Photo of HMS Cherub, sister ship to HMS Tyrian

By Pete Mason

HMS Tyrian  was built in Newhaven by Courtenay and the only major warship built here. She was 268 Tons, 120ft long with a 22ft beam and drawing 8ft of water. She was launched in September 1861 and was known to be serving in the Mediterranean in April 1867.

In April 1876 she was still in service although where was not specified, and by 1883 she had been downgraded to a tug. At some stage she went to Jamaica where she was broken up in 1891.

The history of HMS Tyrian really begins in 1859 when the Admiralty placed orders for 20 gunboats, initially known as "Improved 60HP Gunboats" which were built to replace the "Dapper" and "Gleaner" classes that had proved themselves in the Crimean War. Their shallow draught (6'6") made them ideal for operations against the Russians in the Baltic and Black Seas.

The Improved class was renamed "Britomart " and of the twenty orders placed, ten were to be built in private yards and ten in Portsmouth Dockyard. Due to a shortage of seasoned oak following the Crimean War the builders were authorised to use any available timber, some of the less scrupulous builders even using "green" unseasoned timber. This led to rot setting in to many of the ships which was not helped by the fact that more than half of the 16 completed were laid up on slips at Haslar, Portsmouth as reserve.

When built they were armed with two 68lb smooth bore cannon weighing 95 cwt each. These were mounted on swivel mounts midships to maintain stability and fired through gates in the ships side. These were replaced in 1867 with 64lb Armstrong rifled Muzzle Loaders weighing 64 cwt each. As these Gunboats usually travelled in company with larger ships it was customary to transfer the guns to the larger ships to improve handling at sea. Power was by sail and by a 60 nhp Horizontal Trunk engine of two 21" dia cylinders running at 90psi built by Penn of Greenwich or Maudsley, Son and Field of Lambeth. These gave a speed of around 9 knots.

Due to the short life of many of the class, the engines were sold on when the ships were broken up and only one of these engines is known to have survived. It was fitted to the SS Xantho which was wrecked off western Australia. The engine was recovered in the late 1990s and is now in the western Australian Maritime Museum.

Of the 16 boats of the class which were built, only 4 outlived HMS Tyrian. HMS Britomart which was one of these ended her days as a dock in Dagenham where she was finally broken up in 1946.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'HMS TYRIAN BUILT AT NEWHAVEN 1861' page
This page was added by Pete Mason on 22/04/2008.
Comments about this page

A super page Pete, where was the site that built H M S Tyrian at Newhaven, and do you know of any other ships that were built by them?

By Colin Holden
On 24/04/2008

William Courtenay was born in Padstow c1827, at some stage he joined Gray and is listed among the chief mourners at John Grays funeral Feb 1855. He married Susannah Gray in 1857 and is shown on the 1861 census as living in the Grays House in the High St with Susannah and 8 stepchildren named Gray plus a 3 year old (Maria) of their own. I can't find where he went after that although Susannah looks to be living in Kent in 1871. So Tyrian would be built in Grays Yard .

By Pete Mason
On 27/04/2008

In 1871 they were living in Lewisham, he is listed as "Out of Business Shipbuilder".  His death is recorded at Tendring in Essex Q4 1875, Susannah died at Marias in Kensington Q3 1901. There was also an 8 month old son Peter in 1861 who I overlooked.

By Pete Mason
On 04/05/2008

I visited Dagenham Dock as a teenager in about 1962 to go for a river trip on a big motor launch owned by Samuel Williams Ltd which was used for entertaining customers. I was told to report to the Britomart which was a floating hull used as a landing stage. It was definitely "boat shaped" and I was told it had been a victorian gunboat. Was it really broken up in 1946 or just converted to this use?
This is a good, interesting page, thank you for it.

By John Dunstan
On 20/02/2009

My cousin, Henry Francis Hovenden, commanded HMS Tyrian and died on board in 1866.

By Peter Hovenden-Jones
On 12/03/2012

Hi my name is Alex Kilpa from the Western Australian Maritime Museum. We are very interested in what happened to the Britomart hull and in particular any photos that exist relating to its hull and machinery. We have an example of a John Penn horizonal trunk engine used in this type of gunboat on display at our museum located in Fremantle Western Australia. Hoping someone can help ! Alex

This request has been copied to the secretary of the Newhaven Historical Society who may have some information. Richard (site Editor)

By Alex Kilpa
On 09/10/2013

I am publishing an article about William Courtney and his disaster of a shipyard in Greenwich and eventual bankruptcy.  Can send link.  He had a number of addresses in Blackheath and Greenwich - as did his mother.  Greenwich was then in Kent.


By Mary
On 02/12/2020

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.