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“Maiden voyage” of Sr Ms. Buffalo

By Ed Wijbrands
On June 3, 1864, a commission was created by royal decree to examine the coastal defenses of the Netherlands and make recommendations for improvement. The then government decided to have 3 Monitors and 4 Ram Tower ships built. The ramtorenships could not (yet) be built in Dutch yards and were therefore ordered from foreign yards namely “the Scorpion” in Toulon (France), “the Buffalo” in Govan upon Clyde/Glasgow (Scotland) and the Bull in Birkenhead/Liverpool (England). In 1867 “de Guinea” was put into the shipyard in Amsterdam (the ship was almost identical to “de Buffel”).

from Glasgow to ‘Den Nieuwen Diep’ (Den Helder)

What preceded the construction of the Buffalo

The armored ships were used for action offshore and for guarding river mouths and harbor entrances, the ships were equipped, with an underwater, forward-projecting reinforced ram stern designed to ram an enemy ship below the waterline and thus inflict damage. Ships for operations on the high seas were called ramtower ships. These were armored ships with rotating gun turrets and a ram stern.

On June 10, 1867, “the Buffalo” was launched at Napiers & Sons and launched on March 10, 1868. On July 4, 1868, the technical sea trial took place in which the ship managed a maximum speed of 12.82 knots.

On July 23, 1868, the ship was officially transferred to the “Royal Dutch Navy” as a ramtor ship of the second class and placed under the command of Lieutenant at Sea (Kltz.) J.A.H.Hugenholtz (1825 – 1874), who brought the ship under bad weather conditions from Glasgow to Den Helder, where it entered the naval port of Den Helder the (Nieuwen Diep) on August 8, 1868. The ship attracted many interested parties who came from far and wide to witness this “marvel of engineering” with their own eyes. This made the “Buffalo” the first fully steam-powered unit within the Dutch navy.

Commander of Zr Ms. Buffalo is, Captain Lieutenant at Sea 2nd Class, … J.A.H. Hugenholz. He is assisted by his 1st officer Rosenwald, 2nd officers Weijmans and van der Heijde and the 3rd officer Jhr van de Wijck. A capable group of naval officers with a fine record of service. The other crew members (100 in all) as there are among others are the skipper, boatswain, machinists, stokers, oilmen, gun crew, carpenters, cooks, court masters and sailors are of impeccable conduct and are considered competent to sail this magnificent ramship.
God willing, said the commander, I will bring this ship, in the name of king and fatherland safely to “Den Nieuwen Diep” where it will be incorporated into our navy. This ship will be important to protect the coast of our beloved homeland from possible attacks from the sea.

With its two powerful 2,200 IPK steam engines capable of giving the ship a maximum speed of nearly 13 nautical miles (24 Km/hr), the brand new ship will choose sea, but on this maiden voyage the ship will maintain a cruising speed of no more than 6 miles (11 Km/hr) so that ship and crew can get used to each other.
On July 23, 1868 the Buffalo leaves berth at the Napier & Sons shipyard at Govan near Glasgow, it is a bright day with a light breeze from the south-west.

The ship steamed 13.5 miles west to Greenock roadstead to anchor. After being anchored, the “crew is called to the bow” and the commander addresses the crew.

On the occasion of the commissioning of “this soil,” he also lets out a three-word “long live the king. He also orders the court masters to provide the equipage, with an additional “earlam to the bell.” Officer corps and the lower crew members exude a feeling, of pride to be part of this home sailing with such a magnificent ship as Zr Ms. Buffalo commanded by such a respected officer.

The Buffalo will remain at Greenock Roadstead until August 3 to bunker coal and have final work done on the ship, scrubbing decks and getting the entire ship ready for sea. The officers and crew seem to discharge their duties diligently but for a few, the discipline on board is not yet entirely clear. Discipline should be enforced with a stern hand! On July 31, provost and quartermaster receive a month’s arrest, one for not properly performing his duty, the other for leaving his sloop ashore.
On the early morning of Aug. 3, the morning mist lay like a wet blanket over the water, a pale sun slowly trying to rise from the water. Loud orders sound which drift away across the water and the ship seems to slowly awaken from a solid sleep.
After a “general cleanliness inspection,” the ship is put under steam and at 06:15 the order is given to raise anchor. The chimney vomits black smoke, the ship trembles slightly, and slowly sets itself in motion, the crew can clearly hear the clacking sounds of the propeller blades beating away the water, ……the triumphant homeward journey has begun.

The commander gives final navigational instructions to the 1st officer, who walks across the bridge from starboard to port and back, closely monitoring the navigation of the ship. The ship is turned on the strong ebb current which in turn will certainly help the ship reach open sea quickly. Meanwhile, the National flag, the geus and the pennant are hoisted, the anchors and the gig are lashed seaworthy on deck.

