Unicorn was already 140 years old when the Admiralty were informed, in 1962, that the Earl Grey Dock, where Unicorn had been berthed since her arrival in Dundee in 1873, was to be filled in to form part of the landfall of the Tay Road Bridge, and Unicorn would therefore have to move. The proposed move was highly controversial as there were many ‘experts’ who considered she could not be safely moved.
On the 8th Feb 1962 the Admiralty formally decided that Unicorn could not be moved, and should be broken up. Some of her officers disagreed, and set in motion a protest. Prompted by Commander Rennie Stewart, Captain Jack Anderson, who had been one of Unicorn’s previous captains, approached Lord Reith of the BBC, who was also a former RNVR captain. Negotiations moved to ever higher levels until finally the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Carrington, took the personal decision, against his advisors, that Unicorn should be moved.
However there were still obstacles. Over her 89 years in Earl Grey Dock Unicorn had become embedded in a bank of mud so deep that it could occasionally be seen above water at low tide. In order to move the ship a trench was dredged alongside, and the plan was to use the ship herself to push the remaining mudbank into the trench as she was dragged away from the dock wall. On the appointed day a tractor was harnessed to a wire towing girdle round the ship, but as the top of the tide approached its wheels were still struggling for grip on the dockside cassies. An extra tackle and some heavyweight dock workers were enlisted and Unicorn was finally pulled clear of the mud, though she left a few feet of her “false keel” behind after the struggle.
The next day, 13th November 1962, Unicorn was eased out into the river under the tow of two Dundee Harbour tugs, Castlecraig and Harecraig. She moved uneventfully down river, under the watchful eyes of an estimated 20,000 spectators, to her new temporary berth in Camperdown Dock. The following year she was moved again, a much shorter move, into Victoria Dock to the berth she occupied until a few years ago.
Following the move, Unicorn was surveyed by the Admiralty and, ironically, it was noted that “She will remain entirely suitable for continued service as the H.Q.Ship of Tay Division for an indefinite period of years to come.”
The move attracted 20,000 spectators on the same day as a home football match and shows a measure of the affection Dundee had for this fine old ship.