water in 1908, when Admiral Beresford, Commander of the British Navy, gave a signal during a manoeuvre that would have caused two leading warships in Scott's columns to collide, in a repeat of Sir George Tryon's Victoria and Camperdown disaster of 1893. Sir Percy ordered one ship to disobey the order so preventing a disaster. Beresford was livid and demanded Scott be court-martialled. The Admiralty refused; Sir Percy came ashore - or was put off - a year later...

Who Fought the Best & the Smartest and Who Won? - The Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the biggest naval battle of World War 1, and the biggest battle of ironclad warships to that time, involving some 250 ships.

The German and British fleets came out to try to cripple each other to allow their respective merchant fleets to carry on without harassment from the enemy.

The German fleet took on Jellicoe's Grand Fleet which was almost double its size. 14 major British ships were sunk; 11 German. The British lost double the tonnage that the Germans lost. 6,000 British sailors died; 2,500 Germans. The German fleet successfully evaded Jellicoe's Grand Fleet, during the night, and got back to port safely. A few months later Jellicoe was promoted off the water to First Sea Lord, a position from which he was abruptly relieved a year later...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Terrible Waste

The longest warship in the world, but not primarily designed to be heavily gunned or overly armour plated.

First Class cruisers - like Powerful and Terrible - were not designed mainly, to be part of a heavy duty task force, but essentially as Imperial enforcers, to police colonial security against commerce raiders in the wilder parts of the world.

The ships burned up a ferocious amount of coal and shuddered so badly at 18 knots that things had to be tied down to keep from falling over. It was smoother at 22 knots but that used up lots more coal.

The accountant MPs in the House of Commons howled, and the two ships were mothballed as an economy measure in 1904.

Post Card, HMS Terrible - 1900
Orig. pc - Size - 9 x 13 cm
Found - Brighton, UK
Go to Victorian Warships
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Go to Erebus & Terror
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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Amazing original watercolours of a naval disaster that traumatized the British Navy, and public, just four years before Queen Victoria celebrated her Silver Jubilee.

The disaster occurred off Tripoli, Lebanon, when Sir George Tryon ordered two speeding columns of battleships and cruisers to turn inwards, in order to have the fleet go in the opposite direction. Confusion about whether they should go inside or outside of each other caused the disaster.

Unfortunately Tryon didn't allow enough room for the manoevre and the two lead ships collided. He ran roughshod over subordinates who warned of approaching danger, taking them as personal affronts to his judgment.

The scene shows Sir George's flagship HMS Victoria (left) taking on water just after HMS Camperdown, standing by, rammed her. Her foredeck was awash in four minutes: she turned turtle in 13.

In the other scene Victoria is down by the head as men leap off. One of these is future Admiral Lord Jellicoe, Commanding the British Grand Fleet in World War I.

Some 360 sailors, including Tryon, perished, while 360 were rescued. The Board of Inquiry felt Tryon's bulldog and non-communicative character contributed to the disaster.

Collision of HMS Camperdown & HMS Victoria, June 22, 1893
Orig. watercolours -Size - 68 x 98 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Sir George Tryon was last seen standing on the bridge as the ship went down, muttering, "This is all my fault." Legend has it, that at the very moment of the collision, while his wife, Lady Tryon, was hosting a big dinner party in their London home, a number of people reported seeing Sir George descending the staircase. Seven years later, Lady Tryon was one of the platform dignitaries when Portsmouth welcomed Powerful home.
Go to Wreck of the Atlantic

The Naval Brigade

In November 1899, HMS Terrible disembarked six naval guns (two 4.7", 4 12 pounders) at Durban and, accompanied by 280 members of the Naval Brigade, saw them off by train to Ladysmith, just before the Boers closed the ring and began the storied Siege of Ladysmith. The naval guns were to play an important role in disabling the fire from the Boer Long Toms long enough till a relieving column rescued the town some months later.

On Nov 2, 1899, at Ladysmith, Lt. Frederick Egerton of HMS Powerful was hit in the legs by a Boer shell; both limbs had to be amputated. His only remark: "This will put an end to my cricket I'm afraid." He died later that day...

HMS Powerful dismounted a contingent and more guns at Simonstown, and under Commander AP Ethelston above became part of a Naval Brigade, with four guns, and several hundred men. They were sent by train to join the army of Lord Methuen, which was following the western Cape Colony railway hoping to rout the Boers blocking its advance to relieve the town of Kimberley.

