Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"The Empire Cruise" - The Visit of 'HMS Dauntless' to Bluff, May 1924

Map of "The Empire Cruise" 1923 to 1924
[Source "The Empire Cruise" by V.C. Scott O'Connor, 1925]

During 1923-24, 'HMS Hood' and the "Special Service Squadron" of the British Royal Navy sailed around the world on "The Empire Cruise", visiting many ports of call in the countries which had fought with Britain during the First World War. It would have been an amazing adventure for the men, despite the extended period away from home, family and friends. The squadron would initially be made up of nine vessels, namely the Battle cruisers 'HMS Hood' and 'HMS Repulse', and five Light Cruisers being 'HMS Delhi', 'HMS Danae', 'HMS Dragon', 'HMS Dauntless' and 'HMS Dunedin'. The Chatham Class 'HMAS Adelaide' representing the Australian Royal Navy would join The Empire Cruise in Sydney.

The Squadron sailed from Devonport England on the 27th November 1923 and by May 1924 had arrived in New Zealand waters. Vessels were then despatched to various ports in the Dominion but only Auckland would see the full complement of (now) eight vessels. This was, however, well short of the impressive sixteen American Battle Cruisers of the still famous "Great White Fleet" which visited Auckland in 1908. The Danae Class Light Cruiser "HMS Dauntless" of 4,650 tons would be despatched to the port of [Campbelltown] Bluff, at the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand.

'HMS Dauntless' rounding Stirling Point and the
lighthouse before entering Bluff Harbour.
Taken 5th May 1924
[From my own collection]

This "Light Cruiser" was still a formidable fighting ship. She had originally been ordered under the "War Emergency Programme" of 1916, being laid down at Jarrow in North East England in January 1917 and launched in April 1918. Six Yarrow-type water-tube boilers driving two Parson's geared steam turbines could, through larger low-revolution propellers (for greater efficiency), propel the vessel at a quite respectable 29 knots (54 km/h). Her armament consisted of six 6-inch guns, two 3-inch guns, two 40 mm "pom poms" and twelve 21 inch torpedoes with four triple launchers. Her hull carried 3 inch thick armour amidships (the greatest area of risk), with lesser - but normally adequate - protection in other areas.  

'HMS Dauntless' entering Bluff Harbour after
rounding Stirling Point.
Taken 5th May 1924
[From my own collection]

The arrival of the light cruiser in Bluff Harbour at 2.50 p.m. on Monday the 5th May 1924 was occasioned by an "enthusiastic reception". The arrival at the Heads was photographed by Mr E.A. Phillips of the rather grandly named "Vice-Regal Studio, Winton". Mr Phillips would later became quite well known in Southland and Otago through till the 1950's for his long panoramic group photos using a rotating camera with synchronized roll film. But for the Officers and Crew of 'HMS Dauntless' it would be a very busy couple of days.

A closer view of 'HMS Dauntless' as she enters Bluff Harbour.
Taken 5th May 1924
[From my own collection]

"...official calls occupied the remainder of the afternoon, and this evening a social function was held at Bluff... A comprehensive programme of entertainment has been drawn up."

HMS Dauntless moored at the wharf, Bluff
Under the bridge can be seen the rear of the
hanger she was built with but removed in 1920.
Taken 6th May 1924.
[Credit : Bluff Maritime Museum]

The following day was, thankfully, accompanied by a fine late autumnal day.

"...To-day large parties of bluejackets were taken on motor tours to all parts of Southland, the visitors being lavishly entertained at Riverton, Otautau, Winton, Gore, and Wyndham. In fact the whole countryside was en fête to welcome the officers and men. On the ship itself an “at home” was largely attended. Several parties of officers have been taken to Lake Te Anau on a two days’ shooting expedition. To-morrow a ceremonial march will take place in Invercargill.”

Officers and Ratings from 'HMS Dauntless', pictured
at Riverton Rocks during their day excursion.
Taken 6th May 1924
[From my own collection]

It is of one of these "motor tours", specifically to the  seaside town of Riverton Rocks on the southern coast, that features in the group photo above, also being taken by Mr Phillips. My Great Great Uncle William Watson of Heddon Bush (who appears in the centre of this photo) took an active part in this day excursion, additionally providing transport in his own car. He obviously wished to play his part in showing his gratitude for the great courtesy the British Royal Navy were paying to Southland by way of their visit. One wonders if he also regaled them with tales of his own experience of life on the ocean waves, having been safely delivered after being shipwrecked off the rocky Irish Coast in the immigrant sailing ship "Wild Deer" on his way to New Zealand in 1883.

A close-up of some of the Officers and Ratings of 'HMS Dauntless',
taken at Riverton Rocks, 6th May 1924. My Great Great Uncle
William Watson of Heddon Bush appears second from left.
Unfortunately I have no other names. Considering the
difference in ranks, Officers and ratings appear quite 'chummy'.
[From my own collection]

The Railways Department issued special excursion fares to Bluff for school children in Standards III (if aged over 11), IV, V and VI, along with "teachers and members of school committees travelling to take charge of and control the children." Obviously a Light Warship was not a safe place for younger children to roam about! Depending on the numbers attending, special school excursion trains would also be run if required. Unfortunately I cannot ascertain the total number of visitors to the cruiser but it would be quite considerable.   

At 4.25 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, the 8th May 1924, and after a very full two days of activities and events, 'H.M.S. Dauntless'  steamed out of Bluff Harbour, rejoining "HMS Dunedin" (which had been visiting the City of Dunedin) outside the Dunedin Heads to jointly continue their voyage north to Auckland. The vessel and the men on board had ably achieved their objective, being both a good-will visit and to 'fly the flag' on behalf of Britain and her Empire.

An original Cap Tally
[Source : Frank S Taylor]

Now being an older vessel, 'HMS Dauntless' had been transferred to the reserve fleet by 1935. But she would still prove useful, being recommissioned and returned to active service during World Two, serving in the South Atlantic then mainly in the Indian Ocean where she kept an eye out for German merchant shipping to and from Batavia (now known as Jakarta) off the Indonesian coast.

An "exploded" deck plan of 'HMS Dauntless', drawn 1945
[Source : Frank S Taylor]

Returning to Britain in 1942, she underwent a refit at Portsmouth before being transferred to the Eastern Fleet. Becoming a training ship she was again placed on the reserve list until finally being broken up for scrap at Inverkeithing on the Firth of Forth Scotland in February 1946. She had served her country well.

Copyright : The images used in this Blog may not be reproduced for commercial use without the express permission of the writer. Non-commercial use is generally acceptable provided suitable acknowledgement is given including (in all cases) a link back to or acknowledgement to this page. Kindly advise me of any non-commercial use as I am always interested in how my images are used, my email address appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Bibliography / Rārangi Pukapuka :
  • Watson Family Photographs (held by the writer)
  • "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
  • Various Internet sources (acknowledged as above)


  1. Great post! Especially like the photos from Bluff!

    1. Thank you Lemeul. My 'Dauntless' related photos will eventually go either to the Bluff Maritime Museum or the Invercargill Public Library Archives, all great local history.


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