HMS Challenger and Commodore Rowley Lambert RN

Those of you who are interested in a little of the history of Challenger, before and after the oceanographic expedition, and of Commodore Lambert who commanded the ship for three years on the Royal Navy's Australia Station, might care to read the following:


HMS Challenger

HMS Challenger was launched at Woolwich on 13 February 1858. She was a 3-masted, 21-gun corvette with a 200ft-long wooden hull and a displacement of 2137 tons. Propulsion was by steam-powered screw and/or by wind, according to the conditions.

From 1961 to 1865 she served on the Royal Navy’s North America and West Indies Station under the command of Captain John James Kennedy. She subsequently proceeded to Australia under the command of Commodore Rochford Maquire who served as Commander-in Chief of the Australia Station from May 1866 to August 1867 when, owing to ill health, he was replaced by Commodore Rowley Lambert. After Lambert’s period of duty in Australia ended in 1870, he sailed Challenger back to England where she arrived in March 1871 and was paid off.

Challenger’s next duty, after refitting, was the round-the-world oceanographic expedition which is the subject of the SNS Challenger project. The expedition was sponsored by the Admiralty and the Royal Society and began in November 1872 with Captain George Strong Nares in command. Captain Frank Tourle Thomson replaced Nares in December 1874 and continued as commander until the end of the expedition in June 1876.

For the next two years Challenger performed Coast Guard duties from Harwich under Captain William Samuel Brown, but in 1880 she was hulked. In the early 20th century Challenger was laid up at Chatham where vessels were lashed up alongside. She was also used as accommodation for the boat’s crew of the Captain of the Dockyard but in January 1921 she was sold to J. B. Garnham for breaking up, the end of a long and varied career.


(further information at



Commodore Rowley Lambert RN

Rowley Lambert was born at Bredwardine, Herefordshire on 22 April 1828, the son of Captain George Robert Lambert RN and his wife Katherine (née Cobb). His extended family was acknowledged for its illustrious military service and his father, who eventually rose to Admiral, was particularly noted for his belligerence, the Governor-General of India later referring to him as the’ combustible commodore.’

It is no surprise that, at the age of twelve, Rowley joined the Royal Navy as a Volunteer First Class (re-classified Naval Cadet in 1843). After rising through the ranks of Midshipman and Mate, and serving on HMS Collingwood, an 80-gun line of battle ship on the Royal Navy’s Pacific Station, he was appointed Lieutenant in April 1848, the day after his twentieth birthday.

In July 1848 Rowley joined the 84-gun frigate HMS Powerful under the command of Captain Robert Saunders Dundas on the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station. Two years later he was transferred to HMS Salamander for operations on the East Indies and China Station, where, for the only time in his naval career, his path crossed that of his father who was in command of HMS Fox on the same station. The station was based in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and during his time there George Lambert precipitated the second Burmese War which resulted in the annexation of Lower Burma into the British empire. Lambert senior subsequently served temporarily as Commander-in Chief of the station after the former CIC, Rear Admiral Charles John Austen, brother of the author Jane Austen, died in October 1852. At that stage Rowley Lambert, recently promoted to Commander, joined his father for a time on HMS Fox.

Rowley left the East Indies and China Station in May 1854. In August that year he took command of HMS Curlew, a small 9-gun screw sloop, in the Mediterranean and soon found himself in action in the Black Sea during the Russian (Crimean) War, where he was engaged in operations in the Sea of Azov. In September 1855 he was rewarded for his actions by being promoted to the rank of Captain. Three months later he left the Curlew and returned to England.

There was now a hiatus of over three years without a ship until, in June 1859, Rowley was recalled to take charge of the 21-gun corvette HMS Scylla in the Mediterranean. Towards the end of 1862, following a coup d’etat in Greece, the Scylla conveyed Otho, the ex-King, and his consort, Amalia of Oldenberg, from Piraeus to Corfu and then to Venice from where they went to Bavaria to live in exile.

In December 1862 Captain Lambert brought HMS Scylla back to England and on 5 February, at St Mary’s parish church in Hampton, Middlesex, he married Helen Elizabeth Campbell of Hampton Court House. Two months later Rowley travelled to Plymouth to take command of the frigate HMS Liverpool for service in the Channel Squadron. In 1864 he sailed to North America for duties at Newfoundland and the West Indies, returning to British waters the following year to resume his service in the Channel Squadron. In March 1867 he was honoured with the award of Companion of the Bath (Military Division) and two months later he was informed of his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Australia Station, replacing Commodore Rochford Maguire who had left the post due to illness. and died later that year. Rowley, accompanied by Helen, arrived in Sydney on 12 August 1867 and his pennant was hoisted on HMS Challenger the following day.

The Australia Station – established as a separate command in 1859 in order to provide naval protection and support for Australia, New Zealand, and other British territories in the South Pacific, principally the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan islands, as well as the British/French condominium of New Hebrides – comprised only seven ships, making it difficult for Lambert to respond adequately to all the demands of the far-flung colonies and dominions. Fortunately, however, there were no significant conflicts at that time so he had plenty of time for socialising. This was fortuitous because Helen was a keen amateur photographer and had plenty of opportunities to capture on film the various social events they attended as well as the colony’s principal dignitaries, including her husband.

The most serious incident that occurred during Rowley Lambert’s tenure as Commander-in Chief was the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, in March 1868, during his visit to Sydney. The Lambert’s were present at the Clontarf Pleasure Grounds when the prince was shot in the back by  Henry O’Farrell who was later hanged for the crime. Prince Alfred, by contrast, suffered little damage from the bullet and quickly recovered.

The only other highlight of the Lamberts’ time in Australia was in late 1869 when the Royal Navy’s Detached Squadron, more widely known as the Flying Squadron, visited Sydney. The fact that two of the squadron’s six ships— Scylla and Liverpool—had previously been his command must have raised some nostalgia in Rowley, while for Helen Lambert it provided another good photo opportunity.

In early 1870 Rowley Lambert was appointed as one of Queen Victoria’s Naval Aides-de-Camps and on 8 April his period of duty as Commander-in-Chief of the Australia Station officially came to an end. However, he and Challenger remained in Sydney until 21 July when they left for Wellington in order to rendezvous with Rowley’s successor, Commodore Frederick Henry Stirling of HMS Clio. They then continued to England where, at Sheerness on 4 March 1871, Rowley’s pennant was hauled down and the ship’s company paid off.

Back in England, the Lamberts moved in with Helen’s parents at Cawley Priory, and lived quietly there. In 1873, according to the custom of promotion by seniority, Rowley was made Rear Admiral and two years later he was appointed Commander-in-Chief Detached Squadron, taking over from Rear Admiral Sir George Granville Randolph at Gibraltar in June 1875. His flag was in HMS Narcissus which, at 2665 tons, 51 guns and 540 men, was the largest Lambert had commanded. During his period of command the squadron made an extended tour from Gibraltar, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and the Far East before arriving back at Plymouth on 11 May 1877. The voyage in part involved escorting a visit to India by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.

Lambert was afterwards promoted to Vice Admiral but on 22 July 1880, at the age of fifty two, he died of liver disease at the Grosvenor Hotel, Buckingham Palace Road, London. Helen was awarded a  pension of £120 per annum and the following year was given permission to occupy an apartment in Hampton Court Palace where she continued to reside until her death in 1900 at the age of 64. She was laid to rest at St Nicholas Church, Thames Ditton, in the same grave as her husband.


(biographical notes condensed from The Commodore and the Pastoralist – the story of Commodore Heights and West Head at Broken Bay by Tony Dawson, Manly Warringah & Pittwater Historical Society Inc. 2011)

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