Pacific Station

The Pacific Station was created in 1837 as one of the geographical military formations into which the Royal Navy divided its worldwide responsibilities. The South America Station was split into the Pacific Station and the South East Coast of America Station.

Pacific Station
ActiveSouth America Station (18261837)[1]
Pacific Station (18371905)[1]
DisbandedSunset 1 March 1905[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom and Canada
Branch Royal Navy
Part ofAdmiralty
Garrison/HQValparaíso, Chile &
Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard
Notable shipsPresident
EngagementsSiege of Petropavlovsk
George Seymour,
Fairfax Moresby,
Thomas Maitland


The British Pacific Squadron was established in 1813 to support British interests along the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean at Valparaíso, Chile. In 1837, when the South America Station was split, this responsibility was passed to the Pacific Station.[1] In 1843, George Paulet, captain of Carysfort, took her out from Valparaíso to Honolulu to demand the islands of the Kingdom of Hawaii for Britain. King Kamehameha III capitulated and signed the islands over to Paulet. In the summer of that year, Rear-Admiral Richard Darton Thomas set out from Valparaíso in Dublin to rein Paulet in. On 31 July 1843, Thomas assured the King that the occupation was over and that there was no British claim over the islands.

In 1842, Pandora was sent north to survey the coast of Vancouver Island and what would become the Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard. During the survey trip, the crew of Pandora found that Esquimalt Harbour had a size and depth suited for use as a Royal Navy harbour.[2] As tensions between Britain and America rose during the Oregon boundary dispute a base at the southern end of Vancouver Island would help strengthen the British claim to all of the island. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 ceded control over all of the island to Britain. In 1848, Constance was sent to Esquimalt and was the first vessel to be stationed there.[2] In the summer of 1854, several ships, including President, Pique, Trincomalee, Amphitrite, and Virago set out from Valparaíso and sailed across the Pacific Ocean stopping at the Marquesas Islands then they went on to Honolulu where they met a French fleet of warships. In late August, the combined fleets sailed to Russia to engage in the Siege of Petropavlovsk at which Commander-in-Chief David Price died. Captain Frederick William Erskine Nicolson of Pique was brevetted and took command of the British naval forces from 31 August 1854 until the arrival of the next Commander-in-Chief. In 1855, three "Crimean huts" were built at Esquimalt to serve as a hospital intended to receive wounded from the Crimean War. The huts were the first shore establishment at Esquimalt.

The presence of forests full of straight grained conifers such as the Coast Douglas fir meant that Vancouver Island could provide shipbuilding material suitable for spar making in the age of sail. The later discovery of coal on the island and at Vancouver's Coal Harbour, meant that the area could also serve as a useful resource in the age of steam as well. Rear-Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes, aware of the political importance of maintaining British sovereignty amidst the San Juan Boundary Dispute and the British Columbia gold rushes recommended to the Admiralty a move of the station headquarters from Valparaíso to Esquimalt in November 1859.[3]

By 1865, Esquimalt was recognized as the base headquarters of the Pacific Station.[2] The move from Valparaíso to Esquimalt helped the Pacific Station avoid involvement in the Chincha Islands War (18641866) between Spain, Chile, and Peru. Rear-Admiral de Horsey ordered Shah commanded by Frederick Bedford, against the Nicolás de Piérola-led Huáscar in the Battle of Pacocha on 29 May 1877. In that battle, Shah fired two Whitehead torpedoes at Huáscar, but they missed their mark and Huáscar got away.[4][5][6]

A graving dock large enough to accommodate the largest ships in the Pacific fleet was commissioned at Esquimalt in 1887.[2] After a period of relaxing tensions meant that British interests in British Columbia were secured, the Station was maintained to counter Russian ambitions in the Pacific. The Station was also crucial in defending British Columbia from United States aggression during the Spanish–American War of 1898 and the contemporaneous Alaska Boundary Dispute, when the US threatened to forcibly invade and annex British Columbia if its demands over Alaska were not met.

By the end of the 19th century, improved communications, the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the need to concentrate warships in British waters to counter the developing German High Seas Fleet, meant that the station was closed down at sunset on 1 March 1905.[2] Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard was transferred to the Canadian Department of Marine and Fisheries. The Pacific Station's responsibilities were divided between the China, Australia and the North America and West Indies Stations.

After passage of the Naval Service Act in 1910, there was a Canadian Naval Service that controlled the base at Esquimalt and that service became the Royal Canadian Navy in 1911. In the 1960s, the amalgamation of defence services in Canada led to its re-constitution as Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt that includes HMC Dockyard.


Most commanders-in-chief of the station held the rank of rear admiral, with the exceptions of Hamond and Hastings who were each promoted to vice admiral before being reassigned to other duties, and Goodrich who was a commodore.

