The Ghost with Wet Boots

The Loss of HMS ‘Victoria’, the Flagship sinking after being rammed by HMS ‘Camperdown’ – The Graphic 1893
After William Lionel Wyllie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Admiral Tyron was an extremely gifted Royal Naval Officer with a proven career of command, in the peacetime, post-Napoleonic era. On 22nd June 1893 he was Commander of the Mediterranean Station and was on board his flagship HMS Victoria. Tyron was a stickler for ensuring that the Captains under his command carried out the safe maneuvering of ships, particularly in difficult circumstances. Of particular relevance to later events, the memorandum warned commanders that their first duty was always to safeguard their ship (at least, during times of peace) and that should they ever be faced with an order which for some reason might be dangerous, then they should attempt to carry out the intention of the order, but only if it could be done without risk to their ship or others.

On the bridge of Victoria, the coast of Syria was in view and Tyron ordered the fleet into a reverse of course to head west. HMS Camperdown was sailing abreast of HMS Victoria to port at a distance of 1,200 yards. The Admiral’s order was for the two ships to make an inward turn for the fleet to reverse course and to move into line astern.  Admiral Markham on board the Camperdown perhaps unwisely questioned the order, given that the distance between the two ships was insufficient to carry put the order safely. The distance between the two ships should have been 2,000 yards to execute such a manoeuvre.  Admiral Tyron irritably signalled: “What are you waiting for?” Markham reluctantly gave the order to execute a 180 degree turn.

It’s possible that Admiral Tyron had made the mistake that many of us do; he confused radii with the diameter. The two ships of over 10,000 tons were turning towards each other at 18 knots. The subordinate officers on the ships’ two bridges looked with incredulity at their fellow officers. Did the grown-ups know what they were doing? Was this some kind of cunning master plan? The Captain of the Victoria warned Admiral Tyron twice that the Camperdown was too close. By the time Tyron seemed to come out of a kind of trance (he may have been suffering from Malaria), despite reversing engines, the Camperdown crashed into the Victoria on her starboard side with the battleship’s steel ram.

Markham ordered reverse engines and the Camperdown pulled clear of the Victoria. Water poured into the hull of the battleship and she began to list to starboard and go down rapidly by the bow. Because of the heat the portholes had been left open and with her propellers still turning, HMS Victoria went swiftly under, assuming a vertical position before sinking from view, taking most of her crew with her.

“It’s all my fault,” were the last words of Admiral Tyron to his officers and he went down with his command.

In London that evening, Lady Tryon held a dinner party for around 100 guests at her and the Admiral’s home in Eaton Place. It is said that Admiral Tyron appeared to the guests in full naval dress and walked the length of the room, leaving wet footprints. Some of the guests pursued him but the Admiral had disappeared. Lady Tyron scoffed the idea that guests had seen her husband as he was in the Mediterranean.  The following day she learned her husband had been lost with his ship.

However, the timings don’t add up with the accounts. For the Admiral to have appeared at the time of his death, it would have been in the early afternoon, before the dinner party started. The apparition of the Admiral in dress uniform and the wet footprints just seem so melodramatic in an age that had an obsession with the paranormal. The whole story smacks of trite, Victorian storytelling. HMS Victoria is still on the sea bed in a vertical attitude, a novelty for divers brave enough to dive on her crumbling remains.

© Blown Periphery 2017 2023

Chris served for 38 years in the military as an apprentice and adult Service. He completed tours in multiple locations in the UK and Germany during the Cold War. Later he served on operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Middle East and Asia.
Christophe Downes 28th July 1957 – 30th March 2023