HMS Juno (1844)

HMS Juno was a 26-gun Spartan-class sixth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy launched in 1844 at Pembroke. As HMS Juno, she carried out the historic role in 1857 of annexing the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to the British Empire. She was renamed HMS Mariner in January 1878 and then HMS Atalanta two weeks later.

HMS Atalanta in 1880
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Juno
Ordered: 20 February 1837
Builder: Pembroke Dockyard
Laid down: April 1842
Launched: 1 July 1844
Completed: By 30 October 1845
  • HMS Mariner on 10 January 1878
  • HMS Atalanta on 22 January 1878
Reclassified: Water police ship in 1862
Fate: Lost, presumed foundered in the Atlantic between 12 and 16 February 1880
General characteristics
Class and type: 26-gun Spartan-class sixth-rate frigate (later "corvette")
Tons burthen: 923 1/94 bm
  • 131 ft (40 m) (overall)
  • 107 ft (33 m) (keel)
Beam: 40 ft 3.25 in (12.2746 m)
Depth of hold: 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
Complement: 240
  • Upper deck: 18 × 32-pounders (42cwt)
  • Quarterdeck: 6 × 32-pounder (25cwt) gunnades
  • Forecastle: 2 × 32-pounder (25cwt) gunnades


Atalanta was serving as a training ship when in 1880 she disappeared with her entire crew after setting sail from Bermuda for Falmouth, England on 31 January 1880. It was presumed that she sank in a powerful storm which crossed her route a couple of weeks after she sailed. The search for evidence of her fate attracted worldwide attention, and the Admiralty received more than 150 telegrams and 200 personal calls from anxious friends and relatives after it was announced that the ship was missing, and possibly lost.[1]

Investigation of the ship's loss was rendered difficult by the lack of any survivors, but one former member of her crew, Able Seaman John Varling, testified that he had found her "exceedingly crank, as being overweight.. She rolled 32 degrees, and Captain Stirling is reported as having been heard to remark that had she rolled one degree more she must have gone over and foundered. The young sailors were either too timid to go aloft or were incapacitated by sea-sickness... Varling states that they hid themselves away, and could not be found when wanted by the boatswain's mate." [2]

The exact circumstances of the ship's loss remain uncertain, but the gunboat Avon — which arrived at Portsmouth on 19 April from the Chile station — reported "that at the Azores she noticed immense quantities of wreckage floating about... in fact the sea was strewn with spars etc." [3] Two days later, amid mounting concern that the loss of the ship might have been prevented had her crew not been so inexperienced, The Times editorialised: "There can be no question of the criminal folly of sending some 300 lads who have never been to sea before in a training ship without a sufficient number of trained an experienced seamen to take charge of her in exceptional circumstances. The ship's company of the Atalanta numbered only about 11 able seamen, and when we consider that young lads are often afraid to go aloft in a gale to take down sail... a special danger attaching to the Atalanta becomes apparent."[4]

A memorial in St Ann's Church, Portsmouth, names a total of 281 fatalities in the disaster. Among those lost was Philip Fisher, a lieutenant who had enlisted the indirect support of Queen Victoria to obtain an appointment to the ship.[5] He was the younger brother of the future Admiral of the Fleet Lord Jacky Fisher.[6]


  1. The Times, 15 April 1880.
  2. The Times, 27 April 1880.
  3. The Times, 20 April 1880.
  4. The Times, 21 April 1880.
  5. Mackay, Ruddock (1973). Fisher of Kilverstone. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p.149.
  6. Memorials & Monuments in St Ann's Church - HMS Atalanta - Archived 16 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine


  • Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) [1969]. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8.
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