HMS Gorgon (1837)

HMS Gorgon was a wooden steam paddle sloop of 6 guns, launched in 1837. In 1840 she took part in the bombardment of Acre, and in 1843 was part of the Royal Navy squadron stationed in the River Plate during the Uruguayan Civil War. She was converted to a troopship and in 1858 assisted Agamemnon in the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. She was sold for breaking in 1864.

United Kingdom
Name: HMS Gorgon
Ordered: 10 July 1834[1]
Builder: Royal Dockyard, Pembroke Dock[2]
Laid down: July 1836[1]
Launched: 31 August 1837
Commissioned: 30 August 1838[1]
Decommissioned: 11 February 1864
Fate: Sold for breaking on 17 October 1864[1]
General characteristics
Type: Steam vessel (later, first-class sloop)
Displacement: 1,610 long tons (1,640 t)
Tons burthen: 1108 67/94 bm[1]
  • 235 ft (71.6 m) (overall)
  • 152 ft 2 in (46.4 m) (keel)[1]
Beam: 37 ft 6 in (11.4 m)
Draught: 16 ft (4.9 m)[3]
Depth of hold: 23 ft (7.0 m)[1]
Installed power: 800 ihp (600 kW)[1]
  • 2-cylinder direct-acting steam engine
  • 4 flue boilers
  • 27 ft (8.2 m) Paddles
Sail plan: Schooner (later brig)[1]
Speed: 9.5 kn (17.6 km/h)[1]
Complement: 160
  • 6 guns:
  • As built:
  • 2 × pivot-mounted 10-inch (84 cwt) guns
  • 2 × 68-pdr (64 cwt) guns
  • 2 × 42-pdr (22 cwt) carronades
  • By 1856:
  • 1 × pivot-mounted 10-inch (84 cwt) gun
  • 1 × pivot-mounted 68-pdr (64 cwt) gun
  • 4 × 32-pdr (42 cwt) guns

Design and construction

Gorgon was designed by Sir William Symonds and was the first vessel to be fitted with direct-acting engines. She was teak built with oak main beams, had a displacement of 1,610 long tons (1,640 t), and her paddle wheels were 27 feet (8.2 m) in diameter. She was laid down at Pembroke Royal Dockyard in July 1836 and launched on 31 August 1837.[1]


Gorgon's had two engines of 160 horse power each, built by Seaward and Company. It were direct-acting engines, and as such they were a novel construction remarkable for compactness, strength and lightness. It placed the crankshaft directly above the center line of the cylinders and these were connected to the shaft by means of a simple connecting rod. The absence of the usual cast-iron framing, sway-beams, side-rods and crossheads saved upwards of 60 tons in weight. The absence of the sway beams and cross-head also meant that the vibration of the engines was deemed barely perceptible. The space occupied by the machined was little over half that of side-lever engines of the same power.[4]

For producing steam the Gorgon had four copper boilers. These stood in pairs, and back to back, but nevertheless quite detached from each other. These could be used independently, allowing repairs to be made to some while others were in use. There were 12 fire places and two stoke-holes.

The engine room measured 62 feet from the after-bulk-head to the fore bulk-head. The coal boxes of the Gorgon reached along the whole engine room and were 8 feet wide on average. They allowed for storage of 400 tons of coals, or 16 days steaming.


Gorgon would serve with a limited armament of 6 heavy guns, but this was not according to design. The original design was for her to have a gun deck with 12 32 pdrs 56cwt, 4 more 32 pdrs 56cwt on the upper deck, and two 10 inch 96 pdrs on swivel beds fore and aft.[5] After Gorgon was launched and equipped, it proved that she was so deep into the water that it was necessary to permanently close the ports meant for the guns on the gun deck.[6]

In 1847 the Gorgon had on the upper deck: 1 68 pounder 90 cwt, 1 10 inch gun 85 cwt, and 4 32-pounders 42 cwt gun C. On the main deck it was to have 1 32-pounder 56 cwt.[7] Note that the 32 pounders 42 cwt Gun C (first tried in 1838) used on the superstructure was significantly lighter than that of 56 cwt, and there was now supposed to be one gun of 56 cwt on the main deck.


