HMS Active was launched on 13 March 1869. Her 270 foot long iron hull was covered in 3 inches of oak, and below the waterline sheets of copper to prevent the buildup of weed which would have slowed her through the water. Under steam power she could manage 15 knots, and carried enough coal to cruise at 10 knots for 2000 nautical miles. She was also a fully rigged sailing ship, and could lower the funnel of her steam engine and raise screw for better sailing performance. Under sail she could go almost as fast as under steam reaching a maximum speed of 12.5 knots.
She was laid up in reserve for the first two years of her life, common practice at the time, until 1873. In 1873 Active became the flagship of Commodore William Hewett who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station. She spent 6 years around the coasts of West Africa with men participating in many of the colonial actions there, and also in the Zulu War of 1879.
After returning from the Zulu War she went back into reserve until 1885 when she became the flagship of the training squadron. She was paid off in 1898 and was sold for scrap on 10 July 1906.