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"HMS Implacable" became the Royal Navy's first training ship at Devonport in 1855.   She was originally a French ship by the name of "Duguay Trouin" and had been a part of the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Although she survived Lord Nelson's onslaught at that battle, she was captured two weeks later by Sir Richard Strachan and re-named the "Implacable".  In 1842 she came to Devonport and was laid up but in July 1855 she found a new use as a vessel for training Boy Seamen for service in the Royal Navy.  It is recorded that out of a complement of 440 boys there were only 328 undergoing such training in 1865.

In 1862 a new training ship joined the establishment at Devonport, "HMS Impregnable".   She had been launched at Chatham Dockyard in July 1810 and as a 98-gun three-decker of 2,278 tons, was almost a copy of "HMS Victory".  She had entered service in 1812 and two years later was chosen to be the flagship of Admiral the Duke of Clarence, who later became King William IV.  The ship took an active part in the bombardment of Algiers in 1816, when Lord Exmouth was sent to stamp out piracy in the Mediterranean.

Royal Naval Training Ship HMS Impregnable at Devonport

HMS Impregnable moored off Cremyl

The "Impregnable" saw little further action, apart from another short commission in the Mediterranean, and in 1819 she was put into the reserve fleet at Devonport.  From May 1839 until October 1841 she had relieved "HMS Adelaide" as the Commander-in-Chief's flagship moored at the entrance to the Hamoaze.  She then saw service in the Mediterranean until May 1843, when she again returned to Devonport's Reserve Fleet.   In 1862 she, too, became a training ship.

In December 1871 "HMS Implacable" was joined by "HMS Lion", both ships now operating under the new name.

"HMS Circe" joined the "Impregnable" complement in 1874 but operated under her own name January 1st 1916 when she was re-named "Impregnable IV".

On September 27th 1886 the "Impregnable" was replaced by "HMS Howe", which was duly re-named "Impregnable" from that date.  The old "Impregnable" ended her days first as a tender to "HMS Indus", then as a hulk under the name of "HMS Kent" to be brought into use in the event of an epidemic.  Finally, on September 22nd 1891 she was commissioned at Devonport as the training ship "HMS Caledonia", to be based at Queensferry on the Firth of Forth.

The new "Impregnable", formerly "HMS Howe", had been built at Pembroke Dock in 1860 and re-named "HMS Bulwark" in 1885.  She was a wooden screw, line-of-battle ship of 6,557 tons and armed with 110 guns.  She had been built at the same time as the ironclad ship "HMS Warrior" and thus was made obsolete even as she was being launched.  As a result she made only one sea-going cruise, for her steam trials, after which she was moored in the upper reaches of the Hamoaze for 25 years until she was brought back into active use as the "Impregnable". 

Read about "How Blue-Jackets are Trained", by Mr Archibald S Hurd, published in "The Windsor Magazine" in 1896 [PDF format, 582kb].

Under a large scheme of reorganisation brought about by the decision to build a barracks at Shotley, the "HMS Lion" establishment was closed in 1904.  The "Lion" itself was sold on July 11th 1905 while the former "HMS Implacable" was sold in 1908 to a Mr Wheatley Cobb, who used her for training Sea Scouts at Falmouth in Cornwall.  In 1931 she was moved to Portsmouth, where she survived until she was scuttled off Alderney in the Channel Islands on December 2nd 1949.

It has been said that the Royal Navy had no trouble in recruiting boys into its service, unlike the Army.   As a result it was found necessary in June 1906 to add "HMS Inconstant" to the training school, duly re-named as "HMS Impregnable II".  Back in February 1905 it had been stated in the Naval and Military Record that the "Impregnable" was to be abolished in the following August.

"HMS Emerald" joined the "Impregnable" complement in June 1910 as Number III.   She had originally been launched in 1861 as "HMS Black Prince", a screw frigate of 9,210 tons.

The prospect of war with Germany in 1912 led to the decision to fit up "HMS Powerful" to form a new training establishment at Devonport.  This opened in 1913, when she was augmented by the addition of "HMS Andromeda" (1897) and "HMS Caroline" (1882), both being commissioned under their new name on September 23rd 1913.

January 1st 1916 saw the formal re-naming of "HMS Circe" as "Impregnable IV".

Following the ending of hostilities in 1918, the old "HMS Impregnable" group was paid off, the "Impregnable" itself (ex-"Howe") being re-named "HMS Bulwark" for the second time in its career.

