Star of the show: HMS Duke of Wellington (1852)
When reports on the French building the Napoleon, first steam-powered, screw propelled steamship of the line came out to British naval intelligence, it caused some turmoil in the admiralty and the house of commons as well. In 1948, when the ship was launched, the Royal Navy has already ordered many conversions of sailing ships while on the stocks, and in 1851, it was the case for the Windsor Castle, already in construction at Pembroke Dockyard. It was back in 1849, the first of a new class of giant “wooden walls”, heavy four-deckers, the finest designed yet sailing ships of the line, representing the pinnacle of their breed.
The Windsor Castle was initially designed by Sir William Symonds, but plans and construction were supervised later by his assistant surveyor, John Eyde, and aided in 1852 by capt. Baldwin Walker. But in december 1951, the Admiralty launched a race for a steam-driven battlefleet, the sooner the better.
To shorten all delays, many ships in various building or acheivement stages, were converted on the stocks, receiving a steam engine, and a screw, already tested with success in various ships, the first beeing the British SS Archimedes in 1839…
HMS Duke of Wellington at Keyham yard
Conversion of the Windsor Castle, which has already been launched, urged the need to cut the hull in half and lenghtened it by 9 meters to accomodate the steam engine and room for hundred of tons of coal. Total lenght of the hull reached then 73 meters (240 feet, without the bowsprit), and thanks to this early “jumboisation”.
The broadside gained some extra artillery, making herself after re-launching and re-christening (14 september 1852) HMS Duke of Wellington, in honor to the most important man in recent British History, just gone the very same day, the most powerful warship afloat. It dwarved the famous Victory, five generations older, and was on par with the most impressive flagships in the French and Russian fleets, proudly bearing the general’s bust as a figurehead.
Completion came in january 1853, and the ship tonnage and size immediately captivated the British newspapers. With nearly 5900 tons, and a hundred meters overall, and broadside of 131 guns, totalling 382 tons alone, the ship was a masterpiece, and steam, at least nominally, greatly added to its potential, however its superb sailing capabilities were unchanged, as it was rigged for a maximal efficiency, demonstrated a 10,3 knots under sail alone during 1853 trials. The beam was 60ft (18,3m)and depth 27ft (8,2m).
The mainmast culminated to 55m above the quarterdeck. As it was customary for the time, the hull section was trapezoidal for a better stability. After its first sorties as Flagship of the channel fleet Western squadron, it became the flagship of Vice-admiral Sir Charles Napier, heading for the baltic sea. War just broke out with Russia. In 1853, it returned for the next operations in the baltics, as rear admiral Richard S. Dundas flagship, bombarding Sveaborg fortress.
After the war, she returned in Home waters to be paid off. Indeed, the hasty conversion and steam vibrations caused stresses on the hull, to the point that decomissioning as a mobile warship was the only option. She became a familiar sight for local sailors and an attaction for the photographs, usually called “Napier’s flagship”.
As Portsmouth saluting ship and naval HQ, she was kept moored until she was paid off again in 1888, but remained anchored there, partly restored and decorated for Queen Victoria Birthday fleet review. It last commanding officer was Rear-Admiral Sir David beatty, Britain battlecruiser force apostle. It was dismantled in 1904, its timber probably still part of Thames foreshore at Charlton.