Thursday, 9 August 2012

Victorian and Edwardian Miscellany: Royal Navy: Part 4

No types of vessel typifies the part played by the Royal Navy in the creation of the British Empire than the River Gunboat.

HMS Heron was an 85-ton river gunboat that was built by Yarrow for service in Africa, although some of her sister ships served on the Yangtze River in China.

Her particulars were:
  • Displacement: 85 tons
  • Length: 108 feet
  • Beam: 20 feet
  • Draught: 2 feet
  • Maximum Speed: 9 knots
  • Complement: 25
  • Armament: 2 × 6-pounder QF guns; 4 × MGs
An almost identical gunboat was built for the Portugese Navy. She was named Macao and served on the Yangtze River until 1943, when she was handed over to the Japanese. They renamed her Maiko. After the war Maiko was transferred to China as the Wu Feng and is thought to have served under that name until 1968.

Probably the most famous river gunboats of the late Victorian period are those that were commanded by Royal Navy officers and that saw service on the River Nile. These included the Melik ...

... and the Sultan.

They were part of a three-ship class, and were all built at by John I Thornycroft and Co. at Chiswick on the River Thames. They were then dismantled and shipped to Egypt where they were reassembled.

Their particulars were:
  • Displacement: 134 tons
  • Length: 145 feet
  • Beam: 23 feet 6 inches
  • Draught: 2 feet
  • Maximum Speed: 12 knots
  • Armament: 2 × 12-pounder QF guns; 6 × MGs
The Melik is still extant, and a society (The Melik Society) has been set up to ensure her preservation.


  1. Thanks, Bob! This really strikes a chord with me. I just posted on DestoFante some research I did with Google Earth to locate Melik, via satellite imagery, on her sand berth in Karthoum!

  2. Thank you, I have been waiting for the little ships to show up. :)

  3. DestoFante,

    A very interesting bit of reseach.

    Well done!

    All the best,


  4. Pat G,

    They may be small ... but they did very useful work in many parts of the world. The true work-horses of Empire!

    All the best,


  5. kit of these boats (or close approximations) recently on eBay. They are all gone now, but the maker's photos are still up there at

    All I have to do now is built it and do the kit justice somehow ...

  6. Clive G,

    Thanks for the link. I will look at as soon as I can.

    All the best,