The Recollections of a Ben Line Cadet

The following article and photos were send to Derek Blair for inclusion on the site.

The history of them "Dolphin" training ship


COUNTLESS numbers of Shetland seamen must encounter a feeling of sadness to learn that this old training ship, in which so many received early training in seamanship and set them on course for many well-paid and responsible jobs in the Merchant Navy, was finally towed from the Inner Docks No. 3, Leith Docks to the shipbreaker's yard at Bo'Ness on 4/7/77.

The Dolphin was built by the Middles-borough firm of Dixon & Co. Ltd., and was launched on 9th December, 1882. A three-masted auxiliary barque, the ship was fitted with a horizontal engine in accordance with the naval policy of the time.

The craft of the men who built the ship is demonstrated by the long life which the ship has enjoyed. The framing was hand-made by anglesmiths, a trade no longer in existence. The structural requirements of a ship in the 19th century were obviously far in excess of those required today. The hull of the Dolphin was planked with four inch mahogany covered by a two inch layer of teak, the whole being sheathed with heavy gauge copper. The main deck for-ward was ten inches thick and the ship was reinforced both fore and aft. The 925 ton ship was commissioned at Sheerness in 1884 and was then attached to the Mediterranean Squadron. In 1885 a landing party from the ship's crew. of 113 formed part of a naval brigade landed at Suakin in the Sudan. Commander Sydney M. Earley-Wilmot was the commander at that time. He later became an Admiral.

The first real action which the Dolphin saw was in 1888 when the ship was under the command of Commander George Neville. At this time the ship was heavily engaged in the de-fence of Suakin against Osman Dinga.

In 1890 Commander Horatio Nelson budding assumed command of the ship and the following year the ship again saw action against Osman Digna.

The troublesome Osman Digna who featured prominently in the early history of the Dolphin was a Sudanese chief. He inherited his father's business as a slave dealer with his head- quarters in Suakin. When the British ships began to capture his slave cargoes he suffered a heavy financial loss and he threatened Suakin in 1888, but he was repulsed by General Grenfell. Osman was killed in 1900.

The ship's first lieutenant at this time was a Christopher Craddock who later became Admiral Craddock. He was killed in the sea battle off Coronel during World War I.

The Dolphin commenced a less lively but equally worthwhile career in 1896. She was paid off at Sheerness and after her engines were removed became a sea-going training ship. The Dolphin was stationed at Portland and took boys on four month training cruises. In 1907 the ship was de-rigged and taken to Portsmouth.

With the advent of the submarine the Dolphin was used as a depot ship with H.M.S. Mercury and subsequently at Gosport and on 31st August, 1912, Captain Roger Keyes (later Admiral of the Meet Lord Keyes of Zeebrugge fame) hoisted his broad pennant as Commodore 2nd class in command of the Submarine Branch of the Royal Navy. The Dolphin continued in this role until 1924.

In 1925 the role of the Dolphin took yet another turn and she was bought by Lieutenant Commander J. M. Robertson, the Glasgow ship-owner, and the late Sir Donald Pollock. These two gentlemen, who were officers on board H.M.S. Claverhouse which was stationed at the West Old Dock, planned to convert the ship into a nautical museum.

Their plans were interrupted when the ship was being towed up from Portsmouth.

While approaching the Firth of Forth the ship took on a lot of water during bad weather. The next day the tug crew noticed that the ship was lying rather low in the water. They were approaching Inchkeith at the time and decided that the ship was liable to sink. Accordingly they beached the Dolphin on the south side of the Forth.

For the next eight months the ship lay awash off Fisherrow until she was salvaged by the Leith Salvage Co. Ltd., and taken to Leith for dry dock and repairs.

Shortly afterwards the Dolphin was taken to Rosyth to the Metal Industrial yard. Sir Donald Pollock was the firm's chairman and he had the ship refitted with material taken from the battleship King George V which had just been broken up.

The ship ended her sea-going life when she was berthed at the West Old Dock in 1928 where she remained until moved to the present berth in 1969. Lieutenant Commander Robertson had died meanwhile and Sir Donald Pollock abandoned his idea to use the Dolphin as a museum. Instead he turned the ship into a boy's club, her new `commander' being William C. McDonald who had been the chief gunnery instructor of H.M.S. Claverhouse.

As a boy's club the Dolphin provided a valuable service to Leith. Many hundreds of Leith boys benefited from the guidance of "Old Bill" and the financial support of Sir Donald Pollock. At times the club's membership book had a roll of over 300 members.

In war time the Dolphin was called upon to help in some way and during the Second World War the ship was used as a barracks. Men from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders berthed on the ship. The ship's war scars were inflicted when a bomb fell on Portland Place just opposite and debris fell on the ship's top deck.

