Australia’s first cruiser, HMAS Melbourne, was launched in Birkenhead, England in 1912, and commissioned on 18 January 1913. Arriving in Port Phillip Bay on 26 March 1913, Melbourne was an object of great curiosity and pride, especially in the City of Melbourne, as a symbol of Australia’s new navy. Later, on 4 October 1913, she entered Sydney Harbour as a potent part of the Australian Fleet – the battle cruiser HMAS Australia, her sister ship HMAS Sydney, the older cruiser HMAS Encounter and the three torpedo boat destroyers HMA Ships Parramatta, Warrego and Yarra.
For the next fifteen years, Melbourne served her country and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in peace and war, before being decommissioned in 1928. For her service in World War One she was granted the battle honours Rabaul 1914 and North Sea 1916-1918. Often overshadowed by her sister Sydney, and with many years away from Australian waters, Melbourne toiled at unspectacular but strategically vital war work as well as showing the flag in the region during peacetime, including as RAN flagship on several occasions. In January 1922 Melbourne had her moment of glory with a dangerous and heroic rescue at night at the height of a gale of the crew of the sinking American schooner Helen B Sterling.
Melbourne was crewed over the years by a mixture of Royal Navy and RAN sailors and officers. This story is not only about Melbourne, the ship, but about the members of the ship’s company, ten of whom paid the supreme sacrifice during World War One. Authors Andrew Kilsby and Greg Swinden have brought to life in this account not only the life and times of a ‘forgotten cruiser’, but also of those who served in her.
The Forgotten Cruiser: HMAS Melbourne 1913-1928, Longueville, NSW 2013. ISBN 9781920681838. Copyright @ Andrew Kilsby & Greg Swinden