List of Commanders-in-chief, Pacific Station (1837–1905)[1]
Commander in Chief, PacificFromUntilNotes
Rear Admiral Charles Ross[7][8]18371841
Rear Admiral Richard Thomas5 May 18411844Promoted to Admiral of the White 19 May 1857
Rear Admiral George Seymour14 May 184425 August 1847Appointed Admiral of the Fleet 30 November 1866
Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby25 August 184721 August 1850
Rear Admiral Fairfax Moresby21 August 185017 August 1853Stationed at Valparaíso also visited Vancouver.[9][10] Appointed Admiral of the Fleet 21 January 1870
Rear Admiral David Price17 August 185330 August 1854Died at the Siege of Petropavlovsk
Rear Admiral Henry Bruce[11]25 November 18548 July 1857
Rear Admiral Robert Baynes8 July 18575 May 1860
Rear Admiral Thomas Maitland5 May 186031 October 1862Appointed Admiral of the Fleet 27 December 1877
Rear Admiral John Kingcome31 October 186210 May 1864After whom Kingcome Inlet is named, flagship was HMS Sutlej
Rear Admiral Henry Denham[12]10 May 186421 November 1866
Vice Admiral George Hastings21 November 18661 November 1869Promoted to Vice Admiral 10 September 1869
Rear Admiral Arthur Farquhar1 November 18699 July 1872An investor in the coal mines of Robert Dunsmuir
Rear Admiral Charles Hillyar9 July 18726 June 1873Son of James Hillyar
Rear Admiral Arthur Cochrane6 June 187315 April 1876Son of Thomas Cochrane
Rear Admiral George Hancock15 April 1876August 1876
Rear Admiral Algernon de Horsey20 September 187621 July 1879Promoted to Vice Admiral 27 November 1879. Promoted to Admiral 29 April 1885.
Rear Admiral Frederick Stirling21 July 187910 December 1881
Rear Admiral Algernon Lyons10 December 188113 September 1884
Rear Admiral John Baird13 September 18844 July 1885
Rear Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour4 July 188520 September 1887
Rear Admiral Algernon Heneage20 September 18874 February 1890
Rear Admiral Charles Hotham4 February 18904 May 1893
Rear Admiral Henry Stephenson4 May 189319 June 1896
Rear Admiral Henry Palliser19 June 189622 June 1899
Rear Admiral Lewis Beaumont22 June 189915 October 1900
Rear Admiral Andrew Bickford[13]19001903Builder of the Bickford tower.[14] Promoted to Vice Admiral 10 February 1904.[15]
Commodore James Goodrich[16]19031 March 1905Last Royal Navy commander.


The largest remnant of the Pacific Station is the CFB Esquimalt naval base in western Canada. Many geographical features of Vancouver Island and British Columbia are named after captains, commanders, and ships assigned to the Pacific Station. The Arco Británico triumphal arch in Valparaíso was constructed to commemorate the British presence in the city, including several Naval commanders.[17] Thomas Square in Honolulu is named after Admiral Richard Darton Thomas. Although Union Flags were flown over Hawaii as early as 1816, the current state flag of Hawaii design dates from the close of the Paulet Affair and features a British Union Flag in its canton to commemorate the help that Thomas rendered the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Charles Darwin's visits to Valparaíso, Cerro La Campana, and the Galápagos Islands led to publication of The Voyage of the Beagle which, along with later works such as On the Origin of Species, helped to establish the field of evolutionary biology.

See also


  1. Davis, Peter. "Principal Royal Navy Commanders-in-Chief 1830-1899". Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  2. "History of CFB Esquimalt and Naden". Archived from the original on 14 January 2010. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  3. Gough, Barry M. (2000). "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: BAYNES, Sir ROBERT LAMBERT". University of Toronto. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  5. Oram, Steve (18 February 2010). "The Battle of Pacocha, 1877". Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  6. "Maintaining Naval Supremacy 1815-1914". Royal Navy. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  7. "Canadian Navy: MARPAC - Maritime Forces Pacific - Profiles: RAdm of the White C B H Ross". Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  8. Gough, Barry M. (1969). "The Records of the Royal Navy's Pacific Station". The Journal of Pacific History. 4. pp. 146–153. JSTOR 25167985.
  9. Lowther, Marcus. "HMS Portland. 50 guns. Admiral Fairfax Moresby wor... (photo/image) - RGS Picture Library". Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  10. Davenport, Charles Benedict; Scudder, Mary Theresa (1919). "Naval Officers: Their Heredity and Development". Carnegie Institution of Washington publication (259–265). p. 133.
  11. "Admiral Sir Henry William Bruce". 2007. Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  12. "Biography of Henry Mangles Denham R.N." Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  13. "Canadian Navy: MARPAC - Maritime Forces Pacific - Profiles: RAdm A K Bickford". Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  14. "The Bickford Tower". Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  15. "Royal Navy Flag Officers of the Dreadnought Era 1904-1945: Royal Navy Full Admirals: Vice Admiral Andrew Kennedy Bickford CMG". Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  16. "Canadian Navy: MARPAC - Maritime Forces Pacific - Profiles: Cmdre J E C Goodrich". Archived from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  17. Tatum, Fred. "South American Station 1950-51". Retrieved 28 February 2010.

Further reading

  • Gough, Barry M (1974) [1971]. The Royal Navy and the Northwest Coast of North America 1820–1914: A Study of Maritime Ascendancy. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-0000-6.
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