Royal Naval Training School

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Royal Navy training school


Naval-training-school-c1860.jpg


The school in about 1860

An article by historian Doug Ford


For centuries seamen were 'taught the ropes' on board ship. Then, during the 19th century, there was a move towards a more formal training structure for the more ambitious who wanted to become deck officers. In Jersey two different institutions appeared to fill this need , the earliest in Gorey for the British navy and BORAD in town catered for the French navy.

The training masts at the naval training school in Gorey dominated the skyline of Mont de la Garenne.

Change in Navy training policy

For centuries the training of merchant seamen took place on board ship with the more able men taking more and more responsibility until, through a mixture of ability and influence, they achieved the position of master. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, because of the complexity of its role and size of ships’ crews, operated the system whereby officers entered the service as boys, to become trainee officers – midshipmen - who through a mixture of experience and examination became lieutenants and carried a Royal Commission from the Admiralty. Armed with this they were able, with good fortune, to be made captain and rise through the ranks to become an admiral. Seamen before the mast were able, through ability, to be promoted and be granted a Warrant from the Navy Board.

Gradually through the nineteenth century the business of sailing ships became more complex and, by the 1850s, masters and mates of merchant ship were required by law to be in possession of Certificates of Competency (or Service if they had served as a master or mate before 1851, foreign, or 1854, home waters). Anyone hoping to be an officer in the merchant marine was required to be at least 17 years old and to have a minimum of four years sea going experience. They had to have a good legible hand, understand the five rules of arithmetic and use logarithms, be able to correct the course steered for variation and leeway, find latitude and longitude and understand the use of the sextant.

In matters of seamanship they should understand the rigging and unrigging of ships, the stowing of holds and the measurement of the log-line, glass and lead-line; be conversant with the rule of the road and be able to recognise the different lights carried by vessels. This was all to be certified by examination organised by Shipping Masters through a Local Marine Board. Each further step towards command required extra knowledge, experience and ability and was examined and certificated.

As more and more emphasis was being placed on the examined competence of merchant marine officers there was greater demand for better-educated seamen, and as result of this, in Jersey, just as there was on the mainland, there was a demand for specialist schools in which youngsters could be educated in the ways of the sea. About 1860 Captain Philip de Sausmarez, RN set about establishing a naval training school in Gorey. The man chosen as superintendent to lead the school was Commander Charles Burney, who was also captain of the Royal Navy fishery protection vessel HMS Speedy based in the port. The master was Mr W Pawley. [Charles Burney was the father of Cecil Burney, who had a long and distinguished career in the Royal Navy, and was the only Jersey-born serviceman ever to rise to the highest possible rank, becoming Admiral of the Fleet and second in command of the Royal Navy during the Great War and commander of the British fleet during the Battle of Jutland - Ed]

School grows

The aim of the school was to produce boys with experience and skills for a life at sea and, according to the 1863 British Press and Jersey Times Almanac, 30 boys were trained and educated as pilots and 30 more in ship drill. By 1869 there were about 150 boys attending the school, and it was described as having a complete staff of schoolmasters as well as seamanship and gunnery instructors. Despite the presence of gunners, it is unlikely that all the boys were being trained for a career in the Royal Navy, as the school was never referred to as HMS, which was the normal practice for Royal Naval training establishments.

Burney’s primary role in the island was as commander of the Royal Navy protection vessel and when the Speedy was moved off station in 1867, he was appointed to her successor HMS Dasher. Three years later, in 1870, the Navy List records his move to Greenwich Hospital but there is no record as to who took over his role as Superintendent of the Naval Training School. After only nine years training young men in all branches of a seaman's duty, the school closed in 1869. Only a few records of the school and one photograph remain to remind us of its existence.

There are a number of reasons that can be put forward to explain why the school closed such as the fact that the island’s merchant fleet was going into decline. This was caused by a number of disastrous bank crashes, the contraction of the island’s traditional Canadian cod carrying trade and the transfer of the registration of many island boats to Guernsey where the owners could avoid paying into the local seamen’s benefit society fund. However, it may simply have been that the school could not compete with the opportunities offered by the larger training schools being set up on the mainland.

A few of the buildings still exist on the heights above Gorey, close to Haut de la Garenne. The Old Cadet House where the officers, staff and some of the boys lived is now a private residence and it was here in its garden (the field to the east of the modern playing field) that three massive training masts were erected. Seymour Farm, close by, was where the dormitories in which most of the boys lived were situated.

French school

Ironically, within six years of the closure of the British Naval Training School at Gorey, a French Naval preparatory school was opened in the Island. Established originally in Paris in 1856, the school moved in 1874 to the Breton naval port of Brest, where it became a self-governing organisation run by the religious order of Notre Dame du Bon Secours. Jesuit teachers prepared their young charges for entry to the town’s elite National Naval College, in which officers for the French navy were trained. Unlike its earlier Jersey-based counterpart, the French school was exclusively aimed at producing naval officers for the military.

Soon after the move to Brittany, the political mood in France following the setting up of the Third Republic became fraught, and among Republicans especially there was growing concern about the influence of the Catholic Church over the education of the young. This manifested itself in a series of anti-clerical decrees, which resulted in several French teaching and nursing orders relocating to Jersey. Among them was the Notre Dame du Bon Secours order, which in 1881 set up their base in a number of houses in Waverley Terrace and Waverley Villas in St Helier close to the Jesuits Scholastiate, who had moved from Laval and were based in Maison St Louis.

Known as BORAD, the Jersey school excelled, and the standard of instruction was obviously excellent for of the 1884 intake to Brest Naval College, 15 of the 70 cadets came from Jersey and the four highest marks achieved in the entrance exam were gained by students taught in the island. This was to be the norm for the rest of BORAD’s existence - it has been estimated that in the 18 years the French Naval School operated in Jersey, 337 students progressed to the Naval College in Brest - more than 20% of the college’s intake.

This success was largely due to the standard of maths teaching and pastoral care at the school, especially by Father Daniel Gras. This led to some jealousy, especially by the more extreme republicans, and there were a number of attempts to bar Jersey-educated students. This was resisted by the national government and the Naval Ministry, in particular, which insisted that entry to the college should be open to all applicants who had been born in France and had two French parents.

In February 1894 BORAD was able to expand when they bought Cardwell House in St Saviour, and the school reached its full capacity. However, by 1900 the anti-clerical movement within French politics was once more in the ascendant, and a law was passed by the National Assembly to prevent Jesuits preparing students for Naval College. A second law stipulated that all applicants to the Naval College had to channel their request through the education authorities of the départment in which their school was situated. It was this second law which effectively caused the Jersey school to close. Ironically, in the same year, one of the Jersey educated officers, sub-lieutenant Paul Henry, became a national hero when he was killed at the head of a small detachment of French marines heroically defending Peking Cathedral during the Boxer Rebellion.

Among the illustrious old boys were Commander Robert Richard, who distinguished himself during the Great War, and Vice-Admiral Merveilleux du Vignaux, supreme commander of the French Navy between the wars.

Today the Island’s College of Further Education is housed in the old buildings of Jersey’s French Naval School and traces of the building’s naval past can still be seen in the plaster anchors that adorn the gables and the vault of the chapel that is in the shape of a ship’s hull.

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