Steam Pinnace

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Steam Pinnace 199 was incorrectly identified as such in 1979 during her restoration from a boiler plate. Recent research has revealed that her machinery was originally fitted to pinnaces 208 and 224 whilst the hull, stern cabin and funnel are from 224. She was completed in 1909 by J. Reid of Portsmouth. Originally intended for HMS St Vincent, she was in fact assigned to HMS Inflexible, a battlecruiser of the Invincible Class built on the Clyde. After a brief period of service as the Admiral’s barge during a visit to the USA, she returned to the Boat Store at Portsmouth prior to a career as a harbour duties pinnace in Portsmouth where she as also used as the Captain of the Ports’ barge. She remained in this role for the rest of her service. It has, however, been decided to retain the designation '199' as the story of this much-loved piece of living history is typical of any of the 634 steam pinnaces which served in the Royal Navy.

In 1948 she was placed on the Disposal List and was purchased by Fred Watts Boatyard at Gosport. She was bought privately and was steamed from Gosport to the Thames where she was subjected to various unsuccessful conversion attempts, including the removal of her steam machinery for replacement by a petrol engine.

However, before disappearing forever beneath a Thames mud bank, she was recognised for the proud little ship she once was and rescued by a group of volunteers. Aided by a generous grant from the Friends of the museum, she was purchased for the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth (now the National Museum of the Royal Navy.)

The initial restoration project, which lasted four years and closely followed original drawings and specifications, saw 199 faithfully brought back to life. The original steam auxiliaries were recovered from a yard in Belgium. HMS Sultan contributed the period engine and boiler, and the gun, an original 1887 Hotchkiss, was dredged up from the North Sea in a trawler’s nets. 199 was re- commissioned in 1984

She was refitted again in 2000 and steamed until her 100th birthday in 2011, when it became obvious that if she was to continue for the next 100 years, it was time for a major conservation project. Carried out mainly by volunteers, this project took five years to complete. Their efforts were acknowledged by several national awards. 199 is part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy's collection of historic vessels and is a member of the National Historic Fleet which are vessels “being of pre-eminent national or regional significance.            

199 is operated today as she would have been in 1911 with a crew of seven: a coxswain, two bowmen, a sternsheetsman, a fender boy and two stokers. They wear the uniform and badges of the period and follow the drills of the Edwardian Navy.

Of the 634 steam pinnaces shown in service in the Navy List of 1913, only Steam Pinnace 199 survives – the last functional example of this proud part of our naval heritage.