The Stranding of HMS Flora at Hornby Island BC

by John MacFarlane 2017

HMS  Flora

HMS Flora hard aground with salvage tugs and scows alongside. (Photo from unknown original source on Google.)

Built in 1893 she was built at the Pembroke Dockyard displacing 4,630 tons. 320’ x 49.5’ x 21’ (97.54m x 15.09m x 6.40m) She was powered by Vertical triple expansion engines and two screws.

HMS Flora was one of eight Astraea–class cruisers built for the Royal Navy. Carrying a crew of 318 she was armoured with 2" Deck, 5" on the engine hatches, and 3" on the citadel. Her armament was 2–6" (15 cm), 8–6 pounders 1–3 pounder, and 4–18" torpedo tubes.

On December 5th, 1903 HMS Flora hit a submerged rock, settled in a basin of rocks and developed a list of 8° to starboard. The event hit the newspapers worldwide and articles recounted day by day events in her salvage. The officers were apparently mistaken in their calculations of the position of the ship. A seagull perched on a black spar buoy was confused with another marker and ship ran up on the rock becoming stranded.

HMS  Flora

HMS Flora with salvage tugs (Photo courtesy of MMBC.)

HMS Grafton, Flagship of Rear–Admiral Andrew Kennedy Bickford RN, (Commander–in–Chief of HM Ships and Vessels on the Pacific Station (carrying his flag in HMS Warspite and HMS Grafton) appointed in 1900.)) arrived with salvage gear. Pontoons built by the crews of HMS Grafton and HMS Egeria. Four big centrifugal pumps were placed in the after end of the vessel to remove water. Big anchors were placed from the stern in preparation for dragging the hull into deeper water. They were placed next to her stern with the intention of preventing it from settling deeper into the water too soon in the process. This effort failed when one of the hawsers parted and could not be replaced before the tide changed.

HMS  Flora

HMS Flora with salvage tugs (Photo courtesy of MMBC. )

Scows arrived to lighten ship by removing stores and coal onto lighters and scows delivered by tugs from Victoria. Her guns were removed as well. On the sixth attempt the vessel was moved for the first time, moving some six feet, but again a hawser parted, and some bitts on HMS Grafton gave way under the strain. on the morning of December 10th, with HMS Grafton and Egeria and some unnamed tugs pulling together and with the engines of HMS Flora powered up and screws pulling astern she was moved into deeper water.

HMS  Flora

HMS Flora with salvage tugs (Photo courtesy of MMBC.)

HMS Flora sailed to Union Bay where she re–shipped the coal that had been removed, remounted her guns, and reloaded her removed stores. She left under her own power for Esquimalt, escorted by HMS Grafton. At Esquimalt she entered the drydock in HM Dockyard for inspection and repairs.

HMS  Flora

HMS Flora (Photo from the Libraries and Archives Canada collection LAC_3394191.)

Both Captain Baker and Lieutenant Grant were reprimanded and instructed to take greater care in future – a light sentence of the Court.

Normally an accident of this nature would mean the end of promotion prospects for the career of her commanding officer. Captain Casper J. Baker RN, in command of HMS Flora from November 11, 1902 to January 16th, 1905 seems to have been unfazed by the incident. By the end of his career he had risen to the rank of Vice–Admiral RN.

Researcher Christopher Cole found a detailed account of the December 19, 1903 court martial of Captain Baker RN and his Navigating Officer Lieutenant Harold F. Grant RN in the Victoria Daily Colonist. The two officers called each other as witnesses in their own defence. Their explanation was that a seagull sitting on the buoy disguised it to the extent that they did not realize their location. Both officers were found guilty of neglect.

The details of this event has faded from the public memory, but there was a custom in those days to name underwater hazards after the first ship to hit them. There is a Flora Islet off the South end of Hornby Island BC to keep a faint memory of the event alive. It is a collection of rocks both exposed and intertidal which comprises a small reef.

Flora Islets

The location of the Flora Islets (Map from the Bill Clearihue collection.)

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) The Wreck of HMS Flora: at Denman Island BC 2017.


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