The Hamoaze

– by Tom Bowden

I was born in Torpoint on the River Tamar and across the river from Plymouth.

My Sketch of the River Tamar shows that the part of the river opposite Devonport Dockyard is known as The Hamoaze.

The River Tamar, of course, retains its name until it reaches the sea but this lower estuary has been known as the Hamoaze since the sixteenth century. I believe it derives from muddy Ham Creek which once adjoined Weston Mill Lake.

I have a collection of old picture postcards and some of them show interesting old ships in the Hamoaze and I show some of them here with captions.

The Hamoaze from Empacombe near Mount Edgcumbe, 1904

In the distance is the Royal Albert Bridge and HMS Impregnable, a Training Ship, is on the right. See the covered slipways in the dockyard which date from the early nineteenth century.

This area was then known as Plymouth Dock and in 1824 the name was changed to Devonport.

The well known photographers: Abrahams & Sons of Devonport took this photograph and helpfully wrote the names of the ships on it. In the background you can see the trees on Mount Edgcumbe so we are still in that region. I believe that the impressive old ship on the right was named more correctly: HMS Indus V and was formerly the famous HMS Ganges which was moored at Falmouth as a Training Ship from 1865 to 1899.

HMS Ganges was launched on 10th November 1821 at Bombay Dockyard and she was made of teak. She took part in many actions and was the flagship of the Pacific Station.  Then she returned to England and was converted to a training ship and served as HMS Ganges at Falmouth from 1865 to 1899. Then she was moved to Harwich and in 1905 she became part of RNTE Shotley. In 1906 she was renamed HMS Tenedos III and moved to Devonport to become part of the training establishment HMS Indus.

On 13th August 1910 she was renamed HMS Indus V and remained like that until October 1922 when she was renamed HMS Impregnable III and was moved the short distance to become the Training Establishment HMS Impregnable.

So, if this photograph was taken any time between those dates (1910 to 1922) we are looking at the famous HMS Ganges, a Conopus Class, 193ft, 2,280ton, 84 gun, sailing ship of the line. Look at all the gun ports on the starboard side! In 1923 she was finally taken out of service and broken up in 1930 – after over a century of service.

HMS Conqueror, c.1904

HMS Conqueror was an ironclad battleship of 6,200tons launched at Chatham   on 8th September 1881 and commissioned in 1887 for the Jubilee Review. Apparently, it was thought that ramming was a good way to attack an enemy ship and HMS Conqueror had a main armament of an Armoured Ram and two 12inch guns.

She went into reserve at Devonport in 1889 and became a tender at a gunnery school, and was paid off in July 1902.

You see HMS Conqueror here having been stripped of her guns before she was sold in 1907.

HMS Resolution in a Floating Dock, Devonport, c.1944

This is another fine photograph by Abrahams of Devonport. We see the stern view of HMS Resolution in a Floating Dock at Devonport. She was built at Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Jarrow, and launched on 14th January 1915 and commissioned on 30th December 1916.

She was a powerful ship of about 33,000tons, 620ft long and with eight 15 inch guns. HMS Resolution served with great distinction throughout two wars. In World War II she was badly damaged and was repaired in the United States.

Finally, she returned to England and then converted to become a stokers training ship in 1944.

Two Floating Docks were built at Devonport Dockyard in 1942. They were designated No 17 and No 20 Floating Docks and presumably one of them is in this picture? A Floating Dock is flooded initially, and therefore sinks lower in the water, and a ship can then be manoeuvred into the dock. The water is then pumped out of the Floating Dock and the dock rises into the position shown in this postcard. I have dated this picture as circa 1944 i.e. a docking connected with the conversion to a training ship.

Torpoint Ferry, 1916

There has been a ferry at Torpoint since about 1730. Then James Meadows Rendel built the first ferry at Dartmouth with a steam engine to pull it across the river on chains to beat the tide. He was contracted to build a ferry at Torpoint and it came into service in 1834 and a second ferry arrived in 1836.

This is a larger Torpoint Ferry in 1916 but it still had a carriage deck on each side with the engine compartment in the middle. The first ferry with the carriage, or vehicle, deck in the middle was built by Phillips and Son of Dartmouth and delivered in 1925.

Note the five-masted ship in mid-stream: There were three like this built in the 1860s: the Minotaur, Agincourt and Northumberland. I think that this is Northumberland because she was placed in reserve in Devonport in 1891. They were 400ft long with a single propeller, and displaced 10,690 tons. For ten years they were the biggest ships afloat with the heaviest armament, behind the thickest armour and with the highest sea speed.

In the background is Devonport Dockyard, North Yard, and the two tall columns in the centre of the picture are the foundry chimneys. On the right is, I imagine, the Dockyard Generating Station chimney on the left, and the brewery chimney just outside the dockyard wall!

Torpoint Ferry, 1958

This is one of the three ferries built by Messrs Phillips and Son and they were delivered in 1925, 1926 and 1931. This ferry is on the Devonport side and it must be about 5pm because petty officers are coming home from HMS Raleigh outside Torpoint.

This ferry was also driven by a steam reciprocating engine which pulled the ferry across the river on chains in the proven manner. I grew up with these ferries and when an apprentice in the dockyard I caught the 6.30 am ferry to work and after night school and courting, I sometimes returned on the 11.15 pm ferry and fell asleep in the cabin – and often awoke at about 3.15 am on the wrong side of the river!

The larger present-day ferries are driven by diesel engines but still pull themselves across the river on chains.

Landing Stage at North Corner, 1905

Between the South Yard and Morice Yard in Devonport there is a narrow strip of land which was used for housing Dockyard workers. A landing stage was built on that narrow waterfront and it is known as North Corner. Many river steamers called here: on pleasure trips and for shoppers going to Devonport and workers in South Yard where battleships were under construction.

In this view there are some people messing about in boats and that could be the “Lady Beatrice” from Torpoint at the landing stage? HMS Hood is moored in the Hamoaze. This mighty ship was named after Admiral Sir Arthur Hood, the First Sea Lord at that time.

HMS Hood was built at Chatham Naval Dockyard and completed on 1st June 1891. She was 14,780 tons displacement, 380 feet long, and her main armament was four 13.5 inch guns. HMS Hood was at Devonport from 1903 to 1907, first in commission and then in reserve. Finally, in November 1914, she was scuttled as a blockship in the south entrance to Portland Harbour.

I hope that you have found this article interesting and there are many more true stories about ships built or serving at Devonport.

Goodbye for now and thank you for your interest in a Devonport waterway long ago.

Tom Bowden

[Editors note: Comments on this article and any further relevant information would be welcomed by Tom]