HMS Boxer (1894)

HMS Boxer (1894) was an A class destroyer that was a record breaker in her early career, and that served with the Portsmouth local Defence Flotilla during the First World War, before being lost in a collision in 1918.

HMS Boxer at Sea
HMS Boxer at Sea

The Boxer was one of three 27 knot destroyers ordered from Thornycroft as part of the 1893-94 programme, but the only one to survive into the First World War. Their ‘Ardent Class’ was an enlarge version of Thornycroft’s first destroyer, HMS Daring, with a similar two funnel layout. She had a turtleback foredeck, with a conning tower at the end of the turtleback with the single 12-pounder gun on a platform above the conning tower. The Thornycroft 27 knot destroyers had three boilers in two rooms, with a single boiler in the forward room and two in the rear room. The uptakes from No.1 and No.2 boilers were trunked into a single funnel.

She was built with three torpedo tubes - two deck and one in the bow, but the bow tube caused too many problems and was soon removed.  One of the deck tubes was between the funnels and the second just forward of the aft gun. She also saw an extra pair of 6-pounder guns compared to the first batch of destroyers, giving her one 12-pounder and five 6-pounders. This became the standard armament of British destroyers up to the River class. Two of the 6-pounders were placed on the raised end of the foredeck so they could fire forward. Two more were in staged positions alongside the funnels. The fifth was on a platform at the rear of the ship.

The Boxer was reported as reaching just over 29 knots during her trials. She managed 29.17 knots at 4,543ihp, with a boiler pressure of 207lb/ sq in at 410.3 rpm. Her high speed made quite a splash in the British press, and she was reported as being the fastest ship in the world in the Portsmouth Evening News, which reported her trial in some detail, giving the details of her six timed runs, with their average speed of 29.17 knots and a top speed of 30.354 knots on the fifth run. An impressive array of other British newspapers also reported the news.

In 1912 the Admiralty decided to group all of its destroyers into lettered classes. The Boxer became an A class destroyer, the designation for all surviving 27-knotters.

Pre-war Service

The Boxer was laid down in March 1894 and launched on 28 November 1894. She was accepted into the Royal Navy in June 1895.

In 1895 the Boxer was used to test out aluminium torpedo tubes, but they proved to be too prone to erosion from salt water and the gases produced by the torpedoes to be of use.

By 1896 she had joined the British destroyer force, then organised as a single large squadron. One of her first duties was to operate a regular route between Dover and Torquay to get familiar with coast. In the same year she rescued a man who had fallen overboard from the battleship HMS Resolution.

The Boxer took part in the 1896 Naval Manoeuvres, an attempt to carry out a realistic simulation of an unexpected outbreak of war. She served with the Channel Fleet (Admiral Kerr), which was given twenty destroyers and Berehaven as its main base. At the start of the exercise the Boxer was on  patrol looking for the Reserve Fleet’s torpedo boats, and witnessed Admiral Seymour’s main fleet leaving its base at Milford Haven, but her commander chose not to report this development and instead remained at its post until the following morning. During the main part of the exercise she formed part of Fleet A, based at Berehaven.

In 1896 she was allocated to the flotilla of destroyers that was to be sent to the Mediterranean, and by October she had reached Malta (although a rumour spread in Britain that she had been lost off Ushant!). Many of the destroyer tactics later adopted by the entire fleet were first developed in the Mediterranean, where they had to accompany the main fleet. In contrast the home-based destroyers operated independently of the main fleets in this period, and were expected to carry out a close blockade of the main French torpedo boat bases if war broke out.

The Boxer arrived in the Mediterranean just as the last in a series of Cretan revolts against Ottoman rule was getting under way. The Great Powers sent a combined naval force to Crete early in 1897, including the Boxer. In February the Boxer was used to deliver an ultimatum to the captain of the Greek warship Hydra after it opened fire on a Turkish transport before the outbreak of war.

The Boxer took part in the combined Mediterranean, Channel and Cruiser Squadron Manoeuvres which took part in the Mediterranean in the autumn of 1902, which were intended to test out the problems of conducting a close blockage of an enemy fleet in port. She and the Griffon formed part of A Fleet, one of the blockading forces. During the exercise the blockading fleets suffered from a lack of proper control, after the various admirals in command were pulled out of place by false information. The Boxer found herself attempting to find the missing admirals, without much success. By the time the blockading commanders discovered that their opponents had left port, it was took late to catch them.

The Boxer was still in the Mediterranean in 1909 when a devastating earthquake hit Messina. She played a part in the relief effort.

The Boxer remained in the Mediterranean until 1911.

In 1911-12 the Boxer served with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla and the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, both at Portsmouth, with a reduced complement.

In 1911 the Boxer collided with a pinnace from the cruiser HMS Blenheim while carrying mail from the fleet at Spithead into Portsmouth Harbour. The pinnace was sunk, but without loss.

From 1912 she was with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

By March 1913 she was no longer in front line service, and was serving as a tender to the gunnery training establishment HMS Excellent at Portsmouth, with a nucleus crew. She was commanded by Lt George E. Casley.
First World War

The Boxer didn’t appear in the Pink Lists for 5 August or 1 November 1914 (The Navy’s list of ship locations).

By 1 January 1915 she was listed as a tender to HMS Vernon, the torpedo school, with chief gunner William B. Fuller in command.

By 30 June 1915 the Boxer was back in active service, and was serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla. This formation was kept busy in the waters around Portsmouth, hunting U-boats, searching for mines and escorting local shipping.

She was still with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla on 1 January 1916, and on 1 October 1916, but by 1 January 1917 was undergoing a long refit. She was back with the Portsmouth Flotilla by 30 June 1917 when she was attached to HMS Vernon once again. On 2 January 1918 she was recorded as undergoing repairs, but they were soon completed.

On 8 February 1918 the Boxer collided with the merchant ship SS St. Patrickin bad weather in the Channel, and sank with the loss of one crewman.

-March 1913-: Lt George E. Casley

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Pendant No

c.1914-April 1917: H.4C
January 1918: D.16

Top Speed

27 knots (contract)
29.31 knots max trial speed


Thornycroft water tube boilers
2 screws


60 tons of coal (Brassey 1895)
865 miles at 11 knots


200.5ft oa
200ft pp




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

Crew complement

45 (Brassey 1895)

Laid down

March 1894


28 November 1894


June 1895

Lost after collision

8 February 1918

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 (10 December 2018), HMS Boxer (1894) ,

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