HMS Virago (1895)

HMS Virago was an B class destroyer that served on the Pacific Station in 1897-1903 and then on the China Station from 1903 until she was sold in 1919.

The first batch of Laird 30-knotters were enlarged versions of their 27-knotters (HMS Banshee, HMS Contest and HMS Dragon), which were in turn enlarged version of their first generation destroyer prototypes (HMS Ferret and HMS Lynx). They had four Normand boilers in two stokeholds, with the uptakes at each end, the boilers next to them and the working space in the middle. The engine room was placed between the fore and aft stokeholds. The 30-knotters used four cylinder triple expansion engines, with two low pressure cylinders. They were criticized in service for their large turning circles, but were considered to be strongly built. Three of the four survived into the First World War.


The Virago was laid down on 13 June 1895 and launched on 19 November 1895.

The Virago carried out her full power official coal consumption trial on the Clyde on Thursday 12 November 1896. She averaged 30.17 knots over the measured mile and 30.07 knots on a three hour trial, and consumed 2.42lb of coal per iHP per hour.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1896 reported that she had achieved 30.365 knots at 364 rpm over six miles on the measured mile and 30.049 knots on the three hour trial.

HMS Virago in Victorian livery
HMS Virago
in Victorian livery

On Monday 7 December 1896 the Virago steamed from Greenock to the Mersey, carrying out the passage in nine or ten hours, even though she was sailing through a gale.

The Virago was accepted into the Royal Navy in June 1897 and on Tuesday 10 August 1897 she was commissioned for service on the Pacific Station, based on the west coast of Canada. She was to travel with the Leander, which was to carry some of her stores, to make life more comfortable on the Virago on the voyage to Esquimalt. By the end of December 1897 the two ships had reached San Diego, California. By February 1898 she had reached Esquimalt, where she was paid off but kept in readiness for service when required.

In January 1900 the Virago was ordered to patrol the Straits of Vancouver and the approaches to Esquimalt, after news was received of a Fenian plot to attack the Navy Yard at Esquimalt. This came thirty years after a series of genuine Fenian raids into Canada from the United States, but nothing happened in 1900.

In September 1900 a relief crew for the Virago left Devonport heading for Vancouver via Liverpool, Halifax and the Canadian-Pacific Railway across Canada. Once they arrived the Virago was re-commissioned for long term service.

In August 1901 it was reported in the British press that the Virago was about to be despatched from British Columbia to Panama, along with the Amphion and the Sparrowhawk, during a civil war in Columbia that spilled over into Panama.

In January 1903 the Virago and Sparrowhawk were both reported to be suffering from structural defects and the Admiralty ordered that both should be carefully checked for problems.

In April 1903 the Admiralty issued instructions that the Virago was to be transferred to the China Station, part of a general reduction in the size of the Pacific Squadron based in Canada. In April 1903 the Virago left Canada to visit Honolulu, with the Sparrowhawk and Amphion, arriving on 28 April. However when she got there the coal that had been ordered for the trip on to Hong Kong was missing. An alternative supply was found and the flotilla left for Hong Kong at the end of the first week of May. They reached Yokohama on 25 May, and were at Hong Kong by the summer of 1903.

First World War

HMS Virago from the front
HMS Virago from the front

The Virago was on the China station at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, but she was on the for sale list. By December 1914 she had been removed from that list and recommissioned, still on the China station.

In June 1915 she was one of six destroyers serving on the China station.

In January 1916 she was based at Hong Kong, where she was one of the few destroyers that hadn’t been paid off to free up men for more valuable ships.

In October 1916 she was one of nine destroyers on the China Station.

In January 1917 she was one of three destroyers on the China Station.

In June 1917 she was on the China station.

In the autumn of 1917 the Virago was one of the ships potentially available to hunt down the German raider Wolf, although in the end that ship got no nearer to China than the vicinity of Singapore.

In January 1918 she was one of three destroyers from the China Station based at Hong Kong.

HMS Virago firing in honour of King Edward VII
HMS Virago firing in honour of King Edward VII

From 19 April 1918 she was commanded by Lt Reginald Bernard.

In June 1918 she was one of two active destroyers on the China Station.

In November 1918 she was one of three destroyers on the China Station.

In February 1919 she was still listed as one of the active destroyers on the China station.

She was sold at Hong Kong in October 1919.

October 1915-: Lt W.C.H. Jones
19 April 1918-February 1919-: Lt. Reginald Bernard

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots


2 screws


80 tons of coal capacity (Brassey)


218ft oa
213ft pp




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

Crew complement

58 (Brassey)

Laid down

13 June 1895


19 November 1895


June 1897


June 1897

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 (3 January 2019), HMS Virago (1895) ,

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