H.M.S. Britannia (Training Ship)

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H.M.S. Britannia. Hindostan at left, connected to the fifth Britannia at right.
Image: By courtesy of Terry Dickens [astraltrader].

H.M.S. Britannia was the name given to the British Royal Navy's ship used for the preliminary education of naval officers from 1859 to 1905. It was anchored first at Portsmouth, then Portland, and finally off the town of Dartmouth in Devon. The first ship used was the 1820 three-decker Britannia, which was replaced in 1869 by the three-decker Prince of Wales, which became the fifth ship to bear the name Britannia. From 1864 onwards the two-decker Hindostan was moored ahead of Britannia and connected by an enclosed gangway, providing extra accommodation and classroom space.

Cadets joining the Royal Navy were entered into a "term" in Britannia, which they remained in for two years. There were a varying number of terms entered each year, ranging from two to four before normalising at three per annum. If cadets gained enough time through scholarly aptitude and good behaviour, upon leaving for the fleet they were rated Midshipmen; if not then they left as Naval Cadets and had to pass further examinations to become Midshipmen. Over the forty-six year life of Britannia, the training and education changed continually, with seamanship and mathematics being the only constants.


In 1854, during the Crimean War, formal training for young seamen had been instituted in the two-decker Illustrious, based in Portsmouth Harbour and commanded by Captain Robert Harris. The scheme was a success, and Harris urged its adoption for the training of Naval Cadets.[1] In the face of opposition, Harris obtained an appointment for his son to Illustrious. The boy, Robert Hastings Harris, had been training in H.M.S. Victory under Naval Instructor the Reverend Robert M. Inskip. He trained with the "novices" in Illustrious for a year before going to sea, and later claimed to be "the initial cause of the Britannia system." Six weeks after he passed out from Illustrious in 1857, the Admiralty ordered Captain Harris to prepare a scheme for the training of all Naval Cadets before they went to sea, which he did in collaboration with Reverend Inskip. The training was to last not less than three months, "No cadet will be allowed to count more than three months in the training ship towards sea-time", and a Naval Cadet had to pass an examination before going to a sea-going ship. Three Naval Instructors, including Reverend Inskip, were appointed to the Illustrious, and an entry of twenty-three cadets was divided into two watches so that seamanship and study could be taken on alternate days.[2] In 1857 some 105 Naval Cadets were received.[3]

Around 1858 the training of seamen in Illustrious was abolished and attention devoted entirely to Naval Cadets.[4] In 1858 the number of cadets rose to 140 and in 1859 to 236.[3] It was realised that they cadets would have to be educated in batches which would overlap, and it was decided that a larger ship was needed. The line-of-battle ship Britannia was chosen, and on 1 January, 1859 Captain Harris shifted his pendant to her.[4] Of the entrance requirements, one of the Cadets who entered in 1859, recalled:

The qualifying examination was not very formidable in those easy days. The knowledge required consisted of a little "English," less French or Latin (with the " aid of a dictionary"), a "satisfactory knowledge of the leading facts of Scripture and English History," a certain amount of geography, and an elementary knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and Euclid. The preliminary course of education afforded to "Volunteers," as the naval cadets used to be called, at the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, had been abolished in 1837, and for the next twenty years cadets were sent straight to sea. In 1857, cadets were entered for training in the Illustrious, Captain Robert Harris. The number of cadets exceeding the accommodation in the ship, the Britannia was commissioned on 1st January, 1859, by Captain Harris. But not for many years did the entrance examination become the competitive ordeal for which cramming is the only preparation, known to the present generation. But I remember Admiral William Bowles, commander-in-chief of Portsmouth, taking me kindly by the shoulder and saying, "Well, my little man, you are very small for your age. Why are you being sent to sea?"

I said that I wanted to go to sea.

