The Launch of HMS Renown at Pembroke Dock, 8 May 1895

The following newspaper account of the launch of a warship at Pembroke Dock is one of several that will be featured on this site. As is clear from this article, until the end of the nineteenth century the Welsh dockyard was building some of the largest warships in the world, while as I have argued in Britannia’s Dragon, ship launches there were some of the largest, if not the largestpublic events in Victorian Wales. As this account of the launch of HMS Renown demonstrates, special excursion trains were laid on from other parts of South Wales; in earlier years, steamers brought in crowds from all along the shores of the Bristol Channel.

Despite the journalistic hyperbole of the article, the Renown was swiftly rendered obsolete by developments in warship design. She was converted into a ‘royal yacht’ for the Duke and Duchess of Connaught’s tour to India, but was sold for scrap in 1914, less than twenty years after being launched at Pembroke Dock. Contrary to the statement at the end of the article, she was the sixth British warship to bear the name, discounting the two renamings mentioned here.

From the Evening Express, 9 May 1895


Great Concourse of People Witness the Floating of the Heaviest and Largest Ship in the World.


HMS Renown

On Wednesday afternoon, at 5.30, the magnificent first-class battleship Renown was successfully launched from Pembroke Dockyard, in the presence of some thousands of spectators, and will, when completed for sea, be a grand addition to her Majesty’s Royal Navy. Excursion trains were run from all parts of South Wales, and, as the weather was fine, a considerable influx of visitors to the town was the consequence. There has not been a launch from this dockyard since February 17, 1894, when the Hazard, of six guns, was sent afloat. The Renown is a fine specimen of advanced marine combative architecture, and from the details that we append it may readily be perceived that she is within herself a veritable fortress of enormous powers of offence and defence, and displaying a very marked contrast of improvement collectively as to weight, armament, and speed to her predecessors launched from this yard and from other establishments, public and private, in the kingdom. The Renown was laid down on January 30, 1892, and is Ship No. 230 of all classes that have been built and launched from Pembroke Dock, the first ships built at Pater Dockyard being the “single-banked” sailing frigates Valorous and Ariadne, of 28 guns each, sent both afloat the same day—February 10, 1816.

The gates of the dockyard were thrown open to the public during the afternoon, when a vast concourse of people commenced wending their way to the scene of the launch at the north-west portion of the yard. The huge ship almost completely filled the dock and shed, her upper structure nearly reaching the high and spacious roof. At her head the Union Jack was flying all day. Her bow was decorated with a shield bearing the Royal arms, encircled by the words, ‘Success to the Renown’, the whole being surmounted by a crown and set off on either side by bannerettes. This appeared to be a new feature, introduced by Mr. Cock, the chief constructor. The platforms erected for the accommodation of visitors, particularly that set apart for the more distinguished ones, were gaily draped with flags, etc. As the stem of the ship and on the port and starboard bows to a distance of some 70 feet towards the stern spacious enclosures had been formed and galleries erected, forming almost an amphitheatre, a raised dais fronting the stem, where the christening function was carried out. and from all these ‘coigns of ‘vantage’ the proceedings could be witnessed. There were several entrances to the enclosure, by tickets, A, B, &c., not necessarily indicative of class, but to prevent accidents by overcrowding and to facilitate ingress and egress to the respective galleries, the arrangements to this end being satisfactorily carried out by the Metropolitan Police, under Superintendent Smith and Inspector Young. The enclosure and galleries were thronged with ladies and gentlemen, including naval and military officers of all branches’ of the service, presenting a most festive and brilliant spectacle, whilst the dock sides, jetty heads, and all other available spaces were filled with the general public. The famous band of the 41st (Welsh) Regiment, under Mr. Monk, played ever and anon until the time for the launching, considerably en- livening the occasion.

The preliminaries of the launch having been arranged, the religious service observable on such occasions was read by the naval chaplain, the Rev. A. Nicholls, M.A. The ceremony of christening was then gracefully performed by Mrs. Balfour, wife of Captain Charles J. Balfour, R.N., the new superintendent of the dockyard. Mrs. Balfour’s first public appearance at Pembroke could hardly have taken place under more auspicious circumstances, and among others in the enclosure with her were Captain Balfour. Lady Catherine Allen, Sir Charles and Lady Philipps, Sir Owen Scourfield, Air. A. P. Saunders Davies, Mr. Wilneld. Mr. A. P. Saunders Davies, Mr. Williamson (director of the dockyard), Colonel Goodeve (commandant of the Pembroke Garrison), Colonel Saurin, Mr. Seymour Allen, and Mr. Cock (chief constructor at the dockyard). A pedestal of carved wood had been erected by the stem of the ship, over the top of which a cord had been drawn, that had been ingeniously fixed and continued round the basement, and from thence leading to the grooves on either bow in connection with the weights suspended over the ‘dog shores’. A very elaborately carved box, lined with blue plush velvet, having within the lid a drawing of the ship, &c., covered with glass, and which contained an exquisitely-formed mallet and burnished steel chisel, was then presented to Mrs. Balfour by the Chief Constructor (Mr. Henry Cock), under whose instructions the lady dexterously severed the cord on the apex of the pedestal, when the suspended weights fell, and the huge fabric glided out into the waters of the haven most majestically, with the Royal Standard of England flying, amidst great cheering, and the band playing ‘Rule, Britannia’. As the huge vessel was leaving the ways a bottle of champagne was smashed on her bows, and Mrs. Balfour, amid the cheers of the spectators, said, ‘I name this ship the Renown; success to her’. The powerful Government steam-tugs Meteor, from Chatham, Perseverance from Devonport, and Stormcock were in attendance, and the Renown (the biggest ship now afloat) was safely moored off the yard. Mr. Williamson, director of dockyards, was present at the launch. The launch was held later in the day than usual on account of the serving of the tide.

