The loss of HMS Polyphemus in 1856
The loss of HMS Polyphemus in 1856

Royal NavyLosses
Royal NavyLosses

The sloop Polyphemus was commissioned in October 1855 for the Baltic bij Commander Frederick Pelham Warren, but on 29 January 1856 was wrecked on the coast of Denmark when en route to her station, with the loss of 9 (?) lives.

Extracts from the Times newspaper
We 6 February 1856Yesterday there was a notice put up in the Exchange at Hamburg that an English war steamer, (described in another report as the Polyphemus, Captain Warren, bound from Hull to the Baltic,): had stranded in the neighbourhood of Thisted, in Denmark. Another report stated, that out of 150 men that composed the crew, 16 had been drowned.
We 6 February 1856



The following telegraphic message has been received from Her Majesty’s Minister at Copenhagen, dated Feb. 4:—
"The Polyphemus was totally lost on the 29th ult., south of Hanstholm light, north-west coast of Jutland. The master and 14 hands were drowned; the stores, &c., will be saved. It will be useless and dangerous to send assistance from the seaward. A part of the cutter's and ship's crews having reached a vessel in the offing makes the number of lost doubtful. A strong current and fog were the cause of the accident. Land not seen though within 400 yards. I will forward Captain Warren's despatch to-morrow by the Kiel steamer.”
Ma 11 February 1856


The following account is from the notes of one of the officers:-
"January 27th, Sunday, 1856, left Hull; on Tuesday, the 29th, at 10 a.m., the ship struck 7 miles S.W. of Hantsholmen Light, coast of Jutland.
"Friday, Feb. 1, 7 officers and 42 men left Thisted (Jutland) for Hamburg, arriving quite safe. Another party left Thisted for Hamburg on Monday last. The ship is totally dismasted, full of water, and breaking up; Captain Warren and the chief engineer remaining behind with the hope of saving some of the machinery. The paddlebox boat, with 12 men and the master, swamped, and only two were saved, Tiverton and Etherage; two bodies were picked up, Maunder, boatswain's mate, and Pearse, B.1.C. The cutter and second gig, not being able to land after being lowered, pulled out to sea to a vessel seen in the distance, and have not been heard of since. The Danish coastguardmen assisted the saving of the crew by a hawser made fast to the pinnace before lowering her into the surf; a large cask, slung to the hawser, saved the crew one by one. Minute guns of distress were fired to call the attention of the vessel seen, a thick fog prevailing at the time the ship struck; the country covered with snow, and the lakes and rivers frozen. The party travelled through Jutland, Schleswig, and Holstein to Hamburg in open carts.
"The ship had only a few days before the sad accident arrived at Hull from the Baltic.
"The first party, now at Hamburg, leave in the steamer Trident for St. Katharine's-wharf, London, on Saturday, under the command of Lieutenant Frederick Pyne; the second party, under command of Lieutenant England.

Captain Hay
Dr. Everest
Lieutenant England
Mr. Wood Chief Engineer
John James
Thomas Reynard
John Welsh
Askell Cunningham

Lieutenant Frederick Pyne and messrs. Warrington, Jones, Burnet, Stracey, Morris and Chambers (officers).
J. Robinson


Mr. Herbert, Master
Giles Wilkes
Samuel Fletcher
Henry Forbes
William Jordan
James Hardy
W. Jenkins
John Ford
Charles Perrey
George Biggs
William Reynolds
James O'Connor
Henry Dowling
Thomas Johnston
William Axford
Edward Scantlebury
John Richards
Samuel Pearce
Thomas Maunder.

“A portion of these put out to sea in two boats to reach a vessel in sight, not being able to pass the breakers."

Thomas MaunderSamuel Pearce, B.1.C.

