Scotland the Quest - Dundee City
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HMS UNICORN was built as a heavily armed, 46 gun sailing frigate, a powerful and fast cruising vessel. She would have been one of the elite ships of the fleet in her day. Built for the Royal Navy in Chatham dockyard and launched in 1824, she had taken two years and almost a thousand oak trees to build. Her hull cost £26,541, of which £5,630 was labour costs.
Unicorn is now preserved as an historic ship and visitor attraction. She is one of the six oldest ships in the world, is Scotland’s only preserved warship and is the most completely original ship in the entire world to have survived from the golden age of sail.
For service at sea, Unicorn would have been rigged with three towering masts and a bowsprit. The mainmast would have been 160 feet (50m) high and would have weighed 8 ¾ tons. 23 ½ miles of rope would have been used in the rigging, and the sails would have weighed six tons.
But Unicorn was never needed. She was built just after the great sea campaign against Napoleon, as part of a programme for re-equipping a battle-weary Royal Navy. This was the start of a long period of peace. Unicorn was part of Britain’s strategic deterrent but The Royal Navy ruled the waves so completely, and this deterrent was so effective that this carefully built ship was never called up for action.
She was never rigged, but instead her hull was roofed over and she was put into reserve, or ‘ordinary’, as soon as she was launched. Unicorn remained roofed for her entire working life, and the roof which covers Unicorn’s upper deck is thought to be the very one which was fitted immediately after her launch.
From 1857 to 1862, Unicorn was loaned to the War Department for use as a powder hulk at Woolwich, and on her return was laid up at Sheerness. Then, in 1873, she was refitted in order to replace HMS Brilliant as the Reserve Drill Ship in Dundee. She spent her entire working life in one port, Dundee, has been here 140 years, and is now firmly embedded in Dundee’s social and maritime history. She easily predates most of the buildings in the city centre, and had already been in Dundee for 50 years when the Caird Hall was opened.
In 1968 the Unicorn became surplus to naval requirements and destined to be scrapped. Captain Rennie Stewart, her then Captain, was determined to save his ship, so he appealed “to the top.” The result was the formation of the Unicorn Preservation Society as a limited company with charitable status, under the founding Chairmanship of Lord Dalhousie, the Queen Mother’s Lord Chamberlain.
A fascinating ship. Details of her opening hours are here
More information on the Unicorn can be found here
Many thanks to The Unicorn Preservation Society for permission to place this cache.
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