• History


    Learn about Unicorn's long and interesting history...

The Story of the Ship

Launched in 1824, HMS Unicorn is the most original old ship in the world.

Originally constructed as a 46-gun frigate at Chatham Royal Dockyard, Unicorn arrived in Dundee in 1873 as a training ship for the Royal Naval Reserves – a role she carried out until the 1960s.

HMS Unicorn is still moored on the city’s waterfront and is now the oldest ship left in Scotland, as well as one of the six oldest ships in the world.

From her origins in the Georgian Navy to her use in the Second World War, HMS Unicorn has so many incredible stories to tell. Uncover the ship’s 200 years of history below.

Designing HMS Unicorn

Built as a Leda-class frigate during the reign of King George IV, HMS Unicorn was constructed at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

Her unique design combines two great eras of shipbuilding – the traditional wooden craftsmanship of the 18th century and the emerging iron technology of the 19th century.

Click below to learn more about the building of HMS Unicorn and the naval architect who designed her.

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A Ship in Ordinary

Although built for war, Unicorn spent her early life in reserve or ‘ordinary’.

Anchored on the River Medway, the ship formed part of Britain’s formidable naval force which helped to maintain the ‘Pax Britannica’ or ‘British Peace’ of the 19th century.

It was during her time ‘in ordinary’ that the Royal Navy added the ship’s distinctive roof. As a result of this protective covering, HMS Unicorn has remained the most original of all the world’s historic ships.

Click below to learn more about the ship’s early years and her time ‘in ordinary’.

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Coming to Dundee

By the 1860s, with the rise of ironclad ships and steam propulsion, Unicorn’s potential as a fighting frigate had drawn to an end.

However, this was not the conclusion of the ship’s story. In November 1873, the Royal Navy’s “wooden wall” was brought over 400 miles north to the industrial city of Dundee to begin her new life as a training ship for the Royal Naval Reserves.

HMS Unicorn has been a prominent site of Dundee’s waterfront ever since and is now one of the city’s oldest landmarks.

Click below to learn more about Unicorn’s arrival in Dundee.

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Training the Reserves

From 1874 to 1968, HMS Unicorn spent almost 100 years in the service of the Royal Naval Reserves (RNR) and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (RNVR).

Unicorn was converted from a Georgian fighting frigate to a fully equipped drill ship for Dundee’s naval reserves – the largest naval reserve unit in Scotland.

Her century as a naval reserve ship saw thousands of recruits train on board, including over 1,500 from the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).

Click below to learn more about Unicorn’s era as Dundee’s naval training ship.

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The Unicorn Preservation Society

In the 1960s, the Admiralty considered breaking up HMS Unicorn and scrapping one of the few survivors of Britain’s sailing navy.

In order to preserve the ship for future generations, the Unicorn Preservation Society (UPS) was formed.

On the 26th September 1968, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh accepted the ship from the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the UPS, in whose care she remains today.

Click below to learn more about the history of the Unicorn Preservation Society and how the ship has been preserved into the 21st century.

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