Sinking of the Vanguard

Sinking of the 'Vanguard' 27th.August 1875.

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. The 'Vanguard' had been stationed at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) for four years and had just completed a summer season of training duties for some hundreds of Coastguards stationed around the Irish coasts. Most of these men were family men who endured two weeks of rigorous training, sorely missing their loved ones at home in the Coastguard stations. The Navy considered these exercises necessary to keep the men ready for active duty should the need arise.
From the last week in July 1875 the 1st.Reserve Squadron of the Royal Navy had conducted a a cruise around the coasts of Ireland. The object of the cruise was to test the efficiency of the gun crews at gunnery practice. The ships of the squadron were, Warrior, Defence, Hector, Achilles, Penelope and Iron Duke. All were full-rigged ironclads and were among the most modern of the day The cruise was nearly completed when they arrived in Dublin Bay at the end of August. The Defence returned to Lough Swilly, the Penelope to Sheerness.

HMS Vanguard 1870
HMS Vanguard 1870

HMS Vanguard


You can view the list containing the Names of Coastguards, their rank, their stations, and the dates of summer training aboard the H.M.S Vanguard in 1875.

It is with the kind permission of Chris Thomas that this is possible. His book "Lamentable Intelligence from the Admiralty" is shortly to be published. It describes the sinking of the 'Vanguard' off the Wicklow Coast.

View List Here

During the Summer months 350 Coastguards in Ireland had undergone 7 to 14 days training at sea aboard the vanguard. The last of them disembarked on the 30th. of August. At about 10.20 a.m. on the 1st.of September the Vanguard joined the fleet in Dublin Bay and proceeded single line ahead, the speed gradually built up to 7 knots.

There were now four ships going on to Queenstown headed by the Warrior, Hector, Vanguard, Iron Duke and Achilles in that order. At about 11.25 a.m. the squadron passed the Kish light in moderately clear weather. At this time the Achilles was ordered to depart for Liverpool. by 12.30. The Iron Duke and the Vanguard now proceeded to steam parallel to the other two ships. By 12.35 a.m. were now engaged in steering this new course when the ships ran into a dense fog bank, giving visibility of less than a ships length. Later an officer of the Iron Duke would confirm that he had 'never seen so dense a fog'. The outline of a sailing ship began to form through the dense fog on the starboard side of the Vanguard. The helm was thrown hard to starboard and the engines rung to stop, just missing the sailing ship.

The orders were given to turn the ship back on its original course. Unwittingly this put her across the path of the approaching, though still invisible Iron Duke. At 12.50 a.m. the Iron Duke cruising at 8 knots struck her sister ship a mortal blow nearly amidships, the fog being so dense that neither ship saw each other till less than 40 yards apart, by which time it was too late to do anything. Iron Duke's ram had torn a hole 9 feet long by 3 feet wide in Vanguard's outer skin which quickly flooded the engine and boiler rooms. Water was entering at the rate of 500 gallons a minute it was clear that the ship appeared doomed. All the crew were now ferried to the Iron Duke. The fog cleared before 1.40pm.when the Captain of the Vanguard was the last to leave the ship. She had come only 18 miles from the harbour at Kingstown. At the Court Martial, Captain Dawkins of the Vanguard was severely reprimanded and dismissed from his ship, never being employed again.

I feel that the Coastguards who had trained on this modern ship, and also their families, would remember her fate, and what might have happened to them if this incident had occurred during the summer months. Its a Titanic story of sorts.

Vanguard Facts:

  • The wreck is protected under the National Monument Act, and is owned by Eugene Houlihan, Co.

  • Built in 1870 by Cammel Laird, Birkenhead for the Royal Navy, she grossed 6,034 tons and measured 280 x 54 x 16ft. and was powered by sail and steam driven double bladed twin screws.

  • The hull was iron on 8 inch teak planking, her armament consisted of 10 x 9inch guns and 4 x 6inch MLR guns.

  • While in convoy from Dunlaoghaire to Cork in fog, she was rammed by "H.M.S. Iron Duke" and sank in less than an hour. There was no loss of life.

  • The Audacious Class Central battery Ironclads consisted of HMS Audacious, Invincible, Iron Duke and Vanguard ordered under the naval programme of 1867. These Ironclads were designed for service on Foreign Stations, similar to HMS Defence apart form having a shallow draught and modifications to layout.

  • Ships book in PRO London: ADM 135/488


The Iron Duke

7 Comments · 19716 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Tony on April 29 2007


#1 | Cakeij on 24/12/2007 21:30:48
On the service record of my great great grandfather, James Carter Tiltman, VANGUARD was his first ship from 1 Jan 1873 to 30 Sep 1875 and the reason given for his discharge from the ship is "ship lost". He went from VANGUARD to IRON DUKE where he served until 9 May 1876. Thank you for publishing this article and once again providing a glimpse of history which I can relate to.
#2 | larry cashman on 29/12/2007 18:18:21
Great article. My Great Grand Father John Cashman served on the Vanguard from 8 January 1873 to 30 September 1875 when it was lost. He then transferred to the Iron Duke on which he served until 16 July 1877. He is not listed in the list given for the Vanguard- I take it that this is because he was crew rather than a trainee??
#3 | Cakeij on 01/01/2008 18:00:51
Dear Larry, likewise. My gt gt grandfather is also not listed on the roll of the VANGUARD and I wondered if that was the case - being crew and not under training?
#4 | Jeffery McMillan on 17/06/2008 01:38:48
I also think this is a great article. As with Cakeij my great grandfather Charles Jeffery served on the Vanguard from 1 Jan 1873 to 30 Sep 1875 [first posting] He then went to the Iron Duke from 1 Oct 1875 to 5 Jan 1877. No reason given on record.
#5 | Jean Power on 14/09/2008 15:59:06
Have purchased Chris Thomas book. My Great Grandfather is listed under ratings aboard on 1st September 1875. His name was James Harrold. He was a stoker. I have his Royal Navy record sheet. He then served on The Iron Duke until April 1876. Great website.
#6 | Kay O Mahony on 17/07/2010 19:05:48
My Great Great Grandfather William Scoutts was on duty at the time of sinking of the Vanguard.
Thank God they all were saved.
I am here today.

Kay O Mahony (Scoutts)
#7 | PaddyTWo on 26/10/2011 14:52:29
My great great grandfather (Bosun William Wick HMS Vanguard 1 January 1873 to 30th September 1875 when the ship was lost) also served on the Vanguard but apart from his service record I am finding it difficult to find out more about him. Any suggestions from anyone? Kieran

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