Royal Navy Training Ships: Individual Ships--Ship Names

Royal Navy training ship
Figure 1.--Here we see the boys of the training ship 'Warspite' at Grays, Essex, during 1932. The boys are training for their sports and display. The picture shows the boys hoisting the Sheer Legs is a nautical evolution carried out by the boys as they sing sea shanties. Teams compete in this and they are timed. Notice the boys are wearing long-sleeve T-shirts rather than the traditioinal sailor blouses.

The Royal Navy training ship program began with Implacable)1855). Listing the Royal Navy training ships is a little complicated. For one thing the Navy replaced many of the ships, but kept the old names. Another complication is that all sorts of other agencies set up training programs as a way of dealing with orphans and delinquents. I am not entirely sure of the relationship with the Royal Navy, but the Navy appears to have supported these efforts. The objective was to prepare the boys to enter either the Royal Navy or the Merchant Marine. We have found about 20 ship so far, but believe there may be a few more. Some were more successful than others. All the ones fojund so far are British and moored off English ports. We do not know of any training ships established in the Dominions. The remaining training ships were evacuated during the Blitz (1940). There was fear that the Luftwaffe might target them. The great danger was that the Luftwaff did target the ports and port cities and there was a very real danger that the ships might be hit.


Beatty (1786-1862?)

Joseph Hanway founded the Marine Society to support the Royal Navy. When the 7 Yeatrs War broke out (1756), the Navy was having trouble recruiting sailors. The Society offered uniforms to volunteers. incentive to volunteering, the Society provided the men with a complete sea uniform. The Society also undertook to assist boys on Royal Navy vessels. Poor boys in particular were in need of clothing. Many of these boyys worked as servants to the officers. The Society obtained donations from merchants and naval officers, including Lord Nelson. The Society managed to help recruit 5,451 men and 5,174 boys. With the end of the War, the Society redirected its activities toward indigent boys. Parliament authorized the Society to apprentice poor boys to the royal and merchant services (1772). The Society saw that the apprentice program needed an actual ship. It commissioned the Beatty to use as a pre-sea training ship (1786-1862). It wa a small ship that was no longer serviceable for actual seas operations. The Society moored it off Deptford. It served as a kind of boarding school for poors boys learning nautical skills.

Caledonia (1891- )

The training ship Caledonia was activated in 1891. It was stationed at Queensferry on the Firth of Forth (1891). It was the original Impregnable.

Exmouth (1877- )

The Goliath which was destroyed in a tragic fire was replaced with the Exmouth (1877). The Exmouth was moored off Grays in Essex. The Metropolitan Asylums Board managed Exmouth. The Goliath had proven so successful that it was decided that an agency responsible for a larger area than a single school district should manage the project. It was an old wooden two-decker line-of-battleship which was built in 1854. It served as Admiral Seymour's flagship in the Baltic during the Crimean war. The Exmouth was advantageous for the Asylums Board because it was fitted for about half the cost of building a shore-based facility. The Exmouth could accomodate about 500 boys. The original compliment was for 750 men. About 30 boys would do sea trials on a on the brigantine assigned to the Ex,outh and a few boys were usually at home. The cost to the Asylum in 1877 was 11s per week, slightly reduced because of the aid available from the Imperial rates for school teachers and seamen instructors. Many of the boys were at first taken from a London workhouse. The boys had to be at least 12 yeas old. New arrvals had to learn to mend and patch as well as wash their clothes. They were assigned lockers which they were expected to keep in good order. A new boy was also assigned a hammock which he stowed during the day. The boys were taught sailing, rowing, sail and rope-making, gunnery, and signalling. In addition, they persued their regular primary school work. Other activities included a variety of physical activities (swimming and gymnastics). The boys had the opportunity to participate in a band and bugle-band. The Asylum Board agreed to accept up to 50 boys from parishes and unions outside the London Metropolitan Poor Law Area (1892). The Exmouth training program appears to have been very successful. A report indicates that 137 Exmouth boys entered the Royal Navy, compared with only 135 boys from all othernaval training ships in the country altogether (1896). (This presumably did not include the training ships actually run by the Royal Navy otself.) Royal Navy inspectors ddtermined the ship's hull to be in an unsafe. As a result, the vessel was condemned. Presumably the Navy commissioned an iron/steel replacement vessel. It was built in the Vickers company in Barrow-in-Furness. The newly constructed Exmouth was towed to Grays where the old Exmouth had been moored (1905). (Presumably as it was a training vessel and not designed for sea duty, it did not have an engine.) We note the HMS Exmouth still moored in the Thames continued to be used as a training ship in 1931 (figure 1).