"Are you good at your books?" asked the admiral. "Bless me, I know many an admiral who could not pass the examination you have passed. Good Heavens, what they expect boys to do nowadays!"[5]

In February, 1862, the Britannia sailed from Portsmouth to Portland,[6] but the exposed position (with adverse consequences for boatwork) and the isolation prompted a move elsewhere. Shortly after arrival a Naval Cadet was killed after he fell from a cliff. Captain Harris was relieved by Captain R. A. Powell in October, 1862, and he submitted to the Board of Admiralty the disadvantages of Portland. Having been informed to find a better location, he recommended Dartmouth and its relatively secluded river water. His choice was approved.[7]

The September 1863 intake term added, for the first time, Second-Class Naval Cadetships, which had been authorized by new regulations distributed in the Admiralty Circular of 8 July. These cadets were tracked into Navigating ranks, such as Navigating Lieutenant.[8]

The Britannia left Portland under tow at 07:45 on 29 September, 1863. 108 Naval Cadets had been sent on leave,[6] out of her total of 230.[9] Eleven had been left in the Sick Quarters at Portland after an outbreak of scarlet fever, and upon reaching Dartmouth the rest of the Naval Cadets would be given a short holiday so that Britannia's decks could be scrubbed with disinfecting powder and her beams washed with lime.[10] On 30 September Britannia was moored just below Mill Creek, half a mile above the town of Dartmouth up the River Dart. Her arrival was heralded by the peals of church bells at St. Saviour's and St. Petrox churches.[11] Soon after arrival the complement of Naval Cadets had increased to 306 due to a shortage in Lieutenants, and the additional numbers created conditions of overcrowding. Captain Powell complained, and he was sent the two-decker Hindostan (80), which was moored ahead of Britannia and was later connected by a covered gangway.[9] Powell was also responsible for the construction of a landing-beach for the Naval Cadets' boats and a cricket ground, as well as the lease of properties for use as an infirmary.[12]

Shortly after the appointment of Captain Powell in 1862, corporal punishment was instituted for serious offences among the Naval Cadets as a deterrent. Length of training was initially established as four periods of three months each, with entries admitted at each quarter. After twelve months Naval Cadets took an examination: if they passed with a First-Class pass, they received twelve months seniority, six months for a Second-Class pass, and nothing for a Third-Class. Naval Cadets were supposed to be discharged to a sea-going training ship at the end of their course of study, but since such a ship was for a long time not available, many Naval Cadets stayed for fifteen months. Captain Powell was succeeded by Captain George Randolph in 1865, who was determined to do away with bullying among the cadets. Several public birchings were ordered,[13] which prompted accusations of cruelty in the media, which led to the Board of Admiralty abolishing corporal punishment. Captain Randolph was succeeded by Captain John Corbett in September, 1867.[14]

In July, 1869, the Britannia was replaced by the screw line-of-battle ship Prince of Wales, which was promptly renamed and became the fifth Britannia.[15] In 1871 the Reverend Inskip was succeeded as Chief Naval Instructor by Mr. Kempster Knapp, who was compelled to resign in 1875 owing to ill-health.[16] In his place the Reverend J. C. P. Aldous was appointed. By the end of the 1870s studies were conducted by Aldous with the assistance of two Naval Instructors and three masters. Each of the four terms had two Captains of Cadets, Naval Cadets who were selected

Royal Cadets

In January, 1877 Britannia received Princes Albert Edward and George, sons of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). In the wake of the controversy surrounding the alleged bullying of a Naval Cadet named Lloyd, the decision to educate the Princes at Dartmouth was an important show of confidence. Queen Victoria gave her sanction to the proposal, so long as the boys' tutor, the Reverend John Neale Dalton, accompanied them to Britannia. Other than sleeping in the guest's cabin on the poop deck, for two years the two Princes shared the same education and life aboard Britannia as the other cadets.[17]

Prince George, later King George V, later wrote of his time as a Naval cadet:

It never did me any good to be a Prince. The Britannia was a pretty tough place, and so far from our benefiting, the other cadets made a point of taking it out of us, on the grounds that they would never be able to do it later on. There was a lot of fighting among the cadets, and the rule was if challenged you had to accept. So they used to make me go up and challenge the bigger cadets. I was awfully small then, and I'd get a hiding time and again. But one day I was landed one on the nose that made me bleed. It was the best blow I ever had, as the doctor forbade me to fight any more.[18]


In 1878 Lieutenant Mainwaring introduced the custom whereby a photo was taken of each term which passed out of Britannia. Mainwaring also instituted the Britannia Beagle pack.[19] In 1884, the barque-rigged steamer Wave arrived at Dartmouth to provide the Naval Cadets with instruction in steam machinery.[20] In the same year The Britannia Magazine was first published, and electricity was introduced into Britannia and Hindostan.[21]

