Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Indefatigable

Today we dabble our feet in the water and move off dry land to the port of Birkenhead, following in the footsteps of hundreds of Manchester boys in the late 18th and early 19th century. Their destination? The Indefatigable! A training ship moored in the River Mersey, which aimed to prepare boys for a life in the Merchant Navy.

       Illustration from the Illustrated London News is of the training ship Indefatigable. 

The Indefatigable was not a service of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges and Homes. It was founded in 1864 by John Clift and a handful of philanthropic ship owners in order to give training to poor and orphaned boys. In 1872 however, the Refuge made an arrangement with the committee of the Indefatigable to take a number of their boys to be trained as sailors. The ship became very popular and hundreds went aboard to be apprenticed for three years.

'Not Waving but Drowning' poem by Stevie Smith published 1957

So why when the Refuge had so many homes of their own did they turn to the Indefatigable? Lets take the case of little Tommy as an example. At the age of 12 he appeared at the Refuge, a ragged waif, drifting towards a life of uselessness and crime. He was sent across to the Indefatigable and whilst there received the Silver Medal of the Liverpool Humane Society for "gallantly jumping into the river and rescuing a shipmate who had fallen from the fore chains, and was rendered insensible by striking against the anchor in his descent." He went from a nobody to a hero – a sturdy lad in England’s first line of defence. The training ship provided a skill and a better life – that’s why.

Find out more about the Indefatigable by visiting the Liverpool Maritime Museum.

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