Cowper Phipps Coles

Cowper Phipps Coles

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Captain Cowper Phipps Coles, C.B., R.N. (1819 – 7 September 1870), the son of the Reverend John Coles and his wife Mary Ann Goodhew Rogers, was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 naval Captain
Captain (naval)
Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships. The NATO rank code is OF-5, equivalent to an army full colonel....

 and inventor. Coles died when HMS Captain
HMS Captain (1869)
HMS Captain was an unsuccessful warship built for the Royal Navy due to public pressure. She was a masted turret ship, designed and built by a private contractor against the wishes of the Controller's department...

, an experimental warship built to his designs, sank with him onboard.

Naval career

He entered the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 at the age of eleven. On 9 January 1846, he was promoted to Lieutenant and on 5 December 1849 posted to Phaeton commanded by George Augustus Elliot. On 24 October 1853, he was posted to Agamemnon as flag lieutenant for his uncle, Rear Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons
Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons
Admiral Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons, GCB, KCH was a British naval commander and diplomat who led a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, culminating with the Crimean War and his appointment as Commander of the Black Sea Fleet...

. He distinguished himself at the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

 against Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. On 13 November 1854 promoted to Commander and on 2 August 1856 was commander of the paddle boat Stromboli in the Black Sea.

It was at this time that he and other British naval officers and sailors constructed a 45 feet (13.7 m) raft named the Lady Nancy from twenty-nine casks lashed together with spars. The raft supported a long 32 pounder gun and because of its small draft could be moved into shallow water from where it was used to attack some Russian stores. Coles became a hero for this action, when the press correspondent onboard Stromboli reported his daring deeds. Coles expanded the idea by drawing up plans for a better raft, mounting a gun enclosed within a hemispherical shield. Admiral Lyons was impressed with the ideas and Coles was sent to London to present his ideas to the Admiralty. Plans were prepared for 90 by rafts with a draught
Draft (hull)
The draft of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull , with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained...

 of 3 in 7 in (1.09 m) which would be used to attack the Cronstadt forts. The rafts would be able to approach through shallow waters not protected by the fort guns. Unfortunately for Coles, the war ended before the raft could be built.

Turret ship designer

On 27 February 1856, Coles was made captain. He was placed on half pay after the war ended and spent his time creating designs for turret ships. Up to this time the principal armament of warships had been batteries of guns firing from fixed ports in the sides of the ship. On 10 March 1859 he filed a patent for a revolving turret, although it is not clear how he came by the idea. The American , constructed by John Ericsson in 1861, incorporated a revolving turret and Ericsson claimed the idea of a revolving protected gun was an old one. The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

suggested that Marc Brunel had given Coles the idea. Coles' design aim was to create a ship with the greatest possible all round arc of fire, as low in the water as possible to minimise the target. This proved to be a weakness in designs he created, because he was unwilling to compromise these aims for the practical necessities of sailing ships rigging, decks sufficiently high to be clear of heavy seas and other necessary superstructures which restricted the guns rotation.

The Admiralty accepted the principle of the turret gun as a useful innovation, and incorporated it into other new designs. However, they could not accept his other ideas on ship design. Coles submitted a design for a ship having ten domed turrets each housing two large guns. The design was rejected as impractical, although the Admiralty remained interested in turret ships and instructed its own designers to create better designs. Coles submitted his plans to anyone who might be interested and succeeded in enlisting a number of supporters, including Prince Albert
Prince Albert
Prince Albert was the husband and consort of Queen Victoria.Prince Albert may also refer to:-Royalty:*Prince Albert Edward or Edward VII of the United Kingdom , son of Albert and Victoria...

, who wrote to the first Lord of the Admiralty, the Duke of Somerset, supporting the construction of a turret ship. In January 1862, the Admiralty agreed to construct a ship, the Prince Albert which had four turrets and a low freeboard, intended only for coastal defence. Coles was allowed to design the turrets, but the ship was the responsibility of the chief Constructor Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts was an English hymnwriter, theologian and logician. A prolific and popular hymnwriter, he was recognised as the "Father of English Hymnody", credited with some 750 hymns...


Coles had another proposal, to take an existing timber ship, remove its upper decks and existing broadside guns and replace them with four turrets on a flat deck. The ship was also to be fitted with 5.5 inches (139.7 mm) of armour in a belt around the waterline. was completed in August 1864, ahead of Prince Albert. Like Albert it had only minimal sails intended to steady the ship rather than drive it along at any speed. The low freeboard was countered by hinged sections increasing the height of the sides above the deck; these were dropped down to allow the guns to fire. Coles later took command of Royal Sovereign for the July 1867 Naval Review.