Bullying again became a problem in 1891, and provoked controversy in the newspapers. In the meantime Captain Digby announced that he had succeeded in "getting rid of the principal culprits." In 1894 the Captain, by now Arthur W. Moore,

Selborne Scheme & Closure

In 1895 the Board of Admiralty began to seriously discuss the construction of a new shore-based training school for naval officers. After much legal wrangling over the purchase of the required land, tenders were issued for construction of a new college by Aston Webb in 1900 and construction began. In 1902 the so-called Selborne Scheme was promulgated, which would institute common training for all officer entrants regardless of which branch or service they wished to join. Only upon reaching the rank of Sub-Lieutenant could an officer join the Engineer Branch or the Royal Marines. Because the new naval college was not yet ready, and would require modifications, it was decided to build a new college in the grounds of Osborne Palace on the Isle of Wight at which Naval Cadets would spend their first six terms (two years), and then progress to the college at Dartmouth for another two years of study. Construction at Osborne began in March, 1903, and the first term of the new scheme was admitted in September.[22]

It was decided that the new college at Dartmouth would not be opened until the first term from Osborne could occupy it. Captain Cross of Britannia [not unnaturally] assumed that he and his staff would transfer to the new Royal Naval College with the terms currently under training. The Commanding Officer of Osborne, Captain Rosslyn Wemyss, and the new Director of Naval Education, J. A. Ewing, both agreed however that there could be no mixing of the cadets of the old and new schemes, with the latter writing, "I am very anxious to see that Dartmouth College develops on entirely new lines without Britannia interference or even influence."[23]

In 1903, Captain Charles Cross was appointed to Britannia by Second Sea Lord Sir John Fisher to give it a "shake-up". A witness to his tenure later recalled, "He was allowed a free hand to hire and fire and within a fortnight there was heard the splash of bodies going overboard. Chiefly officers, though the messman was the first to go, reputed to be making a thousand [pounds] a year out of the cadets' messing."[24]

The changeover began a year before the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, opened. The graduating fourth term from Britannia was embarked for an extended training cruise in the cruiser Isis.[25] When the turn of the third term came to leave it was embarked in the Eclipse, and the second term was eventually accommodated in the Highflyer. The locations considered for the cruises were all in tropical areas so as to save on heating, and eventually Bermuda was chosen. Captain Cross was relieved by Captain William Goodenough in the Spring of 1905 to oversee the final transfer, and to assume command of the new Royal Naval College as soon as it opened. The final term from Britannia, numbering forty-two Naval Cadets, entered the college on 14 September, 1905. The term was given the title "Hawke" term, and being older, it stood ahead of the first batch of Naval Cadets from the Royal Naval College, Osborne, who were given the title "St. Vincent" term.[26]

The Hindostan was moved to Plymouth in 1905 and renamed Fisgard III, becoming part of the Artificer training establishment. She was scrapped in 1921.[27] Her place was taken by the sloop Espiegle, upon whose books the College was subsequently borne. In 1910 she was replaced by the third-class protected cruiser Pomone.[28] The Britannia was used as ratings' quarters until sold to Garnhams[29] on 13 November, 1914.[30] She was towed away for breaking up on 5 July, 1916[31], and according to the Britannia Magazine:

The whole College was assembled to watch her passage, whilst her band paid her the last farewell, and furtive expression was not infrequently heard of a feeling that an enemy torpedo would be a not unfitting end to her career of usefulness.[32]

Entry of Naval Cadets

See: Regulations Regarding the Entry of Naval Cadets in the Royal Navy

Numbers, Nomination, and Age

The number of Naval Cadets was initially derived from the number of Lieutenants authorised on the Active List and therefore subject to fluctuation.[33] In 1869 the requirement for examination in Latin was dropped.[3] In August, 1869, new regulations for the entry of Naval Cadets were promulgated, in response to the shortage of Lieutenants having been rectified: the annual intake of 214 Naval Cadets in 1864 had fallen to 121 in 1869. The new annual intake was to be of seventy-four, in two batches of thirty-seven. Nominations of up to twice the permitted number were allowed, but did not guarantee entry. Entrance was by competitive examination. Provided that a failed candidate attained a certain level in his examination, he was permitted to take the examination at the next sitting. Prospective Naval Cadets were examined in arithmetic, algebra, Euclid, French, Latin, English, history, geography, any living language with the exception of French, and elementary drawing. In the matter of nominations, Flag Officers were allowed three nominations if they held a command, Commodores two, and Captains one. The Colonies were granted seven nominations per year.[34]

