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Fight the Good Fight - Save the Cerberus
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Administrator's Message

Commander John Toogood - Victorian Navy
Photo courtesy of the Sunday Herald-Sun, Melbourne.


John Toogood                                                                 The Heritage Network was established to raise public awareness of worthwhile heritage projects, in particular, ongoing efforts to preserve the 19th century iron monitor HMVS Cerberus. This one time flagship of the formidable Victorian Naval Forces is now a rusting breakwater just 200m off shore at a popular bayside pleasure spot.

Probably for the first time since steam was last raised in the Cerberus' boilers someone has found the will to actually spend a modest amount of money on improving the lot of this once mighty warship. In this, the Victorian State Government will achieve something that no other before them has but the truly amazing thing is that this decision comes amid bipartisan support from both front and back bench politicians alike. Minister Delahunty and her department rightly deserve the credit for this significant development but it should not be forgotten that MP's of both popular 'flavours' have shown support for the project.

This vital first step is only stage one of a relatively modest 'Preservation Plan' developed over several years by GHD for the 'Alliance to Save the Cerberus' and actively promoted by 'Friends of the Cerberus'. It will see the four giant guns lifted from their turrets, two of them for the first time in nearly 135 years, relieving the lower decks of 72 tonnes pressure. In so doing it is hoped to extend the window of opportunity for completing the AUD$5.5m project before time and tide finish their onerous mission begun almost 80 years ago off Black Rock.




Former HMVS Cerberus Now Forlorn
viewed over the stern off Black Rock in Half Moon Bay, Dec 2003

HMVS Cerberus in Dec 2003. Photo by John Toogood

One time flag ship of the Victorian Naval Forces, HMVS Cerberus lays forlorn at Half Moon Bay where she was unceremoniously scuttled in 1926 to form a breakwater. Ironically that very act is probably the sole reason we still have this iconic maritime treasure accessible and intact, albeit tenuously, almost 80 years on. Severe storms on Boxing Day 1993 caused a partial collapse of the lower hull (hold) rendering fore deck and much of the quarter deck submerged. The intervening decade has seen the wreck suffer badly and it is widely considered the current preservation effort will be her last, one way or another.

Significance of the Cerberus

A Cerberus class monitor, HMVS Cerberus was the world's first substantial purpose built iron 'steam ship' (ie. iron hulled with 3,000+ tons displacement, fore and aft' gun turrets mounted on a raised central super-structure or breastwork deck and relying entirely on steam power) ever launched. She is believed to be the only surviving colonial flag ship in the world, was the first fully armoured warship to pass through the Suez Canal, the first and now sole surviving breastwork monitor and the first British built warship designed without the need for sails. This alone should render the ship worth saving but the list of firsts and the unique features of the Cerberus are numerous. The keel having been laid down at Jarrow (Newcastle, UK) in 1867, HMVS Cerberus was launched the following year representing a complete break with traditional ship building and maritime technology. Incorporating a double hull (inner & outer) and 'state of the art' ballast system with semi-submersible capabilities she represents a link between the first tentative step in this direction, the much smaller USS Monitor launched in 1862 (floundering the same year), and later Dreadnought Battleships and Submarines. Other American civil war monitors, like the USS Monitor, had their gun turrets mounted on the weather deck with no superstructure and were, for the most part, mounted with a solitary turret. Consequently, their relative unseaworthiness saw them relegated, almost without exception, to river and estuary patrols. The Cerberus on the other hand employed a central superstructure to support both fore and aft' rotating gun turrets and was the world's first such ship. From the genesis of HMVS Cerberus, which saw the nerve centre removed from 'rear castle' configuration during the age of sail to amidships, sprang virtually all modern warships and ship design in general.



HMVS Cerberus in a mill pond again

Another photo taken by John Toogood during the Dec 2003 inspection visit

Dec 2003 at high tide ..... The stillness was reminiscent of a day almost 104 years ealier when the Cerberus achieved her highest recorded speed.

"With a clear sky and the Bay as calm as a mill pond, everything portended a successful cruise in the Cerberus.
.....Commander Tickell had a speed trial over a measured mile laid by the patent log, which showed the time record to be 12.4 knots per hour." The Age, 14 April 1900

Friends of the Cerberus President John Toogood on board
HMVS Cerberus during the authorized Dec 2003 inspection.
Mr Toogood comtemplates the chances of saving
Australia's most important cultural heritage asset.
Photo courtesy of the Sunday Herald-Sun, Melbourne.

