HMS Surprise (1856)

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HMS Surprise (1856).jpg
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgUnited Kingdom
Name: HMS Surprise
Ordered: 26 July 1855
Builder: Money Wigram and Son of Blackwall Yard
Cost: £33,356 [1]
Laid down: 30 August 1855
Launched: 6 March 1856
Commissioned: 12 April 1856
Fate: Broken up in 1866
General characteristics
Class and type: Vigilant-class second-class despatch/gunvessel
Displacement: 860 tons
Tons burthen: 669 79/94 bm
  • 180 ft (54.9 m) (gundeck)
  • 160 ft 7.5 in (49.0 m) (keel)
Beam: 28 ft 4 in (8.6 m)
Draught: 8 ft (2.4 m) (designed) [2]
Depth of hold: 14 ft (4.27 m)
Installed power:
  • 2-cylinder horizontal single-expansion steam engine
  • Single screw
Sail plan: Barque-rigged
Speed: 11 kn (20 km/h) under steam
Complement: 80

HMS Surprise was a Vigilant-class gunvessel of the Royal Navy. She was launched at Blackwall Yard, London in 1856 and broken up in Plymouth in 1866.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Blackwall Yard former shipyard on the Thames at Blackwall, London; shipbuilding area since the Middle Ages

Blackwall Yard is a small body of water that used to be a shipyard on the River Thames in Blackwall, engaged in ship building and later ship repairs for over 350 years. The yard closed in 1987.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom, as well as the largest city within the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.



Her class were designed as second-class despatch and gunvessels. They were intended to operate close inshore during the Crimean War and were essentially enlarged versions of the Arrow-class gunvessel, which has been designed by the Surveyor’s Department in 1854. [1]

Crimean War 1850s military conflict

The Crimean War was a military conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Roman Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. It has widely been noted that the causes, in one case involving an argument over a key, have never revealed a "greater confusion of purpose", yet they led to a war noted for its "notoriously incompetent international butchery".


A two-cylinder horizontal single expansion steam engine by Miller, Ravenhill and Salkeld provided 778 indicated horsepower (580 kW) through a single screw, [1] and gave a top speed of about 11 knots. [2]

Sail plan

All Vigilant-class gunvessels were barque-rigged. [1]


Although designed with a pair of 68-pounder Lancaster muzzle-loading rifles, the Vigilant class were finished with one 7-inch (180 mm)/110-pound (50 kg) Armstrong breech-loading gun, one 68-pound (31 kg) Lancaster muzzle-loading rifled gun and two 20-pounder breech loaders. [1]

68-pounder Lancaster gun

68-pounder Lancaster guns were a British rifled muzzle-loading cannon of the 1850s that fired a 68-pound shell. They were fitted in pairs to the Arrow-class gunvessel. The cannon was designed with an oval bore and had a range of about 6500 yards. The gun had a tendency to burst.


Surprise was ordered on 26 July 1855 at the same time as nine others of her class. Her keel was laid at the Blackwall yard of Money Wigram & Son on 30 August and she was launched on 6 March 1856. [1]


From 18 March 1856 she was commanded by Commander Charles Egerton Harcourt-Vernon, [3] and he commissioned her at Blackwall on 12 April the same year. [1] From 1857 under Commander Cresswell the ship served in the East Indies including the Second Anglo-Chinese War, [3] and from 1861 she formed part of the Mediterranean Fleet. [3] Between August 1864 and 24 April 1866 she was commanded by George Tryon, later to become infamous as the Admiral who caused the loss in 1893 of his flagship HMS Victoria during fleet manoeuvres.


Surprise was sold to Marshall of Plymouth and broken up in November 1866. [1]

Commanding officers

18 March 1856Commander Charles Egerton Harcourt-Vernon [3]
11 March 1857Commander Samuel Gurney Cresswell [3]
2 August 1861Commander William Henry Whyte [3]
August 1864Commander George Tryon [3]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Winfield (2004) p.220
  2. 1 2 Preston (2007) p.150
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "HMS Surprise at William Loney website" . Retrieved 6 July 2009.