Pembroke Dock in c.1896. No. 1 slip, where Renown was launched, is the furthest of the covered slipways. HMS Hannibal, referred to in the article, lies at Hobbs Point; port guardship HMS Thunderer at anchor beyond her. (Tenby Museum)

Pembroke Dock in c.1896. No. 1 slip, where Renown was launched, is the furthest of the covered slipways. HMS Hannibal, referred to in the article, lies at Hobbs Point; port guardship HMS Thunderer at anchor beyond her. (Tenby Museum)

The Hannibal, a considerably bigger battleship than the Renown, will be launched from this yard in May 1896. It is anticipated that a huge first-class cruiser, to be called the Andromeda, of 435ft. in length, to steam 20 knots, with a coaling capacity to run 2.000 miles, will be laid down in the slip the Renown occupied, orders for building which were received at Pembroke Dockyard a day or two ago. The Renown, one of the earliest of the battleships built outside the scope of the Naval Defence Act, is a sheathed armour-clad of light draught, designed to pass through the Suez Canal and to keep the sea for long periods of time in foreign waters. The ship will have a complement of 674 officers and men, and is intended to be fitted as a flagship. Her principal dimensions are—Length between perpendiculars 380ft., breadth extreme 72ft. 4in., mean, draught of water 26ft .9in., with a load displacement of 12,350 tons. Her indicated horse- power is specified at 10,000 with natural draught and 12,000 with forced draught, the estimated speeds to be produced being respectively seventeen and eighteen knots per hour. The Renown is built of steel, with the exception of her stem, sternpost, and shaft brackets, which are of phosphor bronze, the lower part of the stem being so shaped and constructed as to constitute a formidable ram. She is of the central citadel type; the sides of the citadel are constructed of two strakes of ‘Harveyised’ armour, the lower stroke 8in. and the upper one 6in. thick. The ends of the citadel are similarly formed, the thicknesses of the strakes being 10in. and 6in. respectively. Within the citadel the space occupied by the engines, boilers, &c., is protected by a steel deck worked level to within a few feet of the ship’s side, whence it slopes to a point some distance below the water-line. This protective deck consists of two thicknesses of 1in. steel plating on its level part and of 1in. steel plating on its slope. The magazines, torpedo-rooms, &c., are in like manner protected by a steel underwater deck, composed of two thicknesses of 1in. plating, and extending from the ends of the citadel to the stem and sternpost. At the fore and after ends of the citadel redoubts, plated with 10in. armour, are constructed for carrying and protecting the 10in. breech-loading guns, their centres by this means being raised to a height of 27ft. above the water-line. These guns command an all- round fire over the stem and stern, and are revolved and worked by machinery supplied by Sir J. Whitworth and Co. In the event of damage to the steam machinery, provision is made for working them by hand. The armament of the ship, in addition to the four 10in. 29-ton guns situated in the redoubts, includes ten 6in. quick-firing 100-pounder guns located in casements on the upper and main decks. The auxiliary armament is made up of eight 12-pounder 12cwt. quick-firing guns; two 12. pounder 8cwt, quick-firing guns; twelve 3- pounder quick-firing guns, and seven 0.45 Maxims, distributed between the several decks and the military tops. The ship is fitted with five torpedo tubes, four of which are submerged, and provision is made for carrying 22 torpedoes. The complement of boats, armed and otherwise, is similar to that usually allowed to first-class battleships, and is fully competent to perform any service that may be required of them. In action the ship will be fought from either of two conning towers, the forward one being protected with 12in. and the after one. with 3in. armour. The engines are of the vertical triple-expansion type, and are to be supplied and fitted on board by Messrs. Maudsley, Sons, and Field, under their representative, Mr. John Vernon. The ship is fitted with the usual auxiliary machinery, steering, windlass, electric light, fire, &c., is well supplied with all fittings, and commodious quarters for officers and men effectively ventilated. The Renown has been built from the designs of Sir W. H. White, director of naval construction to the Admiralty, and Mr. James Owen, assistant constructor at Pembroke Dockyard, has been in charge of the building operations. The ship, since her stem and keelson were laid, was under the immediate supervision of the then chief constructor of the yard, Mr. J. C. Froyne, who retired from the service on February 5 last, since which time his successor, Mr. Henry Cock, C.C., has carried out the duties most efficiently. The Renown, although a massive structure, is built on fine lines, and is comparatively light in appearance, which is much enhanced by the provision, from quarter to quarter, of a stern balcony, or ‘pleasaunce’, for the use of the admiral or the officer in command, and is enclosed by metal network artistically designed, having a most graceful and picturesque appearance.

The Renown was launched from No. 1 Slip. and from the same spot the following heavy fighting ships were launched:—Edinburgh, March 18, 1882; Howe, April 28, 1885; Aurora, October 28, 1887, and Repulse, February 27, 1892. The only serious accident during the building of the Renown, we believe, was to a shipwright, William Smith, who fell from the ship into the dock (30ft.), on February 26, 1894, and died two days after from his injuries.

The Renown is the third vessel originally possessing that name. The first Renown was launched on the Tyne by Armstrong, Mitchell, and Co., Elswick, for the Royal Navy, in 1887. She was christened Victoria, in honour of the Queen, it being Jubilee Year. The Admiralty transferred the name afterwards to a ship building at Pembroke, which was launched on May 7, 1891, by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, but ‘My Lords’ again changed the name, and the second Renown became the Empress of India. The present Renown will be taken to Hobb’s Point to have her boilers and machinery placed on board and fitted. In a few weeks she will proceed to Devonport to be fitted for the pennant. The total cost of her armament alone will be £102,458.