150 years ago on 19 September 1864 John Clint, a Liverpool seaman and ship-owner, and Mayor Charles Mozley called a public meeting at Liverpool Town Hall, ‘for the establishment in the River Mersey of a training ship for the children and orphans of seafaring persons and other poor and destitute boys’. By mid November the Admiralty had agreed to their request to provide a suitable ship. They granted the loan of the 50 gun frigate ‘Indefatigable’. On 9 February 1864 the ship left Plymouth for the Mersey to be fitted out at Coburg dock.
The Maritime Archives and Library hold many of the archives of the training ship Indefatigable including minute books, cadet register books, visitor report books and photographs, which give insights into the lives of the cadets there.
For example, Thomas Niblett was admitted as a cadet on 3 May 1897. He had spent his early years in the Boys Refuge, Manchester an institution set up by Leonard K Shaw. Records show that in his final year on Indefatigable Niblett saved the life of a fellow cadet who had fallen over board. He was awarded the silver medal of the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society, a vote of thanks and five shillings. The local newspaper called it “a very plucky rescue”.
Thomas Niblett left the ship in May 1899, sailing on the Pacific Steam Navigation Company vessel Oravia as a deck boy. His cadet record lists his character on leaving as very good. Records at the United States National Archives show that Thomas Niblett eventually became a US citizen, married and moved to Baltimore, a city not dissimilar to Liverpool, working on the docks.
By 1912 Indefatigable was becoming unseaworthy and on 5 January 1914 was towed to Birkenhead Docks close to the replacement cruiser Phaeton.
The 4,300 ton cruiser Phaeton was purchased from the Admiralty by the Bibby family, fitted out at their expense by H and C Grayson and renamed Indefatigable. The ship remained moored in the Mersey off Rock Ferry until 1941. Enemy action then caused the school to become land based, first in temporary accommodation in North Wales and then at Llanfairpwll, Anglesey.
The school finally closed on 3 July 1995. It was purchased by the Ministry of Defence a year later and renamed The Joint Service Mountain Training Centre (JSMTC) Indefatigable.
Further details about can be found in our training ships information sheet and a comprehensive catalogue of the collection can be found on the National Register of Archives.
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