It was in 1944 that the Dolphin settled down to become a training ship. Captain Salvesen, Mr Tom McPhail and the late Mr J. J. Robertson, all of whom had a long connection with the sea, decided that a pre-training sea school for cadets and deck boys was needed. At that time it was agreed to operate a department of Leith Nautical College on board the ship.

Last voyage from Leith to Bo'ness 4.7.77.

Dolphin being towed to Bo'ness.
Picture scanned from original article, hence poor quality.

Shetlander Captain Adam Tait, born in Aith, a Master Mariner with a lifetime's experience, was given the job in 1944. He was presented with a handful of deck boys and told to get on with the job, which he did.

The Dolphin was handed over, by Sir Donald Pollock, to a society, The Dolphin Training Ship Society, the ship to be rented to Leith Nautical College. The welfare of the boys, the social life of the ship and the organising of evening classes was to be the responsibility of the Society.

As the numbers of trainees and courses in-creased it was decided to establish residential accommodation for boys outwith travelling range of Leith. The money for this scheme was generously provided by the Theodore Salvesen Memorial Fund, the King George V fund for Sailors and by local shipowners. Up to fifty boys had residential accommodation on the ship. The number of boys on board at any time varied from about 80 to 90, the total complement being 92. This number was made up of Deck Boys, Catering Boys and Cadets.

Throughout the Dolphin's history change has always played an important part and the ship was always ready to move with the times. In 1950 the college opened a class for ship's cooks. The ratings who came for this training sat the Ships' Cooks and Higher Certificates. The department of training was under the guidance of the Atholl Crescent School of Domestic Science and a Norwegian chef, Mr Johansen, was in charge.

There were three main courses on the ship. One was a course for Cadets, open to boys between 15-17 who had completed a third year Secondary School course and who could produce satisfactory evidence of their proficiency' in mathematics. The boys must also have had an M.O.T. sight test and be physically fit. The final selection was made by the entrance examination and enrolment took place in August, January and April for a 44 week session. If the boys, who completed this course gained a first or second class certificate at the end of the course, they were allowed a six month remission of the four year apprenticeship at sea.

The other two courses were for catering and deck boys and were of 14 weeks' duration. The boys who entered those courses must have been educated to a second year Secondary School standard and be physically fit. In addition the deck boys must have good eyesight. The two courses were mainly practical in nature with the catering cadets doing galley and cabin duties. The deck boys were given a very thorough course in sailor work.

All the boys, irrespective of their course, were given training in boatwork, swimming and lifesaving and in the latter two the Dolphin had a long and proud record. The ship gained many trophies and cups for their prowess in the aquatic sphere.

Over 240 boys passed through the Dolphin every year and the total of boys who have trained on the ship was over 4000. The boys who have left the ship have gone to practically every shipping company in Britain and many ex-Dolphin boys now have well paid and responsible jobs in the Merchant Navy and some are attached to oil related bases from the discovery of oil in the North Sea. The Dolphin was manned by a staff of six plus the Captain.

Captain Tait, Mr Flockhart - deck instructor, Mr Lynes - deck, Mr Johansen - chef teacher, Mr Williamson - chef Mr MacDonald - chief steward.

With the granting of financial aid to the Leith Dock Development Scheme which permitted the filling-in of the West Old Dock, the Dolphin was moved to the berth behind the Custom House.

The pre-sea training of boys on the Dolphin under the auspices of the Leith Nautical College ceased at the end of 1976, with the completion of the new College Buildings and the restructuring of the training courses.

Although the function of the Dolphin Training Ship Society then ceased to exist, every possibility of preserving the vessel was explored. The Navy was very keen to tow her to Gosport, where she would have been preserved as a museum at the submarine base, which took its name from the vessel, but they were unable to borrow the equipment (submersible barges) which would have been necessary for the operation.

As the Dolphin has now come to her last anchorage, her importance and history arc assured a place in the memories of many thousands of British seamen, the Dolphin boys from all over Britain.

(I wish to sincerely acknowledge the co-operation given to me by Mr Roger Pears, Penicuik, Midlothian, who had the privilege of being the last Secretary of the Dolphin Society, in allowing me to use the material in the Souvenir Copy of the history of T/S Dolphin and also giving me permission to use the photograph of the Dolphin on her last sea voyage. This photo-graph was taken by the Capital Press, Edinburgh for the Dolphin Society, which is now defunct.)

Masters in Charge of Training Ship Dolphin:

1945-1966 Capt. A. Tait; 1966-1968 Capt. T. Ire-land; 1968-1975 Capt. W. Johnston; 1975-1977 Capt. P. Young.