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 The Wreck of HMS Tenedos

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Petty Officer Tom


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PostSubject: The Wreck of HMS Tenedos   Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:47 pm

“From the Natal Colonist, 27th January”

 H.M.S. Active and H.M.S. Tenedos reached the outer anchorage on Tuesday evening.  They left this port at the beginning of last week to visit the Zulu coast at the time of the troops crossing the Tugela.  It was the intention of the Commodore to make a further survey of a reported harbor between the river and Point Durnford, and also to cruise along the coast northwards with a view of diverting the attention of the Zulus to the coast.
 Both ships anchored outside the supposed harbor last Thursday, and boats were sent to take soundings.  The conclusions arrived at was that landing was dangerous even in fine weather.
 On the following morning they left early and proceeded northwards, and at about 6 a.m., the Active suddenly took the ground on an unknown shoal.  Fortunately she got off again almost immediately and signal was made to the Tenedos, which was about half a mile on the starboard quarter, and she at once put helm hard-a-port; but in a few minutes she was also aground.  The shoal seems to take a circular direction and extends some three miles from the shore.
 The Active went at once to the assistance of the other ship, and just as she was going to send hawsers to her, the captain tried full speed astern, and the Tenedos was again afloat; but by some misfortune a wire hawser got jammed in her screw, and she was powerless.
 The Active then attempted to haul her off, but the attempt was not successful, and they were obliged to wait until high water, 11 p.m.  All preparations were by this time completed, divers had been sent down to see if the screw could be cleared, and had examined the rocks immediately astern of the ship.  A stout wire hawser had been secured to both ships, and the Active got up full speed and towed her safely of the rocks stern first in  a few minutes.  But accidents, they say, never come singly, and as misfortune would have it, the Tenedos in coming off had a little too much way on, and ran foul of the Active, which was anchored, but no damage of any importance was done.
 There is no doubt that the Tenedos was in a most hazardous position, and had not the Active – a ship nearly double her side, and drawing much more water – by a most masterly piece of seamanship, been brought close to her distressed consort, and so got the cables passed into her, with which she was eventually towed off, she would have been totally lost, as the next day a hard gale sprung up which must have speedily broken her up.
 The ships’ companies were employed at the capstans and in laying out anchors and hawsers for twenty-four continuous hours, and were ready to drop with fatigue.
 After two hours’ rest, labour was re-commenced, all working most loyally and vieing with each other in their endeavours not to lose a moment of the fine weather so favourable to the operations in hand.
 When these efforts were crowned with success, the Active took the Tenedos in tow, and all went well till Monday morning, when the stout towing hawser parted during a gale.  Both ships then stood in under sail, and next morning, on the weather moderating, the towing was resumed, and the Active and Tenedos reached the outer anchorage on Tuesday evening.
 We hear that the Tenedos is damaged about the keel, and has a steel hawser foul of her screw.  
 After evening quarters on Tuesday, Commodore Sullivan, C.B., addressed his officers and ship’s company on their recent labours, and said that in the whole of his thirty-five years’ service he had never seen such hard work entered into with so loyal a spirit or more cheerfully performed.  He added that the magnificent example that had been set by Lieut. Marrack had been followed by every officer and man in the ship down to the youngest boy, so much so, indeed, that he had noticed several of the civil officers, and others from whom no manual labour was expected, most willingly giving their aid, and mentioned that he had seen the chaplain and surgeon both at work at the capstan.  He concluded by saying that he thanked them from his heart for the noble way in which all had done their duty, and that he should not fail to bring the circumstances of the case to the notice of the Lords of the Admiralty.
 We must congratulate the Commodore on the Tenedos being afloat again, and are not surprised to learn how well all the officers and men behaved on the trying occasion, it being well known in Natal how much they respect, and how loyally they support, their gallant Commander-in-Chief.
 We must especially add join meed of praise to Lieutenant Marrack, of the Active, for his “magnificent example,” as the Commodore so well phrased it, on the trying occasion we have described.  We are informed that Mr. Marrack performed herculean labours throughout the dangerous crisis through which the Tenedos passed, and that he kept from bed for three nights, only snatching a little food at very irregular intervals.

