HMS Bullfinch (1898)

HMS Bullfinch (1898) was a C class destroyer that suffered a disastrous boiler explosion in 1899, then served with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber in 1914 and the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla in 1914-1918.

Earle built two ships in the 1896-7 programme. They had four Thornycroft boilers in two stokeholds, with the second and third boilers sharing the middle funnel of three. Earle also put forward a tender for repeat ships in the 1897-8 programme, but were turned down as neither of the earlier ships had yet completed their trials.

On Wednesday 11 January 1899 the Bullfinch ran a test along the measured mile off Withernsea, with satisfactory results.

On Friday 5 May 1899 the Bullfinch attempted a three hour full power trial off Portsmouth, but after an hour and a half she was only averaging 29.1 knots and the trial was abandoned.

'C' Class Destroyer HMS Bullfinch
'C' Class Destroyer
HMS Bullfinch

On Friday 21 July 1899 the Bullfinch was in the middle of a steam trial in the Solent, when there was an explosion in one of her engine rooms. The connecting rod on the starboard engine had broken while the ship was moving at 30 knots under full steam. The broken rod knocked the end off one of the engine cylinders, filling the room with hot steam. Fourteen men were injured, of whom eleven died (some immediately, and some after the incident). Most of the dead were either dockyard or contractor’s men, as the Bullfinch had not yet been handed over to the Navy. Of the eight men who died immediately, three were from Portsmouth, one from Southsea and four from Hull. A ninth man died while being moved from the Bullfinch, and two more later in hospital.

The Bullfinch’s starboard engine room was badly damaged in the explosion, and a small hole was blown in her starboard side.

In the aftermath of the disaster an inquest was held at Portsmouth in August 1899. A connection rod was found to have failed, and other rods in the Bullfinch were found to be cracked. However they had all passed Admiralty tests, and the same rods in her sister ship Dove had performed at higher engine pressures without any problems. The inquest jury eventually decided that the design of the connecting rods was at fault. The rod had broken, knocking out a cylinder end and filling the engine room with steam. The rods were considered not to have been quite strong enough, and had then been over-worked. The main recommendation was that the connecting rods in high pressure engines needed to be made heavier.

The repairs to the Bullfinch took some time. Her machinery was finally repaired by mid-August 1900, when it was tested in the basin at Portsmouth Harbour.

On Friday 28 September 1900 the Bullfinch carried out a three hour full power trial in Stokes Bay, averaging 29.48 knots.

Another three hour run, on Wednesday 17 October 1900, had to be abandoned part of the way through after the starboard engine broke down.

HMS Bullfinch at Brighton, 1905
HMS Bullfinch at Brighton, 1905

On Saturday 17 November 1900 she tried six runs on the measured mile. The first five were completed, and she averaged 29.5 knots, but she suffered boiler problems on the sixth run and the trial had to be abandoned,.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1901 published one trial result for the Bullfinch, reporting that she had reached 29.460 knots at 6,002iHP, using 2.37 lbs of coal per iHP per hour in 1900.

In 1901-1905 she was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers.

The Bullfinch took part in the 1901 naval manoeuvres, which began in late July. These involved two fleets – Fleet B began in the North Sea, and had the task of keeping the English Channel open to trade. Fleet X began off the north coast of Ireland, and had the task of stopping trade in the Channel. TheBullfinchwas part of a force of destroyers from Portsmouth that joined Fleet B. This was the first time both sides in the annual exercises had been given an equal force of destroyers. The exercises ended with a victory for Fleet X. The destroyer forces didn’t live up to expectations, either in torpedo attack or as scouts.

On Thursday 15 August 1901, after the exercises were over, the Bullfinch was one of four destroyers that were paid off at Portsmouth.

On 21 May 1902 she escorted her sister ships Dove into Queenstown, after she had her port propeller knocked off when she struck a rock.

In October 1903-March 1904 the Bullfinch had her boilers re-tubed at Sheerness as part of a larger refit. 

HMS Bullfinch from the left
HMS Bullfinch
from the left

In 1906-1907 she remained with the Portsmouth Flotilla, which now contained mainly older boats, while the newer destroyers were attached directly to the Channel and Atlantic Fleets.

In 1907-1909 she was part of the Nore Flotilla, another flotilla largely filled with older boats.

On 5 June 1907 the Bullfinch collided with the training ship Wellesley and the guardship HMS Satellite at North Shields. Of the three the Bullfinch suffered the most damage, losing the starboard side of her bridge, her yardarm and topmast.

In 1909-1912 she was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, with a reduced complement. This flotilla was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which was built around the older battleships.

She remained with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla into 1913, by which time it had become one of the new Patrol Flotillas.

The Bullfinch was part of the Red Fleet during the 1913 naval manoeuvres, but was captured 50 miles to the north-east of Flamborough and sent into the Humber.

In July 1914 she was part of the Seventh Patrol Flotilla at Devonport, part of the Second Fleet of the Home Fleet.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of eleven destroyers from the flotilla that had moved to the flotilla’s new base on the Humber, others were scattered along the east coast.  On the first day of the war the Bullfinch captured a German schooner in the North Sea, taking her into Boston. Her commander on that day, Lt Commander Joseph Montague Kenworthy, later became the MP for Central Hull, and used his connection to the Bullfinch and Hull in his election campaign.

On 15 August the Bullfinch was involved in a collision while operating with the 7th Patrol Flotilla from Grimsby. Four ratings were killed, and three of them are buried at Grimsby.

At the start of November 1914 she was one of three destroyers from the 7th Flotilla that was part of No.4 Patrol, based at Grimsby.

On 7 November 1914 she was one of twelve destroyers that the Admiralty ordered to move from the patrol flotillas to Scapa Flow, and she departed for her new base on 8 November.

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

In June 1915 she was part of the Grand Fleet, and was part of the Scapa Patrol.

In January 1916 she was one of ten destroyers attached to Admiral Jellicoe in his role as C-in-C of the Grand Fleet.

In October 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers attached to the Grand Fleet but not allocated to any particular formation.

In January 1917 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1917 she was one of eleven destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

In January 1918 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1918 she was one of twenty five destroyers in the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber.

In November 1918 she was one of twenty seven destroyers in the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla.

The Bullfinch was sold in June 1919.

-1912-August 1914-: Lt Commander Joseph Montague Kenworthy

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)


214.5ft oa
210ft pp




One 12-pounder gun
Five 6-pounder guns
Two 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

60 (Brassey)

Laid down

17 September 1896


10 February 1898


June 1901

Broken Up


British Destroyers From Earliest Days to the Second World War, Norman Friedman. A very detailed look at the design of British destroyers from their earliest roots as torpedo boat destroyers, though the First World War and up to the start of the Second World War, supported by vast numbers of plans and well chosen photographs [read full review]
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 May 2019), HMS Bullfinch (1898) ,

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