On 26 March 1913, HMAS Melbourne, Australia’s first light armoured, ‘Chatham Class’, cruiser, commissioned at Birkenhead on 18 January 1913, lay alongside Port Melbourne’s Town Pier, on completion of her maiden voyage. HMAS Melbourne, was met in Port Phillip Bay by the Governor-general, Lord Denman, and Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and other Federal Ministers and VIPs. HMAS Melbourne took the crest of the City of Melbourne and its credo ‘Gather Strength as She Goes’.
On 4 October 1913, Melbourne, along with Australia, Sydney, and the other modern and capable standard bearers of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), entered Sydney Harbour as part of the inaugural RAN Fleet Review.
Less than a year later the nation was at war and Melbourne deployed as part of the joint force to seize German territories to Australia’s north and as the RAN’s formidable sword and shield against the powerful German East Asiatic Naval Squadron. On 8 November 1914 Melbourne assumed command of the Australian-New Zealand 36 ship convoy and her sister ship Sydney and the Japanese battle cruiser Ibuki on the day before the historic Sydney-Emden engagement off the Keeling Islands Group in the Indian Ocean.
The Melbourne, a 5,600 ton ship with eight 6-inch guns, served the RAN from its commissioning in England in 1912 until its decommissioning, also in England in 1928. She saw war service in the operations against the German colonies in the SW Pacific in 1914, escorted the 1st AIF fleet from Albany, WA; saw service with the West Indies Squadron in 1915-1916; then served with the North Sea Fleet in 1916-1918. In 1922 the Melbourne was involved in a dramatic rescue of the crew of an American schooner in the Tasman Sea, at the height of a hurricane.
The Military History and Heritage Victoria Exhibition Fear God and Honour the King: HMAS Melbourne 1913-1928 was opened on 26 March at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, 100 years to the day since HMAS Melbourne entered Port Phillip Bay as Australia’s first light cruiser. The Exhibition was attended by more than 80 members of MHHV and RHSV as well as descendants of crew members and official guests.
RHSV President Dr Andrew Lemon opened proceedings and MHHV President Marcus Fielding thanked sponsors Port of Melbourne Corporation, the Melbourne Naval Centre, Navy Health, and Exhibition curator Cooee History and Heritage.
The Exhibition was then formally opened by CAPT Michael Harris, RAN. The Exhibition was of especial significance to CAPT Harris, as he is the great-grandson of the captain of the American schooner Helen B Sterling, whose crew was rescued from the sinking vessel during a cyclone by HMAS Melbourne (I) in 1922, including his great grandfather and mother, and grandfather, at the time a 10 year old boy. CAPT Harris later joined the RAN and was to command HMAS Melbourne III. The Exhibition remained open to the end of April 2013.
MHHV president, Marcus Fielding said “This first class exhibition is a must see for anyone interested in HMAS Melbourne and the men who served in her through peace and war. The curators have created an interesting, even intriguing, exhibition which features numerous unique and outstanding items connected to Melbourne, including the original ship’s crest as presented by the City to the ship in 1913.”
The Exhibition was sponsored by the Melbourne Naval Centre, Navy Health, the Port of Melbourne Corporation, BAE Systems and Cooee History and Heritage, which curated and developed the Exhibition. In addition the Museum of HMAS Cerberus was an important contributor to the Exhibition, supplementing the important relics and memorabilia from the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National Maritime Museum, State libraries and museums, and from private collections.
In addition to the opening of the Exhibition, the occasion was also the venue for the launch of the companion history, The Forgotten Cruiser: HMAS Melbourne 1913-1928, by Andrew Kilsby and Greg Swinden. The authors later provided a public lecture on the subject to 60 guests in the RHSV ‘Officers Mess’.