Some Naval Reviews of the Past
Queen Victoria's Naval Review 11 August 1853
Four more Reviews were held at Spithead before the turn of the century, in 1873, 1887, 1889 and 1897. All of them were, in their way, milestones in naval development, illustrating the changing pattern of thought as new weapons were developed. It would be tedious to list the many types that made their appearance in these Reviews, but the highlights were a Nordenfelt submarine in 1887 and the Turbinia in 1897, a little ship which revolutionized steam propulsion in all the navies of the world.

Reviews of the new century began to reflect a new trend as Germany steadily evolved as a naval power. The building race was on and battleships slid down the ways in ever increasing numbers. At that famous Review in 1914. with the fleet already lying under the coming shadow of war, no fewer than 59 battleships were anchored at Spithead, a tremendous spectacle of implacable power.

In 1924, King George V came to Spithead to review his fleet, as he did eleven years later, in 1935, for his Silver Jubilee. Both Reviews reflected the changing opinions on naval warfare, for the unwieldy bulk of the aircraft carrier could now be seen.

In 1937, when the fleet assembled again for a Coronation Review, five carriers were present, a revelation of the way in which aircraft were beginning to dominate naval thought.

In 1953, another fleet assembled at Spithead for a Royal Review. Another war had been fought, and the discerning spectator could see how the cumulative experience of war had influenced naval design. For this was a fleet devised to implement those many lessons that the second world war had taught, and designed to give effect to the modern weapons and aids that the advance in scientific achievement had provided.

       Two further Fleet Reviews followed in 1969 and 1977.  In 1969 Queen Elizabeth II reviewed the fleet on the occassion of the twentieth anniversary of NATO and in 1977 she reviewed the fleet  during her Silver Jubilee Year.

Yet, though the shape of ships had changed completely since that first Review, though the dress of officers and men was different, though the weapons  bore no resemblance to the cannon of 228 years ago, there was still much of tradition  remaining. The ships were still manned as the Sovereign passed, as those older ships were manned; the Royal Salute was fired, as it was in 1773; and after dark the fleet was illuminated, as it was then.
The FLEET anchorage at Spithead has been the scene of many Naval Reviews. Perhaps it owes its pre-eminence to Henry VII, who selected Portsmouth as a Royal Dockyard in June, 1495, and thus linked Portsmouth and the Royal Navy from the birth of naval history. It is in these historic waters that the Royal and Commonwealth Navies assembled to honour the Sovereign.

In 1773, King George III set out from Kew, in a Royal coach  with scarlet outriders, for the first Royal Review. On his arrival he was saluted by a  "triple discharge of cannon," and proceeded to the dockyard where admirals and captains were assembled, each with his barge, to escort the King to Spithead. They had dressed their crews in fancy colours, each to his own taste, for there then was no uniform for seamen, but they themselves were resplendent in the full dress designed for them by George II in 1748, gold-braided tricorne hats over neat tie-wigs, a brocaded kerseymore waistcoat, edged with lace, which showed gaily beneath the gold-frogged dark blue coat, white knee breeches, white silk stockings, silver-buckled shoes.

The ships were those that had fought the French in the Seven Years' War, that were so soon again to fight them across the Atlantic in the War of American Independence. They were led by the Barfleur, of 90 guns, later to make history under Cuthbert Collingwood at the Glorious First of June.

So was held the first Review, to set the pattern for the many that have followed it. The second came in 1814 to celebrate the Treaty of Paris, and to show the Allied Sovereigns "the tremendous naval armaments which has swept from the ocean the fleets of France and Spain and secured to Britain the domain of the sea." Fifteen ships of the line and 31 frigates were present, all of them veterans of the Napoleonic wars.

In 1842 the young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert held a "Grand Naval Review." They inspected the Queen. There was little change in the ships, but officers and men looked very different. The old uniform had gone and officers wore their cocked hats "fore-and-aft," instead of"athwartships." Epaulettes had come in and, instead of breeches and buckled shoes, officers wore gold-laced trousers and black pumps. Seamen wore baggy trousers, short jackets, white-taped blue collars, and black silk scarves, set off by a beribboned straw hat. The Queen on this occasion endeared herself to her sailors, drinking a mess basin of grog, and liking it!

But times were changing. When the Queen, in 1845, inspected the experimental squadron, she used the new Victoria and Albert, first of the two paddlers, and the Board of Admiralty attended in their steam yacht, the Black Eagle. This was the last time that a Royal Review consisted only of sailing ships, and nearly the last time that the Queen could watch the Trafalgar's men run aloft and set the sails "with feline agility and astonishing celerity."

The Crimean War was responsible for two Reviews, one before it and one after. The first, in 1853, included for the first time screw ships of the line, but the second, in 1856, marked revolutionary changes, learned in the stress of war. It saw the first of the ironclad ships, four 1,500-ton floating batteries, and their presence pointed a finger of doom at the wooden ships which still lay in the anchorage. Over 100 gunboats were present, "puffing about like locomotive engines with wisps of
white steam trailing from their funnels."

In 1867 a Review was held for the Sultan of Turkey. For the first time every ship flew the White Ensign, for the old Red, White and Blue Squadrons were now no more. New designs were the five-masted Minotaur with her powerful broadside, and the graceful 14-knot sisters, Warrior and Black Prince, both of them turreted ships.

Spithead 1897 where the first turbine-driven vessel, S.Y. TURBINIA,
shown above, demonstrates her unique qualities.
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