Boer War Page 93i
Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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Below are some of the key items the Canadian Boer War Museum has added to its collections in its ongoing efforts to preserve important Canadian heritage memorabilia from this period.

Battleships of the Boer War

Recently we discovered a wonderful series of watercolours, featuring four ships of war, dating from the late nineteenth century.

Three of the watercolours - these were cruisers - were in one frame, and were ships that straddled the age of sail to steam power, and the change from wooden to iron hulls.

The second watercolour - a battleship - was a fabulous painting of HMS Magnificent under power, and was in its own frame.

The pictures were in their original 19th century frames and wavy glass. They had obviously belonged to a British naval officer with a talent for painting. And he had commemorated his service in the Victorian Navy by painting the portraits of the ships in which he had served Queen Victoria and the Empire.

Probably the Magnificent was his most important - perhaps his last - posting.

Sometime before World War I this sailor's career had ended and he had likely settled in Canada, taking his memories, and his watercolours with him. His family had kept them, long after he had passed on, and someone finally decided the link with the past was now long gone and decided to put them up for auction.

Sadly, we do not know the name of the officer, and the ships in the other frame were not named.

But we know the officer was a careful painter, noting every detail in the Magnificent. We can only assume that he was equally accurate with the other ships in which he sailed, so we could use his eye for detail to try to match them up with old photographs of ships that once served in the British Navy in the 1870s and 80s.

The Mysterious Cruiser: The most stunning looking vessel of the group is the Highflyer Class, 2nd class protected cruiser, dressed in white near right.

The three funnels are the distinguishing feature of this class of warship; the Monmouth class of armoured cruiser is the only other class that had three funnels, but those ships carried a tall side turret of two, over and under, 6" guns, projecting over the gunwales beside the front funnel. Our ship carries only a single gun turret, so certifying it as a Highflyer class cruiser. The position, and shape of the crowsnests, fore and aft, is also different in the two classes.

Three ships of the Highflyer Class, of 2nd class light armoured cruisers were built between 1898-1900: HM Ships Hermes, Highflyer, and Hyacinth.

We believe the painting right, is probably the Highflyer herself, the ship which gave the class its name.

The painting compares to photos taken of Highflyer in 1900, when she looked exactly like this, below. The dark line, above the middle row of port holes, is pretty distinctive and does not appear on any of the many photos of other members of the class which we have researched.

The Highflyer Class, was a group of light cruisers, whose main armament was 11 x 6" guns, and 9 x 12 pounders. The ships travelled at 20 knots, with a crew of 450. They were 350 feet long, and displaced 5,600 tons, about a third of that of HMS Magnificent, above. All three ships were put into service during the first year of the Boer War.

Another photo of Highflyer c 1900, below, shows the great detail which the artist captured, with consummate skill, in his painting, even though the watercolour is relatively small. A unique feature, of Victorian warships was the way they draped the anchor chain, from the hawespipe below the gunwales, to the anchor bill on the rear of the foredeck. With the tiniest strokes our artist has very carefully hinted at this characteristic of Highflyer's rig - and Magnificent's above - in his painting.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
HMS Magnificent, c 1899
Orig. watercolour - Size - 8.5 cm x 13.5 cm
Found - Paris, ON

The Magnificent was one of nine Majestic Class battleships Britain built in 1894-95. She was 400 feet long, displaced 14,900 tons, had a speed of 13 knots, a crew of 675, and carried a main armament of 2 x 12" and 12 x 6" guns as well as numerous smaller guns and torpedo tubes. At the time, the nine ships were the largest battleships ever built, using the largest guns (12") ever mounted on a boat.

On the eve of the Boer War, these ships were the envy of the world. And our proud painter, no doubt, served on the bridge with pride.

But warship technology moved so rapidly forward, because of competition by the Japanese, Germans, and Russians, that by the start of World War I, this class of battleship was sidelined - the ships were undergunned, too slow, had too little armour - and so were used as troopships instead.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
HMS Highflyer, 2nd Class Protected Cruiser, (Highflyer Class) c 1900
Orig. watercolour - Size - 9 cm x 14 cm
Found - Paris, ON

The photos of Highflyer, both taken in 1900, show what she looked like as the Flagship of the East Indies Fleet, from 1900-1904.

Would anyone, other than a naval officer, have taken the trouble to note - though they are only flyspeck in size - the two three pounder guns, pointing fore and aft, in both crowsnests?

The angled double hawespipes, from which the anchor chains emerged from the hull, are a unique feature of the 1900 period in Highflyer's life, and are found on no other photos of ships of the class which we have seen.

Atop the foredeck is the forward 6" gun; and a 12 pounder sits recessed on the side of the bow. Two 18" torpedo tubes were located in the bow, below the water line.

Sinking of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse:

At the outbreak of the war HMS Highflyer had won fame by intercepting the German Armed Merchant Cruiser Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, demanding she surrender. When she was refused, Highflyer opened fire and sank her, in one of the opening battles of World War I (Aug. 27, 1914). Only 35 German crew were rescued.

The surviving crew of the German ship protested, that they had not been sunk but that they had scuttled the former passenger liner.

Right is a patriotic postcard of the period, celebrating the sinking.

Below, are the Hunted and the Hunter as they looked at the time.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
HMS Highflyer Sinking Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Aug 1914
Orig. pc - Size - 9 cm x 14 cm
Found - London, UK

The Halifax Explosion: On December 6, 1917, Highflyer looked like the photo above, as she lay at anchor in Halifax harbour, moments before the biggest man-made explosion in history tore the city apart. An ammunition ship, the Mont Blanc, and a Belgian relief ship, the Imo, had collided in the middle of the harbour.

