This very sad photograph was taken from above the Victoria Pier in 1908 and shows the upturned hull of HMS Gladiator being towed into Portsmouth Harbour, albeit somewhat close to the shore.
With the remains of some of her crew still interned inside of her, the cruiser made her way past the Round Tower and into the dockyard where she was turned upright and dry docked.
On Saturday 25 April 1908 at about 3pm during a terrific snow storm and howling gale off the Isle of Wight a collision took place between the Gladiator and the American mail ship
the S.S. St. Paul en-route from Southampton to New York.
The Arrogant class three funnelled cruiser, HMS Gladiator was part of the Portsmouth Home Division Fleet and was launched in Portsmouth Dockyard on 12 December 1896. With a displacement of 5,750 tonnes she had a complement of 450 officers and men.
The S.S. St. Paul was launched in Philadelphia on 10 April 1895 as an all steel ship.
It was on the St Paul that the first newspaper was ever published at sea when in 1890, Marconi published the Transatlantic Times. He received all his information from the wireless telegraph station located on the Isle of Wight.
At about one pm in misty, snowy conditions the Gladiator was heading east for Portsmouth after departure from Portland . All was as well as it could be in the conditions and she was expected in Portsmouth harbour about 4.pm
At 12.30 the St Paul left her berth at Southampton Docks heading for New York and by 2pm that afternoon was heading for the open waters of the Solent. By this time the blinding snowstorm was at its height with a howling wind and with the Gladiator moving at 2 knots and the St Paul at 5 they did not see each other until they were half a mile apart and heading on a collision course.
A report says that the commander of the Gladiator Captain William Lumsden mistook the avoiding action of the St Paul and gave the wrong instruction to the helmsman. Just after 2.30pm the two ships collided with the St Paul hitting the starboard side of the Gladiator head on scooping off many of her side plates. Thirty members of the crew were to lose their lives. Hit just aft of the engine room, a massive hole opened up sending cascades of sea water into the Gladiator’s hull.
Lifeboats were ordered to be lowered but it was such a short time before the ship capsized and only a few of the boats were launched. The incident took place about 500 yards off Yarmouth and many of the stronger more able men managed to swim to the shore while others perished in the freezing seas.
The lifeboats of St Paul were also ordered to be lowered but reports say that they davits were frozen in place and not able to be launched for some time after. The St Paul was only saved by her watertight compartments and later limped back to Southampton.
The salvage of the Gladiator took more time however and was hindered somewhat by the fast tidal flows off Yarmouth.
Just under four months later on Sunday 4 October four tugs and associate vessels began the slow journey of getting the Gladiator on the move back to Portsmouth Dockyard. By the following Wednesday she had been turned upright and after some very difficult manoeuvres she was at last safely in dry dock.
Such was the state of her the Admiralty decided that she would go for scrap. She was sold for £5000. She cost £287,604 to build and another £60,000 to recover and get back to the dockyard.
For sinking his ship and losing thirty of his men Captain Lumsden received a severe reprimand.
The mayor of Portsmouth opened up a disaster fund after the outcome of the Tiger (an earlier incident) and Gladiator disasters. Again the good public, deeply stirred by the tragedies, dug deep into their pockets raising £10,000.
And what became of the S.S. St Paul? In 1923 when being converted she herself capsized in the North River Dock, New York Harbour. She was scrapped in Germany in 1923.