Reception in Brisbane

The arrival of the Gayundah met with mixed reactions. Much comment was made regarding the supposedly displeasing lines of the craft.

The Brisbane Courier, Sat 28 March 1885 stated

This gunboat, the first of Queensland’s projected navy, arrived in the river yesterday, and cast anchor in the Garden Reach about 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  A very ugly craft she is to look at, with none of the trimness of fine lines one naturally associates with vessels of her Britannic Majesty’s Navy. Of course it is understood that the days of majestic beauty and symmetry have for ever departed from the Royal Navy, and in their stead utility reigns supreme, but nevertheless some of the British ironclads in their severe simplicity of outline possess a terrible beauty of their own. These remarks are, however, by no means applicable to the Gayundah.
Viewed from the water she is ugly enough in all conscience in appearance. A two-masted vessel painted a grayish colour with a dirty yellow funnel springing from amidships, she strikes the eye at once as being something out of the run of ordinary craft, so that one is tempted to ask “What sort of a vessel is that?” and on being told that she is a gunboat, all wonder ceases, for to gunboats and hopper barges alike is granted the privilege of assuming shapes quite contrary to the generally received idea of what a symmetrical vessel ought to be. “She walks the water like a thing of life” (a hackneyed phrase, tis true, but yet how valuable to launch and shipping reporters!), could never be said truthfully of the Gayundah.

The reporter went on to describe the vessel:

A side view of this craft reveals a stumpy vessel some 120ft. long, high out of the water, and as has been mentioned above, painted of a grayish hue. She is very broad in the beam, being no less than 26ft in breadth. Her stern is rounded, and protruding over it is seen the long, lean, and cruel looking barrel of a 6in. Armstrong gun with its muzzle stopped for the time being with a brightly-polished plug of glittering brass. The gun is also painted gray, with the exception of the brass-work about it, which is polished to the pitch of perfection.  Forming a semicircle round the gun with an embrasure through which the muzzle protrudes is a shield of iron rather more than an inch in thickness, covered with a roof of iron sloping at an angle of almost forty-five degrees upwards from where it is joined to the perpendicular sides. The fire of the gun can be trained an entire semicircle – that is, it can fire at right angles to its present position parallel to the ship’s keel either on the starboard or port side. The gun itself on closer acquaintance is a thing of mystery to a peaceable citizen. At its side and rear are several levers and wheels, which he is informed are used for raising and depressing or wheeling the gun. He accepts the information thankfully, and retires as wise as when he came aboard. The shield works round with the gun, so that in whatever direction they are firing the gunners are to some extent protected, but it seems sufficiently fragile, and, though probably proof against bullets, would be of little use against the projectiles of a heavy gun.

The most curious feature to an unsophisticated observer about the Gayundah is the peculiarity of her bows, which seem cut away for the space of some 15ft. or 20ft. from the cutwater. A space of about the size indicated forms a level platform not far above the water’s edge, and over which the waves can wash freely. At the extremity of the ship’s bow is a small flagstaff with a gilt head, from which floats a miniature Union Jack. Behind this platform rises a perpendicular wall of iron, through whose circular embrasure projects the muzzle of an 8in. 12-ton Armstrong gun. The sight of the gun at once suggests the raison d’etre of the low-lying platform in front. It is to give the huge engine of destruction a clean sweep before it, so that it can fire with no obstructions in its way. True there are the foremast stays and iron stanchions of the temporary railings that run round the sides, but these would be removed when the vessel was cleared for action,   so that the gun could have full scope. Its range, we believe, is about eight miles.

Over this gun is the upper deck, which forms an enjoyable though somewhat circumscribed promenade, and on this deck is a kind of conning tower protected by an iron shield in front and at the sides, but open and unprotected in the rear. Inside this conning tower is a wheel whereby the vessel can be steered. There is also pneumatic communication with the fore-and-aft magazines and engine-rooms, in addition to which there is an apparatus for starting, stopping, or regulating the engines and a compass, so that one man in action could work the ship alone from the conning tower. On the upper deck were hanging at the time of our visit two canaries in separate cages, whose cheery twittering revealed that they at any rate were not aware that they were inmates of such an instrument of destruction, and loudly proclaimed that they were very pleased at seeing green grass and trees once more after their long voyage of so many thousand miles over the sea.

Descending from the upper deck and going aft to the poop or quarter-deck, where the 6in. gun, with its shield, reposes in the majesty of unruffled might, two machine guns may be noticed, fixed to the bulwarks, one on the starboard and one on the port side, working on a swivel, and firing either fore or aft or broadside on, as the exigencies of the case may require. These guns are both of the Nordenfelt type, the one on the starboard side being of a large bore, and the one on the port side having a bore very similar to that of a Martini-Henry rifle. The larger bored gun carries a large heavy steel bullet capable of piercing the armour of any ordinary torpedo boat, while the smaller Nordenfelt is more adapted for repelling boarding parties, its projectiles being intended more for men than for iron or steel.

