The Last Wooden British Warship; HMS Calypso/Briton
Embree, Near Lewisporte
In September 1902 Commander Fredrick M. Walker of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve commissioned the ship, HMS Calypso to be used as a drill and depot ship in Devonport. The ship would be used to train and instruct the reservist in naval warfare techniques and procedures which would allow Newfoundland to participate in the defense of the British Empire as many other British Colonies were doing at the time. It arrived in St. John's on October 15.
The Calypso was a third class barque cruiser with a displacement of 2770 tons, length of 71.6 metres, and a beam of 13.6 metres. It was built at the HM Dockyard in Catham and launched on June 7, 1883. Six boilers on board gave the ship 4023 horsepower plus a full set of studding sails meant the ship could achieve 14 knots (Evening Telegram 1902-09-15). The ship contained a wide range of guns including twelve 5 inch guns that would later be transferred to Signal Hill and used in the protection of the Narrows. Although some sources seem to disagree it is believed that the ship was made of iron and wood. As mentioned above, the Calypso contained a full set of sails which meant it could travel long distances without the need of refueling with coal. The Calypso and its "sister ship" Calliope were the last British sailing corvettes in the British Navy.
Once in St. John's the Calypso was permanently docked on the Western side of the harbour as it was considered to be no longer seaworthy. At this time the ships mass, boilers, and stacks were removed and scrapped. In February 1916 it was renamed the HMS Briton to free the name Calypso for a new ship being built. The newly named Briton continued training men until the end of the World War I.
HMS Calypso tied to a dock in St. John's. You can see the barracks "building" built on top of the ship for members of the Naval Reserve.
Photo credit: Maritime History Archive " PF-345.004"
The HMS Briton grounded in its current location.
Photo credit: Maritime History Archive "PF-001.1-M01a"
After the war, the ship was no longer needed and the cost to keep it moored to the dock became too high. In 1919 the Royal Naval Reserve in Newfoundland disbanded and the ships naval service was at its end.
The Newfoundland Government sold the HMS Briton in 1922 to A.H. Murray Ltd. to be used as a coal and salt storage hulk for the city of St. John's. In 1952 the ship once again ran out of use and was towed to the town of Lewisporte. The Briton remained here for many years while its owners could decide what to do with it. Many recognized its years of service and wanted to see the ship preserved. But sadly this never went anywhere and it was getting more and more expensive to keep it afloat.
In 1968 the ship was towed to a small cove in the town of Embree north of Lewisporte and set on fire until it sank. Over 50 years later the rusty remains can still be seen.
Today the ship lies partially above the waterline, 50 metres from shore. A new wharf has recently been built next to it which allows visitors to get close to its hull. One of the first things you will notice is that the Briton is not alone. The rusted shell to what many believe is an old fishing trawler lies on its south side.
Not all is lost, however. During its years of service, many pieces and components were removed and placed in museums. Just before the ship was towed to Lewisporte many of its naval components, guns, and equipment were removed. Located in the Lobby of the HMCS Cabot on the Southside of St. John's Harbour are several artifacts of the Calypso. One such artifact is one of the ships original guns. The Gun was a quick-firing 3 pound Hotchkiss Gun and was used for gunnery practice by the Newfoundland Royal Reserve.
After the ship was towed to Lewisporte and its usefulness ran out, most of the remaining removable equipment was either scrapped, donated or placed in local museums. The anchor of the ship can be seen in front of a local motel and the ships last remaining gun was given to the Grand-Falls Royal Canadian Legion (More Fighting Newfoundlander's).
The Legacy of the HMS Calypso/Briton
✘ - In memory and recognition of the HMS Calypso's help in training and building stronger soldiers, the Calypso Foundation of Lewisporte was formed to help disabled individuals become more productive workers and independent.
✘ - For an entire list of Reservist who trained on the Calypso visit the Admiralty's House Website.
✘ - The HMS Calypso possessed two large searchlights powered by the ships steam engines. At the time this was a new and very impressive technology.
Sources & Further Exploring
Decks Awash (1986). History: Lewisporte. Decks Awash, Vol. 15, No. 3, May-June 1986. Retrieved from the Centre for Newfoundland Studies.
Evening Telegram (1902, September 16). H.M.S. Calypso: The Training Ship for St. John’s. Evening Telegram. Retrieved from the Centre for Newfoundland Studies
Evening Telegram (1901, July 8). Newfoundland’s Naval Reserve. Evening Telegram. Accessed through the Centre for Newfoundland Studies
Nicholson, G.W.L., & Facey-Crowther, D.R. (2014). The Fighting Newfoundlander. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Find out more about the Calypso by visiting the Admiralty House Museum and Archives located at 365 Old Placentia Road in Mount Pearl.