(Source:  The Cornishman, March 6, 1879)

Petty Officer Tom
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PostSubject: Gronding of HMS Tenedos   Sat Feb 18, 2017 5:25 am


A most informative report. Thanks for sharing.

Having wiped off it's keel on the Tenedos shoal  ( later named after HM ship because of this ignominious  incident)  and as a bonus fouled its screw with Active's cable,  the mind boggles how HMS Tenedos still managed to stay afloat and reach the outer Durban anchorage, some 150kms south, even if under tow by the bigger HMS Active.

For interest sake I will mention that the Tenedos shoal is centered off the mouth ( lat 28 56.757 S , long 36 49.118 E ) of the Umlalazi river at Mtunzini, a small coastal town. It hugs the bight in the coast there for a few hundred metres to the north and south of that river mouth, located just to the south of "Port" Durnford .  However, importantly, it extends seaward only 50-80 metres, and not 3 miles as the report maintains.

At low water there are places on that reef where there is as little as 2m of water covering the bottom. Even traversing the shoal  with a low draft small vessel it would be hazardous venture even if there was only a moderate swell running.


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Petty Officer Tom


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PostSubject: Re: The Wreck of HMS Tenedos   Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:38 pm


In another post you said “Let's hope HMS Tenedos and her sister ships had the benefit of Admiralty charts though!”

Here is what I wrote on 5 November 2011in response to a question by “barry”

The reef which HMS Tenedos struck, while looking for suitable landing places on the coast, was unknown at the time, and the ships of the “Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa” squadron were working outside of their assigned area during the Zulu War. Charts used during that time did not record the reef on which “Tenedos” struck. It might also be noted that there was no censure of Captain Adeane for the incident. "Tenedos" and "Active" were both men-of-war and were not designed for coastal exploration, but they were all that were available at the time. Afterwards, Commodore Sullivan had HMS Forrester moved from the West Coast of Africa to take over the duties of coastal exploration, and to find a landing place on the coast.

I hope this answers your question. Below are three contemporaneous reports on the incident.

Letter from Governor Frere

"Her Majesty's Government will have heard with regret of the grounding of H.M. ships "Active" and "Tenedos" on a shoal previously unknown and unmarked, when examining the Zulu coast. The temporary disabling of H.M. ship "Tenedos" will be a serious loss to us, as the aid given by Captain Adeane and his crew promised to be as effectual as that we have already repeatedly received throughout the late and present war, from Commodore Sullivan and the "Active," which carries his pennant." (From: Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, c.2252 Further Correspondence respecting the Affairs of South Africa)

Message Commodore Sullivan, Durban, to Senior Naval Officer, Simon's Town.

"Inform Admiralty, by telegraph via Madeira, "Active" and "Tenedos" both got ashore during late cruise on Zulu coast.  "Active" merely grazed and is unhurt. "Tenedos," on shore 16 hours on reef of rocks hitherto unknown, has sustained severe damage; main keel nearly all gone, and screw disabled. Will probably have to send her to England, as, being hurricane season, do not consider it safe to send her to Mauritius." (From: Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, c.2454 Further Correspondence respecting the Affairs of South Africa)

Article in Royal Geographical Society Report

"The war in Zulu-Land has called attention to the unsurveyed state of parts of the coasts of South Africa, for although the coast-line is correctly delineated, yet the absence of soundings renders the approach very dangerous. In the early part of the year, H.M.S. Active and Tenedos were in great danger, through having grounded on some unknown reefs between the Tugela River and Point Durnford. It is to be hoped that the Admiralty, after this warning, may be induced to send out a properly equipped surveying vessel to execute sorely needed work, both on the east and west coasts of Africa (northwards from Bashee River on one side, and St. Helena Bay on the other), which have not been sounded since the days of Captain Owen, half a century ago." (From: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, 1879, p. 366)

Petty Officer Tom
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PostSubject: Re: The Wreck of HMS Tenedos   Thu Feb 23, 2017 7:47 pm

Thanks POT that's very interesting. Another unintended consequence of an unnecessary war I suppose. It is surprising how long some maps of the far flung corners of empire continued in use. I have a Stanford's Universal Atlas of 1900 that still contains a large map of the Falklands surveyed by Captain Fitzroy during the voyage of  the Beagle (with Darwin).

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