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Collections24th August 2022

Visiting my ship, TS MERCURY, 61 years later…

Victorian sloop HMS GANNET has had many roles over the years. She was originally built in Sheerness during 1878 for three purposes:

In 1913 GANNET was lent to Mr C.B. Fry (the cricketer) for use as an accommodation ship for the Training School Mercury based on the river Hamble near Southampton. For the next 55 years she would be known as TS (Training Ship) MERCURY.

Malcolm Staddon recently visited the Historic Dockyard as a surprise present from his family. Malcolm worked onboard TS MERCURY between 1957 to 1961 (school number 4477) and he has not seen the ship that he called home in 61 years.

Life as a boy on MERCURY was not easy, the regime was harsh and demanding, but it did produce many boys destined for high rank in the Royal and Merchant Navy including one future Master of the R.M.S. Queen Mary. Nautical training was the school’s purpose and the curriculum ignored anything that was not relevant to the object of turning boys into sailors.

Malcolm said “I was tiny when I first went there, you grow when you are there and my life changed for the better. It was tough and you had a lot of individual expression. The tough, bigger boys certainly ran the place.”

Despite how completely different TS MERCURY looked, seeing the ship in the original form had a profound effect.

Malcolm said “I am glad she is restored to as she was as the GANNET but she is unrecognisable to me besides the basic hull. What is now the main deck had Second World War 6 inch guns which was left over from when she was HMS PRESIDENT.”

Previous to being MERCURY, between 1903-1913 she was a drill ship known as HMS PRESIDENT.

Image: TS MERCURY

In 1987 the Historic Dockyard at Chatham chartered GANNET from The Maritime Trust and started a restoration programme. The objective of which was to return GANNET to her 1886 appearance – when she saw action for the only time in her naval career at the defence of the port of Suakin. In 1994 ownership of the vessel was passed to the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
Malcolm went on to add “She is a treasure for the country to have. She is one of a kind. This is a prime example of a working ship of the Navy and I am glad to see she has been restored. I had always wanted to see her again, I have had a great day.”
With special thanks to Malcolm for sharing his story. We hope to welcome you back to the Dockyard again soon.

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