Th 14 February 1856


We have received the following nominal list from the Admiralty of the crew of the Polyphemus, now on their way to England:-
Mr. Warrington, paymaster
Mr. Tracey, midshipman
Mr. Burnett, master-assist.
Mr. Morris, engineer
Mr. Chambers, engineer
Mr. Jones, engineer
H. Harrison, bombardier
J. Case, gunner
H. Torrington, drummer
J. Bevistock, private
J. Vincent, private
John Bymes, private
Geo. Arthur, gunner
John Well, A.B.
Wm. Davis, boy, 2d
Wm. Martin, boy, 2d
John Crosby, boy, 2d
Chas. Foster, boy, 2d
Chas. Cook, boy, 2d
Benj. Green, boy, 2d
Henry Stephens, boy, 1st
John Healey, boy, 1st
Chas. Pragnell, boy, 1st
John Holdbury, boy, 1st
Charles Ryon, boy, 1st
John Marks, stoker
John Barnes, stoker
Wm. Martin, stoker
Wm. Francis, stoker
John Donahen, stoker
Wm. Coombs, stoker
Chas. Wilson, stoker
Edward Aveny, stoker
Thos. Elderton, stoker
Wm. Gammon, A.B.
P. Poach, ordinary
Thos. Walker, sailor
Edward Luke, cook
Thos. Biddlecombe, carpenter
John Dutton, carpenter
John Hunt, stoker
Sam. Carter, stoker
Robt. Harris, captain, M.T.
Thos. Kirby, ropemaker
T.Tiverton, captain, F.T.
John Etherage, ordinary
Jas. Robinson, A.B.
Wm. James, s. cook
H. Reynard, capt. cox.
J. Chisholm, ord.
J. Moore, ord.
J. Bragg, boy
E. Cafley, boy
R. Hance. ord.
J. Faundell, capt., A.G.
M. Cunningham, stoker
T. Harbert, stoker
J. Russ, stoker
R. Smith, steward
E. Goodwin, private.
J. Causidy, musician .
C. Balls, steward
R. Tiviney, sergeant
J. Barnett, private
T. Bassett, private
H. Salter, private
P. Jennings, private
T. Jones, private
D. Newman, private
J. Cook, private
E. Hayward, private
J. Fewkes, private
J. Wheeler, private
J. Askel, A.B.
G. Riley, ord.
Total—6 officers, 71 men.

Thomas Maunder,
boatswain's mate
Samuel Pearse, boy, 1st
John Reynolds, captain, A.G.
Total—3 men.
Note.—Another body not identified.

With reference to the following names there is nothing specified:—
George Everest, surgeon
Mr. Wood, engineer
Mr. Hay, clerk
Mr. Parsons, gunner
Mr. Lellan, captain's steward
Patrick Keith, ord.
Edward Malone, sick boy
Charles Howes, stoker
James Cooper, A.B.
Josh. Woodford, Marine
William Puttick, boy
William Mitchell, boy
Total—4 officers, 8 men.

Mr. Herbert, Master
Giles Wilkes, B. Mate.
Samuel Fletcher, C.F.E.
Henry Forbes, C.F.E.
William Jordan, ord.
James Hardy, ord.
James Jenkins, A.B.
Stephen Longhurst, boy, 1st
William Martin, boy, 1st
Alexander Sutherland, ord.
James Robinson, boy, 1st
M’Lacklen, C.M.T.
John Ford, boy, 1st
Charles Persey, A.B.
Geoige Briggs, ord.
James O’Connor, ord.
Henry Bowling, carpenter
Thomas Johnston, blacksmith
William Axford, cooper
Edward Scavillebury, sailmaker
John Richards, boy, 1st.
Total—1 officer, 20 men.

Fr 15 February 1856


With reference to the nominal list of the crew of the Polyphemus inserted in yesterday's paper, the following alterations and additions should be made:—
On their way Home. — Privates John Tootle and William Ford.

Geo. Everest, surgeon
Mr. Wood, engineer
Mr. Hay, clerk
Mr. Parsons, gunner
McLellan, captain's steward
Pat. Keith, ord.
Edward Malone, sick boy
Charles Howes, stoker
John Cooper, A.B.
Josh. Woodford, marine
William Puttick, boy
William Mitchell, boy
Four officers, eight men.

Mr. Herbert, master
Giles Wilkes, b.-mate
Samuel Fletcher, C.F.C.
Henry Forbes, C.F.C.
William Jordan, ord.
James Hardy, ord.
James Jenkins, A.B.
Stephen Longhurst, boy, 1st
William Martin, boy, 1st
Alexander Sutherland, ord.
James Robinson, boy, 1st
M’Lacklan, C.M.T.
John Ford, boy, 1st
Charles Persey, A.B.
George Briggs, ord.
James O’Connor, ord.
Henry Dowling, carpenter
Thomas Johnson, blacksmith
William Axford, cooper
Edw. Scantlebury, sail maker
John Richards, boy, 1st
One officer, 20 men.

Tu 19 February 1856



The following intelligence has this day been received at this office from Her Majesty’s Consul General at Hamburg:—
"I have great satisfaction in reporting that the Quartermaster, Samuel Fletcher, and 15 seamen of the late Polyphemus, who were in the two boats, have been saved by a Danish vessel, and have just arrived from Hjerting.
They will go in charge of the chief-engineer, Mr. Wood, with the other men to London this evening."
Tu 11 March 1856A court-martial commenced sitting yesterday morning on board Her Majesty's ship Victory, to try Commander Warren for the loss of Her Majesty's steam sloop Polyphemus, on the 20th of January, in the Baltic. The case excited considerable interest from the rank and family connexions of the prisoner and the fact of the master and several of the crew having lost their lives by the catastrophe. A pledge was exacted from the reporters present that no part of the evidence should be published until the termination of the trial.
We 12 March 1856


