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HMVS Cerberus. 1868 - article from Australia

If anyone can be of assistance, please get in touch with Ted Browne.

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Cerberus completed on the Tyne in 1869

Following the Crimean War 1854-56 there was a recognised Russian threat to Melbourne in Victoria Australia, which, with the boom of the Gold Rush years, was the richest City in the British Empire, in the Pacific.

The British and Victorian Colonial Governments agreed to jointly fund an armoured Warship for the defence of Port Philip Bay Melbourne.

Cerberus was designed by E. J. Reed, Chief Constructor of the Admiralty from 1863. She was built on the River Tyne and completed in 1868.


Cerberus steaming in Port Philip Bay

Cerberus was a revolutionary design, well armoured and with powerful 10 inch MLR guns in two centreline Cowper Coles Turrets. (today Cerberus has two of only three surviving Cowper Coles gun turrets in the world)In fact in Cerberus one sees the genesis of the design of all the future major Ironclad and Pre-Dreadnought Battleships of the Royal Navy, and the World, from C. 1870-1905.

Cerberus was fitted with temporary raised bulwarks and masts and sailed out to Australia via the Med. and the newly opened Suez Canal (the second Warship to pass through it) Arriving in Port Philip Bay in April 1871.


HMVS Cerberus and HMVS Childers
(First Class Torpedo Boat after a practice shoot C. 1890

For the next fifty years Cerberus gave good and faithful service, as Flagship of the Victorian Navy as HMVS Cerberus and, after the formation of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911, as HMAS Cerberus (as Port Philip Bay Guardship). In the 1870's and 80's Russia planned a raid on Melbourne if War had broken out between her and Britain and in that event Cerberus would have been a vital part of Melbourne defences. Men and guns from Cerberus took part in helping to defeat the Boxer Rebbelion in China in 1900. Two generations of Australian Naval sailors were trained on Cerberus.

In 1921 she was renamed HMAS PlatypusII and served as a Submarine Deport Ship. In 1924 she was sold for scrapping, but she proved too tough to scrap, her thick armour being too much for the ship breakers. So she was purchased by Black Rock Yacht Club for £150 for use as a breakwater.


One proposal for a restored Cerberus next to the preserved tall ship Polly Woodside

There she remains to this day, the Worlds last surviving Ironclad Monitor and, easily, the oldest ship to have served in the Royal Australian Navy. She is in danger of a major collapse in rough seas and plans exist to place external bracing around her, but she is in fact still in a condition where she could be moved ashore and restored to something like her former glory. Since the 1970's plans have come and gone to restore her, most failing on Government indifference and a -false- public impression that she is too far gone to restore.

Most active efforts to save her today are from Friends of the Cerberus which is always looking for more members.

She really is well worth saving as a unique part of both the Australian, and British, Naval heritage.

Ted Browne
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visitors since 15th February 2004