Empress Brass Band

With the introduction of iron-clad ships the Admiralty were left with a few wooden-hulled men-of-war, which were surplus to requirements. At the same time philanthropic organisations, up and down the country, were dealing with the large numbers of young children who were abandoned by their parents and living on the streets of the big cities. Many of our estuaries, the Clyde, Tay, Forth, Mersey, Thames and more, saw these ships turned into Industrial Schools. This is the story of two of these ships.

Around 140 years ago, the three-decked, three masted, man o’ war, CTS Cumberland graced the Gareloch with its black and white livery declaring it as a Clyde Industrial Training Ship. And it was here after taking in the young boys from Glasgow, she met her end in flames.

For its 17 years on the Clyde, it had become part of the local community and the work being done, seen as an essential part of giving the 400 boys, who were living on board, a decent start in a life; lives that otherwise might have ended in crime and imprisonment. Many went into trades on leaving the ship; others joined the Royal or Merchant Navy.

The Cadet Training Ship, Cumberland was originally built in 1842, and with her 70 guns, she had earned the flag of various Admirals on foreign stations. During the Crimean War, she was at the Baltic blockade and mentioned in several engagements. At about 180ft in length, 54 ft breadth and overall tonnage of 2,214, she was a sizable vessel.

When she was delivered, to the Gareloch, from Sheerness, she was a bare hull and a considerable amount of money had to be raised to fit her for her new purpose. A bazaar was held on board which managed to raise the huge amount, at that time, of £2,800 which went a long way to paying the expense of the masts, rigging, boats and internal fittings. So after 47 years in service, the ship was saved from the breakers and given a new lease of life.

The boys came by different routes. Some were orphans, some alone as parents abandoned them or were themselves imprisoned for crime. Some were young criminals whose crimes warranted a custodial sentence.

These schools were at first run on a voluntary basis but in 1857 the Industrial Schools Act was passed. This gave magistrates the power to sentence children, between the ages of seven and fourteen, who came before them on a charge of vagrancy, to a period in one of these institutions. In 1861 a further act was passed and different categories of children were included. These were:-

  • Any child found begging or receiving alms, (money or goods given as charity to the poor).
  • Any child found wandering and not having a home or visible means of support, or in the company of reputed thieves.
  • Any child under the age of twelve, having committed an offence.
  • Any child under the age of fourteen whose parents declare him to be beyond their control.

The act actually stated apparently under the age of fourteen. This was because children often lied about their age if it was advantageous for them to do so. Some children did not even know their correct age as it was not compulsory to register births until 1875.

The boys who arrived at the Cumberland were a mixture of orphans and the destitute with a sprinkling of criminals. However, a warrant of detention, for five, seven or even nine years, could be placed on children for offences such as occasional truancy, selling papers after a certain time at night, or “al fresco” slumbering, also known as dossing.

It did not mean that these boys were hopeless cases by any means. It was reported that the ship’s band played at St Vincent’s Church in Glasgow along with the United Presbyterian Church Boy’s Naval Brigade and that the performances of the band were “greatly enjoyed”. It was also reported that a young man of 15 years, Alexander Ferris, was awarded a bronze medal by the Committee of the Royal Humane Society for rescuing a 13 year old boy who was unable to swim and had fallen overboard. The report read that “It was raining at the time, there was a strong ebb tide, yet young Ferris gallantly went to the rescue of the younger lad, and brought him safely to the gangway steps”.

The Captain of the training ship, Capt GS Deverell, RN, who had a long and distinguised naval career, came from the training ship Wellesley moored on the Tyne. He had virtually abolished corporal punishment, preferring a more encouraging and corrective approach. This experience he transferred to his new charge.

As reported in the Glasgow paper, The Bailie, of the 27th February, 1889, in the “My Conscience” column.

‘During his short regime on the “Cumberland”, Captain Deverell had been working out those ameliorative reforms which he had found so effectual on the Tyne, and which were much wanted on the Clyde when, like a bolt from the blue the unexpected came about with vengeance”.

It was then surprising, with this new kinder regime in force, that boys in his charge made the decision to set fire to the ship – the bolt from the blue – and the proud vessel, that had seen battle, did not survive their fire raising.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - July 2017 Issue
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