As stated in The Times of yesterday, a court-martial, consisting of Rear-Admiral the Hon. Sir Richard Saunders Dundas, K.C.B., &c., President, Captains H.J. Codrington, C.B., Sir Thomas Maitland, C.B., G.R. Mundy, the Hon H. Keppel, C.B., G. Eliott, J. Hope, C.B., the Hon. F.T. Pelham, C.B, C. Robinson, J. Robb, H. Lyster, the Hon. J. R. Drummond, C.B., and Mr. W. J. Hellyer, Deputy-Judge-Advocate of the Fleet, assembled on Monday morning, at 9 o'clock, on board Her Majesty's ship Victory in Portsmouth harbour, to try Commander Frederick Pelham Warren, who was in command of Her Majesty's late steam sloop Polyphemus, and the surviving officers and crew, for the loss of the said steam sloop.
It appeared from a despatch and enclosures, dated the 30th of January last, and addressed by Commander Warren to the Secretary of the Admiralty (which documants were read in court), that the Polyphemus was lost on the shore seven miles south of Hansholm Light, on the west coast of Jutland.
Mr. James Hoskins, of Gosport, solicitor, assisted the prisoner.
The usual proceedings relative to the other officers and ship's company having been gone through, the Court acquitted all but the commander of all blame in the loss of the vessel.
Lieutenant Frederick Pyne, senior-lieutenant of the late Polyphemus, was the first witness called, and made the following statement:— "I went on deck about one bell after 8 on Tuesday, the 29th of January. I walked up and down the deck several times and looked at the standard compass; it indicated E. by N. I looked at the weather also; it was a dull day, but I could see a long distance — nothing was in sight; the mastheadsman I observed was on the topsailyard; he went to divisions at three bells. Mr. Tracey, midshipman, was officer of the watch; I relieved him after the drum had beat for divisions; he gave me the orders, course E. and by N. 7 knots. We were about half an hour at divisions; it was then coming on a thick fog from the port bow; while I was inspecting my division the captain and the master were both looking out; after divisions Mr. Tracey relieved me, and I told him the orders were the same, and that no alteration had been made in the course. Between 10 and 11 (I am not certain whether it had gone 5 bells) in the forenoon I proposed to the captain to scrub some hammocks, as we might not have a chance again; the captain's reply to me was 'No; I'm afraid you'll have to put off your hammocks, we are surrounded by fog,' which appeared to be coming down from the port bow and the head. We then commenced drilling the watch at great gun exercise. I was walking forward sending the men aft to their guns, and abreast of the engine-room, starboard side, when I felt the ship strike. I immediately gave the orders 'Stop her; go astern full speed,' which order was instantly carried into execution. I cried out to the quartermaster 'Put the helm amidships.' The captain was on the quarterdeck with the master, the latter officer having just come up from below. I said 'We are on shore, Sir.' The ship was then striking repeatedly. The captain ran up on the bridge. The master got a lead and commenced sounding over the stern. I stood up on the gun and looked all round. I could see no land or rocks. It was then a thick fog, — so thick that had danger been near it would not have been seen. The captain gave the order, 'Hands out paddlebox boats.' There was a leadsman in the chains at divisions (the captain's cockswain) and after divisions. Directly the captain gave the order, 'Hands out paddlebox boats,' I immediately took my station on the quarterdeck, and proceeded to carry that order into execution. The boats were turned over, and in lowering the starboard paddlebox boat the sea struck her, and she was instantly swamped and rendered useless, drifting astern. The port boat was lowered; the master (Mr. Herbert), having charge of her, had commenced taking in the stream anchor and cable. The quarter and stern boats were lowered to the port paddlebox boat. The engines had then stopped, having broken down. I then observed that the ship was very near some heavy rollers. The land was in sight, covered with snow. After the anchor and cable had been put into the boat (the port paddlebox boat) it was laid out by Mr. Herbert the master, and let go in three fathoms of water on the starboard quarter. Mr. Herbert was returning to the ship to take in the small bower anchor, when the boat got broadside on, and was immediately swamped. The cutter and gig were ordered to pull in to the surf and save the crew. Two were picked up. The sea breaking over the cutter and gig twice rendered it dangerous for the boats to be in the surf. They were then ordered to keep outside the surf. All the rest of the crew of the port paddlebox boat, with the exception of two, were washed ashore, drowned — eight men and the master. The dingy was launched overboard from the port gangway, and everything that would float was thrown overboard for their assistance. The ship was then filling with water, the engines had broken down, all the pipes of the machinery carried away, the boilers were working very much, and the engine-room was full of hot water. The pumps were rigged, but could not be worked, as the ship was breaking up below. I then secured the keys of the spirit-room and magazine, firing signal guns of distress to a vessel in the distance, to call their attention to the gig and cutter, which had been ordered by the captain to pull to. The sea was breaking over the ship and coming in through the stern in great quantities, and the