The backbone of the Navy

VERE was originally built as a steam pinnace for the Admiralty in 1905, possibly in the yard of J. Samuel White in the Isle of Wight. There is circumstantial evidence that she may have been assigned to HMS DREADNOUGHT, but the elusive serial numbers which would prove the case have not been found.

A photograph in Stapleton’s Steam Picket Boats shows a 40ft admiral's barge with two skylights which appear very similar to those currently in place on the coach roof of VERE, one over the main saloon and the other over the after cabin. An admiral's barge did not carry any armament so the additional deck space made available was used to improve ventilation below decks. The fact that VERE still retains two of these original skylights is further evidence that she was an admiral's barge.

Alan Dinnis, who is researching the history of the J. Samuel White dockyard, has confirmed that their records show “Yard no 1243; Ad.152 for HMS DREADNOUGHT; wooden steam barge for H.M.Navy; length 40’; delivered 1906”. So it would appear that VERE’s serial number was probably P152.

DREADNOUGHT was laid down in the Royal Naval Dockyard, Portsmouth, in October 1905, was launched in February 1906 and was completed in October 1906. She was the most powerful warship of any navy of the time, and her construction has been blamed by many for starting the arms race which, as other nations attempted to catch up, led to the First World War. She was put up for sale in March 1920 and broken up at Inverkeithing in 1923.

VERE was also built in 1905. H.M.S. DREADNOUGHTwas issued with 2 x 50ft steam picket boats, 1 x 45ft steam pinnace, and 1 x 40ft Admiral’s barge. Most 40ft pinnaces built at the time were issued as Admiral's barges to the flag ships among the new classes of armoured cruiser, such as the Duke of Edinburgh class, which were being commissioned from 1904 onwards.

HMS DREADNOUGHT was a Royal Navy battleship that revolutionised naval power. Her entry into service in 1906 represented such a marked advance in naval technology that her name came to be associated with an entire generation of battleships, the "dreadnoughts", as well as the class of ships named after her. The generation of ships she made obsolete became known as "pre-dreadnoughts". She was the sixth ship of that name in the Royal Navy.

Admiral Sir John "Jacky" Fisher, First Sea Lord of the Board of Admiralty, is credited as the father of the Dreadnought. Shortly after he assumed office he ordered design studies for a battleship armed solely with 12-inch (305 mm) guns and a speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph). He convened a "Committee on Designs" to evaluate the alternative designs and to assist in the detailed design work. One ancillary benefit of the Committee was that it would shield him and the Admiralty from political charges that they had not consulted leading experts before designing such a radically different battleship.

DREADNOUGHT was the first battleship of her era to have a uniform main battery, rather than having a few large guns complemented by a heavy secondary battery of smaller guns. She was also the first capital ship to be powered by steam turbines, making her the fastest battleship in the world at the time of her completion. Her launch helped spark a naval arms race as navies around the world, particularly the German Imperial Navy, rushed to match her in the build-up to the First World War.

DREADNOUGHT did not participate in any of the First World War's naval battles -- she was being refitted during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. However, she was the only battleship to sink a submarine when she rammed the SM U-29 when it unexpectedly broke the surface after firing a torpedo at another dreadnought in 1915. DREADNOUGHT was relegated to coastal defence duties in the English Channel after Jutland, only rejoining the Grand Fleet in 1918. She was reduced to reserve in 1919 and sold for scrap two years later.

So VERE was built coincident with HMS DREADNOUGHT, and ended her service career at the same time.

Over 1,000 steam pinnaces were built between 1895 and 1939, but only two still powered by steam survive. JANET, formerly P236, a 40ft admiral’s barge built in 1892 in J. Samuel White’s yard in Cowes, is on Lake Windermere, in  private ownership. P199, a 50ft variant, the last steam driven pinnace in operational service, is now in the ownership of and operated by the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. Like VERE, she too went through conversion as a houseboat but was rebuilt in 1999–2001.

Steam pinnaces were, in their time, quite aggressive craft. If carried on board a ship, and used to patrol the waters for submarines or torpedoes around that ship when at anchor, they would be armed with a 3lb Hotchkiss gun on the fo'c'sle or a 5-barrelled Nordenfelt on the cabin roof. This was the standard weapon fit from 1884 onwards. Some were also equipped to carry and deliver spar torpedoes. Later (1906) many were fitted out to carry two conventional torpedoes, one either side of the hull in cradles. They were used extensively in this role during the Gallipoli campaign for blowing up obstacles near the beaches. Steam pinnaces were also used for towing the boats of infantry to the shore.

The Admiralty list of 1914 showed 634 of these vessels in service, and they continued in use until the Second World War. When armed with a Hotchkiss gun, pinnaces were often referred to as picket boats because of their activities as a picket patrolling the capital ship anchorage. The combination of speed and quick firing ability made the steam picket boat a formidable defence against the torpedo boat threat of the late 1800s and early 1900s. In addition to the Hotchkiss gun, the picket boat would have carried a light Maxim machine gun on the cabin roof and a number of rifles.

Where is she now?

VERE was recently destroyed in a boatyard fire in Cowes, Isle of Wight.



Motorboat (1925) Converted yacht as floating home: A cruiser with two engines of unequal power.

Brann, Christian (1989) The Little Ships of Dunkirk: 1940-1990.

Stapleton, N.B.J. (1980) Steam Picket Boats. Lavenham, Suffolk: Terence Dalton Ltd.