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The launch casket for H.M.S. Kent, 1901

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The launch casket for H.M.S. Kent, 1901 The elaborately carved oak casket with blue plush-lined interior containing a carved fruit wood mallet and chisel, the mallet inscribed H.M.S. Kent, 6th March 1901, with gilt-plated chisel, hinges, lockplate and key, the lid set with a watercolour portrait of Kent the frame inscribed H.M.S. Kent, Royal Dockyard Portsmouth Named and Launched 6th March 1901 by LADY HOTHAM and further inscribed Rear Admiral Pelham Aldrich, Admiral Superintendent. J.A. Yates Esq, Chief Constructor, with right-mounted carved fruit wood securing hinge -- 9 x 17in. (24 x 44.5cm.) See illustration

Lot Essay

H.M.S. Kent was one of the ten "Monmouth" class armoured cruisers ordered for the Royal Navy between 1898 and 1900. Markedly similar to the preceding "Drake" class but scaled down in size and armament, they were introduced for trade route protection rather than fleet action although Kent was one of several which distinguished themselves in battle under circumstances for which they were neither designed nor intended. Displacing 9,800 tons (loaded), the "Monmouth's" measured 463 feet in length with a 66 foot beam and carried bunkers for 1,600 tons of coal. Fired from 31 Belleville boilers, their twin-shaft 4-cylinder triple-expansion engines produced 22,000hp. and they could make 23 knots at full steam. Main armament consisted of 14-6in. guns, together with a variety of smaller calibre weapons and a pair of submerged 18in. torpedo tubes, and the class was widely regarded as good seaboats and excellent steamers.

Kent herself, built at Portsmouth dockyard, was laid down on 12th February 1900, launched on 6th March 1901 and completed on 1st October 1903. Assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet until 1905, she then served on the China Station from 1906-13 at which point she underwent an extensive refit. Sent to the South Atlantic when this was completed, she was amongst those ships which fought Admiral Graf von Spee's German East Asiatic Squadron off the Falkland Islands in December 1914. Von Spee had previously sunk two British cruisers off Coronel, Chile, on 1st November in an engagement which was not only very costly in terms of lives but also immensely damaging to the prestige of the Royal Navy. This defeat had to be avenged as rapidly as possible and a force led by the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible brought the German squadron to action east of Port Stanley, after a high-speed chase from the Falklands, on the afternoon of 8th December. Kent engaged the Nrnberg in a contest so evenly matched that it lasted over five hours. By 7.30pm. five out of the six German warships had been sunk; only the light cruiser Dresden got away and, three months later, Kent - in company with H.M.S. Glasgow - cornered the Dresden off Chile where she scuttled herself to avoid capture. Kent then returned to more routine duties, survived the War and was broken up at Hong Kong in 1920.

For full details of the Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands, see Christie's Maritime catalogue, 6th November 1997, lot 219.

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