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Merseyside Training Ships

In 1857 the Liverpool branch of the Mercantile Marine Service Association was established in order to improve the competence and standards of the ships, officers and men. One aim of the Association was to establish schools for the training of boys and men for careers in the Mercantile Marine.

There were four educational ships moored in the Mersey during the latter part of the
nineteenth century. The training ship HMS Conway, founded in 1859, became a national institution for the training of future officers of the Merchant Navy. There were also two reformatory ships – the Akbar, for the reform of Protestant Boys, and the Clarence, for Roman Catholic Boys. The fourth training ship, moored on the Mersey, was the TS Indefatigable, a charitable institution founded in 1864, to give sea training to boys in poor circumstances.

HMS Conway

HMS Conway
In April 1858, a committee was formed by the Mercantile Marine Service Association, to establish a training ship on the Mersey to train boys to become Merchant Navy Officers. The Admiralty offered the use of the frigate Conway, a coastguard ship at Devonport which, on its arrival in the Mersey, was moored off Rock Ferry. The school opened on the 1 August 1859. The original Conway was replaced after two years by HMS Winchester and in 1876 was again replaced by HMS Nile. Both were renamed Conway. In 1941 she was moved to the Menai Straits to avoid the Blitz. Whilst being returned to the Mersey in 1953 for a refit, she was grounded near the Menai Suspension Bridge and broke her back, then caught fire and had to be broken up.

The Frigate HMS Winchester

TS Indefatigable

(Liverpool Sea Training School for Boys)

Boys from the training ship Indefatigable
cheering dignitaries on Exchange Flags in 1927
Photograph ©Will Bramill
In 1864 John Clint, a Liverpool shipowner, founded a charitable institution to train the sons of sailors, destitute and orphaned boys to become merchant seamen. The first TS Indefatigable was loaned by the Admiralty and was one of the last of the Navy’s sailing frigates. Mr. James Bibby contributed £5,000 to transform her from a fighting ship to a training ship and this was to be the start of a long association between the Bibby family and the School. The TS Indefatigable merged with the Lancashire and National Sea Training Homes in 1945.

The 1854 Reformatory Act provided for the better Care and Reformation of Youthful Offenders in Great Britain, this later lead to the provision of nautical training, two training ships the Akbar, for Protestant boys and the Clarence for Roman Catholic boys, were used. It was, not until 1856 that Liverpool considered the provision of reformatories for Catholic Boys. Initially boys were sent to the reformatory at the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St. Bernard, Loughborough. However.  prison inspectors were not happy with this arrangement and in June 1863 the Bishop of Liverpool was informed that unless the Catholics of Liverpool provided a suitable reformatory, the Catholic offenders would be committed to Protestant reformatories or be sent to a normal gaol. Father Nugent formed the "Liverpool Catholic Reformatory association” and the decision was taken to establish a ship reformatory.  Father Nugent contacted the Admiralty, and persuaded them to lend the association a suitable ship for this purpose. and was subsequently given use of the Clarence.

The Clarence was an 84 gun warship, she had originally called the Goliath but her name had been changed before her launch in 1827. She had never been commissioned and had lain in Devonport since her launch. The Clarence was towed from Devonport and arrived in Liverpool on 15th August 1864 and was converted in Sandon dock to accommodate around 250 boys. The main purpose was to educate the boys (compulsory education didn’t arrive in England until 1870) for three years and for them then to enter the Merchant Navy. The boys were instructed in seamanship, carpentry, shoemaking, tailoring etc. as well as reading, writing, arithmetic and geography. A chaplain was appointed by the Bishop of Shrewsbury to look after the religious instruction of the boys. The Clarence was remarkably successful in its early years.

On the 6th April 1878 the Clarence was damaged when the steam tug Columbus ran into it in fog. The captain of the tug claimed that the bells on board the Clarence were not rung in accordance with Admiralty regulations. On 9th November 1880, a fire was discovered near the coal bunkers, it was soon put out with the help of the Rock Ferry steamers Wasp and Fairy Queen. During the night of 17/18th January 1884, a much more serious fire broke out. The Clarence was destroyed, eight days later six of the boys were arrested for starting the fire. The ring leader, a 14 year old boy, admitted pouring paraffin on ropes in the magazine and setting fire to it. The boys were sentenced to five years penal servitude.

1904- Conway, Akbar and Indifatigable moored off New Ferry.

Akbar Reformatory School  Ship, Rock Ferry.

Certified 3rd January 1856 for 200 boys, she was an ex Navy ship.  In 1909 training moved to Heswall on land as Heswall Nautical School, after six months use of the camp there as part of the school, this was certified 29th October 1907 for six months, re-certified in April 1909 for 210 boys.  On the 1st August 1912 and again in 1925 the number of boys accepted was reduced to 200, it later became the Akbar Nautical Approved School.


Source Information

Liverpool Museums
Wirral History, Wiki Wirral
A lot of information on the Clarence in books, newspapers 
and the internet is contradictory, every effort has been made
to provide accurate information.

HMS Conway, Winchester images are in the public domain
copyright has expired.
Conway, Akbar and Indefatigable image Liverpool Records Office.

Robert F Edwards

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