A SHIP IN ORDINARY
HMS Unicorn was launched in 1824, just after the great sea campaign against Napoleon, as part of a programme for re-equipping a battle-weary Royal Navy.
This was the start of a long period of peace. Unicorn was part of Britain’s strategic deterrent but was not required for immediate service.
The Admiralty Progress Books of the period record that Unicorn was “housed fore and aft” when she was launched. She was not rigged, but instead her hull was roofed over and she was put into reserve, or ‘ordinary’, as soon as she was launched. The Royal Navy ruled the waves so completely, and this deterrent was so effective that this carefully built fleet was never called up for action.
Unicorn remained under a roof for her entire working life, and the roof which now covers Unicorn’s upper deck is thought to be the very one which was fitted immediately after her launch.
As a result of this continuous protection, Unicorn is considered to be the best preserved of all the World’s historic ships from the great age of sail.
From 1857 to 1862, Unicorn was lent to the War Department for use as a powder hulk at Woolwich, and on her return was laid up again at Sheerness.
Then, in 1873, she was refitted in order to replace HMS Brilliant as the Reserve Drill Ship in Dundee.
Unicorn served her country well: first as part of the deterrent fleet which maintained ‘pax britannica’ through the Victorian era, and then as the naval headquarters ship in Dundee through two world wars and almost a century of naval training.