HMS Iron Duke (1870)

For other ships with the same name, see HMS Iron Duke.
Iron Duke at anchor
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Iron Duke
Namesake: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Ordered: 26 September 1867
Builder: Pembroke Dockyard
Cost: £208,763
Laid down: 23 August 1868
Launched: 1 March 1870
Completed: 21 January 1871
Commissioned: 1 April 1871
Decommissioned: 1890
Reclassified: Converted to coal hulk, 1900
Fate: Sold for scrap, 15 May 1906
General characteristics
Class and type: Audacious-class ironclad
Tonnage: 3,774 (bm)
Displacement: 6,034 long tons (6,131 t)
Length: 280 ft (85.3 m) (p/p)
Beam: 54 ft (16.5 m)
Draught: 22 ft 7 in (6.9 m)
Installed power:
Propulsion: 2 shafts; 2 horizontal-return, connecting-rod steam engines
Speed: 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph)
Complement: 450
Service record
Part of:

HMS Iron Duke was the last of four Audacious-class central battery ironclads built for the Royal Navy in the late 1860s. Completed in 1871, the ship was briefly assigned to the Reserve Fleet as a guardship in Ireland, before she was sent out to the China Station as its flagship. Iron Duke returned four years later and resumed her duties as a guardship. She accidentally rammed and sank her sister ship, Vanguard, in a heavy fog in mid-1875 and returned to the Far East in 1878. The ship ran aground twice during this deployment and returned home in 1883. After a lengthy refit, Iron Duke was assigned to the Channel Fleet in 1885 and remained there until she again became a guardship in 1890. The ship was converted into a coal hulk a decade later and continued in that role until 1906 when she was sold for scrap and broken up.

Design and description

The Audacious class was designed as a second-class ironclad intended for overseas service.[1] They were 280 feet (85.3 m) long between perpendiculars and had a beam of 54 feet (16.5 m). Iron Duke had a draught of 21 feet 7 inches (6.6 m) forward and 22 feet 7 inches (6.9 m) aft. The Audacious-class ships displaced 6,034 long tons (6,131 t) and had a tonnage of 3,774 tons burthen.[2] They had a complement of 450 officers and ratings.[1]

Iron Duke had a pair of two-cylinder, horizontal-return, connecting-rod steam engines, each driving a single 16-foot-6-inch (5.03 m) propeller,[3] using steam provided by six rectangular boilers.[4] The engines were designed to give the ships a speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph);[5] Iron Duke, however, reached a speed of 13.64 knots (25.26 km/h; 15.70 mph) from 4,268 indicated horsepower (3,183 kW) during her sea trials on 2 November 1870. She carried a maximum of 450 long tons (460 t) of coal.[6]

The Audacious class was ship-rigged with three masts and had a sail area of 25,054 square feet (2,327.6 m2). Around 1871 they were re-rigged as barques with their sail area reduced to 23,700 square feet (2,200 m2) To reduce drag, the funnel was telescopic and could be lowered.[7] Under sail alone, they could reach 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).[8]

A 9-inch (229 mm) rifled muzzle-loading gun aboard Iron Duke in the 1870s

The main armament of the Audacious-class ships consisted of 10 RML 9-inch (229 mm) rifled muzzle-loading guns. Six of these were positioned on the main deck, three on each broadside, and the other four guns were mounted on the corners of the upper deck battery. The battery protruded over the sides of the ships to give the guns a certain amount of end-on fire.[9] The shell of the nine-inch gun weighed 254 pounds (115.2 kg) while the gun itself weighed 12 long tons (12 t). It had a muzzle velocity of 1,420 ft/s (430 m/s) and was rated with the ability to penetrate 11.3 inches (287 mm) of wrought-iron armour at the muzzle.[10]

The ships were equipped with four RML 6 in (152 mm) 71 cwt guns as chase guns, two in the bow and another pair in the stern.[8] They fired a 64-pound (29.0 kg), 6.3-inch (160 mm) shell.[10] They also had six RBL 20 pdr (3.75-inch (95 mm)) rifled breech-loading guns that were used as saluting guns.[8] In 1878, the ships received four 14-inch (356 mm) torpedo launchers on the main deck and the 6-inch guns were replaced by four breech-loading BL 5-inch guns during the mid-1880s.[1][9]

The wrought iron waterline armour belt of the Audacious class covered the entire length of the ships. It was eight inches (203 mm) thick amidships, backed by eight–ten inches (203–254 mm) of teak, and thinned to six inches towards the ends of the ships. It had a total height of 8 feet (2.4 m) of which 5 feet (1.5 m) was below water and 3 feet (0.9 m) above at deep load. The main deck citadel's ends were protected by a 5-inch (127 mm) forward bulkhead and a 4-inch (102 mm) one aft. The sides and embrasures of the upper battery were six inches thick, but its ends were unprotected. The ships also had a one-man conning tower with walls 3 inches (76 mm) thick.[11]

