Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum

- Museum Home - Colonial Navies Index - NAA Sub-Section Home -

New South Wales Colonial Navy

New South Wales Naval Brigade

At the time of the Boxer Rebellion, naval brigades from New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, were part of the British contingent in the field force under General Alfred Gaselee, in the Gaselee Expedition, a successful relief by a multinational military force that in 1900 marched to Beijing and protect the diplomatic legations and foreign nationals in the city from attacks.

The New South Wales Naval Brigade included 25 men from the New South Wales Marine Corps. (This unit was completely unrelated, except for its name, to the New South Wales Marine Corps, which accompanied the First Fleet and served between 1788 and 1791.

New South Wales Naval Artillery Volunteers

During the early nineteenth century the New South Wales Government began construction of naval fortifications in Sydney Harbour. However, security was generally lax. In November 1839 the USS Vincennes was able to slip into Sydney Harbour un-noticed under the cover of darkness, much to the surprise of Sydney-siders the following morning.

As Sydney was the major base for the Royal Navy in Australia, the New South Wales Government had no incentive to create their own naval force. This sense of security ended with the outbreak of the Crimean War and in 1854 the government asked for tenders for the construction of a gunboat to assist in the defence of Sydney.

A vessel was named HMCS Spitfire (launched 4 April 1855) was the first naval vessel completed by an Australian colonial government.  Although modified from an existing boat, Spitfire was nevertheless the first warship to be constructed in Australia. Spitfire remained in service with the New South Wales colonial navy until 1859 when she was given to Queensland.

After the construction of Spitfire, the New South Wales Government took no further steps in developing a naval force until a Naval Brigade of 120 men was formed in 1863.

There was strong support for the Naval Brigade, and in 1864 it consisted of five companies, four in Sydney and one in Newcastle, with an overall strength of 200 men. The brigade headquarters was established at Fort Macquarie, where the Sydney Opera House today stands.

Since Spitfire was sold to Queensland in 1859, the naval brigade had no ships of their own. This problem was not rectified until the late 1870's, when the government ordered the construction of two second class torpedo boats, Avernus and Acheron. These vessels were constructed in Sydney.

In 1882 Wolverine was acquired from the Royal Navy. That year the New South Wales Naval Artillery Volunteers were formed as a citizen's auxiliary which would operate the guns on board any warship of the colony when required.

HMS Wolverine was paid off in 1893 and the number of vessels used by the Navy decreased over time as any perceived threat diminished.

Meanwhile, the Naval Brigade continued to grow, and reached a total strength of 614 men at Federation.