The HMS Pandora was a Pelorus-class cruiser of the Royal Navy. Designed by Sir William White (who testified at the Waratah Inquiry), she was well armed and served in the 'overseas' fleet policing the African coast. She displaced 2135 tons, 328 ft in length, 37 ft broad, armed with eight QF 4 inch 25 pounder guns, eight 3 pounder guns, three machine guns and two 18 inch torpedo tubes. Power came from triple expansion steam engines, giving the Pandora 20 knots. She was launched 17 January 1900, and crewed by 224 men.
Initially involved in naval manoeuvres and later, propeller trials, by 1901 she was commissioned to relieve the Melita on Malta. Pandora was deployed to Africa (1908) under the command of Captain Davidson, with a crew of 217 - 13 officers, 21 marines and a boy. The following are extracts from:
September 1908 Petty Officer Second Class William O’Brien left Dublin on the 9.20pm boat bound for Devonport and Portsmouth, the Royal Navy bases in the south of England.
10 September he had been ‘warned for draft' to Pandora, fitting out at Portsmouth for service on Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa station.
25 September, after a short spell in the Royal Naval barracks in Devonport, he travelled to Portsmouth and joined Pandora . . . 'found her in a very dirty condition and badly in need of a scrub out’.
In Portsmouth 9am, 6 October 1908 Pandora, was commissioned for service on the Cape station.
Before she could sail, however, she had to be scraped and painted white, coaled - 450 tons, a task that took from 6am to 4.15pm, 9th October - provisioned and inspected by Captain Hyde Parker.
14th October the crew were ‘paid a month’s advance' which was very welcome. 'Most of us being on the rocks’.
16th October the ship ‘left farewell jetty & proceeded to Spithead, swung for adjustment of compasses, carried out anchor trials and afterwards a repair trial which proved unsuccessful . . .’.
Finally, 17th October, Pandora ‘weighed & proceeded with trials 10.40am. Anchored and discharged dockyard officials, weighed & shaped course for Madeira . . .’
In Madeira, 22 October 1908, ‘the smell of cigarette smoke prevails everywhere & everybody appears to be tarnation lasey [sic], Miles’s beer at 4d per bottle is a very nice and refreshing drink but too much of it is not beneficial . . .’.
Next port of call was Las Palmas,
The responsibilities of ‘showing the flag’ had their social as well as their political dimensions. The navy possessed, as John Bach put it in his history of the Australia station, 1821–1913, a powerful mystique. It was, furthermore, ‘part of the self-image of Englishmen at home and abroad, a visible symbol of the Imperial power far more charismatic, so far as colonists were concerned, than those lesser vehicles, the colonial governors . . .’.
St Helena 14 November ‘Officers gave an "At Home" to the big pots of the island & an exhibition of bayonet fighting & boxing was given for their amusement’.
The crew’s amusements, however, were of a less formal nature:
Walfisch (now Walvis Bay), the principal port of Namibia, was at this time a small British enclave administered by the Cape Colony and surrounded by German South West Africa, annexed by the latter power in 1884.
‘The natives are Hottentots & number about 700, there are only about 30 or 40 Europeans’.
O’Brien noted, ‘a bird of the Penguin species & about the size of a duck . . . they are fond of swimming around the ship looking for scraps to be thrown them & are so taken that they allow themselves to be lifted out of the water & carried inboard. They seem just as much at home on board ship, as in the water, they run about the decks standing up straight like a man and are very amusing.’
Having reached her station, the following months of Pandora’s tour of duty were to be spent in almost continuous passage up and down the east coast of Africa as far north as Zanzibar. The routine changed little: cricket, football and shooting matches against teams provided by local British residents, shore drill, sea exercises involving ‘burning searchlights’ and firing torpedoes, mock raids on shore stations, all punctuated by the inescapable coaling and consequent scraping and painting of the ship.
A similarly frequent and almost equally unpopular activity was the opening of Pandora to visitors:
15 January 1909 in East London ‘hundreds visited the ship & made themselves a general nuisance’
20 May 1909 Pandora ‘landed an escort & funeral party in the afternoon to take part in King Edward VII’s memorial service in the Cathedral. The representatives of all the powers were present. Pandora and Piedmont fired 101 minute guns’
26 March 1909 Pandora moored in the harbour of Beira.
The following day, ‘Ship’s company were invited to a smoking concert by the British residents of Beira, about 100 men landed for the turn out & had a ripping time. Several fine speeches were made & some good songs were sung and Lager Beer was flowing like water. British Consul presided as Master of Ceremonies, the Portuguese commandant was also present . . .'
There were, however, more serious events to record in the course of Pandora’s routine.
1 August 1909, when the cruiser was in Durban together with the Forte, ‘S.S. Waratah of the Blue Anchor Line from Durban to Cape Town with about 300 passengers & crew reported missing’.
Forte sailed in search of her. After taking on 540 tons of coal, Pandora followed the next day.
‘4th midnight. Spoke S.S. Paprika of N. Zealand Shipping Company, reported no news of missing ship.'
'5th. Very bad weather.'
'8th. Shipped several heavy seas which did considerable damage to the deck fittings.'
'9th. Ship rolling heavily, nearly lost 1st cutter which filled up at davits, took on board several heavy seas which flooded stoke holds & after compartments & filled up all the cabins aft. Ship behaved as well as could be expected but on more than one occasion it seemed that nothing could prevent her from foundering.’
(This account highlights the dangers of the sea off the Southern African coast and how precariously vessels negotiated such weather, often sustaining significant damage or foundering.)
Pandora returned to Durban short of coal and with no news of the missing vessel.
10 August she put to sea again for a second search, in the course of which the ship’s dog, Dora, ‘gave birth to 10 pups, 5 sons & 5 daughters’, but no trace of Waratah was found.
In Simons Town 27 August 1910 Pandora ‘slipped buoy and left for E. London. Cheers were exchanged between Terra Nova & Pandora, Terra Nova crew sang Old Lang Syne as the ships were passing each other’.
She sailed for Beira 8th September, where ‘ship’s company were invited to a smoker on shore & had a good evening’s enjoyment. Colonel O’Sullivan [O’Brien’s emphasis] took the chair’.
The ship returned to Simons Town, and 5 October ‘C in C came on board to say goodbye. Left for St Helena at 11.45. Fleet manned ship and cheered.’
St Helena 13th ‘H.M.S. Aeolus arrived with reliefs on board’.
At this point O’Brien’s log ends abruptly.
William O’Brien subsequently saw service at the World War I Battle of Jutland on the battleship Collingwood, on which, according to family tradition, the midshipmen under his charge included two future kings of England, Edward VIII and George VI.
Unable to forsake the sea, on retiring from the navy he became a customs officer in Burghead in the north of Scotland.
Pandora was sold for scrap in 1913.