Lonsdale was one of several torpedo boats ordered by the government of Victoria in 1882 to protect the colony from a possible Russian or French attack, and was built by John I. Thornycroft & Company.
The torpedo boat was 67 feet (20m) long, with a draught of 3.25 feet (0.99m), and a displacement of 12.5 tons. She was designed with a low freeboard, to minimise her profile. The boat had a maximum speed of 17 knots (31km/h; 20mph), which she would use to close rapidly with enemy vessels before attacking.
Lonsdale was initially armed with two 14-inch torpedoes carried in bow recesses, and a spar torpedo; but in 1888, she was modified to carry the two 14-inch torpedoes in locally developed 'dropping gear'; a davit-like device for lowering the torpedoes into the water for launching. She was also armed with 2 Hotchkiss machine guns.
She was sunk on mud flats on Swan Island in Port Phillip in 1912 after being stripped of equipment and machinery.
In 1983, the remains of a torpedo boat likely to be Lonsdale were uncovered in reclaimed land in Queenscliff, Victoria, on the grounds of the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum. As of 2010, only the boat's conning towerwass exposed.