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HMCS Spitfire

HMCS Spitfire was a 65-ton Ketch-rigged sail gunboat built at Cuthberts Shipyard, Port Jackson, and launched on 3 April 1855 for the New South Wales Naval Service. She was the first warship built in Australia for a Colonial government.

She was 51 feet (16 m) long, had a beam of 16.6 ft (5.1 m) and a draught: of 5.41 feet (1.65 m). Her hull was sheathed with 22-ounce copper. The Spitfire was armed with a single 32-pounder guns pivot gun; and she was commissioned in 1859.

Ketch Design

A ketch is a sailing craft with two masts. The characteristic of a ketch is that the forward of the two masts (the "mainmast") is larger than the after mast (the "mizzen").  Historically the ketch was a square-rigged vessel, most commonly used as a freighter or fishing boat in northern Europe, particularly in the Baltic and North seas. In modern usage, the ketch is a fore-and-aft rigged vessel used as a yacht or pleasure craft.

The square-rigged ketch was largely supplanted by the brig, which differs from the ketch by having a forward mast smaller (or occasionally similar in size) than the after mast.

In the year 1775, various ketches were utilized as warships by the Sultanate of Mysore during the rule of Hyder Ali.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, ketches were commonly used as small warships, until superseded in this role by brigs during the latter part of the 18th Century. The ketch continued in use as a specialized vessel for carrying mortars until after the Napoleonic wars, in this application it was called a bomb ketch.

In this sense, it is difficult to see why they chose a Ketch design, given that it was almost one hundred years out of date when the design was chosen.

Operational History

Spitfire was given to the Colony of Queensland in 1859, and she was used as the pilot cutter on Moreton Bay.

In 1860, she was used as part of an expedition to find the mouth of the Burdekin River. She was to become the pilot boat for Cooktown, until sold out of service in 1885 and purchased by Captain Alex Mathewson, for use as a fishing vessel.

She was sold in 1892 to Dan Moynahan and S.B. Andreassen and during a cyclone in 1896 she was damaged off Hinchinbrook Island.


Spitfire was sunk during a cyclone off Piper Island Light in December 1899.