Iron Duke & Princess Charlotte | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Iron Duke & Princess Charlotte

Iron Duke & Princess Charlotte
Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Wednesday, January 1, 1873


#4 is one of the Navy's hulks. Behind it, #6 may be a second hulk. And over on the far right, in the background behind #7 is another hulk.

The hulk I've heard about before is HMS Tamar. But this page shows there were actually many different hulks used in Hong Kong in the 19th and early-20th centuries:

Mindenex 741842-1861seamen's hospital
Alligatorex 281848-1865seamen's hospital
Herculesex 741853-1865army depot
Melvilleex 74
hospital ship
Princess Charlotte
ex 110
Victor Emmanuel
base ship
ex 80
army hospital
1868-1874hospital ship
hospital ship/mooring hulk 1895=Siren
turret ship
guard ship/depot ship
base ship
submarine depot ship
drill ship
drill ship Cornflower

To find the other ships' names, one suggestion is to search the local newspapers in 1873 for Iron Duke. Once you know the date they were both in harbour, you can move a few days before and after, noting the arrivals and departures of ships that were reported in the newspapers each day. That would give you a list of the ships in harbour when the photo was taken, and would be a good starting point to identify the others.

Hi it appears Princess Charlotte was a receiving ship in Hong Kong from 1857-1875. Receiving ships were used to house newly drafted sailors until they could be assigned a ship. She's famous for an accident at her launch in 1925 which killed 40 people (

She was replaced by Victor Emmanuel, originally launched as HMS Repulse in 1855. Incidentally Commmodore John Parish commanded both vessels for a time (presumably as senior naval officer), whose name was lent to Mount Parish where the naval hospital stood in Wanchai.

HMS Tamar, launched in 1863, visited HK a couple of times before replacing the Victor Emmanuel in 1897 as the receiving ship. She was scuttled during the Japanese invasion by the British.

The Iron Duke was an Audacious class battleship designed for foreign stations. According to this website: - the Iron Duke replaced HMS Audacious as flagship of the China station around 1874. The two large battleships with a single funnel on the far left and right of the photo could be those two, though I'm guessing.

Princess Charlotte must be the large hulk centre. she was a first rate ship - the largest and most prestigious of British warships, with more than 100 guns. HMS Victory, moored in Portsmouth, is the only left existing and Charlotte would have resembled that only bigger:

melville was a hospital ship sold in 1873 to raise funds to construct the naval hospital in Wanchai. With some 7o-odd guns it could be the older-looking hulk with two rows of gunports in the background on the far right 

By chance this week I was cc'd on a message to Dr Stephen Davies. He's Museum Director at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, so I took the chance to ask his opinion:

I’ve had a look at the attributions and they seem generally fairly sound – certainly nothing that without extensive study I’d want to take issue with. I think the suggestion that there are two Audacious Class central battery ironclads wrong. They are quite different sizes, have different sterns and utterly different bows (slight ram on left, clipper on right).

In any case the year would have to be 1874 since it was not until that year that any of the class was on the China Station (see and

Additional comparison of the two ships – one (on the left) has topmasts and topgallants in place, the other has only the topmast on the fore and masts only on main and mizzen. An interesting correlation – and maybe the right of the ships in the image – is the presence in HK in late 1874 (arr. 16.11.74 dep. 6.1.75) of HMS Challenger on her historic round the world voyage. She was a steam frigate and the general look of the right ship would fit. Perhaps as pertinent, while she was in HK she refitted and exchanged captains.

Which makes me realise how little I know about old ships! Thanks Stephen,

Regards, David


Ive traced my great grandfather born 1844 portsea,england to this ship.He was in the royal navy as quartermaster on the princess charlotte in the 1871 england census.His name is John thomas Maslin Aged 27..The census at the national archives for 1871 has all the list of officers,men,boys,marines and all other persons on board her majestys ship the princess charlotte on the night of Sunday april 2nd 1871 .She was in hong kong harbour.John might still have been on her in the photograph although he did move around to lots of ships and he ended up in the coastguard service at teignmouth,and dartmouth.The commander of this ship at 1871 was Francis Shortt commander 2nd class. aged 48.There are 13 pages of the big crew.Hope this is of interest to someone.Regards.Rosalind Sparkes.

I'll add that the Tamar, far from having visited HK only a two or three times before becoming the base nominal depot ship, in fact came at least 14 times, including on either what was her maiden voyage or the next one afterwards in 1865. At least twice the late 1860s and early 1870s, until the rump of the garrison was withdrawn in 1874, she shuttled tropps between HK and Yokohama.