The Royal Navy comes a calling

This months blog started with an intriguing photograph of an unidentified naval vessel anchored at Passage East at the start of the last century. With help, my research led to her likely identity and the purpose of her visit; recruitment of young men from the area into the navy.

The photo that started this story, from Hore’s History of Wexford . The ship is seen anchored between Passage East, Co Waterford and Ballyhack Co Wexford.

Last year following a loan of Hore’s History of Wexford from John Flynn of Ballycullane, Co Wexford I came across an intriguing photograph of an unnamed naval vessel anchored at Passage East.  As normal with such queries, I posed it online, and knew that a trusty crew of die hards would soon be on the case.  There was a time when naming these individuals was straightforward, but at this point the network has grown so vast that I am best to not even try.  Initially we thought that the ship might be HMS Calypso (If I recall rightly it was Paul O’Farrell who first identified the similarities) one of two ships in the Calypso class of corvettes built for protecting trade routes and colonial police work.  Both she and her sister ship had the distinction of being the last two sailing corvettes built for the Royal Navy.  The Calypso had a solid career including survey and salvage work before becoming a training ship.  In 1902 she transferred to Newfoundland.   However apart from speculating that she might have been part of the naval manoeuvres which I had blogged about previously, I could not find much more information about her. And if she was present with such a large flotilla why was there not a greater number of ships in the vicinity?

After a bit more digging a more likely candidate emerged, her sister ship HMS Calliope, which my cousin James Doherty discovered had been in the harbour on a recruitment drive.

A newspaper clipping which James Doherty sent along to me.

The Calliope was a perfect vessel for recruitment purposes as she had a heroic reputation. This was earned when her Irish born captain (later Admiral) Henry Kane (another positive from the perspective of potential Irish recruits surely??) had daringly escaped a tropical cyclone in Samoa in 1889, an incident that passed into naval folklore. Whilst trapped between a coral reef and other anchored vessels Kane commanded his crew in making a dash for the open sea, and against all odds the Calliope escaped, whilst many of the other ships were damaged or destroyed. As an aside there were two Cork men aboard on that fateful occassion; Michale Finnie and David O’Mahoney.

The Calliope then was a celebrity and as such was an easy story to sell to the newspapers of the time, and indeed there were many articles that mentioned this.  It would be easy to imagine the heroic tale stirring the blood of young lads looking for a career or a way out of the hard grind of the fishing trade. 

Calliope under sail and with a shorter funnell. It must have been subsquently raised as I’ve seen a multitude of images of her with a higher stack. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The Munster Express of late August 1904 described the visit thus:  “H.M.S. Calliope left Waterford on Thursday morning, after a stay of a fortnight. The training ship was decidedly successful in obtaining recruits, close on fifty boys being accepted from among those who presented themselves for enlistment. A scratch local football team, collected and captained by Mr T. J. Kennedy, played the sailors at Christendom (Ferrybank, Waterford) on Wednesday afternoon. . The match resulted in a win for Waterford by five goals to three.”[1]

However a national paper gave a conflicting and negative account, raising a recurring bugbear of the Irish Catholic Hirearchy – religious practice, referring to her visit to Waterford it explained that “Her presence in the city has given rise to no little commotion, and has revived the resolution passed some time ago by the Irish Hierarchy appealing to Irish boys and Irish parents to abstain from aiding the ranks of the navy till such time as the Government would place Catholics on the same terms as Protestants respecting the presence of chaplains on board the vessels. A copy of the resolution was extensively placarded over the city and district, and it is satisfactory to be in a position to remark here that but a very limited number of toys affianced themselves to the condition of things existing to-day on board of his majesty’s ships. On the opening days of the recruiting fully 60 candidates presented themselves for examination, and it was expected that the strength of the navy would at that rate be considerably augmented if it was to continue so.  Then the poster appeared, Catholic parents were warned, and Catholic boys were appealed to not to join. The Hierarchy make no point of the recruiting on political grounds, they speak only on the broad issue of religious equality. The “operations” from the appearance of the poster received a check, and as a sum total of all the energy displayed by the Admiralty in their desire to obtain recruits, and taking into account the fact that the Calliopo remained over the best part of a week to forward the “prospects,” only a grand total of 32 boys could be found to join the Royal Navy during the long Sojourn in the Suir. Let there be no mistaking these figures. It has been said that 85 recruits resulted from the “operations,” It was no such figure, 32. and 32 only was the sum, and all of the “operations and “prospectus” associated with the recruiting.”[2]

My grandfather left with fellow Cheekpoint native John Scurry. They are pictured at Gallipoli, my grandfather a merchant seaman probably on a supply ship, Scurry in his navy uniform. One question that intrigued me was if had joined on the Calliope visits. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s a question I have still to answer. Photo with thanks to James Doherty

In relation to the identity in the photo, there was one issue with this and the information I had found on the 1904 recruitment; the first edition copy of Hore’s History that John had lent to me was published in 1901 which led me to speculate on whether there was a previous visit.  A wider search revealed an earlier recruitment drive of 1900; several articles from the time discuss her visit and she was reported as calling at Belfast, Greenore, Kingstown and Dunmore East (one article stating that she was estimated to reach Dunmore of the Wednesday, 5th September, 1900). The Calliope was crewed at the time by 13 officers, 202 men and 183 boys.  A report from the Irish Times[3] goes on to describe the large numbers who came aboard at Kingstown to visit the ship and enjoy the entertainments put on for their amusement including an exhibition by the crew of their duties.

