The Training Ship “Wellesley” at North Shields 1868-1914

Recently I curated an exhibition about the Training Ship Wellesley for Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum, School Ship on the Tyne – The Training Ship Wellesley at North Shields 1868 – 1914.

The exhibition was timed to mark the centenary of Wellesley being destroyed by fire, March 11th 1914 and runs from 3rd April – 13th July 2014.

The driving force behind having a training ship on the Tyne was James Hall, a local shipowner. Hall was worried about declining numbers of British seamen aboard the nation’s merchant ships, but he was also a social reformer with concerns about the links between poverty and crime. He proposed that a ship be brought to the Tyne and an Industrial School be established aboard. The Industrial Schools Act of 1866 had given magistrates the power to send to a certified industrial school any destitute child under 14 years.

Boy on joining

Boy on joining

James Hall saw this as an opportunity both to help neglected boys and ensure a steady supply of British seamen to the merchant fleet.


James Hall, shipowner and philanthropist of Tynemouth

James Hall in a portrait painted after his death by Thomas Eyre Macklin 1906 TWCMS : 2013.533











The former 74 gun ship HMS Cornwall was acquired and brought to the Tyne. The ship was moored opposite Coble Dene, North Shields and on July 30th 1868 she was inaugurated as the training ship Wellesley.

The inauguration of the first Wellesley July 1868

The inauguration of the first Wellesley, July 1868








In 1873 HMS Boscawen replaced the old Wellesley and took on the Wellesley name. She was still at the Coble Dene mooring when the nearby Albert Edward Dock opened in 1874, but soon after she was moved to a mooring off the North Shields Fish Quay. Most likely her presence moored close to the entrance of Albert Edward Dock was a hazard for ships entering or leaving the dock.

River scene c1880 with Wellesley moored off Coble Dene, North Shields in a watercolour by B B Hemy.

River scene c1880 with the second Wellesley moored off Coble Dene, North Shields in a watercolour by B B Hemy. TWCMS : G7299 South Shields Museum








View of the Tyne featuring Wellesley at her mooring off Coble Dene. Watercolour by T M Hemy d1881

View of the Tyne featuring Wellesley at her mooring off Coble Dene. Watercolour by T M Hemy 1881 TWCMS : G5014 Shipley Art Gallery







There was an expectation that many boys would go on to a life at sea, but Wellesley was primarily an Industrial School. Seamanship skills were taught, but schooling, and what we would call work experience, were given a higher priority.


Boys in a practical seamanship class

Boys in a practical seamanship class

Boys received an education that was comparable to that which they would have received in an ordinary school. There were examinations every year and boys received a grade just as they would have done ashore.

Shoemaker boys at work

Shoemaker boys at work

In 1906 Wellesley sent 69 boys to sea in British merchant ships and 2 boys to foreign vessels.

Boy ready for sea

Boy ready for sea









E J Hatfield – Wellesley boy 1912-1916

E J Hatfield was brought to Wellesley from a children’s home in Meriden, Worcestershire aged 12. He seems to have thrived on the ship and was trained as a tailor. He was on the Wellesley when she caught fire in March 1914. In 1916 he left the school and joined the oil tanker ss Massasoit as an ordinary seaman and signal boy. He was still in the Merchant Navy at the end of the First World War, by then an Able Seaman who was beginning to make a success of his life.

Wellesley boy EJ Hatfield’s first ship, the oil tanker ss Massasoit, which he joined in 1916

Wellesley boy EJ Hatfield’s first ship, the oil tanker ss Massasoit, which he joined in 1916. TWCMS : G8017G







A key figure in Hatfield’s life was the tailor master aboard the Wellesley, Mr Warnly. Hatfield was probably partly chosen to be a tailor boy because of his small stature, but his abilities with the needle soon made him a favourite of the tailor master. When Hatfield went to sea he kept in contact with Mr Warnly by letter. After a year of correspondence the tailor master and his wife invited Hatfield to come and stay with them when he was paid off from his ship. Hatfield continued to spend most of his time at sea but at last, aged 18, the boy from the children’s home had a family and a place he could call home.