Patches of fog linger above the surface of the water making navigation difficult, and at moderate speed the Buffalo steams down the Firth of Clyde.

As the coastline slowly faded, the 2nd officers compared compasses and held roll call in the battery (tower). At 07:15, the sea watch is set and the sailors continue scrubbing the deck and in the pit (pit deck), “general clean up” is done.
The commander notes the departure from the roadstead in the ship’s log……

The next morning, officers of the watch to port gauge the Isle of Man and report to the commander that the Buffalo is on course. From the Irish Sea, however, a thick fog is coming up; after ample deliberation, the commander decides to reduce speed and place two additional lookouts. Every 10 minutes the ship’s bell is rung, this is to warn ships in the vicinity. Attentive listening is done to ensure that no signals from other ships sailing nearby can be heard. Tension among the officers is rising, something that does not escape the other crew members. During the morning the fog is driven away by a watery sun, the weather situation worries the commander partly because of the drop in the weather glass (barometer) this predicts the arrival of a low pressure area moving across the ocean to these parts and may well cause bad weather.

Despite these bad omens, the commander orders the entire crew to provide an extra earlam to mark the birthday of the Queen of Sweden, Princess of the Netherlands.

On his rounds on deck, the commander smells food odors swirling out from the galley through the cuckoo on the foredeck, the cooks are making “ravenous thunders with bacon” today, the steward informed him. A hearty meal is the “best fuel” for young strong men on a warship so the commander believes, and he thinks back to his own training as an officer when he was a young man.

The engine room is taken care of by machinists, stokers and oilers. Lubrication, polishing and cleaning of 4 of the 16 fires is done, also “the ashes are wiped” (throwing ashes overboard, downwind) .

Patches of fog linger over the water for the next few days, the swell increasing sharply as the Buffalo passed ‘St Davids Head’ over port. The wind also seems to be picking up from the south-west, the ship seems to be rolling more and more, sticking her artfully decorated bow deeper and deeper into the waves. The tower crew reports that at this angle of heel, of 10 to 11 degrees the tower has a deviation from the deck and cylinder wall of up to 23 mm, much to the concern of the commander.

After a restless night, Buffalo passed Lands End and the Scilly Isles over port, the wind continuing to strengthen to a force 6 to 7 Bft. and shrinks to the northwest.
The Buffalo is now also getting solid water on deck and it is seen that a lot of water is flowing into the pit, through the cuckoos and the tower wall. The commander has the water level at the bottom of the ship gauged every hour to see if the bilge pumps can keep ahead of the water flowing in. This fortunately appears to be the case and orders are given to reduce the speed of the screws to 50 turns. Some of the crew felt “catty” and a few also became quite seasick on the swaying and pounding ship. Here, however, the officers on duty have little compassion. “An iron ship calls for iron men” is their opinion.

In the early morning of Aug. 7, the lookout, sees the coast of France looming on the horizon. The 1st officer gives the order to put the chains on the anchors and the Buffalo sails towards the pilot boat to take the North Sea pilot aboard.
It is still “a lumpy sea” but the ship is now taking on much less water which has significantly reduced the leakage.

Commander Hugenholz notes in the ship’s log, that adjustments must be made to the ship to reduce this leakage.
Commander and crew were delighted to catch sight of the Kijkduin lighthouse on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 8, knowing that within hours they would approach Den Nieuwen diep. The anchors are hung in place outboard, the commander addresses the equipage off the bow and gives the crew an extra earlam.

As the Buffalo enters the Schulpengat, a large crowd of interested people can be seen from afar standing to welcome the ship. After the Buffalo is moored in Den Nieuwe diep, the commander may be the first to welcome aboard the Minister of the Navy and the Sheriff at Night of the Dutch Navy. He reports a safe voyage reports that ship and machinery have functioned satisfactorily but leaks from deck are a problem. A crowd of interested people crowded onto the quay to witness this marvel of technology, and cries of admiration met ship and crew.

Commander Hugenholz concludes the ship’s journal with; “at the round all well” and notes the given water levels in the ship at the bilge pumps.
On Sunday, another parade will be held in honor of the arrival of Sr Ms. Buffalo, and then the crew will be given the opportunity to “go to church,” shore leave and enjoy Sunday rest.

After 10 days of coal bunkering, foraging, scrubbing and painting, the Buffalo seeks open sea again, toward the Irish Channel. However, this will be a tough trip with strong winds, gale force winds, thick air and rain with the ship being put to quite a test and taking on a lot of water. After some arduous days, the ship steamed up the Mersey toward Birkenhead for final adjustments to this particular ship and installation of the two 23 cm Armstrong guns (front loaders).


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