The Formation of the RNVR

The first 45 years of Naval Reserve activity in Dundee had been concerned with the maintenance of a reserve of professional seamen for the Fleet. By the turn of the century there was a mounting public concern that a different sort of reserve, for the enthusiastic amateur, was required, on the lines of the old Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers. This force had formed in 1872 under Lord Brassey, and had been recruited from members of the stock exchange, banks, insurance offices, sailing clubs, etc.  Both officers and men had not only to pay a subscription for the privilege of belonging. but had also to purchase their own uniforms. The RNAV was disbanded by a jealous Admiralty in 1892, largely as a result of prejudice against amateurs, with such arguments being used as “They had not their sea-legs”, as though these were some curious appendage issued only to professional seamen.

The 6th Duke of Montrose in the uniform of a Commodore RNVR

One name in particular will always be associated with the subsequent fight for a truly Volunteer Naval Reserve, that of the 6th Duke of Montrose, whose personal drive and influence resulted in the formation, in 1903, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, with Divisions in London, Bristol, the Mersey and the Clyde.

The Clyde Division expanded rapidly and the following year, in March 1904, the Dundee Company of Clyde Division was formed.  For its first two years the Dundee Company RNVR drilled in a part of the Dundee Custom House, but in 1906 a change in the training policy for the old RNR meant that HMS Unicorn became available to the new RNVR, and the Dundee Company transferred to her.

An Admiralty Progress Book entry for Unicorn records the change:  “To be lent to the Clyde Division, R.N.V.R., from the 1st April 1906.  Expense of repairs and maintenance of the ship to be borne by the funds of the division.”  Unicorn of course remained in Dundee, the transfer to Clyde Division being purely administrative.

HMS Unicorn featured in a hand-tinted postcard c1906

(C) WRS 2009-1021