HMS Niobe (1897)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Niobe.
HMS Niobe
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Niobe
Builder: Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness
Launched: 20 February 1897
In service: 1898
Out of service: Transferred to Royal Canadian Navy on 6 September 1910
Career (Canada)
Name: HMCS Niobe
Commissioned: 6 September 1910
Out of service: 6 September 1915 to depot ship
Struck: 1920
Homeport: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Fate: Broken up in 1922
General characteristics
Class and type: Diadem-class protected cruiser
Displacement: 11,000 tons
Length: 435 ft (133 m) (462 ft 6 in (140.97 m) o/a)
Beam: 69 ft (21 m)
Draught: 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)
Propulsion: 2 shaft triple expansion engines
16.500 - 18,000 hp
Speed: 20 - 20.5 knots
Complement: 760
Armament: 16 x single QF 6-inch (152.4 mm) guns

14 x single QF 12-pounder (76-mm) guns
3 x single QF 3-pounder (47-mm) guns

2 x 18-inch (450-mm) torpedo tubes
Armour: 6 inch casemates
4.5-2 inch decks

HMS Niobe was a ship of the Diadem-class of protected cruiser in the Royal Navy. She served in the Boer War and was then given to Canada as the second ship of the then newly created Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Niobe. After patrol duties at the beginning of the First World War, she became a depot ship in Halifax. Damaged in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, she was scrapped in the 1920s.


Niobe was built by Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness and launched on 20 February 1897, entering service in 1898.

She was part of the Channel Squadron at the outbreak of the Boer War (1899–1900), and was sent to Gibraltar to escort troop transports ferrying reinforcements to the Cape. On 4 December 1899, Niobe and HMS Doris rescued troops from SS Ismore, which had run aground. Niobe saw further action in the Boer War, escorting troops to Cape Town, and the Queen's South Africa Medal was subsequently awarded to the crew. She returned to the English Channel, but later escorted vessels as far as Colombo in Ceylon.[1]

In March 1901 Niobe was one of two cruisers to escort HMS Ophir, commissioned as royal yacht for the world tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George and Queen Mary), from Spithead to Gibraltar,[2] and in September the same year she again escorted the royal yacht from St. Vincent to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Royal Canadian Navy[edit]

She and HMS Rainbow were given to the Dominion of Canada to seed the new Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).[3] Payment for Niobe was deferred until after the vote on the naval service in the Canadian House of Commons. The Naval Services Act was opposed by the Conservative Party of Canada, then in the role of Official Opposition, pushing instead for Canada to make direct payments to support the Royal Navy.[4] The governing Liberal Party of Canada held the majority of the seats in the Parliament however, and pushed ahead with the initiative to create a Canadian Navy. Once terms of purchase were settled, the newly renamed HMCS (His Majesty's Canadian Ship) Niobe was transferred to the RCN on 6 September 1910, commissioning at Devonport Dockyard.[5] Before departing Great Britain, Niobe and Rainbow were altered in order to meet the requirement as training vessels for the nascent Canadian navy. This required the installation of new heating systems, an up-to-date galley and the latest in Marconi wireless.[6]

Niobe reached Halifax on 21 October that year, her entry into the harbour timed to coincide with Trafalgar Day. Formal transfer of the ship only took place on 12 November 1910, once she had been paid for.[7] After commissioning, the status of the new Canadian vessels and their ability to operate independently of the Royal Navy arose and prevented the ships from leaving coastal waters until the matter was settled.[8] This initially limited Niobe to training duties in Halifax and prevented her from making a tour of the Caribbean Sea.[8]

After departing on a training cruise, Niobe ran aground in fog off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, on the night of 30–31 July 1911. Damage control saved the ship. The repairs took six months, completing in January 1912 and she had a permanently reduced maximum speed as a result. The resulting court martial found that the navigating officer, Charles White, who had not been on the bridge, should have been present during the navigation of the area due to its difficulty, and also found that captain, W.B. MacDonald, negligent for not ensuring his officers were performing their duties properly.[9]

Having been laid up after repair pending the arrival of the new government,[10] Niobe‍ '​s condition gradually deteriorated. She was effectively rotting at her berth in 1913.[11] However with the outbreak of the First World War, she was ordered to be brought up to an acceptable state of readiness for combat purposes.[12] This was difficult as her crew had been sent west when she was laid up.[13]