In November 1919 "HMS Powerful" was re-named "HMS Impregnable" and the Powerful's establishment was disbanded.  At the same time "HMS Powerful II", the ex-"Andromeda" became "Impregnable II", and "HMS Powerful III", the ex-"Caroline", became "Impregnable IV".  The former "Emerald" remained as "Impregnable III". 

Further changes were made in the 1920s.  Firstly, in July 1922 "Impregnable IV" (ex-"Circe") was sold and then on October 12th 1922 the former "HMS Ganges" of 1821 was re-named "Impregnable III" replacing the ex-"Black Prince", which was sold on February 21st 1923.

But major changes were afoot in the way boys were to be trained for service at sea.  In August 1928 the Lords of the Admiralty, looking for ways to save money, decided that "HMS Impregnable" should be offered 'on the altar of economy', as the local press put it.   On Thursday November 22nd 1928 the final distribution of prizes took place aboard the training ship, when the Commander, Commander G Wilson, and the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Rudolf Bentinck, bade farewell to some four hundred boys assembled in the gymnasium. 

The last draft of boys left "HMS Impregnable" on January 1st 1929.  As a result, "HMS Impregnable", the former "Powerful" was sold on August 31st 1929, as were "Impregnable III" (ex-"Ganges") and "Impregnable IV" (ex-"Caroline").

"Impregnable II", (ex-Andromeda") moved upstream to become "HMS Defiance" on January 20th 1931.  She survived through the Second World War.

In November 1936 the establishment was moved ashore to the St Budeaux Barracks at Bull Point.  In charge was Lieutenant Commander Mundy.  During the Second World War this was used for the training of new entry Signalmen and then became a demobilisation centre when the War ended. 

There was a proposal in May 1945 to merge "HMS Impregnable" with the Royal Naval camp at St Budeaux to form a new "HMS Mount Edgcumbe" but this was soon dropped.  In 1946 it returned to being a Boys' training establishment and but it took on only one new entry, which started on May 14th 1947.  It is said that pianist Russ Conway and actor Sean Connery trained here.

The final parade took place on May 9th 1948 and on May 25th "HMS Impregnable" was paid off for the final time.

There was one further vessel that was not a Royal Navy Training Ship but did train boys in all aspects of seamanship.  The 56-gun "HMS Winchester" was built at Woolwich but was lent in 1861 to the Marine Society and moored at Liverpool, where she was re-named the "Conway".  She was returned to the Admiralty and became "HMS Mount Edgcumbe" on September 1st 1876.  On June 28th 1877 she was re-commissioned as the "Mount Edgcumbe" Industrial Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys.   She was initially moored off Saltash Passage but when some cables were laid under the river Tamar north of the Royal Albert Bridge in 1913, she was moved to the Saltash side.  The sea-going training vessel "Goshawk" was moored nearby.   They also used a house called Newlands as their hospital.  The house had been built in 1860 by Mr Elliott after he had built the embankment at Ernesettle.

Mount Edgcumbe Industrial Training Ship

The Mount Edgcumbe Industrial Training Ship

In 1910 a Captain H Wesley Harkcom was appointed as Captain Superintendent and he and his wife, two sons and two daughters lived on board.  He apparently brought many changes to the way the establishment was run.  He dispensed with the word "Industrial" in the title, he stopped using the birch on the boys, and he bought as much of their provisions from the local businesses as he could.  The Saltash Co-op supplied the bread and general provisions, the meat came from Mr Claude Vosper in Saltash, the groceries came from Underwood's in St Budeaux, and the coal was supplied by Ware's of Saltash Passage.

The number of boys under training varied from year to year but on average it was reckoned to be 250.   Many of the boys went on to serve in the Royal Navy, the Army and also the Merchant Navy.   Click here for the Regulations for the Admission of Boys.

On December 4th 1920 the "Mount Edgcumbe" was closed down and Captain Harkcom and his family moved into the old Cottage Hospital at Newlands, where they remained until August 8th 1926 when the house and land were requisitioned by the War Department for the new Royal Naval Armament Depot that was to be built at Ernesettle.  The ship was sold on April 8th 1921 and was soon afterwards towed across the Sound to Queen Anne's Battery, Plymouth, where she was broken up.

Across the water at Torpoint, HMS Raleigh was started in 1938 and in 1939 the artificer training school HMS Fisgard moved here from Portsmouth.  HMS Fisgard closed in 1983 and training was transferred to HMS Raleigh.


Copyright:   Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

Page updated:  18 March 2006

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