Mystery of ship's identity solved at last
A MYSTERY surrounding a photograph of an unidentified Royal Navy ship in Swansea docks has been solved.
The image was published in the South Wales Evening Post in June this year and readers came forward with several plausible suggestions.
One believed it was HMS Warrior, which in its latter days was used as an oil hulk at Pembroke Dock, and others suggested it was the RRS Discovery which was used in the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901 to 1904.
But visual evidence didn't stack up and now a curator at the Portsmouth Naval Museum has positively identified the vessel as HMS Calliope, a corvette launched in 1884.
Swansea archivist Kim Collis who works for the council said: "The photograph was a picture postcard posted from Swansea in October 1909, and we quickly established that the vessel was a Royal Navy warship at anchor in Prince of Wales Dock.
"We could also see that with its combination of sail and steam power it was an old-fashioned vessel for 1909 when the card was posted.
"There were, however, two complete red herrings: the sender wrote on the back that he had seen this ship in dock in the last few days, which turned out to be his mistake — and there was also pencilled text in a later hand, probably a naval enthusiast or postcard collector, identifying the ship as HMS Robin."
Calliope was famous for being the only ship to weather a tropical cyclone in Samoa in 1889, an incident which is still famous in naval tradition.
Trapped in between a coral reef and other vessels flailing at anchor, Calliope made a daring push out of harbour into open sea, clearing all obstacles by a matter of just a few feet.
It was an act of daring that won the ship's captain, Henry Kane, a citation from the Admiralty for his 'nerve and decisions' and an award in Queen Victoria's Birthday Honours of 1891.
Nick Bradley, council cabinet member for regeneration, said: "West Glamorgan Archives is a great resource for people researching Swansea's rich maritime heritage. We sometimes think there isn't much left to learn, so it's always satisfying when a mystery like this is solved, especially when it throws new light on an aspect of Swansea's history."