The Indefatigables

Article Featured Image
statue of a boy in naval uniform

An Indefatigable cadet - image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

I was a very picky eater until I was 17 but all mysteriously changed when we moved house and my appetite gradually improved.

Now there are just three things I won’t eat – tripe, brawn or butterbeans.

These boys’ appetites were helped by working hard in the sea air – great remedies for feeling out of sorts. Even this grub – disgusting as it may now seem – was probably wolfed down with relish.

Both were former warships – one powered by sail and the other by steam – before becoming the training ship Indefatigable, a familiar sight on the Mersey for more than 75 years.

The first training ship Indefatigable, one of the last of the Royal Navy’s sailing frigates, was loaned by the Admiralty after a group of shipowners founded the school to train boys for the Merchant Navy in 1864.

The first boys started in August 1865 - most came from poor families and were supported by local public subscriptions.

In her previous life she had been HMS Indefatigable, built at Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, in 1848.

Up to 200 “Inde” boys, as they were known, could be accommodated on the ship moored off Rock Ferry. The old ship was condemned by the Inspector of Training Ships in 1912 and broken up two years later.

The replacement was the cruiser HMS Phaeton which became the second training ship Indefatigable.

The food could best be described as slop – called buzz - which was ladled into basins for consumption. A cross between soup and stew, it was eaten with ships’ biscuits.

Three varieties were known as pea buzz, Irish buzz (presumably thinned-down scouse) and mystery buzz (because its contents were unknown). Other culinary delights were cocoa flush, made from chunks of cocoa, and boiled cod on Fridays.

Liverpool was heavily attacked in the May Blitz of 1941 and about this time the authorities decided it was too dangerous to carry on using the floating school.

The boys were transferred to a disused holiday camp in North Wales where they stayed for three years before moving to Plas Llanfair, an historic mansion on Anglesey. It closed in 1995 following the slow decline in Britain‘s merchant fleet.

On display at Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Life at Sea gallery there is a watercolour showing Indefatigable cadets at their Deganwy summer camp in 1891.

Archive photos show the training ship’s band and cadets on board SS Teutonic in 1889. A striking terracotta statue portrays an Indefatigable cadet in 1896 (pictured above).

 new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).