Friends of the Cerberus' webmaster, John Rogers
points out some of the finer features on Robert Schorah's
model of Cerberus at the Williamstown Heritage Boat Show
held over the weekend of 27-28 March 2004.
Photo courtesy of John Toogood.

(L-R) Seasoned campaigners Graeme Disney & Peter Tully
with Minister Mary Delahunty (centre) after the formal
announcement of funding for stage one of the
'HMVS Cerberus Preservation Plan'
Photo courtesy of Patrick Simpson.

Network Objectives

'The Heritage Network' is intended as a referral and educational tool to support the endeavours of existing organizations in preserving our heritage for future generations. The issue of HMVS Cerberus is considered to be of utmost importance and demanding of immediate attention given the current condition of the ship. Like minded enthusiasts are encouraged to register an interest in saving the Cerberus, or at least a significant part of it, and to assist in promoting the wider campaign to raise public awareness of the issue. The Network aims to bring members of the public together in support of this and other such endeavours.
Given the significance of HMVS Cerberus to our local history and to worldwide maritime history the preservation/restoration of whatever remains viable of this unique ship is considered imperative. Some dedicated organizations have been working diligently in support of the wider campaign to 'Save the Cerberus' for many years. It is our intention to enhance this endeavour and further promote the work of these organizations to the wider community through networking with like minded supporters dedicated to the task.
A number of seemingly feasible salvage proposals have been offered too date and some not so feasible. The most likely at this stage appears to be a proposal supported by 'Friends of the Cerberus' and was the motivation behind the November 2002 engineering and geotechnical survey. Details can be found on their website ( but briefly it involves construction of a coffer dam and lifting framework around the site to raise cerberus off the sea bed sufficiently to allow the positioning of a 'cradle' for support of the ship which would then be lowered back into it. The intention being to stabilize the ship on site at the least expense ultimately extending the viability of any further salvage/restoration options that may gain enough support in future with further promotion. Engineering advice is that the preservation plan, if successfully implemented, should ensure the Cerberus remains viable for up to 50 years. Many claim this proposal doesn't go far enough and they would like to see the vessel brought ashore or placed in dry dock. While this is quite doable the unfortunate fact is that without widespread public and political support the necessary funds to pay for it simply are not available in the relatively short time remaining.
At best, the existence of The Heritage Network to promote the campaign could help enthuse the public to an extent where loud and clear demands are made of our polititians and the corporate sector to provide some assistance. At worst another generation, in a small corner of suburban Melbourne, will gain some insight into an oft' neglected but nevertheless critical era of maritime history.

Site Briefing 2004
As of January 2004 the ship, which lays in 16' of water at Half Moon Bay (Victoria), has been under serious threat for a decade. After a limited collapse during foul weather on Boxing Day 1993 the skeletal remains of the lower (hold) deck have continued buckling under the immense weight of upper, main, and breastwork decks and turrets. The result has been a steady subsidence of the fo'c's'le so that it is now completely submerged while the quarter deck is subjected to tidal immersions. The breastwork deck with turrets atop remains comfortably above the water line. Surveys conducted by divers with an engineering firm engaged to investigate the site have revealed that despite the increased rate of general deterioration since 1993, the 8" to 11" thick armoured belt which encompasses the entire main deck (to a level 7' below the main deck) is in surprisingly good condition beneath an encrustation of barnacles.
The November 2002 survey allowed close inspection of the Cerberus which confirmed fears that the heavily armoured breastwork deck with turrets is at imminent risk of crashing through the main deck and into the 'bowels of the ship'. The two turrets are said to each weigh as much as 260 tons including their four 10" RML Woolwich Guns with carriages in addition to 470 tonnes of the breastwork deck. Should this be allowed to occur the viability of the site would be severely compromised and existing strategies would require a complete re-appraisal. Money thus far spent on preliminary surveys and costing would be largely wasted and an historical resource of worldwide importance would slip further from the public consciousness (out of sight, out of mind). The potentially crippling cost to relevant government authorities of rendering Half Moon Bay safe for pleasure craft using the local facilities, should the ship be broken up by severe storms that regularly test the site, is also to be considered. Such an outcome would seriously embarrass Victoria and Australia on the world stage.
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