PortCities London

Training ships on the River Thames

Famous connections

Togo, the 'English gentleman'

Statuette of the Admiral of the Fleet Count Heihachiro Togo of Japan (1874-1934).
View full size imageStatuette of Admiral of the Fleet Count Heihachiro Togo (1874-1934). © NMM
London’s training ships produced many men who would go on to make a name for themselves. Perhaps the most noteworthy was Admiral Togo of Japan, who commanded the Japanese force that destroyed the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.

Togo had been on board the Worcester during 1873-74, although he had lied about his age to join, being 26, and not 16 as he claimed. He long remembered his time there, believing that he had not just learnt how to be a sailor, but also how to be an English gentleman. In 1932, the Admiral presented the Worcester with his flag.


Worcester heroes

Subscription book for the Marine Society, 1801.
View full size imageSubscription book for the Marine Society, 1801. © NMM

Other old boys of the Worcester include Admiral Edward Evans, a former commander in chief of the Australian Navy, but more famous as an antarctic explorer. 

Evans was part of the crew of the relief vessel Morning during Captain Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1902-04. As second in command, he brought home the Terra Nova after the death of Captain Scott in 1911.

Several others have been awarded medals for valour, including two winners of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for bravery. Charles Henry Cowley was killed during an attack on Kut-el-Amara in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) in 1916, while Gordon Charles Steele led an attack on Kronstadt Harbour in Russia in 1919.

Famous supporters

Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)
View full size imageRear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), council member of the Marine Society. © NMM

The need for seamen was felt to be so strong that the training ships were often supported by leading figures of the day. Admiral Lord Nelson, Britain’s greatest naval hero, served as a member of the Council of the Marine Society, the charity that ran the Warspite training ship.

He regularly gave money to the charity, as did other famous names from the Royal Navy who fought against Napoleon.


Royal backing

From the 'Illustrated London News', 30 June 1877, showing the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales, to the 'Warspite', 21 June 1877.
View full size imageVisit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to the Warspite, 21 June 1877. © NMM

Support ran even higher than this – the Royal family took an interest in the well-being of their navy. King Edward VII served as a patron to the Marine Society. Indeed, the present Queen maintains this tradition.

The annual prizegiving was also often a Royal affair, with various members of the Royal family on hand to witness the boys’ displays, and hand out the awards.

Shipping companies

Support also came from wealthy merchants involved in shipping. They had a natural interest in producing the next generation of sailors to work on their ships.

Lord Inchcape and 'Worcester' naval cadets.
View full size imageLord Inchcape and Worcester naval cadets. © NMM

Lord Inchcape, for example, the chairman of the P&O Group, one of Britain’s largest shipping companies, was the chairman of the Thames Nautical Training College (HMS Worcester). Others acted more out of concern for individuals’ welfare. The Earl of Shaftesbury, a campaigner for improved working conditions, established two training ships himself.

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