In 1896 it was decided to gradually raise the age of entry, starting from 1 January, 1897. The number of entries was increased from two to three, appointments being dated from 15 January, 15 May and 15 September. The limits of age on each date were raised as follows; On 15 January and 15 May in 1897, 13½ to 15 years old; on 15 September, 1897, 13¾ to 15¼; on 15 January, 1898, 14 to 15½. This was to remove the "undesirable" incidence of newly-entered cadets being older than cadets in previous terms.[35]


The following table is adapted from Jones:[36]

Subjects in Examination for Entrance to Britannia
1865 1879 1889
English English English
French (or other language) French French
Scripture Scripture Scripture
History Arithmetic History
Geography Euclid Geography
Arithmetic Algebra Arithmetic
Euclid (Book 1) Latin Euclid


In 1880, according to Professor Soley, Naval Cadets received twenty-eight hours of instruction a week, divided between three hours in the morning, and two and a half hours in the afternoon excepting Wednesdays and Saturdays. One hour every evening except Saturday was devoted to evening study, and for the upper two terms half an hour's study before breakfast.[37]



Dates of appointment given:


  • Beresford, Admiral Lord Charles (1914). The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford: Written by Himself. Vol. I. Boston: Little, Brown, & Company.
  • Davies, E. L.; Grove, E. J. (1980). The Royal Naval College Dartmouth: Seventy-five years in Pictures. Portsmouth: Gieves & Hawkes Limited. ISBN 0-85997-462-6.
  • De Chair, Admiral Sir Dudley (1961). The Sea is Strong. London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd..
  • Dickinson, H. W. (November 1998). "Britannia at Portsmouth and Portland". The Mariner's Mirror 84 (4): pp. 434-433.
  • Dickinson, Harry W. (2007). Educating the Royal Navy: Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century education for officers. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-93825-9.
  • Dittmar, F.J.; Colledge, J.J. (1972). British Warships 1914–1919. London: Ian Allan.
  • Jones, Dr. Mary (1999). The Making of the Royal Naval Officer Corps 1860-1914. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. Exeter: University of Exeter.
  • Pack, Captain S. W. C. (1966). Britannia at Dartmouth: The Story of H.M.S. Britannia and the Britannia Royal Naval College. London: Alvin Redman Limited.
  • Statham, Commander E. P., R.N. (1904). The Story of the "Britannia": The Training Ship for Naval Cadets: With Some Account of Naval Education and of the New Scheme of 1903. London: Cassell and Company, Limited.