Going forward, one noticed in the racks above boarding pikes and cutlasses, and axes on the walls. The mail had just come on board, and it was interesting to observe the eagerness with which the men crowded round to receive their letters – some from wives, some from friends, but the large majority from sweethearts, judging from their very audible comments. In this part of the ship the large gun forward is served, and a carpenter’s bench is fitted up with every appliance for sudden and necessary repairs. A spare propeller is also to be seen on the port side. But taking it altogether, the interior of the ship gives one the impression more of a workshop than of a man-of-war. The confined space, the smell of oil, paint and pitch and the dirtiness apparent everywhere, save on the guns and arms, seem quite out of keeping with the general idea of what a man of war ought to be and one leaves the Gayundah with a feeling akin to disappointment.

and ended without resisting the opportunity to again malign the vessel with a back-handed compliment.

As a vessel for river service, or assisting troops on land, she would be invaluable, but her shrift would be short if she came within the range of a modem ironclad, for an 18-ton gun would blow her clean out of the water It is true that on the occasion of our visit everything was in confusion, as she had just arrived in port, and doubtless after a few days at anchor she will look more trim and neat after her long voyage, but still the long and the short of it is that she is an excessively ugly craft, both inside and out, although on the principle of a bulldog – the uglier the better – she may turn out of considerable service in time of war. She will only be able to use one gun at a time, and consequently will be of little account in the face of a heavily armed enemy. But, nevertheless, she is the nucleus of what may in the future be a powerful navy, and as such should be admired and respected by all true Queenslanders.

A somewhat kinder analysis was published in The Week, Sat 4 Apr 1885, wherein they said  

The nucleus of the Queensland navy is now anchored in the Garden reach. She is a nuggety specimen of those naval warriors so inalienably associated with English naval history. To an eye possessing any regard for symmetry or grace, the Gayundah is not particularly attractive; she looks anything but that meek and mild and peaceful “painted ship upon a painted ocean.” Making allowance for the want of paint consequent upon a long sea voyage, the Gayundah presents the appearance of any other gunboat—a rouse-me-if-you-dare kind of look; possessing a bow, across the nose of which is stamped “audacity.” A stern part, expressing ” I’m ready to bless with a parting shot at any time,” and a tout ensemble of cool indifference, great determination, and a general thicksetness.

The boat was built by Sir W.G. Armstrong, Mitchell, and Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, to the order of the Queensland Government, and was launched in May last. Her dimensions are as follow: Extreme length, 120 feet; breadth, 26 feet; draught of water, 9½ feet. She has a displacement of 360 tons, and is fitted with horizontal direct acting compound engines of 400 indicated horse power. She is built to attain a speed of 10 knots per hour. Her armament consists of two powerful guns, and two Nordenfelts. The most powerful engine of warfare is in the bows, this is an 8 inch 12 ton Armstrong gun, which is sighted to carry 11,000 yards. In the stern is a 6 inch 4 ton gun, a Wavaseur’s patent, made by Armstrong, Mitchell, and Co. This is protected by an armour-plate screen, which, with the gun and all its apparatus, will train half a circle, so as to be able to fire at objects either on the port or starboard side. The missiles from the 8-inch gun will pierce 16-inch armour plates, and the other will penetrate armour 11 inches thick. Both are manipulated by machinery which is perplexingly intricate to an ignorant onlooker. The Nordenfeldts are fixed near the port and starboard bulwarks aft. These are five-barrelled death-dealing machines, which appear to possess terrific repelling powers against a boarding enemy.

We welcome the Gayundah with pleasure, and also Captain Wright, her commander.

Gayundah visited Port Jackson (Newcastle, NSW) in 1886 and the press there where somewhat kinder. This is an interesting account, and contains some more detailed information, particularly on her guns and engines.


On Monday there arrived in the harbour of Port Jackson a vessel of war flying the Government flag of a sister colony, viz., that of Queensland. The fact is interesting. because (with the exception of the Victorian gunboats, which when they were here were on their way from England to Melbourne); no war vessel belonging to one of the other colonies has previously been here. The name of the stranger is the Gayundah; and although she has none of the lines, and possesses few, if any, of the attractions of the old “‘wooden walls” of England, yet she is the latest type of a vessel that is looked upon with increasing favour for harbour and river defence, and should prove an ugly customer to deal with, even by the most heavily-armed ships we have had in these waters.