Tailor boys making clothes for all the Wellesley boys

Tailor boys making clothes for all the Wellesley boys

In 1977 the now Captain E J Hatfield was interviewed about his life aboard the Wellesley in a series of recordings lasting over three hours. These are now part of the audio collections of Discovery Museum. From the recordings we know that eventually he became a master mariner, and he was married, but apart from that we know almost nothing of his life between 1919 and 1977. Captain Hatfield’s memories of the Wellesley form the authentic ‘voice’ behind the exhibition. I found listening to the recordings fascinating, but also at times moving and sad.

“You were kitted out when you left the training ship for sea, given oilskins, but you weren’t given sea boots, so you can understand until I had (earned) enough money to buy sea boots, washing down decks and that in cold weather was pretty grim, especially (barefoot) on steel decks with the plate edges sticking up.”

Captain E J Hatfield TWCMS : 2000.6119.2)



Edward Joseph Hatfield's Merchant Navy identity card

Edward Joseph Hatfield’s C.R.10 identity card

Since the exhibition opened, a colleague, Adam Bell, has shown me how to access online copies of Merchant Navy identity cards for Hatfield. These have given us his first and middle names, Edward Joseph, and provided a black and white photograph of him taken in 1918. We also found out that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall (1.65m), had brown eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion.

Photograph of Edward Joseph Hatfield on his C.R.10 identity card

Photograph of Edward Joseph Hatfield on his C.R.10 identity card











Fire on the Wellesley

At 2.30 on the afternoon of 11th March 1914 a fire broke out in the Wellesley’s drying room. It quickly took hold and, despite the efforts of the boy firefighters and Tyne Commissioners fire tugs, the fire spread right through the ship. Hatfield was on board the ship at the time and he talked about what happened on one of the recordings.

Here’s an extract from the transcript of Hatfield’s interview to give a flavour of what it was like for the boys when the ship caught fire. You can hear Hatfield talking about the fire in the exhibition at Segedunum.

“So although the deck underneath was all alight, we didn’t know that. And the weight of water on top was making it a bit dangerous. They kept us there so long, and then we were told to go up on the main deck. There were tugs all around us. And I think when this order was given, it was decided to flood her and sink her. Scuttle her. I think that was their intention when that order was given, for us to abandon. I didn’t think that it was because of the dangers of the deck caving in. I think there was plenty of safety margin you see. But the fire had got such a hold that they couldn’t contain it and they were going to sink her. Well, we went up on deck. Of course, the atmosphere in the orlop deck, our eyes were watering because of the tar and pitch in the seams, you see? The smoke was colouring. Not the ordinary smoke, it was yellowy with this tar content in it. Therefore we had to go to the port every so often and take a breather and then come back. There was, there was no bother at all. We weren’t panic stricken. It was all orderly. It was just, had to be done sort of style. In fact I think most of us were glad that she was burning. And you’re not panicking when you’re happy, you know.”


Postcard of Wellesley on fire photographed from South Shields.

Postcard of Wellesley on fire photographed from South Shields. TWCMS : 2002.886

E J Hatfield was among a group of boys operating a manual pump on the orlop deck. The pump was worked continuously until the order was given to abandon ship. As soon as the boys stepped back on one side others would take over. The boys carried on pumping even though they could see flames coming up from the bathroom below.

When the order was given to abandon ship the boys were mustered on the main deck and then they went over the side in an orderly fashion. Hatfield went into the tug Vigilant, but there were also other vessels taking boys and staff off Wellesley.

Soon after 6 pm the ship settled down on the bottom at her moorings, with a large part of her upper works and masts remaining above the surface of the river.

All the boys were taken on board the drill ship HMS Satellite where they stayed for the next two weeks. Satellite was cold in comparison to the centrally heated Wellesley and blankets given to the boys were infested with lice.

Postcard of Wellesley sunk at her moorings after the fire.

Postcard of Wellesley sunk at her moorings after the fire. TWCMS : 2002.887







After the Fire

After the fire it was clear that Wellesley was a total loss and she was broken up. Satellite was not suitable as a school ship so a new home had to be found. The Wellesley boys were transferred to the Tynemouth Palace (known more recently as Tynemouth Plaza and demolished after a fire in 1996) where they stayed throughout the First World War.

After the war the need for a permanent home became urgent and the management committee was fortunate to secure the recently built submarine base at Blyth. The boys moved into the base on 18th May, 1920 and Blyth remained the home of the Wellesley for the next 86 years.