Construction and career

Iron Duke, named after the nickname for Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,[12] was the first ship of her name to serve in the Royal Navy.[13] The ship was laid down at Pembroke Dockyard on 23 August 1868, launched on 1 March 1870 and was completed on 1 January 1871, at a cost of £208,763.[5] She was initially assigned as a First Reserve Guardship at Plymouth, but was assigned as the flagship of the China Station in September. En route to the Far East, she became the first ironclad to use the Suez canal; virtually all of her coal had to be unloaded to reduce her draught and she was towed by three tugboats through the canal in three days. Relieved by her sister ship, Audacious, Iron Duke returned to the UK in 1875. To save money on the return ship, no tugboats were hired and the ship ran aground four times and frequently scraped the sides of the canal during her four-day transit. Upon her arrival, she was paid off in May.[14]

Iron Duke recommissioned two months later and was assigned as the guardship at Hull. During the First Reserve Squadron's summer cruise on 1 September, she was en route with three other ironclads between Dublin and Queenstown (now Cobh). In a thick fog, the ship accidentally rammed her sister, Vanguard, off Kish Bank, in Dublin Bay. Iron Duke had her bowsprit wrecked, but was otherwise little damaged. Her ram, however, had torn a 9-by-3-foot (2.74 by 0.91 m) hole in Vanguard's side. The ram also damaged the watertight bulkhead between Vanguard's engine and boiler rooms which flooded both compartments and prevented her crew from using her steam-powered pumps. The ship sunk in a little over an hour after all of the crew abandoned ship.[15]

Following the loss, Iron Duke replaced Vanguard as the guardship at Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), where she received the latter's crew and remained until July 1877 when the ship began a lengthy refit that lasted until August 1878.[16] She was inspected by Admiral Thomas Symonds, Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth, on 22 July. Iron Duke then departed Plymouth on 4 August, bound for the China Station;[17] en route, she pulled the P&O steamship SS Bengal off a reef in the Red Sea[16] on 7 September after two days' effort. Vice-Admiral Robert Coote hoisted his flag aboard Iron Duke on 9 November. The ship ran aground herself on a sandbar entering the Huangpu River in May 1880,[18] after five days, she was pulled free by the American paddlewheel river gunboat Monocacy with little damage.[16] Princes Arisugawa Taruhito and Arisugawa Takehito visited Iron Duke on 22 July while she was visiting Yokohama, Japan. Several weeks later, Arisugawa Takehito came aboard to serve as a midshipman. The ship struck a rock off the coast of Hokkaido en route to Aniva Bay, Sakhalin Island, on 30 July 1880. She floated off on 1 August after another ship had also grounded while trying to assist; her repairs required a month in drydock in Hong Kong. On 28 January 1881, Coote hauled down his flag and was relieved by Vice-Admiral George Willes, the new Commander-in-chief, of the China Station. On 10 October, the ship was drydocked in Nagasaki, Japan and then sailed to Wusong District, Shanghai, China on 26 October.[19] Iron Duke returned home in January 1883 and began a lengthy refit that included the replacement of her boilers.[16]

On 16 April 1885, the ship became a member of Admiral Geoffrey Hornby's Particular Service Squadron until August, when she joined the Channel Squadron.[20] After the ironclad Sultan broke loose from her anchors in Lisbon on 24 December 1886 during a gale and accidentally rammed and sank the French steamship SS Ville de Victoria, Iron Duke's crew manned one boat in search for survivors, although it is uncertain how many they saved.[21] The following year, Iron Duke participated in Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Fleet review on 1 July 1887 at Spithead.[22] She was reduced to reserve in 1890 and was converted to a coal hulk in 1900, serving at Kyles of Bute.[20] The ship was transferred from Fleet Reserve to Dockyard Reserve at Portsmouth in April 1902,[23] and eventually sold for scrap on 15 May 1906 to Galbraith of Glasgow.[8]


  1. "Cwt" is the abbreviation for hundredweight, 71 cwt referring to the weight of the gun.


  1. 1 2 3 Chesneau & Kolesnik, p. 15
  2. Ballard, p. 241
  3. Ballard, p. 246
  4. Chesneau & Kolesnik, p. 13
  5. 1 2 Parkes, p. 151
  6. Ballard, pp. 246–47
  7. Parkes, pp. 152, 155
  8. 1 2 3 4 Winfield & Lyon, p. 250
  9. 1 2 Parkes, p. 153
  10. 1 2 Chesneau & Kolesnik, p. 6
  11. Parkes, pp. 151, 153–54
  12. Silverstone, p. 245
  13. Colledge, p. 175
  14. Ballard, p. 188
  15. Ballard, pp. 183–86
  16. 1 2 3 4 Ballard, p. 189
  17. Smith, pp. 8, 12
  18. Smith, pp. 43, 58, 92
  19. Smith, pp. 130, 135, 168–73, 197, 203
  20. 1 2 Parkes, p. 156
  21. "The Collision with H.M.S. Sultan". The West Australian (Vol. 3, No. 326 (New Series)). 15 Feb 1887. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  22. "The Naval Review of Spithead". The Sydney Morning Herald (No. 15,426). 3 September 1887. p. 7. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  23. "Naval & Military Intelligence". The Times (36751). London. 25 April 1902. p. 8.


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