“Men live there” Rudyard Kipling

HMS “Pelorus” 1897

"Pelorus" at Kingstown (now Dun Loagaire) Ireland in 1897. Photo: Francis Frith collection.

"So it comes that next time you see, even far off, one of Her Majesty's cruisers, all your heart goes out to her. Men live there.” Rudyard Kipling, writing about "Pelorus".


The 1/96th scale model of “Pelorus” as she appeared when brand new in 1897.


A view looking aft and showing the forest of ventilators that characterised these ships.


 “Pelorus” was a British 3rd class protected cruiser, built  at Sheerness dockyard and commissioned on 30th March 1897, displacing 2135 tons and capable of 20 knots. She had a crew 224 men and was armed with eight 4 inch guns, eight 3 pdr, 3 machine guns  and two 18-inch torpedo tubes.


Pelorus” was designed for long range cruising as well as a more traditional role of protecting the Channel Squadron from torpedo boats. “Pelorus” and her 8 sisters were capable of sustained high speeds from two 2500HP triple expansion engines (7000 HP with forced draft). This was the time of the ‘battle of the boilers’, when various types of water tube boilers were being tried against the traditional fire tube or Scotch boiler. The 9 ships of the “Pelorus” class were fitted with 4 different designs of boiler, not all of which were successful. “Pelorus”’s Normand water tube boilers must have been reasonably reliable since she completed a 50,000 mile commission in 1906-8 without recorded problems, burning 10,000 tons of coal in the process.


(Sister ship “Pegasus” was a less happy steamer and it was indeed boiler trouble that caused her to be laid up in September 1914 in Zanzibar harbour when she was surprised by the German Cruiser “Konigsburg”, becoming the only “Pelorus” class ship to fall victim to enemy action.). There is more information here.


"Pelorus" with Jeremy's "Cerberus" on the occasion of the latter's first flotation trial, complete with mock-up superstructure.


Pelorus”  and “Mars” sailing together at the Kirklees Model Boat Club open day, July 2008. (Click picture for larger image)


As “The first of a new type”, “Pelorus” gained the attention of Rudyard Kipling since her captain, Edward Henry Bayly, was a friend of the writer. Thus it was that Kipling went twice to sea in “Pelorus”, first in 1897 when she was brand new and again a year later when a number of modifications had been carried out. Kipling gave us his unique account of life on board this marvelous little ship in his “A Fleet in being”, a tribute to the Channel Squadron. Kipling concludes his account of life in “Pelorus” with the following moving words: “So it comes that next time you see, even far off, one of Her Majesty's cruisers, all your heart goes out to her. Men live there.”


"Pelorus" was one of the many ships present at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review on 26th June 1897 as this log page (2Mb) shows. On that day her crew might have witnessed “Turbinia’s” exploit, an event that would change the course of Naval history for ever. Also in the great lines of ships (4Mb) was the battleship “Mars”, so the possibility of re-creating the great day in miniature comes a step closer – just 150 more ships to build!


"Pelorus" and "Mars" at Anglia Model Marine Club's display in August 2008 at Holcot, Northamptonshire. (Click picture for larger image)


In 1899 Pelorus led the Channel Squadron into Killary Harbour on the west coast of Ireland and was captured on one of William Lawrence’s series of photographs of West Coast life at the time. The original of this beautiful picture is held by the Lawrence Collection in Dublin and has been studied extensively by the Sherriff of Dublin, Brendan Walsh. Brendan has kindly shared some of his research with me and the identification of “Pelorus” in the photograph led directly to the decision to model this particular ship. (I should add that it was this photograph, displayed on the wall of the pub in Leenaun at the head of the Killary, which first drew my attention to the glorious spectacle of the Victorian Navy many years ago).



The Channel Squadron at Anchor in Killary Harbour, County Mayo, Ireland on Sunday, October 8th, 1899. “Pelorus” is in the foreground and “Mars” is amongst the battleships anchored to seaward. Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Collection, Temple Bar, Dublin.


Later, "Pelorus" was attached to the South Atlantic squadron based at Simonstown and became the first British warship to travel the Amazon to Manaos and on as far as Iquitos, Peru, a distance of over 2000 miles. The story of this commission and the Amazon cruise, when the ship sailed so close to shore that individual birds and animals could be studied, is told in another fascinating book, “Across a Continent in a Man-of-War” by one of her Petty Officers, E. E. Highams. While in Manaos a local musician even composed a special march, the “Pelorus March”, in the ships’ honour. This book is available to read online here courtesy of the University of California.


You can read “A Fleet in Being” in .pdf format here (10 Mb .pdf file) or online here courtesy of the University of Toronto. The Kipling Society’s notes, written by  Rear Admiral P. W. BROCK, C.B., D.S.O. in 1961, make fascinating reading about the navy of the period and can be found here courtesy of the Kipling Society.


The model "Pelorus" is built to 1/96th scale using a glass fibre hull model made for “Pegasus” by Dean’s Marine. Superstructure is scratch built based on Admiralty plans and photographs of the ship when new at Sheerness Dockyard. The model is powered by two 385 sized motors using an 8 cell 9.6v 4.3Ah NiMH battery from the very helpful people at Component Shop UK. Full power gives an impressive speed, far too fast for scale, but showing the beautiful lines of the Victorian hull to good effect. The motors draw 1.5A max combined, giving a battery life of 2Hr or so at full power! Radio is Futaba 6EX 2.4 Ghz, a revelation in freedom from glitches, runaways and the nuisance of frequency pegging. The hull is fully sealed fore and aft for seaworthiness and battery access is via a single slot in the well deck under the funnel uptake structure.



Much of the detail (yet to be completed!) in “Pelorus” is based on surviving shipbuilder’s models since contemporary photography is usually taken from too far away. In particular, models of the Cruiser “Good Hope” in the reserve collection at Duxford and the battleship “Russell” on display at the IWM in London, both in Victorian colours, have yielded much information. I’m most grateful to museum staff for allowing me to photograph these two ships, and for allowing me access to the IWM’s amazing photographic collection. It’s through these surviving models and associated photographs the memory of the  Royal Navy of 110 years ago lives on, and long may it do so.




Who or what was ‘Pelorus’?


In nautical parlance, a Pelorus is a sight or pair of sights attached to a compass rose, allowing lookouts to read off the relative bearings of distant objects. The name Pelorus (thought to be pronounced Pel-Orus, as in Iron Ore) is said to have been that of Hannnibal’s Pilot in the second century BC. There is an excellent article here discussing the origins of the name. An earlier HMS Pelorus was famous for discoveries in New Zealand and has her own web site here.