On Nov. 25, 1899, at Graspan, the Naval Brigade came under a withering fire from the hills as it tried to set up its guns for firing on the Boers on the heights. Within a short time half of the naval ratings and their officers were dead or wounded.

Of the 190 British dead and wounded at the battle, at least 105 were members of the small Naval Brigade. Commander Ethelston was killed (#1 below among the Brigade officers - he was 2 I/C - along with #2 Maj. Plumbe, & #5 Midshipman Huddart) and buried with them on the battlefield, becoming a famous naval sacrifice of the Boer War.

Enslin Battlefield - The owner of the battlefield where they all died is Susan Botha, who runs a guest farm on the site at Graspan (Enslin).

Here, standing only a few metres from the grave site where Ethelston, and Plumbe were buried, she shows relics from the war, most from Lord Methuen's army, which occupied the area after the battle.

She shows a .303 bullet, a horseshow nail, a bolt from a wagon, and a tin can, many of which litter old army campsites.

The grave site today is empty; Ethelston, and Plumbe were moved, years ago, but their memory lingers on at the site were weeping comrades - in the photo above - laid them to rest so many years ago...

Terrible Guns

The array of guns on Terrible, bristling from her yards, from deck mounts, hull ports, and side turrets, show where the guns that relieved Ladysmith came from.

Ultimately 12 pounders, 4.7 inch, and finally even 6 inch guns were offloaded and either placed on carriages or mounted on a rail car for taking to the field of operations.

Sadly Powerful was mothballed in 1904, as just too expensive to run. In World War I she had most of her armament removed and was used as a troop ship.

After the war she was renamed Impregnable, and used as a training ship till broken up in 1929.

The heroic memories of the men who gave her life, are preserved in the wooden mementoes she left behind...

Right the famous naval guns as they were firing at Colenso on Dec. 15, 1899, on the carriages by which they were pulled around the veldt by their crews. Below, Powerful... Rolling home, Rolling home, Rolling home across the sea, Rolling home to dear old England, Rolling home dear Land to Thee... (The Victorian British Navy's most widely sung song)

Mission (Arts & Crafts) Style

Towards the end of the 19th century some main furniture styles were common: Victorian style furniture was dark, appeared heavy and overdone, featuring carved and curved flower and fruit decorative embellishments on table legs, settee backs, chair arms, sideboard fronts, and chest back splashes. But the heavy and dark style was making way for; Art nouveau style which was tonally light, refined, fragile feeling, and featured refined decorations of sinewy flower and vine motifs executed with graceful, slender, and curved lines. Art nouveau was in vogue at the time of the Boer War and the following Edwardian period (1901-1910.) Both styles relied heavily on craftsmen to hand carve the ornamentation.

In the 1870s machine power began to be harnessed to manufacture furniture, which led - by necessity - to make simpler designs that machines could produce.

The result was Eastlake style and Arts & Crafts style in furniture making, after the 1870s. Eastlake was squarish, flattish, with incised machine-gouged decorations alternating with parallel straight lines a machine could cut, instead of the protruding applied carvings of Victorian craftsmen. Arts & Crafts was even more simplified avoiding Eastlake's mechanical decorations and producing furniture that set new standards for plain, featuring squarish wooden boards and slats mostly of quarter-cut oak.

Arts & Crafts popularity in North America, jumped after 1900, when Gustav Stickley, and his brothers, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made it the US centre of manufacture for the style until the end of World War I. It remained a defining style of furniture manufacture during the 1920s.

The ornate styles associated with art nouveau, ended with the carnage of World War I (1914-1918). With the loss of millions of young people in war, people could no longer recapture the gaiety and frivolous lifestyle of the prewar years. Flashiness of any sort was frowned on; people wanted to go back to basics, cherishing the lives of those who survived the carnage, and elementary human values.

Plain and simple became the new watchword. And in furniture that meant strip away all the gaudy decorative frivolity and go back to basics. Arts and Crafts, or Mission style, which was embraced with new vigour in the 1920s.

The style is characterized by straight lines, simple assemblies, and squarish and flattish looking design.

This chair exactly captures the basic elements of a style of furniture that was dominant in the post-war 1920s.

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