Site of Pennar shipyard, Pembroke Dock

Link to Japanese translationSite of Pennar shipyard, Pembroke Dock

The valley below this corner on the Wales Coast Path was home to a shipyard in Victorian times. One of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s first warships was built there.

The Pennar shipbuilding works opened at Jacob’s Pill in 1875. It built several merchant vessels. One of its last ships was HMS Acorn, a Marine-class sloop launched in September 1884 for the Royal Navy.

One of the directors was Pembroke MP Edward James Reed, a naval architect who was chief constructor at the Admiralty until he resigned in 1870. In 1875 he landed a contract to design and build three ships for the Japanese navy. One of them was built here and named Hiei, after a sacred mountain near Kyoto.

At the time, Japan’s few warships were mostly armed for coastal defence. Japan based its emerging new navy on the Royal Navy, and the new British-style corvettes were armed for attack.

The Hiei’s launch ceremony in 1877 was attended by ambassador Ueno Kagenori and his wife Ikuko. The ship went initially to Cardiff, for copper plates to be fitted to its underside in dry dock. From there it sailed to Yokohama, where Emperor Meiji – the first monarch of modern Japan – greeted its arrival. On board was Tōgō Heihachirō, who had recently trained as a naval officer in London. He had become an admiral by 1905, when he led the Japanese navy to victory over the Russians.

The Hiei had iron frames. The hull consisted of two layers of teak sandwiching iron armour plating. Guns were supplied by Krupp of Essen, Germany. There were three guns on each side, two at the bow and one at the stern, enabling the ship to fire in any direction without turning. The fore and aft guns were mounted on railway tracks for storage closer to the centre of the ship, reducing the weight at the extremities.

The ship’s figurehead depicted a phoenix. The stern was decorated with dragons. Chrysanthemum flowers, symbolising eternity, were carved on some of the ship’s furniture. The Hiei was involved in battles in the 1890s. It was used to train sailors before being sold c.1911.

With thanks to Kuniko Fujisawa

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