We know about HMS Ganges because of Ted Briggs. Teld fell in love with the battle cruiser HMS Hood when he first saw her as 12-year old boy. The following day he hurried off the the local Royal Navy recruitment office and tried to enlist. The recruiter As he was only 12, he was politely told to come back when he turned 15 years old. Earlier younger boys could join up. And right on schedule 3 years later, Ted did exactly that. A week after his 15th birtday he enlisted (March 7, 1938). Ted signed up in the Royal Navy as a Boy, meaning a boy trainee. He trained on HMS Ganges which was moored at Shotley Gate in Ipswich. The training program lasted 16 months until. He was surprise and delighted to be assigned to Hood. He first came aboard Hood (July 29, 1939). One month lsater, Britain was at war wiyh Germany. Hood proved to be the workhorse of the Royal Navy: Hood was kept extremely busy patrolling the Atlantic and escorting various ships. For the first time in her career, Hood was actually deployed in time of war. He was with her in Force H in the Mediterranean when Britain had to destroy the French fleet at Mers el-Kebir (Oran) (July 1940). And he was one of the om;y three survivors when Bismarck san (March 1941).

Goliath (1870-75)

The Forest Gate School District operated the Goliath which was moored in the Thames. Boys from all London's Poor Law authorities were trained on the Goliath to prepare for service in either the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. The scheme reportedly was quite successful. Not only did it provide care for indigent boys, but it prepared them for a productive career. The ship was destroyed in a fire (1875). The fire also killed 23 people, presumasbly mostly boys assigned to the ship.

Illustrious (1854- )

One source suggests thst the Illustrious was the first Royal Navy training ship (1854).

Implacable (1855-1904?)

The Royal Navy's first training ship was the HMS Implacable. It was activated as a training ship at Devonport in 1855 during the Crimean War. She was an old French man-of-war which had fought at Trafalgur--the Duguay Trouin. She was captured 2 weeks later by Sir Richard Strachan and re-named the Implacable for service in the Royal Navy. The vessel was barely sea worthy and largely obsolete when retired at Devonport (1842). The Navy decided to use it as a training ship and recommissioned it (1855). The vessel had a complement of 440 there were 328 boys undergoing training in 1865. For many years it was moored together with HNS Lion. The old HMS Implacable was sold in 1908 to a Mr Wheatley Cobb. He used her for another training program--training Sea Scouts at Falmouth in Cornwall. The vessel was moved to Portsmouth (1931). She was finally scuttled off Alderney in the Channel Islands (1949).

Impregnable (1862-86)

The training program on the Implacable seems to have proven successful and the Royal Navy adopted the idea of training boys before assigning them to ships for active duty. The Royal Navy's second training ship was HMS Impregnable which joined HMS Implacable at Devonport (1862). The HMS Impregnable was launched at Chatham Dockyard during the Napoleonic Wars (1810). It was a 98-gun three-decker man-of-war. The design was virtually a copy of Nelson's flagship HMS Victory. It joined the fleet in 1812. It became the flagship of Admiral the Duke of Clarence, who would become King William IV (1814). By this time the French fleet had been destroyed. It saw action in the Mediterranean as part of a flotilla commanded by Lord Exmouth who was assigned the task of ending North African piracy. It bombarded Algiers (1816). After that time it was in and out of the reserve fleet until being activated as a training ship (1862). There seems to be some difference among sources as to just when Impregnable became a training ship. One reader writes, "I was looking at a couple of HMS Impregnable's muster books today. I noticed that she was a training ship by 1856 at the latest, probably from 1852. I didn't take great deal of notice, since I have only found your site this evening. Your site seems to imply that Impregnable was only a training ship from 1862." [Woolgar] We are not sure about the discrepancy, perhaps Impregnable ws a training ship befor joining Implacable at Devon. The Navy replaced the original Impregnable with the HMS Howe, but renamed the Howe the Impregnable (1886). The old Impregnable was reassigned as a tender for HMS Indus. Then it was put into the reserve fleet as a hulk to be used as a quarantine ship--HMS Kent in case of an epidemic. Finally she was commissioned at Devonport as another trainship--HMS Caledonia.

Impregnable (1886- )

The Navy replaced the original Impregnable with the HMS Howe, but renamed the Howe the Impregnable (1886). The HMS Howe was constructed at Pembroke Dock (1860). It was then renamed HMS Bulwark (1885). The Howe was a wooden screw line-of-battle ship with 110 guns. She was built at the same time the ironclad HMS Warrior was built. The ironclad proved so successful that it essentially made every wooden vessel in the Royal Navy obsolete. Howe did steam trials, but never joined the fleet. She was moored inactibe in the Hamoaze for 25 years after which she was reactivated as a training ship with the venerable name of the old Impregnable.

Impregnable IV (1874- )

The Royal Navy activated HMS Circe as a training vessel in 1874. She was renamed Impregnable IV (1916).