A fire broke out on the Mont Blanc, probably triggered by the friction of the collision, and was followed shortly after by an explosion that flattened much of Halifax and killed 2,000 people, and wounded 9,000 more. Not till the atomic blasts of World War II, would a man-made explosion equal its devastation.

Aboard Highflyer, crewmen stood on the bow watching the commotion around the burning Mont Blanc, further down the harbour. The ensuing blast knocked down the crew on Highflyer's deck; eight sailors were fatally smashed against the superstructure of the ship.

Below, is a photo taken right after the explosion, showing Highflyer just off the Halifax graving dock.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Belaying Pin, SS Imo, 1917
Orig. iron belaying pin - Size - 9"l, wt. 1.5 kg
Found - Milton, ON
Inscribed:
"FROM THE SHIP, SS IMO BELGIAN RELIEF, SOUVENIR, OF HALIFAX DISASTER, DEC. 6, 1917. "
Ground Zero: A most rare memento of the Halifax Explosion. Belaying pins have been used in ships since time immemorial.

They were stuck in holes on the rails, or at the foot of masts, to provide a pin as an anchor point around which it was possible to tie a rope either for fastening or belaying the raising of a sail.

In sailing ship days they were made of wood and were extremely handy in fights aboard ships, or to subdue unruly locals, when visiting pubs ashore. This one, being made of iron, is extremely heavy, which is why it was blown two miles from the explosion site.

Haligonian museums love displaying anchors, and other pieces of metal, that were blown great distances by the force of the blast.

Above, the Imo, was thrown bodily across the harbour, on to the beach on the north (Dartmouth) side. But it looks like one belaying pin is missing...

Bottom, another view, showing Imo in the distance.

Is this where the Canadian connection with the Highflyer painting comes from?

Was the artist officer aboard on that occasion, and decided to settle in Canada after the war, having no doubt found the Canadian pubs to be first class in quality, and the people only slightly less so?

Exposure to Canada and Canadians, during the War, convinced many British men and women to cast their lot in with Jack and Jackie Canuck. Perhaps that is how these fabulous watercolours ended up in Ontario...

HMS Highflyer was active in the East and West Indies during the war.

HMS Highflyer would gain the distinction of being the last of Queen Victoria's cruisers to remain in commission, till 1921, when she was scrapped.

The Mysterious Warship #2: The second anonymous ship painting appears to be of a three-masted, one funnel, cruiser from the 1880s, shown below.

The shape of the bow is distinctive, as is the short single funnel, just abaft the fore mast. The two bulging gun turrets, one beside the main mast, and another between the main and the mizzen, are strong identification points, jutting out from the upper hull of the ship, just above the lower row of port holes. The artist captured them accurately, as well as the lattice-like ladder that runs down over the side just behind the funnel.

The photo which so closely matches the painting, is the British Corvette, Calliope.

HMS Calliope was a 2779 ton ship, one of two Calypso class steel corvettes, completed in 1884. She was designed for long distance cruising during the heyday of Empire when colonies all over the globe needed protection and servicing. She had a fouling-resistant coppered hull, for sailing in the tropics. She carried a full sailing rig as well as relatively powerful engines.

Calliope performed one of the late 19th century's outstanding feats of seamanship when her master managed to get her out of the harbour at Apia, Samoa on March 15, 1889, when a violent hurricane tore through the island.

Was our painter officer aboard, on that celebrated occasion, when several ships were wrecked?

Early steamships, which were given short funnels to start, ended their days with extended ones, to increase the draft and engine performance. Hence the tall chimney look of ocean liners that followed, like Titanic.
The Calliope was retired from active service in 1907, and became used as a drill ship for Royal Navy Volunteers below. She was finally scrapped in 1951.
The Mysterious Warship #3: The last mystery ship is the earliest warship featured in the paintings. Conceivably the artist officer served in her first; she is also positioned in third place in the frame.

The painting has an uncanny resemblance to HMS Leander, a second class cruiser built in 1882, photo below.

The sailing rig is a match, as is the bowsprit configuration and angle. She is square-rigged only on the front, and gaff-rigged behind the funnels. The yards were kept till the 1890s.

The cut of the bow, as well as the overall shape of the hull, even the paint job, is a match. The funnels and air ventilator scoops are placed the same, as are the life boats.

Clearly our officer painted none other than HMS Leander, built in 1882.

HMS Leander was a second-class cruiser of 4,300 tons, and 315 feet long. She mounted 10 x 6" guns, and four torpedo-tubes and did 16.5 knots. Though a good steamer - after the funnels were raised 6 feet to increase draft - the Leander rolled badly under some sea conditions, giving many of her crew of 278 the heaves.

In 1900, during a revolution in Panama, she showed the flag and protected the lives of foreign residents there.

In 1904 she became a depot ship for destroyers and lived out her life at Scapa Flow during World War I. She was scrapped in 1920.

But by then our painter officer had long ago left her, no doubt with a promotion to HMS Calliope.

What an amazing story four little watercolours, found at a small Ontario auction, can tell.

Another Great Canadian Heritage Treasure, saved from the trash heap of History, by the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.

The Mysterious Officer

It should be relatively easy to discover the identity of the painter - find the name of a junior officer who served on the Leander, then transferred to the Calliope, later to the Highflyer, and then the Magnificent. With so many computer experts logging names of people who served in British regiments, and aboard ships, a good search engine should come up with a name that fits all four vessels, in short order...

One clue; on HMS Magnificent, the painter signed off with the signature left...

Is it JFA... or JFR... or JAF... or JRF...?

As a helpful guide, on the right, is the contemporary (early 20th century) signature of famed sailing author A Basil Lubbock MC, who signed his watercolours ABL..

Any ideas out there? Let us know....


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