H.M.S. Powerful

 HMS Powerful
From an photograph

HMS Powerful was a ship of the Powerful-class of armoured cruiser built by Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness and launched on July 24, 1895 by the Duchess of Devonshire. She served with her sister ship, HMS Terrible on the China Station and provided landing parties which fought in the relief of the Siege of Ladysmith in the Second Boer War.

In 1897 Captain Hedworth Lambton commanded HMS Powerful, which was one of the largest warships of the time, on a posting to China. On the return voyage in 1899 he was ordered to Durban, South Africa at an important point in the Second Boer War. He stopped at Mauritius, and on his own initiative picked up a battalion of soldiers stationed there. Knowing that the British forces at Ladysmith urgently needed more powerful guns, Captain Percy Scott from the Powerful's sister ship, the Terrible, devised carriages to transport naval cannon, and Lambton then led a Naval Brigade from Powerful to the rescue with four twelve-pounders and two other guns.

The journey to Ladysmith from Durban was 189 miles. They began by special train then with oxen pulling the guns but when the oxen died the sailors took over pulling the guns themselves. In this endeavour they manhandled the guns "through the wild and broken country" of the South African veldt and "arrived in the nick of time" to play "a most important role in the defence of the town" Although the Boer attackers were kept at bay unfortunately the Naval brigade became besieged themselves. A second Naval brigade from HMS Terrible left Durban for Ladysmith and joined with the relief column led by General Buller and assisted in the lifitng of the siege.

The field gun competition commemorates the participation of Terrible and Powerful in the relief of Ladysmith.

  • 25 November 1899 - The Naval Brigade from HMS Powerful fought in the Battle of Graspan against the Boers in South Africa
  • 6 January 1900 - The Naval Brigade from HMS Powerful repulsed a strong Boer attack at Ladysmith.
  • 30 October 1900 - The Naval Brigade of HMS Powerful attacked Boer positions at Lombards Kop, Ladysmith

The enthusiastic response in Britain to the "heroes of Ladysmith" was enormous and made Captain Hedworth Lambton a well-known public figure. Queen Victoria sent a telegram saying, "Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns." while a reception and celebratory march through London were among the first events ever recorded on film.

A newspaper described the Powerful's return home: "As the great vessel steamed into Portsmouth Harbour at four o'clock this afternoon, she was greeted with thunders of applause .... vessels lying off here were dressed with flags, and their crews, swarming along the yards, swelled the roar of welcome......By three o'clock the jetty was thronged with men, women and children. ... A more eager, joyous gathering I never saw.....We cheered, we waved hats and handkerchiefs and we were half wild with delight." Lambton was awarded the CB, and it was in this year that his caricature was published in Vanity Fair.

Last updated 10 October, 2009

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