Lion (1871-1905)

The HMS Lion was activated as a training ship at Devonport in 1871. It was used to train boys for over three decades. Something like 18 ships over time were named 'Lion', presumably because of the association with both the courage of the animal and the smbology of the British crown. In the 20th century a battle cruiser was name Lion which fought in World War I. There was also thre training ship Lion. Lion was an old wooden two-decker which was moored with the Implacable off Torpoint, about half-way up the Hamoze. The vessel had a striking gilded figure-head which was meant to represen the British lion rampant. The vessel was built at Pembroke Dockyard and launched (1847). It was an 80 gun ship of the line meant to carry a company of 750 men. After her active service with the fleet in the Royal Navy, she was converted to a training ship (1871). was moored to Implacable, which had been at Trafalgur, and the two vessels made up the training school for boys at Devonport. The training brig Liberty served as a tender. Lion and and other training ships in the 19h century were sailing ships. One of the skills the boys learned was how to set the rigging. That seems a little dangerous. I;m nit sure how common accidents were. The Royal Navy as part of a reorganization decided to build a shore training facility at Shotley. As a result HMS Lion was deactivated (1904) and sold (1905).

Mercury (1885-1914)

The training ship HMS Mercury was used as both a school and a training ship. Yhje ship became a training ship in 1885 and was decommisioned in 1968. It was originally the Illovo built in 1867 in Aberdeen. It was renamed Mercury when it was converted to a training ship (1885). As a training ship it was moored off the Isle of Wight. At the time it was still sea worthy. It made a cruise to France with a crew that included 132 boys (winter 1888-89). Later the ship was moved to Hamble, near Southampton (1892). The school subsequently acquired land facilities and esentially moved ashore. The ship continued to be used as dormitories and as a focus for activities such as boating and drill. Mercury just before World war I was replaced by HMS President (formerly Gannet) (June 1914). We are not sure what happened to Mercury after she was replaced as a training ship. The Old Boys' Association suggest she was used until 1968, but we cannot yet confirm this.


We do not know much about Minotaur yet. We do notice boys from the ship wearing the white summer uniform at the cturn-of-the 20th century. As was the tradition, the boys went narefoot aboasrd the ship, but put on shoes and socks when they went asore.


We came across a book about John Hornby (1901-74). He was a boy sailor.His first ship was a boy's training ship HMS Powerful. Here he did his navy training from September 1916 to March 1917. At the end of his training he was rated Boy 1st Class. He was sent to HMS Vengence where he and other boy sailors were stationed until posted to the fleet. John was posted to the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow during Wotld War I, but it was after Jutland (1916), the major fleet engagement of the War..

President (1914- )

St. Vincent

The HMS St. Vincent was one of the Royal Navy training ship. It was not named after a saint, but rather the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797). (Nelso played a major role, but was not the British fleet commander.) The images we have found from 1927-28 show all shore based facilities. The facility was located at Gosport, Hampshire. There are Division group photos (Main Top, and Quarter Deck).Winning sports teams (Cross-country, Fencing, Boxing, Cutter Racing etc), Activities (Swimming Lessons, Gun Drill etc.) Commandants, Officers and POs, and the tallest and shortest boys.

Warspite (1862-1940)

The Marine Society began training boys in the 18th century. It first obtained the old merchant vessel Beaty (1786). Finally the Navy loaned the Society an old warship--the Warspite. This was the first of several vessels using the same name (1862). I think it was at first moored at the Society;s facility at Deptford. The Society moved the Warspitedown the Thames to Greenhithe (1901). The Warspite continued to be operated until World War II. It accommodate as many as 200 boys each year and the Society estimates that it had trained and equipped more than 35,000 boys nearly the same amount for the merchant service. Here we see the boys of the training ship Warspite at Grays, Essex, during 1932 (figure 1). The boys are training for their sports and display. The picture shows the boys hoisting the Sheer Legs is a nautical evolution carried out by the boys as they sing sea shanties. Teams compete in this and they are timed. The Royal Navy decommissioned Warspite fearing that the Luftwaffe would target it (1940).


We note an engraving (probably from a photograph) which shows the training ship HMS Wellesley (of course named after Lord Nelson) while it is moored at South Shields in 1876. The boys are shown in the blue Royal Navy uniforms. We see almost identical scenes in the early-20th century. By this time Royal Navy sailors were wearing shoes, but the boys trained barefoot. We believe that this was primarily a matter of tradition.


Hurd, Archibald S. "How blue-jackets are trained," The Winsor Magazine (1896).

Moseley, Brian. "Royal Navy training ships," The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History 2005).

Woolgar, Graham. E-mail message, May 2, 2013.

"Thames training ship," newspaper report (June 1877).


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Created: 2:38 AM 6/7/2007
Last updated: 4:14 PM 5/2/2013