28 January 2019
We were delighted to welcome Professor Emeritus David Bradley, to our club meeting of 28th January. Professor Bradley is an HMS Unicorn volunteer and past trustee of The Unicorn Preservation Society. We were treated to a fascinating and detailed illustrated tour through the life and times of this historic frigate, which is berthed in Dundee.
Her longevity is remarkable, having spent almost 200 years afloat, with over 100 of those years (1873 till today) spent in Dundee.
We heard that Unicorn is, importantly, an example of a key moment in the design of naval vessels; one that resulted in the transformation over the 100 years from 1805 to 1906, from navies based on sailing warships – the Wooden Walls – to ones based on armoured and steam powered vessels – the Dreadnoughts.
To understand just how huge this change was, we were invited to imagine ourselves as seamen on Henry VIII’s Mary Rose in 1545. Then 260 years later on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Although there would be some differences, Victory essentially sailed, fought and functioned in exactly the same manner as the Mary Rose. But go forward another hundred years, to 1906 and HMS Dreadnought and you would be in an entirely alien environment. Gone are sails and wooden construction to be replaced by steam turbines and steel armour. Gone are rows of muzzle loading cannon with ranges of 2 or 3 kilometres to be replaced by turrets carrying breech loading guns capable of firing 12-inch explosive shells weighing 850 pounds distances in excess of 12 miles.
Professor Bradley elaborated on fundamental changes that were happening - new materials such as wrought iron making for stronger construction; with improved hull design leading to faster and more stable performance and seakeeping. Wrought iron also permitted larger hull construction, with greater resistance to round shot and at the same time providing more stable gun platforms.
Of great historical importance, Unicorn also represents the end of the sailing ship navy. In 1827, three years after Unicorn was launched, came the Battle of Navarino Bay, the last battle fought entirely by sailing warships. The day after the battle the steam warship Karteria, designed and built in Britain at Rotherhide on the Thames and in service with the Greek navy, entered the bay!
Interesting too was the fact that Unicorn never sailed under her own power. She was roofed over and used for training and other purposes and only ever had training masts installed. Interestingly she did, in May 1945, accept the surrender of a Nazi-era submarine - but that is another story! Importantly she is perhaps 80% original - even the roof is the original!
This was an outstandingly interesting talk, with many fascinating pictures and vast detail. More can be found at (http://www.frigateunicorn.org). Following questions an appreciative vote of thanks was proposed by Roderick Skinner.