While these ships were building, Coles made further proposals which the Admiralty resisted pending completion of the trial ships already under construction. However, once Royal Sovereign was completed and had received favourable reports, he requested Admiralty assistance in creating a new design. This was to be based upon the existing Pallas designed by the new Chief Constructor, Edward James Reed
Edward James Reed
Sir Edward James Reed , KCB, FRS, was a British naval architect, author, politician, and railroad magnate. He was the Chief Constructor of the Royal Navy from 1863 until 1870...

. The Admiralty provided the original plans of the ship plus Joseph Scullard, constructor at Portsmouth dockyard, to assist. The resulting single turret design was rejected, but the Admiralty instructed Reed to create a larger version with two turrets which became HMS Monarch
HMS Monarch (1868)
HMS Monarch was the first sea-going warship to carry her guns in turrets, and the first British warship to carry guns of calibre.-Design:...

, laid down in 1866 and completed in June 1869. Coles complained at the inclusion of a forecastle and poop which prevented the guns firing fore and aft, and the high position of the guns 17 feet (5.2 m) above water level, but his objections were dismissed. Reed maintained the features were all intended to improve seaworthiness.

HMS Captain

Coles once again resorted to public opinion to obtain support for a ship more closely in accord with his design ideas. The civilian First Lord remained agreeable to his plans, although the board of admirallty was split. Eventually the board agreed to pay for the construction of a ship, although this was to be supervised by Coles himself in an admiralty approved yard; Laird Brothers agreed to build her. Plans for were submitted to the admiralty as would be normal, but Reed declined to 'approve' them, instead marking all drawings 'not objected to'. Construction commenced in January 1867.

Captain was designed to have a freeboard of only 8 feet (2.4 m), but due to mistakes in construction causing increased weight the ship eventually floated 14 inches (35.6 cm) lower in the water. She had a full set of sails and the highest masts in the navy. She was completed in January 1870, and initial trials were successful. In May, she accompanied the Channel fleet and successfully weathered a gale. Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Symmonds commanding commented favorably on both Captain and Monarch. Captain achieved 14.25 knots (7.8 m/s), compared to Monarchs 14.9 knots (8.1 m/s) under steam, but with smaller engines. Under sail, Captain was faster. All in all, she was hailed as a vindication of Coles' ideas.

In August, the ship sailed again with Coles onboard. The weather deteriorated, and again she had to face a gale. This time, however, the wind was gusting and unpredictable. It was demonstrated that the ship had a maximum righting moment at an angle of heel around 18 degrees. If she was pushed over more than this, then the force declined. By contrast, Monarch had a maximum restoring force at an angle of 40 degrees, so that any heel up to this limit would always meet increasing resistance. Gusts had pushed Captain past the safe angle and she had capsized, even though at the time she was carrying little sail.

Extensive rigging was necessary to make the ship ocean-going. This forced the creation of a "hurricane deck" above the turrets, which increasingly caught the wind as she heeled over. This may have been instrumental in Captains tragic capsize
Capsizing is an act of tipping over a boat or ship to disable it. The act of reversing a capsized vessel is called righting.If a capsized vessel has sufficient flotation to prevent sinking, it may recover on its own if the stability is such that it is not stable inverted...

. Coles perished in the disaster after midnight on the night of 6 September.


In 1856, Coles married Emily Pearson, niece of Admiral Lord Lyons
Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons
Admiral Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons, GCB, KCH was a British naval commander and diplomat who led a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, culminating with the Crimean War and his appointment as Commander of the Black Sea Fleet...

. Coles was himself a nephew, by marriage, of Admiral Lord Lyons, his mother being the sister of Augusta, Lyons' wife.


Cowper Bickerton Cowper-Coles 1857 1920 married 1895, Maud Beatrice Cresswell
Fanny Augusta Cowper-Coles 1859 1951 married 1877, Admiral Sir Baldwin Wake-Walker, CMG, CVO, 2nd Baronet
Rogers Lyons Cowper-Coles 1860 1915 married 1884, Margaret Lucie Dawes
Alice Mary Cowper-Coles 1861 1910
Minna Spencer Cowper-Coles 1864 1948 married 1892, Walter Vernon Anson
Samuel Hood Cowper-Coles 1866 1932 married 1892, Hon. Edith Bailey, daughter of 1st Lord Glanusk
Sherard Osborn Cowper-Coles 1866 1936 married 1919, Constance Hamilton Watts
William Burgoyne Cowper-Coles 1867 1955 married 1891, Rebecca Smith
Commerell Markham Cowper-Coles 1869 c.1906