In 1840 Gorgon saw action with three other paddle sloops, Vesuvius, Stromboli and Phoenix, in the bombardment of the city of Acre under the command of Admiral Robert Stopford. At the height of the battle either Gorgon or her sister ship HMS Benbow fired the shell that destroyed Acre's powder magazine, causing an explosion that greatly weakened the city's defences.[8]

In 1843, during the Uruguayan Civil War, Gorgon arrived in the River Plate to join the Royal Navy squadron commanded by Commodore John Purvis. She anchored in the bay as a deterrent to potential attackers. She ran aground in the River Plate on 10 May 1844 but was subsequently refloated.

From 23 February 1854 to 8 May 1854 Gorgon was commanded by Commander (and Captain) Arthur Cumming.[9] On 15 February 1855, she assisted HMS Caesar in the refloating of HMS Hecla,[10][11] which had run aground at Gibraltar on 23 January.[12] On 23 July, she collided with the Prussian barque Mentor in the English Channel off Beachy Head, Sussex. Mentor was severely damaged; she was towed in to The Downs in a waterlogged condition.[13][14]

From August 1856-June 1857 HMS Gorgon was at Boudroum (modern Bodrum) under Captain George William Towsey, commissioned to transport the finds from Sir Charles Thomas Newton's excavation at the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos to the British Museum.[15]

In 1858 Gorgon assisted in the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable by taking soundings for the former warship HMS Agamemnon, which had been converted into a cable ship. When the cable link was completed to New York, the crew of the Gorgon and the other ships were feted by civic receptions and processions through the city.[16]

Gorgon was despatched to Madagascar in 1863 to keep the peace on the death of King Radama II.[17] She returned via the Cape of Good Hope, arriving at Spithead on 29 January 1864. She discharged her ammunition and guns at the Royal Arsenal, was paid out of commission on 11 February.[18]

Despite being decommissioned, Gorgon had one last mission. The vessel was towed to Greenhithe on 6 May 1864 to act as a receiving hulk for the crew of HMS Osborne, seven of whom had acquired smallpox.[19] The ship was ultimately dismantled at Woolwich.[20] She was sold to Charlton for breaking on 17 October 1864.[1]


  1. Winfield, p.159
  2. The Times (London), Tuesday, 19 September 1837, p.1
  3. The Times (London), Monday, 23 May 1859, p.11
  4. The Mechanics' Magazine. Robertson, London. 1838. p. 185.
  5. The Mechanics' Magazine. Robertson, London. 1838. p. 186.
  6. Army and Navy Chronicle. B. Homans, Washington city. 1838. p. 244.
  7. The Nautical Magazine, Volume 16. Simpkin, Marshall, and Co, London. 1847. p. 426.
  8. Kahanov 2014, p.152.
  9. Davis, Peter. "Captain Authur Cumming RN". Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  10. "Hecla, 1839". P Benyon. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  11. "Naval and Military Intelligence". The Times (21997). London. 9 March 1855. col D-E, p. 12.
  12. "Ship News". The Times (21967). London. 2 February 1855. col F, p. 9.
  13. "Shipping". The Morning Chronicle (27636). London. 24 July 1855.
  14. "Ship News". The Standard (9659). London. 24 July 1855.
  15. Journals and letters of Sir Charles Thomas Newton, British Museum library
  16. The Times of London, Monday, 20 September 1858, p.7
  17. The Times (London), Wednesday, 3 February 1864, p.9
  18. The Times (London), Thursday, 11 February 1864, p.12
  19. The Times (London), Saturday, 7 May 1864, p.9
  20. The Times (London), Saturday, 30 January 1864, p.12


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