Wednesday 20 March 2024

Empress sold for firewood

One hundred years ago today, on 20 March 1924, the former Clyde Training Ship Empress left the Clyde under tow headed for Appledore, North Devon to be broken up.  The ship, built in 1859 at Pembroke Dock was originally named HMS Revenge and had been the flagship of the Mediterranean and Channel Fleets, later becoming flagship at Queenstown, Ireland. She was one of the last wooden battleships, nicknamed “wooden walls”, to be built.

HMS Revenge at Queenstown - firing a royal salute

Mr H Hinks of Appledore had purchased the Empress from the Admiralty.  The voyage from the Clyde to Appledore was not without incident due to bad weather.  A newspaper reported – “Off Milford Haven the seven tugs could only manage to hold the Revenge, but the storm was successfully weathered, and Appledore Bar reached.  Here the dangerous shoals had to be negotiated, but this was accomplished, and, much to the relief of the crew, the great wooden battleship was safely berthed in Mr Hinks’s yard, where after being thrown open to the public for a time, she will be broken up.”  Eighty men were employed to break up the ship.  The wood from the ship was sold for firewood.

Revenge had arrived in the Clyde in 1890 towed by two of the Clyde Shipping Company’s tugs, Flying Dragon and Flying Vulture.  A newspaper report described the event – “As she sailed slowly up the harbour between the lines of shipping to her berth at the east end of Stobcross Quay, her great hull, with its rows of portholes, handsome figurehead, and curiously-shaped stern, and the immense platforms on her three masts, attracted considerable attention.  

Renamed Empress, after fitting out she was taken to her anchorage in the Gareloch.  The ship could accommodate up to 400 boys aged 11-14 and was under the command of Captain G T Deverell.  The ship was taken out of commission as a training ship in July 1923.  Empress had replaced the previous Clyde training ship Cumberland which had been destroyed by fire in 1889.

Local author, Viki McDonnell has written a wonderful book “Snatched from Satan” which gives details of the setting up of the Clyde Industrial Training Ship Association in 1869 and the social and economic conditions locally which brought about its formation.  More importantly, the author gives the reader a glimpse of the lives of the boys who were sent to the ships over the years as well as the officers who were tasked with training them.  Interesting too is the involvement of local industrialists and philanthropists who funded the Association and took a large part in its life.  An excellent book with some great illustrations and old photographs detailing life on board Cumberland and Empress.

You can also read a very interesting article about the training ships on the Helensburgh Heritage Trust website.

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