The 1892 visit of H.M.S. Blake – more social than strategic

The occasions of pomp and circumstance on Prince Edward Island were much reduced when it became a mere province rather than a colony in 1873. For the Island the change from colony to province may have seemed like a demotion and placed it at one further remove from the royal presence. Never the less the Island continued to be a proud member of the British Empire under Victoria and took every opportunity to celebrate the fact.

First Class Cruiser H.M.S. Blake, flagship of the Norther American Squadron

This was never more true than when the Royal Navy paid a call. Although the summer headquarters of the American and West Indies fleet had been removed from Halifax to Bermuda by 1890 the naval presence and HM Dockyard in Halifax Nova Scotia meant that visits in the region continued.

Second Class Cruiser H.M.S. Magicienne

One of the most significant of these Charlottetown courtesy calls was the visit of the 1st class cruiser H.M.S. Blake in August 1892.   The Blake was the flagship of the North American Squadron under the command of Admiral Sir J.O. Hopkins. Although the vessel had been launched in 1889 her attachment to the North American Squadron was her first commission. The Blake was a new class of cruiser at a time when technological advances forced many and rapid design changes. She was a protected cruiser which was designed with armour plating to protect the engines, boilers, and magazines from the damage from shells exploding in the upper parts of the ship. The Royal Navy at the time was the largest, most powerful and most modern fleet in the world and the Blake was the most recent design.  She was a 9000 ton vessel, 375 feet in length by 65 feet in width and had an impressive inventory of firepower as well as four torpedo launching tubes.  Her service complement was 575 officers and crew. The Blake was accompanied on her visit to Charlottetown by HMS Magicienne, a second class cruiser launched only a year earlier. She was considerably smaller at 263 feet and 3000 tons and carried 222 sailors and officers.

With almost 800 visitors on the two ships, and officers of the highest rank it is not surprising that Charlottetown pulled out all of the stops in their efforts to capitalize on the naval visit.  Besides being a show of naval force the Royal Navy took advantage of the occasion to participate in a wide range of cultural and recreational activities which truly flattered Charlottetown as a full member of an Empire on which the sun never set.

3218.96 HMS Blake2

HMS Blake in Charlottetown Harbour 1894. Photo by H.B. Sterling. Collection PARO.

Arriving on a Tuesday, the first evening in port the Blake entertained the populace by illuminating the town and harbour with its powerful search lights. That afternoon the vessels had been officially welcomed by a delegation including Aide de Camp and Private Secretary of the Lieutenant Governor, the Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, and His Worship Mayor Haviland, who had the misfortune to fall into the water on his way out to the warship.   The following day the ship and shore activities began in earnest. The band of the HMS Blake was scheduled to play in Victoria Park and the Officers challenged the members of the Victoria Park Cricket Club to a match on the park’s cricket pitch.   That evening Officers were entertained at a ball at Brighton Villa, the residence of Chief Justice W.W. Sullivan and Mrs. Sullivan. The dancing did not conclude until the small hours of the following morning.

On Thursday a team from the crews of the Blake and Magicienne participated in the Caledonia Club’s annual highland games where to the delight of the crowd they were handily trounced in the tug of war event by a team of local Islanders of Scots descent.  A planned tennis match with Officers versus the city’s gentlemen was postponed owning to inclement weather. That evening the Officers were entertained at Riverside, the home of Mrs. Louis H. Davies. Again, the dancing continued until after midnight. Other ranks and townsfolk celebrated at the Masonic Concert held at the Philharmonic Hall – “A night with the Jolly Tars” – where they were entertained by songs, dancing, and recitations by a cast which included seamen, stewards and boatmen from the naval vessels.

The tennis match at Victoria Park the next day saw the naval officers roundly defeating the members of the local club who according to the Daily Examiner “appeared to be having an “off-day” – perhaps caused by keeping late hours.”

The Magicienne had left the harbour on the 11th and so the crew missed the biggest event of the week on Friday when a “hop”* was held on the flagship. In the afternoon the guests from the town were ferried out to the ship on cutters and steam launches. Once aboard they were greeted by the Admiral on the Quarter Deck over which a large awing had been erected. Music was provided by the ship’s band and a light luncheon was served. Visitors had the opportunity to tour the vessel and a couple of extra dances beyond the schedule were squeezed in before the visitors were transported back to shore at about seven o’clock.

In addition to the formal sporting and recreational activities Charlottetown would have welcomed parties of ratings on shore leave who would have taken advantage of all of the entertainments, both licit and illicit which the town was capable of offering.

On the 13th yet another dance was held for the Officers at Government House.  After the prolonged engagement with the patriotic citizens of Charlottetown who obviously felt it their bounden patriotic duty as good Victorians to keep both officers and crew entertained, if not exhausted, it may have been a relief for those on the Blake to put away their dancing shoes and head for the next outpost of the Empire.

The Blake had a relatively short history. She returned to Prince Edward Island in 1893 and 1894 for additional visits. In 1895 she was transferred to the Channel Fleet. By 1900 she was technologically behind the times and was used as a temporary transport. She was later converted to a depot ship for a destroyer flotilla and served in the Great War in that capacity. She was scrapped in 1922.

* I thought that the word “hop” to describe a casual dance was a modern term…think soda shops and sock hops…. but it goes back to the late 1700s. Who knew?

2 thoughts on “The 1892 visit of H.M.S. Blake – more social than strategic

  1. Edward MacDonald

    What a great website! One small annotation. By 1892, W.W. Sullivan was Chief Justice rather than Premier, and so, presumably entertained RN crews in that capacity.

    Reply

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