The ship that was making waves in Hartlepool 30 years ago

News came through in 1989 that HMS Trincomalee was to be a permanent attraction in Hartlepool.
News came through in 1989 that HMS Trincomalee was to be a permanent attraction in Hartlepool.

A golden moment in Hartlepool’s history was reached 30 years ago.

The headlines said ‘We Are Sailing’ and it heralded the news that the town was to keep HMS Trincomalee forever.

The ship's figurehead.

The ship's figurehead.

The vessel was being lined up for a major restoration programme to have her back in pristine condition thanks to skilled Hartlepool craftspeople.

When she was back to her former glory, the ship - which was known at the time as the Foudroyant - was to become the flagship of the planned new maritime centre which was to be the focal point of the Marina development.

It all sounded great but of course, Trincomalee was no stranger to Hartlepool.

She had been based in the town when she was a drill ship used by the Royal Navy Reserve in the 1860s and 1870s.

And it was not going to be an inexpensive task to restore her as experts estimated in 1989, that the total refurbishment package would cost more than £5 million.

Brian Dinsdale was the Hartlepool Borough Council chief executive at the time and he said in 1989: “Hartlepool needs this to make itself successful as a magnet for tourists.”

The news that Trincomalee was staying was in stark contrast to what had happened with HMS Warrior.

A Hartlepool Mail report in 1989 said: “The whole town was disappointed that, after her seven-year restoration at Coal Dock, the world-famous Warrior sailed south to take up residence in Portsmouth.

“Today’s announcement should mark yet another chapter in Hartlepool’s long maritime history.”

Trincomalee had never been far from the news. She was launched in 1817 but only after the original plans for her went to the bottom of the ocean. They were on board HMS Java which was on her way to India (where Trincomalee was originally built) when she was sunk by the American ship USS Constitution. Ironically, Constitution and Trincomalee are now the two oldest warships afloat.

Trincomalee was a 38-gun ship which originally carried 28 18-pounder weapons as well as eight 32-pounder carronades which had a deadly effect at short range.

There’s plenty of quirky facts about the ship as well.

l She once supplied the British Consul in Haiti with muskets, bayonets and pistols when riots broke out.

l In 1854, when the ship was in the Pacific, Trincomalee’s then captain instructed his crew that they had to grow beards.

l Once when she was in Honolulu, the warship had to be towed in by oxen.

l Her colourful Indian figurehead once featured in a 25-card series of pre-war cigarette cards.

l Trincomalee was made out of teak which was rare in English ships. British shipbuilders feared their industry would collapse with the rise of teak ships so they spread a rumour among seaman that teak splinters were poisonous.

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