The Gayundah is one of two gunboats exactly similar to each other now possessed by the Queensland Government, the other being the Palumah, which is at present under charter to the Imperial Government for a period of three years, and is engaged in survey work along the Queensland coast.

The Gayundah was built, engined, and armoured by Sir William Armstrong, Mitchell and Co., of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and was launched in May, 1884, at Low Walker, In general design she is a counterpart of the Victorian gun boats, having great beam in proportion to her breadth, and being designed rather for utility than beauty. Her principal dimensions are – length overall, 120 feet, 115 feet between perpendiculars; breadth, 26 feet; and depth, 12 feet, which give her a displacement of about 300 tons.

Steel has been used in the construction of the hull, which is divided into no fewer than seven watertight compartments by five bulkheads.. The stern is straight, and from it for a distance of 22 feet is a “whale back”- that is, a deck only about two or three feet from the level of the water, which washes at will over it. This whale back enables a huge cannon the barrel of which projects over it for a considerable distance, to be fired to the greatest advantage. The stern of the vessel is round and squat looking, and here, as in the forward part of the ship another large gun is seen projecting.

As these guns are of the latest type of naval ordnance a full description is given. The forward gun is an eight-inch 12-ton, breech-loading, rifled gun, of the Armstrong pattern, and is mounted on a naval carriage. It has a range of 8000 yards, and takes a service charge of 65lb of pebble powder and a battering charge of 100lb of prismatic powder, and the projectiles it can fire are Palliser, common, shrapnel, segment, shell and case shot. A round a minute can be fired from it, and it’s range of fire extends to seven degrees on each side, The gun is capable of piercing; 14 inches of solid armour, its total energy being 5100 foot tons or about 210 foot tons per inch of circumference. The after gun, which has an all-round fire, is a 6-inch 4-ton breech-loading rifled gun mounted on a Vayasseur central pivot. T’he battering charge for this gun is 421b of prismatic powder, and the service charge 30 lb of pebble powder. It carries a projectile weighing 80 lb a distance of four miles, and can fire all the projectiles suitable for the larger gun, except the segment. Both guns are protected by shields capable of resisting musketry fire, which revolve with the guns.

In addition to these two powerful weapons, the vessel has five Nordenfeldts. Of these the two on the bows are quick-firing inch-and-a half shell guns. They throw a 3 lb explosive shell a distance of 3000 yards. The shell, fuse, charge and cap are all contained in one cartridge, which is quite a new departure in naval ordnance; and when it is recollected that these are for use against boats, and that 30 rounds can be fired by each gun per minute, it will be seen that the Gayundah has little to fear from capture in that way. The shell is of steel, coated with copper to protect the rifling. On the foremast head is a five-barrel 45 Nordenfeldt gun, enclosed in a turret, and on the quarter-deck aft are two more Nordenfeldts, one being a four-barrel 1-inch, and the other being a two-barrel 1-inch. the former of which is capable of being fired 340 times a minute. The Gayundah is further supplied with Martini rifles and sword bayonets and boarding pikes.

The engines of the gunboat are horizontal, on the direct-acting. compound principle, and are of 400 indicated horse-power. Steam is generated in two tubular steel boilers, with four furnaces, which carry a working pressure of 75 lb to the square inch. On a consumption of seven tons of fuel per 24 hours a speed of 10 knots is obtained. A noteworthy feature about the boilers and machinery is that they are below the water-line, and are thus protected in a great measure from the fire of the enemy’s guns. There are twin screws, and the vessel can be handled with ease and rapidity.

The general arrangements for the berthing of the crew, &c., seem good, and the engine-room is a very compact compartment. The vessel has two masts, and is steered by hand from the upper deck, on which is a conning tower to protect the man at the wheel, and from which the bow gun can, if necessary, be fired by electricity. There is ample provision for flooding the ship in case of fire, and also for pumping the water out again.

Altogether, the vessel is a valuable, though unsightly, craft. She is in true man-of-war order. The crew of the Gayundah consist at present of 42, all told; but in war time this number would be considerably augmented. The following is a list of her officers, all of whom, with one exception, retain their rank in the Imperial service, from which they have been obtained :–Commander Henry Townley-Wright; First lieutenant Spencer Hesketh; Navigating lieutenant E.Williams; Chief engineer T. Bennett; Gunner W. H. Farleigh. The exception referred to is Mr. Bennett, who was not in the navy before he joined the Gayundah. The officers’ quarters and wardroom are under the quarter-deck, and seem to be very roomy and comfortable for so small a vessel. The vessel has come to this port to enable the officers to have torpedo practice; but it is probable she will not remain long here, as she is expected to take part in the Easter manoeuvres at Brisbane. She left Moreton Bay early on Saturday morning, and had fine weather during the run down. – Echo.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Thu 1 Apr 1886 Page 2