The Move to Dundee
By the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign the Royal Navy was firmly committed to steam-powered iron built warships and Unicorn had outlived her period of usefulness as a part of the reserve fleet. This deterrent fleet had served its country well, and had laid the foundation for the pax Britannica which would rule the world’s oceans until the First World War in 1914, but HMS Unicorn was included in a list of ships “to be considered disposable by Sale, Breaking-up or Loan”, approved by Admiralty Order of 11 December 1869.
Unicorn’s future was most uncertain: In June 1871 she was “prepared to be lent to an Association at Belfast as a Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys” then in October of that year “This vessel was offered to the Authorities at Rochester as a Cholera Ship at Stangate Creek”.
In 1872 estimates were “approved amounting to £6,587 for fitting as a Drill Ship, to replace the Brilliant; work to be done when convenient, per Admiralty Order 22 June 1872″. HMS Brilliant had been the Royal Naval Reserve drill ship in Dundee since 1862 and Unicorn was now on her way to Dundee.
The remainder of 1872 and most of 1873 were taken up with works at Sheerness: “Surveying the ship, repairing and fitting her for a drill ship to replace “Brilliant”. Repaired the bottom, caulked the bottom, sides, decks etc. ….. old false keel and fitted new. Prepared for navigating to Dundee. Remaining works for completion as a training ship will be performed by contract at Dundee.” Significantly there is no mention of roofing work, which strengthens the case that the roof placed over Unicorn on her launch was to continue in service.
Finally, on the 5th of November 1873, HMS Unicorn sailed for Dundee in the tow of the paddle frigate HMS Salamander, under the command of Commander Edward C T Youel, and arrived in the Tay on 9th November. Then, on 11th November 1873 Unicorn berthed in Earl Grey Dock, after “waiting for tides, on account of her great draft.”