The mascot of HMCS Niobe

After returning to operational status, Niobe was sent with HMS Lancaster to patrol the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Following that from the 11-13 September 1914, she escorted The Royal Canadian Regiment, aboard the transport Canada, to Bermuda, where they took up garrison duties. On her return journey she developed defects and required a week to repair.[14]

On 6 October 1914, Niobe joined the Royal Navy's 4th Cruiser Squadron on the North America and West Indies Station. She was engaged in intercepting German ships along the American coast until July 1915. During this period she chased the German raider, SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich into Newport News, Virginia, which opted to be interned by the Americans instead of coming out to face the cruiser once it had refueled.[15] As the patrol work continued Niobe began to wear out. Her final patrol was 4-17 July 1915, after which she returned to Halifax. Her funnels were found to be rapidly deteriorating, her boilers were worn and her bulkheads were in poor shape.[16] As a result of being worn out, she was paid off on 6 September 1915 to become a depot ship in Halifax.

While Niobe‍ '​s operational life was coming to an end, Vice-Admiral Kingsmill attempted to swap her back to the Royal Navy for a newer cruiser. However the British only offered HMS Sutlej, a cruiser in a similar state of repair, and therefore nothing came of the exchange.[16]

The Halifax Explosion of 1917 caused serious damage to her upper works, and the deaths of several of her crew.[17][18] It also caused her to be dragged from her moorings, despite the use of a concrete embedded anchor. Once re-secured, additional anchors were put in place.[19] She remained in use as a depot ship until disposed of in 1920, decommissioned and sold for scrap. She was broken up in 1922 in Philadelphia.[20][18]


As the first large ship in the Royal Canadian Navy, Niobe‍ '​s name has considerable symbolic importance in the Canadian navy, being used among other things as the title of a series of scholarly papers. Models and collections of artefacts of Niobe can be found at several Canadian museums including the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Naval Museum of Halifax in Halifax. The latter devotes a room to Niobe which includes her original ship's bell. There is also a Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps located in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia that carries her name as RCSCC 62 NIOBE.

On 14 October 2014, an anchor believed to have belonged to Niobe was unearthed at HMC Dockyard in Halifax. The particular anchor, and the location it was discovered, is consistent with being from Niobe. The anchor is believed to be one of her three bow anchors used to secure her in her new position following the Halifax Explosion.[19]

On 17 October 2014, Canada announced that 21 October will be recognized annually as "Niobe Day" to commemorate the ship's arrival in Halifax in 1910.[21]

Commanding officers[edit]

  • Captain John Denison, RN in 1901[22]
  • Commander W. B. MacDonald RN 6 September 1910 - ?
  • Lt Commander C. E. Aglionby RN 20 June 1913 - ?
  • Captain R. G. Corbett RN 15 August 1914 - 1 September 1915
  • A(Acting)/Commander P. F. Newcombe RN 16 October 1916 - ?
  • Commander H. E. Holme RCN 22 December 1917 - 1 June 1920


  1. ^ Diary of a seaman on Niobe
  2. ^ "The Duke of Cornwall´s visit to the colonies" The Times (London). Thursday, 14 March 1901. (36402), p. 6.
  3. ^ MacMillan-Murphy, Jim. "Esquimalt Remembers" Esquimalt Heritage Advisory Committee. Retrieved 20 July 2013
  4. ^ P.13
  5. ^ Johnston et al. p.225
  6. ^ Johnston et al. p.233
  7. ^ Johnston et al. p.240
  8. ^ a b Johnston et al. p.242
  9. ^ Johnston et al. p.251
  10. ^ Johnston et al. p.250
  11. ^ Johnston et al. p.267
  12. ^ Johnston et al. p.294
  13. ^ Johnston et al. p.297
  14. ^ Johnston et al. p.325
  15. ^ Johnston et al. p.352
  16. ^ a b Johnston et al. p.355
  17. ^ "Halifax Explosion - The Devastation". Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  18. ^ a b Macpherson, Ken; Barrie, Ron (2002). The Ships of Canada's Naval Forces 1910-2002 (3rd ed.). St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing Limted. p. 12. ISBN 1-55125-072-1. 
  19. ^ a b "Anchor of Historic Canadian Naval Ship Found in Halifax Harbour". Royal Canadian Navy. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  20. ^ Canadian Navy Heritage accessed 20 October 2014
  21. ^ "Niobe Day". Royal Canadian Navy. Government of Canada. 
  22. ^ "Naval and Military intelligence" The Times (London). Friday, 22 February 1901. (36385), p. 10.


External links[edit]