T.S. Mercury 1913 - 1968
In 1913 Gannet was lent to Mr C.B. Fry (the cricketer) for use as an accommodation ship for the Training School Mercury based on the river Hamble near Southampton. In 1914 the Gannet was towed to Portsmouth by the battleship HMS Queen. From Portsmouth she was taken by tug to the River Hamble, to become the school's dormitory ship, replacing a small barque, the Illovo that had been converted in 1885 and renamed Mercury by the school's founder Charles Hoare.
Charles Hoare founded the school to rescue boys from unpromising environments and train them primarily for service in the Royal Navy. The first boys were said to be:
"improved street arabs of fourteen or fifteen years of age who have vouched for themselves that they are willing to enter the Royal Navy" picked up from the slums of London and quarantined at a cottage in Tooting before being sent to the ship."
Life as a boy at Mercury was not easy, the regime was harsh and demanding, but it did produce many boys destined for high rank in the Royal and Merchant Navies including one future Master of the R.M.S. Queen Mary. Nautical training was the school's purpose and the curriculum ignored anything that was not relevant to the object of turning boys into sailors.
Boys trained at Mercury were to miss out on geography, history, English literature and the sciences in favour of more character building subjects. The harsh regime made that of the Naval establishments seem relaxed in comparison for those Mercury boys that entered them. The boys were known by numbers (many of which were scorched into the paintwork in the more inaccessible parts of the ship).
The ship was used as the dormitory for the boys and they returned to
sleep there on hammocks; the younger boys in the hold, their elders in
the upper drill hall. There was no heating. This austere routine
reached its climax in the 1920s with boys frequently being bound to the
breech of a gun to be flogged until blood ran down their legs. More
minor punishments included being sent to the top of the school's mast
to stand all day without food or water.
Despite the almost inhumane routine, the Training School Mercury was successful at producing good quality recruits for the Royal Navy for over 80 years. Divisional Officers at the navy's entry establishments would almost fight to get the Mercury boys, as their previous training was so useful.
The Second World War had pushed the Royal Navy into a new technological age that required recruits to have both a critical mind and be conversant with scientific principles - the Mercury boy through his training had been provided with neither quality.
Under the guidance of a new Superintendent, Commander M.S. Bradby, changes were quick to arrive. The curriculum was broadened and civilian teachers employed. Although discipline and hard work remained the cornerstones of the school's policy the violent punishments of the past were removed. Never again would the River Hamble echo to the sounds of pyjama clad boys abandoning ship in the middle of the night merely to prove that the duty officer was awake.