Transport to Another World: HMS Tamar and the Sinews of Empire

Submitted by stephenD on Wed, 05/25/2022 - 18:23

The book places the story of HMS Tamar into the larger pictures of the expansion and decline of the British Empire and, in the post-war period, of the after effects of that empire, especially in the post-colonial era. It also places the Tamar in the context of a unique and little studied, 50-year experiment in which the Royal Navy designed and operated troopships as commissioned warships, and developed early systems of amphibious warfare that were not subsequently built upon.

The key players are the Royal Naval troopship that in 1898 became the Royal Navy's base depot ship in Hong Kong, its successor 'stone frigate' from 1947 until 1997, and the remains of the wreck of the old ship, found off the Wan Chai waterfront in 2013 that the government of Hong Kong has ever since been resolutely refusing to acknowledge happened. 

Many common errors about the old ship are corrected, like the exact date of her first arrival in Hong Kong, and the precise dates of her subsequent 17 port calls 1868-1895, until she returned to Hong Kong for good on 30th September 1895. New light is cast on the discontinous nature of her base depot ship service in Hong Kong when, in early 1914, she was due for scrapping and her place was taken by the obsolescent battleship HMS Triumph. It proved only a brief hiatus when the exigencies of WW1 gave the Tamar a new lease of life and the Triumph a new warlike purpose. The four occasions when the ship was nearly sent to the scrapyard are identified.

The book has 52 illustrations, several being images of the old Tamar that have had scant public circulation, if any at all, and that trace the evolution of her appearance, including her unique sex-change (a new figurehead) in 1884.

There are five appendices. All of the possibly eleven Royal Naval ships that have been or are at present called Tamar are identified, including the hitherto unremarked HM Ships Tamar II and Tamar III, the second of which was the first ship name given to Singapore's emerging new naval base in 1931. All the 80+ trooping voyages that took her over 800,000 nautical miles in her 32 years of service as a trooper, are given with dates, all ports of call and approximate distances of the voyages. There is a list of every identifiable British Army unit that had more than a handful of personnel carried on the Tamar: a list that extends to 101 regiments and corps representing something between 60% and 75% of the then British army's order of battle. There is also is a list of all 66 commanders of the ship, as well as of every person in charge of the Royal Navy's shore presence in Hong Kong, from Thomas McKnight in 1841 to Commodore Peter J. Melson in 1997.

On the way, the book also gives an insight into the last century or so of the growth, development and eventual end of the Royal Naval presence in Hong Kong...and of the aftertaste that presence seems to have left on the official Hong Kong Government palate.

The book was published on 1st May 2022 by City University of Hong Kong Press, ISBN: 978-962-937-593-5, 530pp, +48pp illustrations.

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