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Trivia relating to HMS Calliope.

Miscellaneous Trivia

HMS Calliope Wheelhouse

The Ship's Wheel.

Calliope's massive steering wheels stood on the deck beside the wheelhouse. One of them is preserved at the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland, New Zealand, on loan from the Auckland Museum. The other was retained in Samoa for some time, and might, in fact, be the same one, as I recall reading somewhere that the Samoa one was sent to Auckland for repair. A very kind lady at the New Zealand Maritime Museum sent me an e-m with an image of the wheel for my personal use only, but I since found (rediscovered) an image sent to me years ago by Shelagh Gibson and taken by her in Feb 2004, so you can view it here.

Above this wheelhouse was carved that most famous of maritime signals: "England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty", the exhortation made by Nelson to his men as the 21st October, 1805 dawned over Cape Trafalgar and two grand fleets of 27 British and 33 French and Spanish ships. But did you know...?

The Message.

The message was composed almost in a spirit of levity, as Nelson pondered the battle to come. Desiring to amuse the fleet, he told his officers to make the signal:"Nelson Confides That Every Man Will Do His Duty". He asked the signaller to be quick about it, since he was keen to follow with what was probably his most favorite, and most frequently used, signal:"Engage The Enemy More Closely", number 16 in the set.

It was somehow suggested that it might be prudent to replace "Nelson" with "England", to which the great Admiral consented without murmur. And to save time, the signaller also suggested replacing "Confides", a word for which no pre-set code existed and which would therefore need to be spelt out individually, each of the 8 letters requiring 1 or 2 flags to identify it, with "Expects" for which a single, 3 flag code existed. In early 19th Century, the verb 'to confide', (meaning 'has confidence') was more popular than it is today. Again, Nelson consented, and the famous message was born.

It was not appreciated by all the recipients, Admiral Collingwood on HMS Royal Sovereign grumbling that he knew right enough what he had to do. But once it was repeated to them, most of the thousands of men on the British ships cheered the sentiment most heartily, and the signal has become one of those phrases almost every British schoolboy could recite even today - well, I hope so!

The Signalling System.

At Trafalgar, the method of signalling was the one originally designed by Sir Home Popham in around 1800. This set up 10 gaily coloured, distinctively different flags to represent the numbers 0 through 9, and to assign a word or phrase to each of the 999 possible 3-flag combinations (or 1,000 if "000" was permitted, I don't think it was). Thus, a message which used only those most popular words, obviously selected for the maritime setting in which they were being utilised, could be very quickly composed, created and understood by the fleet. The flag-codes eventually used by the signaller were: "England" (253); "Expects" (269); "That" (863); "Every" (261); "Man" (471): "Will" (958): "Do" (220); "His" (370); "Duty". Strangely, that last word did not carry a preset code and so had to be spelt out by its four letters, "D" (4); "U" (21); "T" (19); "Y" (24), each corresponding to its position in the alphabet.

But have you noticed a couple of quirks? To save flags, I is the ninth letter of the alphabet, but the flag code for it ("9") was used for both I and J since it was felt the context would be sufficient to differentiate - (so that K, the 11th letter of the alphabet was identified with flag combination "10" and the rest followed suit). Thus "Y" was "24" and "Z" was "25". But then, surely "U" which immediately follows "T" should be code "20"? NO, because in the alphabet of 1805, "V" came before "U", so T=19, V=20 and U=21. One other quirk made the signal just a little more complex. The 3 flag code for "DO", (220) repeats the number 2, a blue rectangle outlining a white centre. To avoid possible confusion when reading the flags via a telescope at distance, and to avoid the need for too many duplicate flags, this was not permitted, and in such cases of repeated numbers, a distinctively different "ditto" or "repeat" flag, in this case a yellow flag with blue bars top and bottom, was used to indicate the repeated number. By the way, the recipient knew a word was being spelled because only one or two flags would be displayed in the group for letters, and 3 for the word which had a preset code. I think 4-digit combinations were added subsequently.

Just to complicate things a little more, the first flag shown was a red and white diagonal flag, indicating it was the start of a telegraphic message. The message was terminated by a blue and yellow diagonal flag. [The signals were termed "telegraphic" but are obviously manual; I think the term was re-used when telegraphs came into use.]

Yes, that is the much simplified signalling system that revolutionised British Naval communications in the nineteenth century!

"Start"
codestart
0
code0
1
code1
2
code2
3
code3
4
code4
5
code5
6
code6
7
code7
8
code8
9
code9
"Finish"
codefinish
"Ditto"
code ditto

And here below is that famous signal in all its glory! See if you can follow it using the code table above...