From the 1930s onwards Wellesley became more of a reform school but still took boys on a voluntary basis or who were destitute. In 1973 Wellesleybecame part of Sunderland’s Social Services Department. Gradually the nautical aspect of the school was reduced in favour of general education and training. Eventually Sunderland decided to close the operation and in 2006 Wellesley was shut down.

The exhibition continues until July 13th 2014.


28 Responses to The Training Ship “Wellesley” at North Shields 1868-1914

  1. Mandy Herauville says:

    Dear Ian,
    I am a third year Maritime History and currently undertaking my dissertation on Training Ships. I am looking for primary sources and was wondering where I can obtain some on Training Ship Wellesley. Any help would be very gratefully received. Thank you one very overwhelmed mature student.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Dear Mandy

      Ah, the joy of a final year dissertation! I remember it well, and also as mature student.
      As to primamry sources….. “The Illustrated Guide to the Wellesley” (c1906) was written by Captain Baynham, who was in command of Wellesley at that time, and is full of information and photographs, including quotes from other contemporary documents, letters etc. There is a copy in the public searchroom of Tyne & Wear Archives in Discovery Museum, Newcastle, but I think they are quite rare.

      There is a collection of Wellesley archive material in the Northumberland Record Office at Woodhorn Museum. It covers the Wellesley Nautical School as well, so beyond the 1868 – 1914 period of the training ship, but the Admissions book from 1868 onwards is a fascinating document and very well worth a look.

      These suggestions may not be very helpful if you aren’t based in the North East, but this is what I used for the exhibition i curated at Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum.

      Good luck



      • Mandy Herauville says:

        Dear Ian,

        Thank you for the suggestions

        I am at Hull University so it is not too far to come, provided the weather is kind I will drive up during my research break in January.

        Very best wishes


    • Greg Spring says:

      Mandy, did you finish your dissertation? I’d be interested in getting hold of a copy. I’d like to find out about further ships around the UK. Which university were you at?
      Best regards,

  2. Lillian wilby says:

    I’ve read this article with great interest because my great grandad worked on the Wellesley, he was known as Skipprt trayhurn.can anyone give me any information about him

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Dear Lilian

      I’m glad you found it interesting. I’m afraid I don’t have any information about your great grandad but I hope that somebody reading your comment will be able to help.

      kind regards


  3. Angela Bavidge says:

    My husband’s ancestors ran a Training Ship in the Shields in the 1850s -1860s. I would be interested in making contact with you.

    • Gray Purvis says:

      Dear Angela
      My grandfather Thomas Sanderson Purvis was the Headmaster of the shore based school for about 60 boys under 12 years of age prior to them being transferred to the Wellsley Training ship moored on the Tyne. I believe that he was involved in the rescue of the boys onboard when the ship caught fire. Do you have any information that could be of intersst to me? Sincerely. Grant Purvis

  4. Ian Whitehead says:

    Dear Angela

    Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve contacted you by email to hear more about the activities of your husband’s ancestors.

    kind regards


  5. lee dembry says:

    Hello im just wondering are pictures of the training ship wellesely very rare or is there a lot of them as ive got one on my liveing room wall. many thanks if u reply

    • Keith Bell says:

      Hi Lee,

      Who painted the picture on your wall?

      I have researched my relative, the artist John Chambers, who painted the Wellesley many times.

  6. Ian Whitehead says:

    Hi Lee

    Pictures of the first Wellesley (1868-1873) are rare but images of the later Wellesley (1873 – 1914) are quite common. She was a distinctive and picturesque backdrop to the new generation of steamers going up and down the Tyne, and was also a sure sign that the artist was in North Shields. Artists, photographers and postcard publishers all produced imagery of the Wellesley up to (and including) the fire that destroyed her in 1914.

    kind regards


  7. Ann Maule-Ramsay says:

    Just doing some genealogy and find that in the 1881 Census my grandfather Robert Maule Ramsay was aboard the Wellesley at 11 years old. He also ended up as a Master Mariner. The Admission book you mention interest is it possible to obtain an extract without travelling from the southern hemisphere? Your advice please.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Ann
      Those Wellesley boys certainly got around! Yours is the second query I have had from a Wellesley boy descendant in the southern hemisphere, although the other enquiry didn’t come in via the blog.

      The Wellesley Admissions Register I mentioned runs from 1868 – 1933 and its reference number is NRO 07146/3/2. It is held by Northumberland Archives Service, email:
      I would contact them and see if they are able to check for Robert Maule Ramsay’s admission to the ship for you. They might charge a small sum but it will be cheaper than flying all the way over here!

