Fool Me Once
By Mike Creasy
Some of you cynics might think the recent submarine purchase from the Royal Navy was accompanied by sighs of relief and a rubbing of mother-country hands as money from the colonials rolled in.
Well…. it wouldn’t be the first time.
Back in 1880, Canada didn’t have a navy, relying instead on the RN to do the job. The Dominion government was aware of growing tensions in the world, and made an energetic pitch to mother England. In a fire-breathing example of leadership and support for a Canadian naval presence, Governor General Sir John Campbell, the Duke of Argyll said…” (Canada) would not be averse to instituting a ship for training purposes if the Imperial government would supply the ship.”
Shivers your timbers, don’t it??
Anyhow, having been blown away by such a firm demand, the Colonial Secretary asked the RN to find a suitable ship.
The 21 year old ship-rigged screw corvette Charybdis was discovered as she returned to England from a 7 year posting in China. Most RN ships finishing service in the Far East were clapped out relics, ready for the scrap heap and Charybdis was no exception. Canada paid to replace her worn out boilers before she was transferred to the Department of Marine and Fisheries, becoming our de facto navy.
On arrival in St. John in 1881, the list of deficiencies kept growing as her new crew discovered what years on China station could do to a wooden ship. She had hardly dropped anchor when a gale swept the harbour. Charybdis broke loose and careened into several merchant ships, causing substantial damage.
Secured again, two civilians were drowned after falling through the rotten planks of her gangway.
In August 1881, Charybdis was towed back to England and presented to unenthused representatives of the Royal Navy. She was sold for scrap in 1884.
The experience helped Canada stayed out of the navy business until 1910, when two old Royal Navy cruisers became the first ships of the Canadian Naval Service.
And that’s another story.