H.M.S. Captain (1869)

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H.M.S. Captain (1869)
Builder: Laird, Birkenhead
Ordered: Nov, 1866
Laid down: 30 Jan, 1867
Launched: 27 Mar, 1869
Commissioned: Apr, 1870
Foundered: 7 Sep, 1870[1]

H.M.S. Captain was a masted turret ship built for the Royal Navy lost in a gale off Cape Finisterre on the west coast of Spain just one year after her completion.


Prior to being launched, concerns had been raised about the design, in particular the low freeboard, the high centre of gravity, and the heaviness of the vessel. All of these would be further worsened during construction which lacked supervision due to illness of the vessel's designer, Captain Cowper Phipps Coles. In particular the Chief Constructor of the Admiralty, Edward James Reed, raised particular concerns over the stability of the vessel but these were over-ruled during the seemingly successful sea trials in spring of 1870. On 6-7 September 1870, H.M.S. Captain was sailing off the west coast of Spain in force six winds and a storm considered "unexceptional" when, despite desperate attempts to prevent it, the vessel capsized and rapidly sank with the loss of 473 lives including that of her designer, Captain Coles, and her commander, Captain Hugh Talbot Burgoyne. Only eighteen members of the crew would survive her loss – one of the Royal Navy's greatest peacetime disasters.[2]

In the aftermath of the sinking, a court-martial and inquiry would be held on board at Portsmouth and presided over by Admiral Sir James Hope.

The Captain affair became a long-lived naval controversy, and immediate steps were taken to improve the stability of warships built for the Royal Navy, this leading to the appointment The subsequent court-martial and inquiry would lead to the creation of the Committee on Designs of Ship of War.


Dates of appointment are provided when known.

See Also


  1. Hepper. British Warship Losses in the Ironclad Era: 1860-1919. p. 8.
  2. hmscaptain.co.uk