HMCS Protector entered the Gulf of St Vincent for the first time on 29 October 1884 and proceeded to her anchorage off Semaphore.
The next day she moved to an anchorage closer to the Semaphore jetty. Her commanding officer, Commander John Walcott, RN, disembarked to formally report her arrival to the government in Adelaide.
For the next 15 years, the Protector served faithfully as the colony’s warship until 1900, when she was offered to the imperial government for service in China. That offer was accepted, and she sailed from Port Adelaide on 6 August 1900.
She did not sail into Port Adelaide again until 6 January 1901.
Less than two months later, on 1 March 1901, she transferred to the newly created commonwealth naval forces, the precursor to the Royal Australian Navy.
So, HMCS Protector is indelibly linked to South Australia and Semaphore, her first anchorage in South Australian waters and the first point of disembarkation in South Australia for her commanding officer.
The Royal Australian Navy is indelibly linked to Semaphore. For 79 years, between 1915 and 1994, the South Australian naval depot/base/establishment – all three descriptions were used over the years – was on Semaphore Road, less than two km, or about one nautical mile from where the gun stands today.
The Gun from Her Majesty’s Colonial Ship (HMCS) Protector stood on the Semaphore Foreshore for 85 years from 1913, when it was gifted to the then Port Adelaide Town Council,
until 1998, when she was moved to an alternate location in Birkenhead. She was reinstated into her original position in 2018 after a refurbishment project, which was a collaboration of the Royal Australian Navy and Lefevre High School.
The HMCS Protector was commissioned in 1882 by the South Australian Government, and to this day, she has been our state’s only warship.
Built in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, The Protector cost £65,000 to build. For her size, she was an exceptionally heavily armed vessel, boasting a main armament of 1 x 8-inch and 5 x 6-inch breech-loading guns.
Her official emblem was that of the 1837 Great Seal of South Australia, depicting Britannia arriving from over the ocean and extending the hand of friendship to an Aboriginal seated on the shore.
Protector was launched in 1884 at the Elswick yard of Armstrong, Mitchell & Co Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, England. She was commissioned on 19 June 1884 under the command of Commander John CP Walcott, RN, before undertaking passage to Australia via the Suez Canal. She arrived at Semaphore, flying the Blue Ensign, on 30 September 1884.
In June 1924, she paid off for disposal and was sold to Mr J Hill of Melbourne for £677.10.0d.
In 1943 she was damaged in a collision, and the ship was sunk near Heron Island off the Queensland coast for use as a breakwater where her rusted iron hull is clearly visible.