"Start"


codestart
England
253

code2

code5

code3
Expects
269

code2

code6

code9
That
863

code8

code6

code3
Every
261

code2

code6

code1
Man
471

code4

code7

code1
Will
958

code9

code5

code8
Do
220

code2

code ditto

code0
His
370

code3

code7

code0
D
4

code4



U
21

code2

code1

T
19

code1

code9

Y
24

code2

code4

"Finish"


code finish


There is a web site which contains many of the preset words, and some using 4 digits, that might be of further interest: Home Popham's Signals. You should note that the flag for code number "4" is shown in some web-sites both one way up and the other (mirrored). The one I have chosen seems to be the most popular on the various internet web-sites.

If you go to Trafalgar Flags you will see the signal flags arranged on the masts of HMS Victory. It's worth a look, the order of reading was to my mind extremely complicated! I think nineteenth century signallers on HM Ships had a lot to learn, and recall rapidly from a telescopic view in sometimes difficult conditions, despite this being seen as a revolutionary signalling method. They had to view the flags in the correct sequence, quickly translate the flag combination into a number and look up (or know) what it meant. More than that, even, most codes had 3 or 4 similar words associated with them, so the signaller needed to interpret which word was most suitable for the overall message.


Calliope Spotting

I have encountered a Calliope of one sort or another in the following:

Calliope is the muse of epic poetry and eloquence. She was the eldest daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne.

A Calliope is a Steam Musical Organ, latterly operated by compressed air, popular in the United States. See the Wikipedia page.

The Calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) is a very small hummingbird native to the United States and Canada and, during winter, Central America. It was previously considered the only member of the genus Stellula, but recent evidence suggests placement in the genus Selasphorus. The genus name Stellula means "little star".

Publications: Calliope is the official publication of the Writers' Special Interest Group (SIG) of American Mensa, Ltd. Calliope is also the name of the Student Journal of Art and Literature at the Northern Virginia Community College.

The Australian Township of Nuggety Gulley, named for a gold mine in Queensland, is now named Calliope (renamed in 1854) after the previous HMS Calliope. There is another Calliope township in New South Wales. I don't know if their name has anything to do with HMS Calliope.

Calliope's is a seafood restaurant in Houston, Texas, USA.

There is a "Calliope Bar & Bistro" in Vaitele Street, Apia, Samoa. There also seems to be a Freemason's Lodge in the town.

There is (or was) a vineyard in Australia called "Calliope" at which Buller's Wines produced good wines. The link is: Calliope Vineyard but I am not sure if the original vineyard is still active.

Book: Sharpe's Trafalgar by Bernard Cornell. The story opens with Sharpe in Bombay awaiting transport to England on HMS Calliope.

Fictional Character: Calliope Day is a children's character about whom a number of books have been written, and which flesh out the e-bay listings somewhat. I recently (2010) saw a listing for a "Calliope Reaper-Jones" novel - perhaps Miss Day has married.

Film: Sahara, based on a Clive Cussler book of the same name. The heroes travel to an African country on a speedboat named Calliope which doesn't last very long!

Recording Studio. There is a French Recording Studio.

Italian Progressive band CALLIOPE is a based-keyboards quartet which uses only old vocals.

Interpreters. There are a group of interpreters called Calliope.

Musical Group:There used to be to be a lot of Calliope CDs on E-Bay. Does this make them very popular, or very unpopular? There are much fewer now (2016).

US Rocket Launcher Tank. Designed in 1943 and presumably no longer in service, there are loads of plastic models of this for sale on E-Bay.

Games. There is a games website. I do not know what they are like, as I have never downloaded anything from them.

Organ Surround: Mike Scott kindly contacted me to let me know that a large amount of the oak panelling from the Calliope's wardroom was salvaged by the Rev. Harry Chappell RNVR chaplain, for use in the Christ Church, North Shields, Tyne and Wear when it was refurbished just after the war. Mike sent me a couple of photos, click here to view the Christ Church Organ.

Ladies Underwear: As well as the CDs and books, my e-bay searches for Calliope memorabilia have been further hampered by the appearance of a large number of offers of ladies underwear, each of which has a little illustrative picture and there are rows and rows of them, making me look like a pervert when I am searching. Recently (c.2010) the ladies seem to have disappeared from the listings. When I tested the link in 2016, it seemed to be broken, so I substituted it for the one here - you must have a look if only to check out the price! A recent check shows the underwear to be still available!

Book: Flood of Fire In the compelling and sweeping novel of China and the first Opium War with Great Britain of that name by Amitav Ghosh, HMS Calliope is mentioned along with one of her officers, Lieutenant Dundas. This would be the second HMS Calliope, i.e. the one before the Samoa vessel.

There are lots more Calliope's of one sort or another on Google and E-Bay!