Built for Great Western Railway Company the steamer Roebuck I operated on various English Channel routes between Weymouth and the various ports on the islands. She was launched from the Barrow yard of Naval Construction and Armament Co Ltd on 6th March 1897 for the Great Western Railway Co Ltd. She measured 280.0′ x 34.5′ x 16.8′ and weighed 1094 gross tons, 1281 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Naval Construction and Armament delivering 643 net horsepower.
She operated on this service successfully, surviving a fire in January 1905 and a subsequent stranding off Jersey in July 1911, before she was requisitioned by the Admiralty at the beginning of the First World War. She was renamed HMS Roedean and fitted with two small deck guns for protection and initially assigned to minesweeping duties near Portsmouth Dockyard. She was commanded by Stephen Pidgeon RNR and was almost immediately re-assigned to join the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow arriving there in December of 1914.
For the first few weeks Commander Pidgeon exercised his new crew as often as he could but unfortunately they would not get much chance to show what they had learned. After one such exercise the Roedean anchored near the entrance to Longhope on 5th January, 1915. Apparently she had some problems with her minesweeping gear requiring the attention of navy divers to recover some 45 fathoms of cable still underwater. During the night of January 13th a strong westerly wind caused the Roedean to drag her anchor. Commander Pidgeon decided to drop a second anchor to prevent any further problem but, as steam was being raised to move her out of harm’s way, Roedean fouled the anchor chain of HMS Imperieuse taking a blow to her starboard side midships smashing a hole in her hull. The second anchor was let go but it was immediately obvious that the ship was taking water fast and would sink. Pidgeon ordered the boats launched and, with the majority of the crew safely disembarked intended to run the ship ashore but, with water gaining rapidly, determined this would be impossible and abandoned ship which sank soon after.
Some sporadic minor salvage was carried out over the years and a number of attempts were made to reduce the underwater obstruction with varying degrees of success but the wreck basically lay where she sank until 1956 when a team of salvage divers in RFA Succour arrived to render the wreck safe. They removed some further portions of the wreck before dispersing what remained with explosives on 18th June 1956. This was followed there days later by multiple wire sweeps of the wreck to ensure nothing remained that could be a danger to navigation.
Despite the attentions of the salvage teams some substantial wreckage still remains in position 58° 48.572’N, 03° 09.831’W lying in 16 metres and rising 9 metres from the seabed. The stern section is still recognisable and her two huge boilers lie in the centre of the debris rising as the highest points above the seabed.