HMS Gipsy (1897)

HMS Gipsy (1897) was a C class destroyer that served with the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover throughout the First World War, playing a role in sinking U-48 in November 1917. She survived into the 1970s after being used as a pontoon at Dartmouth.

Fairfield built three destroyers in the 1896-7 programme. They had four Thornycroft boilers in two stokeholds, with the second and third boilers sharing the central funnel.

A navigating party left Devonport on 25 April 1898, under the commander of Lt Gillen Brown, to collect the Gipsy from Govan and bring her back to Devonport.

HMS Gipsy from the left
HMS Gipsy from the left

The Gipsy took part in the 1899 Naval Manoeuvres. She was part of the destroyer flotilla attached to the Reserve or ‘B’ Fleet, under Vice Admiral Sir Compton Domvile. The exercise involved three forces – a convoy heading from Halifax to Milford Haven, the ‘A’ Fleet, which was to start at Belfast and try and intercept the convoy, and the ‘B’ Fleet, which had slower but more powerful ships and was to try and defend the convoy. The A fleet was given torpedo boats, the B fleet destroyers. The exercises ended as a success for the B fleet, but the Gipsy had to put into port at Stranraer to fix problems with her machinery during the exercises. The Gipsy served as a tender to the depot ship HMS Vivid during the exercise.

In 1900-1905 she was part of the Devonport Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers.

In March 1900 she had to be taken into the Keyham basin to have all of her boiler tubes replaced, after an unusually short life-span.

In April 1901 she was one of eight destroyers from the Devonport command that paid a visit to Manchester, travelling to the city up the Ship Canal. As would be expected, there was a great deal of public interest in the visit, and crowds came to watch the ships as the moved up the canal, and as they were moored in Manchester.

The Gipsy took part in the 1901 naval manoeuvres, as part of the ‘X Fleet’, but by the end of July she had been captured and forced to return to port at Plymouth as a prisoner of war, effectively knocked out of the exercise.

On Friday 28 February 1902 the Gipsy had to land Stoker William Mortimore at Dartmouth after he was scalded when a boiler tube burst.

In August 1902 the Gipsy and Lively escorted the King and Queen on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert as they cruised from the Eddystone to Falmouth during a Royal cruise. The Gipsy then stayed with the Royal party, as on 26 August she was used to collect letters and despatches for the King at Greenock and later at Oban.

In August 1904 it was announced that the Gipsy was to replace the Charger as part of the Devonport torpedo-boat instructional flotilla.

She remained with the Devonport Flotilla in 1905-9, and thus wasn’t one of the destroyers directly attached to the battle fleet in 1905.

In the summer of 1907 the Gipsy, Flirt and Cynthia paid a visit to the East Coast, visiting Grimsby and Hull, where a series of entertainments were laid on for the crew. The Gipsy the took part in a Channel Fleet cruise in Scottish waters, but had to put into Queensferry on 9 July  after fracturing the shaft of her port engine.

In 1909-1912 she was with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, which was attached to the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, built around the older battleships. In this role she had a reduced complement.

On 11 September 1909 the Gipsy was reported to have run ashore near Grey Point on Belfast Loch, in a fog while heading to Belfast for repairs to her boilers. She was refloated after two hours, after suffering only minor damage. Two small holes were made in her bottom, both propellers were damaged and one propeller shaft bent, but the first temporary repairs were expected to be completed at Belfast by 17 September. However unless she was an especially unlucky ship, this is probably an error for the incident below, which took place on the south-west coast of Scotland.

While the Gipsy was in the graving dock at Belfast she became something of a tourist attraction, and on Wednesday 15 September 1909 a seven year old boy was badly injured when he fell into the dock during a visit to the destroyer. The famous tenor Enrico Caruso, who had just performed in Ireland for the first time on the same day, sent £5 to the boy’s mother after hearing of the incident.

In November 1909 her captain, Lieutenant-Commander Stephen Hervey Morris, was court martialed for ‘negligently and by default allowing his ship to ground at Chorsewell Point, Wigtonshire, on 10 September 1909. Morris was found guilty of the more minor offensive of hazarding the ship ‘by default’, and reprimanded. This would appear to refer to the same incident as above,

In 1912 she joined the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, a new patrol flotilla, once again with a reduced complement.

First World War

The Gipsy was awarded a battle honour for operations off the Belgian coast in 1914-1917.

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

In August 1914 she was one of fifteen destroyers from the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla that had moved to their new war base at Dover.

At the end of August 1914 she was chosen as one of six destroyers from the 6th Flotilla that were to support a planned landings at Ostend to support the Belgians. The landings began on 27 August, but it was soon clear that the port couldn’t be defended, and British troops withdrew on 31 August.

In November 1914 she part of the Sixth Flotilla, but was undergoing repairs at Portsmouth, where she had arrived on 18 October.

In January 1915 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, one of the Patrol Flotillas.

In June 1915 the Gipsy was one of twenty four destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla based at Dover.

In January 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

In October 1916 she was one of twenty five destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

The Gipsy was part of the general reserve of the Dover Force when the Germans raiding into the Dover Straits on 25 October 1916.

In January 1917 she was part of the Sixth Flotilla, but was off station being repaired.

In June 1917 she was one of twenty nine destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

On 24 November 1917 the Gipsy and five drifters shelled U-48, which had run aground on the Goodwin Sands overnight. After a brief gun battle the submarine’s crew scuttled her. There were 22 survivors. In May 1910 the Gipsy’s crew were awarded prize money for their part in the battle.

In January 1918 she was one of forty three destroyers in the Sixth Flotilla, although a sizable number were undergoing repairs. 

In June 1918 she was part of the large Sixth Destroyer Flotilla of the Dover Force.

In November 1918 she was one of seventeen active destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla of the Dover patrol.

The Gipsy was sold in March 1921.

She was used as a pontoon at Dartmouth, and still existed as late as 1972.

-April 1901-: Lt and Commander Henry L. Wells

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)






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

Crew complement

60 (Brassey)

Laid down

1 October 1896


9 March 1897


July 1898



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 (9 May 2019), HMS Gipsy (1897) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy