Towards the end of 1876, I was asked by the Commander of the Vernon (Torpedo School), Commander A. K. Wilson (afterwards Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson), if I cared to join the School with a view to taking charge of the instruction in the Whitehead Torpedo, and later to have command of the Vesuvius, a vessel that had been specially built to discharge Whitehead Torpedoes from a submerged tube right ahead. I accepted this offer after consulting the second Sea Lord, Sir Geoffrey Hornby.
The Torpedo School had only recently started and there were, at that time, no special torpedo lieutenants. After joining I was given two hours’ instruction in the Whitehead Torpedo, and was then told I had to take a class in forty-eight hours. The class consisted of Lord Charles Beresford, Lieutenant Payne-Gallwey, and two engineer officers. We had only just adopted the Whitehead Torpedo as a weapon of warfare, and it was then in its simplest form and consisted of 16-in. torpedoes with a single propeller. The first improvement was the adoption of twin screws, and this not only increased the speed from nine to twelve knots, but also gave the torpedo a larger range of action, namely, 1,200 instead of 800 yards. It was not long before all sorts of improvements came in, bringing, naturally, more complications, and at the present time, 1929, I think the inventor would hardly recognize his own child, except, of course, that the principle is the same. I wrote the original Manual on Whitehead Torpedoes, and for this purpose I had two draughtsmen who did all the necessary drawings under my directions.
The invention of the Whitehead Torpedo was brought about through an Austrian Lieutenant, Count Lupus, taking a model to John Whitehead, who was then a small shipbuilder and engineer at Fiume. This model was most crude; it had no means of propulsion and there was no mechanism to keep it at an even depth. Mr. Whitehead was really the inventor of the torpedo, Count Lupus had only the idea of a torpedo, being propelled below the water, carrying a charge which would explode on striking a ship. Mr. Whitehead thought this practical, and was much assisted in arriving at the depth-keeping gear by the clearness of the water at Fiume, where nearly everything on the bottom of the sea can be seen distinctly ten fathoms down.
The invention had to be offered first to the Austrians and then to the British for a certain sum of money, on condition that it should be kept absolutely secret. As far as I can remember, we paid £12,000 for it with the right of manufacturing and the condition of secrecy. When I took up the instruction, nobody but myself was allowed to see or work on the balance chamber, where the depth mechanism was fitted so I had to take it to pieces, clean, adjust, and put it together vie again. After being some time in the School I had virtually turned myself into an engineer. The Commander would not allow me to have any proper mechanicians and I had only the old armourers. The Commander’s idea was that the more breakdowns we had the more we should learn. In my opinion this was not a good principle to work on with machinery of such delicate nature.
At the end of a few months, I was given command of the Vesuvius, replacing a post captain, and before many, months had passed the Admiralty brought out regulations that lieutenants who specialized in torpedoes should receive extra pay; consequently, four lieutenants who were then instructors in the School, including myself, were all given first-class certificates. I remained in the Torpedo School for nearly three years and instructed hundreds of officers of all ranks, executive and engineer officers, in addition to which I had to carry out numerous experiments and trials with new models of the Whitehead Torpedo.
I served under two Captains, Arthur and Gordon, and found them always very pleasant to work with. Towards the end of my service there, the submerged torpedo on the broadside was coming to the front; it had originally started in the Acheron, later on I will give further information on this subject. In 1878, whilst I was at the Torpedo School, I married Kinbarra Swene Marrow. Towards the end of my time, I was surprised to receive a letter from Admiral Lord Clanwilliam, asking me if I would go as first torpedo lieutenant of his Flagship, the Inconstant, one of the ships to form a new Flying Squadron. I went at once to my Captain and told him. He said: “Oh, I do not think it is worth while your going, as the First Sea Lord told me you were to be promoted at the end of the year.” That meant in about two months’ time – but I thought that it would be better for me to go to sea. He saw the First Sea Lord about it, and the decision was that I should go. It was curious that another of my mess-mates was trying hard for this appointment, and told me that he thought he was going to get it – in fact, when he last spoke to me, he was still certain about it. I had to tell him that I had just received a letter offering me the appointment.
The Inconstant commissioned at Portsmouth on August 24th, 1880. The Captain was Penrose Fitzgerald, generally known as “Ruff,” and had been first lieutenant with me when I was in the Hercules. Parr was the Commander. We had started together in the Britannia as naval cadets, served in the Victoria for three years, then the Alert, and now again the Inconstant; when I was promoted to Commander he was four years senior to me, but I was promoted to Captain before him – such are the chances of naval promotion. Prince Louis of Battenberg and the renowned Percy Scott were two of the lieutenants. We had a very young crew, consisting chiefly of ordinary seamen and boys, the idea being to instruct them in the art of seamanship. At that time many of the senior officers considered that the best way to train the sailor was to teach him seamanship. My early service was in ships with sails, therefore I knew more about the art of seamanship than anything else, but in my opinion the time had come when seamanship was not really necessary for the men who manned our modern ships.
The squadron consisted of the Inconstant, Bacchante, Cleopatra, Tourmaline, and Garnet. Lord Charles Scott commanded the Bacchante and he had T.R.H. Prince Edward and Prince George (George V) as midshipmen on board. The cruise was Lisbon, St. Vincent, Monte Video, Falklands, and through the Straits of Magellan to Australia.
We had the usual ceremony of crossing the line. Neptune came aboard and all those who had not crossed before were shaved; amongst others were the two Princes and Prince Louis of Battenberg. I was acting as one of the bears – it was amusing to note the way in which the different individuals took the shaving and ducking.
We had quite a pleasant cruise to the Falkland Islands, touching at Lisbon, St. Vincent, and Monte Video. We were almost always under sail, and arrived at the Falkland Islands, January, 1881. After we had been there twenty-four hours the Admiral received a telegram ordering us to the Cape of Good Hope, so instead of going through the Magellan Straits to the Pacific, we went east; the reason being that British troops had just had a severe reverse at Majuba Hill, and we were ordered there in case of necessity. The Boers had stormed the Hill with great bravery and had driven off the British Force with very severe loss. Amongst those who fell, were General Colley and Commander Romilly of the Flagship, who was in command of the Naval Brigade.
On the way across to the Cape, anticipating that we might have to land, we organized landing parties, and all our attention was taken up with drilling and getting our younger men accustomed to firing off rifles. In case of landing I was to have been in command of the field guns. We duly arrived at Simon’s Bay and remained there for some time, while negotiations were proceeding between our Government and Kruger, President of the Boers. In March, 1881, whilst at Simon’s Bay, I was promoted to Commander, having been only nine and a half years lieutenant, which was very lucky, as lieutenants were running twelve to fourteen years. Being promoted I had to leave the ship and go home; I was very sorry to leave, as I liked the Admiral, Captain, and all the officers, and we pulled well together. The wardroom officers manned the boat that took me on shore, and I really felt sad. I went home in the Pretoria, one of the Union Line, and had a very pleasant passage.