The day the HMS Trincomalee sailed into Hartlepool

HMS Trincomalee is framed in the window of the Sir William Gray Suite at the Historic Quay as it edges into Berth C.
HMS Trincomalee is framed in the window of the Sir William Gray Suite at the Historic Quay as it edges into Berth C.

The date of August 31, 1996, marked a momentous day for Britain’s oldest warship still afloat - as HMS Trincomalee sailed “home” to her final resting place.

The Bombay-built frigate was towed from Hartlepool Marina to the Historic Quay in the early hours - attracting crowds of spectators.

HMS Trincomalee fits snugly into Berth C at the Historic Quay.

HMS Trincomalee fits snugly into Berth C at the Historic Quay.

“The transfer was a delicate operation lasting some three hours, and took place amid spectacular morning sunshine,” reported the Mail.

“The dock gate was unbolted, rotated and floated out to allow the ship to enter. Two tugs towed her to the entrance, and she was slowly pulled in.”

Trincomalee’s story had begun almost 200 years earlier, when plans for two new frigates were drawn up in 1812 - at the height of the Napoleonic Wars.

The plans were lost, however, when the ship carrying them to Bombay was attacked. Further plans were dispatched, but work only got underway in 1816.

Teak rather than oak was used to craft Trincomalee, due to an oak shortage, and on October 12, 1817, the £23,000 ship was launched with great celebration.

“She was named Trincomalee after an action in 1782 between Royal and French navies off the Ceylon port of that name,” states the website

“Temporary masts, yards and rigging were fitted for the journey to England. She stopped at her namesake port to embark guns and ammunition.”

Trincomalee finally arrived in Portsmouth on April 30, 1819. But, with the Napoleonic Wars now at an end, she was placed in reserve until 1845.

New guns with greater firepower were added and, on September 21, 1847, she left England for the North American and West Indies station on her first commission.

Trincomalee’s service saw her bring hurricane relief to colonists, quell riots in Haiti, carry out anti-slavery patrols and stop a threatened invasion of Cuba.

In 1850, however, she was recalled from Newfoundland and, after a further two years in reserve, the ship was redeployed to the Pacific Squadron in North America.

The Crimean War saw Trincomalee assigned to destroy Russian frigates in the Pacific, but peace brought a return home - and a new career as a training vessel.

World War Two brought a brief respite from lessons, when Trincomalee was requisitioned as a storage ship, but from 1943 to 1986 she returned to training duties.

Restoration beckoned in her retirement and in July 1987 she was transported to Hartlepool - aided by the Foudroyant Trust and Hampshire County Council.

“She arrived looking more like an abandoned hulk than a warship. Now she is a majestic sight at the Historic Quay,” reported the Mail.

Trincomalee facts

•Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of the start of construction on HMS Trincomalee - now a focal point of Hartlepool.

•It was decided she should be built in India due to oak shortages. Master shipbuilder Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia supervised construction at Bombay.

•Trincomalee was escorted from India to England by HMS Fowey. The journey cost £6,600.

•Captain Richard Laird Warren took command of Trincomalee after she was first commissioned in 1847.

•The ship was used to respond to attacks from a rogue band of native American Indians while stationed at Vancouver Island in 1856.

•After being placed in reserve for several years she was towed to Sunderland as a training vessel in 1861.

•In 1862 Trincomalee moved to West Hartlepool, as a training command. From 1877 she was used as a district drill ship in Southampton - until sold off in 1897.

•Trincomalee was destined for the breakers yard until TS Foundroyant - once Nelson’s flagship and by now a private training ship - was wrecked.

•Foundroyant owner Wheatley Cobb snapped her up to replace his lost vessel and she became home to hundreds of nautical trainees.

•Trincomalee was renamed Training Ship Foudroyant in 1903. She was relocated to Portsmouth following Cobb’s death in 1932 and used for youth training.

•Changes in nautical training led to her retirement in 1986. Restoration at Hartlepool in 1990 followed three years of fundraising.

•Trincomalee is still 65 percent original - due to the high quality of teak used. She is open daily from 10am until 5pm at Jackson Dock.