See Also

Term Intakes into H.M.S. Britannia
Dec, 1859 | Jun, 1860 | Sep, 1860 | Dec, 1860 | Mar, 1861 | Jun, 1861 | Sep, 1861 | Mar, 1862 | Jun, 1862 | Sep, 1862 | Dec, 1862
Mar, 1863 | Jun, 1863 | Sep, 1863 | Jan, 1864 | Mar, 1864 | Aug, 1864 | Oct, 1864 | Jan, 1865 | Mar, 1865 | May, 1865 | Sep, 1865
Jan, 1866 | May, 1866 | Sep, 1866 | Jan, 1867 | May, 1867 | Sep, 1867 | Jan, 1868 | May, 1868 | Sep, 1868 | Jan, 1869 | May, 1869 | Sep, 1869
Jan, 1870 | Jul, 1870 | Jan, 1871 | Jul, 1871 | Jan, 1872 | Jul, 1872 | Jan, 1873 | Jul, 1873 | Jan, 1874 | Jul, 1874
Jan, 1875 | Jul, 1875 | Jan, 1876 | Jul, 1876 | Jan, 1877 | Jul, 1877 | Jan, 1878 | Jul, 1878 | Jan, 1879 | Jul, 1879
Jan, 1880 | Jul, 1880 | Jan, 1881 | Jul, 1881 | Jan, 1882 | Jul, 1882 | Jan, 1883 | Jul, 1883 | Jan, 1884 | Jul, 1884 | Jan, 1885 | Jul, 1885
Jan, 1886 | Jul, 1886 | Jan, 1887 | Jul, 1887 | Jan, 1888 | Jul, 1888 | Jan, 1889 | Mar, 1889 | Jul, 1889
Jan, 1890 | Jul, 1890 | Jan, 1891 | Jul, 1891 | Jan, 1892 | Jul, 1892 | Jan, 1893 | Jul, 1893
Jan, 1894 | Jul, 1894 | Jan, 1895 | Jul, 1895 | Jan, 1896 | Jul, 1896 | Jan, 1897 | May, 1897 | Sep, 1897
Jan, 1898 | May, 1898 | Sep, 1898 | Jan, 1899 | May, 1899 | Sep, 1899
Jan, 1900 | May, 1900 | Sep, 1900 | Jan, 1901 | May, 1901 | Sep, 1901 | Jan, 1902 | May, 1902 | Sep, 1902
Jan, 1903 | May, 1903 | Sep, 1903 | Jan, 1904 | May, 1904 | Sep, 1904 | Jan, 1905 | May, 1905 | Sep, 1905 | Jan, 1906
From September 1903 entries were also made to the Royal Naval College, Osborne under the Selborne Scheme. The Britannia was closed in July 1905 after the May entry, which was sent to Bermuda with the January entry. The following two terms under the old scheme were sent straight to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.


  1. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 28.
  2. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 29.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dickinson. Educating the Royal Navy. p. 96.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 30.
  5. Beresford. Memoirs. p. 6.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 32.
  7. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 31.
  8. "Naval And Military Intelligence." The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 09, 1863; pg. 7; Issue 24659.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 33.
  10. Dickinson. Educating the Royal Navy. p. 95.
  11. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. pp. 32-33.
  12. Dickinson. Educating the Royal Navy. p. 96.
  13. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 36.
  14. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 37.
  15. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 41.
  16. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 46.
  17. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. pp. 49-51.
  18. Quoted in de Chair. The Sea is Strong. p. 17.
  19. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 56.
  20. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 61.
  21. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 72.
  22. Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. pp. 10-11.
  23. Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. pp. 11-12.
  24. Quoted in Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 165.
  25. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 161.
  26. Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. pp. 12-13.
  27. Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. p. 26.
  28. Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. pp. 40-41.
  29. Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. p. 41.
  30. Dittmar; Colledge. British Warships 1914-1919. p. 322.
  31. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 170.
  32. Quoted in Davies; Grove. The Royal Naval College Dartmouth. p. 44.
  33. Dickinson. Educating the Royal Navy. pp. 95-96.
  34. Pack. Britannia at Dartmouth. p. 42.
  35. "Naval & Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 21 December, 1896. Issue 35079, col A, p. 7.
  36. Jones. The Making of the Royal Naval Officer Corps 1860-1914. p. 73.
  37. Soley. Report on Foreign Systems of Naval Education. p. 31.
  38. Harris Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 596.
  39. Harris Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 596.
  40. Powell Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 1075.
  41. Powell Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 1075.
  42. Randolph Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/1. f. 245.
  43. Randolph Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/1. f. 245.
  44. Corbett Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 230.
  45. Foley Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 471.
  46. Foley Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 471.
  47. Graham Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 555.
  48. Graham Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/16. f. 149/276.
  49. Fairfax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 447.
  50. Wells Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13. f. 456.
  51. Wells Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13. f. 456.
  52. Bowden-Smith Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 127.
  53. Bedford Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 86.
  54. Bedford Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/14. f. 824
  55. Digby Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/14. f. 1039.
  56. Thomas Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 1301.
  57. Thomas Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 1301.
  58. Moore Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 915.
  59. Moore Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 915.
  60. Curzon-Howe Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 276.
  61. Curzon-Howe Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/18. f. 529.
  62. O'Callaghan Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 975.
  63. O'Callaghan Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/18. f. 104/208.
  64. Cross Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 268.
  65. Cross Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/18. f. 545.
  66. Goodenough Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 433.
  67. Goodenough Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 433.