A later poster for WWI accessed from:…38495.45448..45813…0.0..0.163.1997.35j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img…….35i39.ODvtueqiBk8&ved=0ahUKEwjVuubuzJnnAhUGh1wKHTK2BgwQ4dUDCAc&uact=5#imgrc=nsvDvlrbZDxikM:

In June 1900 the Belfast Newsletter[4] carried an article advising parents of the importance of their sons physical health if they wanted to secure a position in the Royal Navy.  The surgeon of the Calliope,  Dr Keogh, described the three main issues that went against those presenting for positions: Poor sight, chest measurement under regulation and irregular teeth.  With the exception of chest size which might be helped with exercise and a good diet, its hard to imagine what the poor parent could do with the other issues.

Illustrated London News for 27 April 1889; artist’s conception of HMS Calliope being cheered on by the crew of USS Trenton as Calliope escapes from Apia Harbour. Calliope actually passed to Trenton’s port side. It would be easy to see how such an image and story would appeal to young men seeking adventure. Accessed from wikipedia – Public Domain images

Disappointingly I could find nothing in the Waterford papers of the 1900 visit, this despite going through the reports page by page for the month of September.  It’s as if the ship never arrived at all.    The photo tends to suggest it did.  But there again it could have been a different event, we could be wrong about the actual vessel, or I might just have been unlucky in the papers I scanned.

There were many points I had hoped to develop as part of this months research, but I’m afraid the death of my sister Eileen took priority.  To be honest, I found it even hard to find the time and energy to put this together, and my apologies to regular readers if it comes across a bit higgledy-piggledy .  The outstanding elements was to explore the startegies used by RN recruiters in the era, to look at the life of a recruit at the time, I was keen to try locate any record of who was recruited and something of their career. Unfortunately any search options I tried in the UK National Archive gave me no results. The question of the dispute with the clergy was of interest to me too, and although I could only give it a paragraph, its a question that I would have liked to be clearer on.  Another element I meant to explore was a nugget of information that William Power Snr of Dunmore gave me previously of the provisioning of such ships at Dunmore and the quantity of beer consumed by sailors on their trips ashore. There must be similar information in related to Passage East and Ballyhack.   All for another time, hopefully. 

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6 Replies to “The Royal Navy comes a calling”

  1. Andrew, yet another brilliant look back into the historic link between the South East and the Royal Navy, ironic as the UK leave the EU this evening.
    My condolences to your Mother, yourself and everyone who mourn the loss of your sister Eileen,

  2. I’m glad you are able to keep putting up articles despite your recent bereavement Andrew.

    It is always a pleasure reading your ‘anecdotes and stuff’

    I invariably get memory jogs reading your tales and once again I am about to bore you with me putting my two penny worth in the mix….

    I don’t know why but I’ve always had an affinity with the sea, time spent as a child all around the Irish coastline was probably the cause of that, any ways –

    I attended St Ignatius College for my second level education, it was run by the Jesuits and was at one time a grammar school, that is to say a bit more upmarket than your average school in the UK although education was getting rid of these.

    For extra curricular activities there was in place what was called the C.C.F. – the Combined Cadet Force. This was to get young lads interested in the armed forces -and yep – yours truly was very interested and joined the Naval section which involved weekends away at sea in boats, sailing evening on local lakes and camping in forests etc including roaming the forests of Sussex with Lee Enfield .303’s and blank cartridges.
    We did the uniform thing, the full R.Navy uniform (No.3) was worn.
    The dress uniform was of course the navy blue outfit with the bib and lanyard, the trousers had to have 7 horizontal creases on each leg to denote the ‘seven seas’ – my old Ma hated having to iron those for me. For my sins I had to ‘blanco’ the puttees that were worn above the boots. It was a small price to pay as when that was out of the way we got to wear the ‘number 8’ uniform which was much more to my liking, a working outfit of dark navy chino type trousers with a hard wearing light blue cotton shirt, similar to a Levis denim type.
    On our weekends away we often went down to a Navy camp near Ipswich called HMS Ganges. It was a land camp but for all intents and purposes it was like being at sea. Our college had a 52ft harbour launch and we got to take that our onto the North Sea
    (weather permitting) on weekends and sometimes a week or so.
    Great fun for a lad.
    The camp was full of Navy recruits who were put through their training and run like an army base. There was a massive ships mast at HMS Ganges, in the middle of the parade ground and sailors use to perform shows and ceremonies on the masts with the ratings going up and down the mast, the lad who went right up to the top was the ‘button boy’
    The grub was great when we ate in the barracks, plenty of everything but if we were at sea it was galley food, usually compo stuff out of tins and reheated, yuck.. Good times, even sailing the mirror dinghies and kayaks was fun.

    Any way, back on topic, I wanted to join the Navy, either RN or merchant, I badly wanted to sail the seven seas.

    What surprised me was the admission age back in Victorian times, when I was at school entry to the services was 15 and 3/4’s years.

    But you needed to be signed into the forces by your parents, my Ma refused to do this for me saying I could only go via Officer training, but I wanted to be an a Ordinary then Able Seaman.
    It was something that just never happened, maybe never meant to be.

    There ya go !

    1. That sounds like a fab experience Kev, I must say I’m jealous hearing it. Pity about the Ma, but shur they say they know best. I wanted to go to sea at 15, but the Ma said know, I had to get my leaving Cert first…Leaving cert came, but Bell Lines were no longer recruiting…in fact redundancies were on the way and then closure. maybe my Ma was right too!

  3. I have just come aceoss this interesting article which mentions the Calliope. The Michael Finnie referred to as on the ship in the Apia hurricane is my grand uncle. My uncle, in his 90’s remembers Michael very well. He must be the last person alive to have known a crew member of that event in Samoa in 1889.

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