boats could not come near the ship. The captain then called me, and asked if I thought I could suggest anything that could be done to save the ship. I then said everything had been done to save the ship, and I was quite certain she would be a wreck before night. The captain then said, 'I must now save the crew before night, we have got a good opportunity to cut away the masts while she has rolling motion.' Captain Warren then gave the order for me to watch until she was steady, and then ordered the pinnace to be hoisted out; a hawser was made fast to her, and, when a favourable opportunity presented itself, she was lowered into the surf; there were several Danish coastguardmen on the beach. The captain then gave the order for everybody go before the mainmast; all the head braces were let go, and the lanyards of the main lower rigging cut; the mast fell over the starboard side. Everybody was then ordered before the foremast, which was cut away in like manner, and it fell over the starboard side. The ship was now striking very heavily, and a great quantity of water was rushing over her. Captain Warren then gave the order that everybody had free permission to land on the hawser, and the sooner they did it before night the better. I ordered a match to be lit, and, after seeing all lights and fires out in the ship and sentries relieved, I reported the same to the captain, and he ordered me to go ashore to take charge of the men as they landed, the captain remaining on board until after the last man was out of the ship. Two studdingsails were landed, a fire made on shore, and I then went with a party to see if there was anybody under the paddlebox boat; finding there was nobody, I then asked the doctor if the bodies lying on the beach could be brought to life. He said it was impossible; they were dead. It was now coming on dark; I looked out to seaward to see if the cutter and gig had reached the vessel, and saw they had not. Captain Warren then piped hands to muster on the beach, and read the articles of war. We were all preparing the tents for the night when an officer came and said if we remained under the tents we should all be very ill the next day, and asked the captain to allow the men to go to some fishermen's huts about two miles off. The men were then ordered to fall in, and marched up to the huts, where they were billeted for the night, with orders to muster at daylight. The next day, at daylight, all the ship's company (Captain Warren superintending), with the assistance of the Danish officer and coastguardmen, got on board the ship, and commenced saving what they could of the stores and provisions; the ship then appeared to be full of water, and sunk very deep. I asked the captain to allow me to come on board, and when I got on board she was then heeling over to port, the planks broken up and working very much. Everything was done that day until dark to save stores, and the men were again ordered to their huts." Witness then, with a portion of the crew, proceeded to Hamburg to report himself and the loss of the ship to Colonel Hodges, C.B., Her Majesty's Consul-General, where he arrived on the following Wednesday.
This witness was minutely examined by the Court, and other witnesses were called on the part of the prosecution; but it is not necessary to repeat the evidence, as the above are the chief facts connected with the loss of the ship.
The Court adjourned till yesterday morning to allow the prisoner to prepare his defence.
At the opening of the Court yesterday the prisoner read a long defence, with a view to show that he had used prudence and caution in steering the ship according to the master's reckoning by the chart, and that the occurrence was attributable to the prevalence of fog. The prisoner called witnesses in support of his statement, after which
The COURT deliberated for two hours and found as follows:— "The Court agree that the loss of the said steam sloop is to be ascribed mainly to the irregularity of the currents on that part of the coast of Jutland on which Her Majesty’s steam sloop Polyphemus was wrecked; but, while the Court consider that there is evidence of much attention having been paid by the commander, and no want of general vigilance was imputable to him, it is nevertheless the opinion of the Court that blame is attachable to the said Commander Frederick Pelham Warren, in not having slackened the speed of the vessel to obtain accurate soundings, especially when running in thick weather in the neighbourhood of land, where the currents are known to be irregular; the Court considers that every exertion was used after the wreck, and, upon consideration of all the circumstances of the case, do adjudge the said Commander Frederick Pelham Warren to be reprimanded for his neglect on the occasion.”
Commander Warren is a son of the late Admiral Warren, of Cosham, near Portsmouth, and brother of Captain R.L. Warren, of Her Majesty' s ship Cressy, 80, at Spithead.
Tu 3 June 1856The galliot Fortuin, C.P. Christensen master, has arrived at Sheerness from Thisted, in. Jutland, with part of the stores, &c., saved from the late steam-sloop Polyphemus, Commander Frederick P. Warren.
Tu 22 July 1856The Danish vessel Johanni, Captain R. Rasmussen, arrived at Sheerness yesterday at noon from Thisted with wrecked stores from Her Majesty’s late steam vessel Polyphemus.
Fr 25 July 1856The Johanni Danish vessel, R. Rasmussen, Master, at Sheerness, has commenced discharging the wrecked stores of the late steamship Polyphemus.


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