HMS Afterglow (1918-1945)
Originally designed and built by a Lowestoft shipwright, John Chambers and delivered to the Royal Navy on 7th October 1918 for minesweeping duties. Her official prefix wasn’t “HMS” but “HMCS” – His Majesty’s Colonial Ship. Used for Royal Navy vessels based in former British colonies or sovereign territories.
Afterglow was fitted with three-cylinder, triple expansion Pollitt & Wigzell engine made in Yorkshire with a single screw. Although ready for sea in 1919, it was to be some time before she arrived in the Falklands. It’s reported that she was bought by the Falkland Islands Government for £1,000 in October 1921 to be used as a Seal Protection vessel, to stop poaching around the islands – especially around Bird island, Jason Islands and Volunteer Rocks. She arrived in Stanley in December 1921 with a 3-pounder gun fitted to her forecastle.
Built: Lowestoft, UK
Size: 94 feet long, 20 feet wide
Launched: October 1918
Fate: Blown ashore during a gale
Sealing in the Falklands had been a problem ever since Captain Cook reported vast colonies of fur seals on South Georgia in 1775: “Seals and seal-bears were pretty numerous, for the shores swarmed with young cubs”. The news brought sealers from France, New England, Scandinavia, and Britain. As the numbers grew so did the disputes and Falkland harbours became bases for sealers who settled there and claimed that the fur seal rookeries next to them belonged solely to their port. By 1800 even the vast fur rookeries on South Georgia were also being ruthlessly harvested.
Although sealing declined during the mid-19th century, there was enough of it going on by the start of the 20th century for the Falklands government to step in and introduce a 10 shillings per pelt levy on trans-shipped skins. That was in 1904. Sporadic poaching continued until 1921, when the Government passed an ‘Ordinance’ protecting all fur seals in the islands and introduced HMCS Afterglow.
In 1926 sealing was made legal in the Falklands and HMCS Afterglow decommissioned, after a refit in Chile, put up for sale and reduced to making occasional trips for emergencies or cargo deliveries. In 1931 she was purchased by the Falkland Island and Dependencies Sealing Company, to be used to ferry seal carcasses to Albermarle, despite having a cargo capacity of only 50 tons. The wheel had turned fill circle – the protector was now the carrier.
In December 1932, HMCS Afterglow became Port Richard when Britain’s Board of Trade gave permission for her to be renamed, as she continued her work as a sealer.
In 1940, with World War Two in full flow, Port Richard was requisitioned and re-inducted into the Royal Navy and once again became Afterglow – this time with prefix HMS. Initially, under the command of Captain Joe Lanning, she was used as a tender in Stanley Harbour and then, as the war progressed, as a minesweeper and patrol vessel.
In 1944, she became involved in ‘Operation Tabarin’ – a secret British expedition to the Antarctic. Organised by the Admiralty on behalf of the Colonial Office in London. Tabarin’s principle objective was to strengthen Britain’s claims to Falkland Islands Dependencies sovereignty. Since the outbreak of war, both Argentina and Chile had made claims to the islands. The plan was to establish permanently occupied bases, carry out administrative activities, such as delivery mail, and undertake scientific research. HMS Afterglow played a minor part in this, but the meteorological data gathered was of great help to Allied shipping in the South Atlantic.
In August 1944, HMS Afterglow was returned to its owner, the Falkland Islands & Dependencies Sealing Company, but its not clear whether her name was officially changed back to Port Richard. Locally, in Stanley, she was always referred to as “The Afterglow” – a practice that continues to this day.
On 2nd April 1945, Easter Monday, Afterglow, along with other ships moored in Stanley Harbour was hit by a fierce storm – known as the “Great Gale” – and she dragged her anchor. She was forced eastwards until she beached on the south-eastern coast of the harbour – just opposite Engineer Point, the east side of The Narrows, where she remains to this day.
Other vessels blown ashore by the Great Gale were the former tug boats, Plym and Samson, who also became famous Falkland wrecks, traced of which still remain. The Easter Monday storm also hit vessels moored in Darwin Harbour, 60 miles away. The Speedwell and the Black Swan were blown ashore, but each was refloated to sail another day. However, both would later be wrecked: Speedwell 13 years later, in 1958, south of Stanley; the Black Swan 22 years later, in 1967, at Bleaker Island.
In 1977 a survey of the wreck of the Afterglow was carried out by ‘The Cambridge Expedition to the Falklands’ who reported that she was: “leaning quite steeply to the seaward side, about 30 yards from the shore. One of her davits remains. Close by, on the shoreward side, in shallow water, lie what appear to be her funnel and pieces of deck structure.”
Virtually none of that is still there. Today, at low tide, all that can be seen of what was once a proud and efficient naval vessel is her boiler and steam engine.
Mark Spicer’s April 2023 drone footage allows us to see clearly from above these remains and the condition they are now in.
The importance of the Afterglow to Falkland’s maritime history is acknowledged by the issue of a £1.01 Falkland Post Service postage stamp, which shows how much the wreck has deteriorated since she was driven ashore almost 80 years ago.