      Just a word of warning, since from my own experience your grandfather might not be in there. The register definitely doesn’t record every boy who came to the Wellesley. Captain Hatfield for example, who came voluntarily from a children’s home, isn’t recorded in the register. The book has columns to record the names of the magistrates who committed boys under the Industrial Schools Act of 1866 and I think that some of the admissions that weren’t subject to the Act aren’t in it.

      Good luck!



  8. Ann Maule-Ramsay says:

    I have acted upon you suggestion and am now just keeping my fingers crossed.
    Thank you so much for your help
    Kindest regards

  9. Alliosn Gargett says:

    My Grand uncle was aboard a training ship in 1897 and im trying to find out more about him any suggestions Thanks His name was Simey ( Samuel )Haigh

  10. Claire Holmes says:

    I have award medal for the proficiency in swimming exercise that has an engraving of the training ship Wellesley 1904 that was left by my father which I am not sure it is valuable and should be displayed somewhere or there is a lot in circulation, has anyone any idea?

  11. Norman bishop says:

    interesting stories i am an old boy from 1969

  12. Alfred Page says:

    I am trying to trace records relating to my father, Cecil Page, who was at the Wellesley training ship/school for a period between 1911 and 1924. I have a swimming and diving certificate dated 1st May 1923, and I know he enlisted in the Army as a boy soldier in 1924. I do not know when his Wellesley attendance started, or from what institution or family member he was living before that. His mother was unmarried when he was born, and she emigrated to Australia, leaving him in the care of her parents in Surrey some time between his birth in 1908 and 1913, when I know she was in Australia. He could have been associated with the training ship Wellesley and the training school.

    I would be very grateful for information regarding records of the training ship/school that are accessible online. I live in Spain, so onsite reference is not possible.

    Thank you and regards,

  13. Frank Hancock says:

    Hallo Ian. We`ve just moved into Wellesley Court on Lawe Top, the old Pilots Office. Is there any significance in having the old flagpole outside what is now converted flats?

  14. Jim Bartnett says:

    Ian, can you tell me anything regarding the Wellesley Hospital? It is is the Ward’s Directories for South Shields from around 1890 to 1911 as at 12, Green’s Place, which is next door to the Pilots Office which was at 11, Greens Place. From the little I have gleaned so far there was a hospital attendant in residence and the hospital was for T.S. Wellesley personnel. This was originally at “Green’s Home” in Mile End Road but must have moved when the home became “Green’s Industrial School for Boys”, taking in boys from 7-12 before they transferred to the Wellesley.

  15. John Boxwell says:

    My mother was rescued off the Wellesley as a young baby. Her father was the captain (Kitcat) at the time. on going to Blyth an uncle of mine Jack Kitcat was the Captain of the school.

  16. Jacki Ricketts says:

    Hi my Grandfather helped put the fire out of the Wellesley and we wondered if there is any mention of his name anywhere, we don’t know how he got to be on the ship so we would be really interested if there is any information his name was JOHN(JACK) DALLEN
    I also have inherited 2 x Framed paintings by J.D.LIDELL of the ship before and after the fire, they hang proudly in the lounge.
    We would love it if we could find out more about why Grandad was there.
    Thank you kindest regards
    Jacki Ricketts (Nee DALLEN)

  17. David Frank Williams says:

    Hi Ian and all participants. I am researching my Paternal Grandfather, until a few days ago I had just a photo of him as he passed in 1925, and my Father has gone, had no history on him. I now have established that in 1906 he was “adopted” along with his brother on the loss of his Mother, and proposed to be transferred to Wellesley, by the Guardians of Ross, as he was then in a workhouse. Local people donated to fund them. I have an extract of the Guardians discussions posted in the Ross Gazette which details the costs of being on the Wellesley, he was there from 1906 until 1914 where he joined RND Collingwood Battalion, but his younger brother died aged 16 ( 1913 ) presumed in service. I would be grateful if there are any photos of the boys to try and identify him from. If it is of interest to you of the Gazette report I am happy to post the extract.

  18. David John Williams says:

    On my Grandfathers Sea Service Record it states his address as 17 Breamish Street, Battle, Newcastle, in September 1914 so I assume that the Wellesley was not given as an address ?

    Apologies my sons name got picked up on the autofill !

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