HMS Trincomalee, a 46-gun, fifth rate Leda-class frigate and the world’s oldest warship still afloat today, lies berthed at Hartlepool’s Historic Quay where she has been a major tourist attraction for the past 27 years. For anyone looking for a trip to learn about an extremely eventful and proud chapter in Britain’s naval history, HMS Trincomalee should be a definite first port of call.
Since 2014, she has proudly been part of the heritage fleet of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, alongside HMS Victory and HMS Caroline. Trincomalee is included within the Core Collection of the National Register of Historic Vessels and is maintained by the HMS Trincomalee Trust, a registered charity.
The majestic ship was built in Bombay, India, in 1817 for the Royal Navy shortly after the Napoleonic Wars at a cost of £23,000. Named after the 1782 Battle of Trincomalee, she was fitted with temporary masts and rigging, and before stopping to pick up guns and ammunition on the way to Britain, she arrived in Portsmouth in 1819. During her first commission, the 1,447-ton ship provided hurricane relief in Bermuda in 1847, as well as preventing an invasion of Cuba. After returning to Britain and being refitted, she headed for Vancouver in 1852 under the command of Captain Wallace Houstoun. From there she patrolled the west coast of North America and the Pacific Ocean.
Her role over the next few decades involved being a training vessel in various ports in Britain including Sunderland, Hartlepool and Southampton. Then in private hands as a sail training vessel, she was then renamed TS Foudroyant in 1903 in honour of an earlier ship that was wrecked. She remained in sail training service until 1986 – including a short period when she was re-commissioned as a storage and training vessel in the Second World War – and reverted to her original name, HMS Trincomalee, whilst undergoing restoration, in 1992.
HMS Trincomalee spent much of the twentieth century in Gosport, Hampshire before being brought up to Hartlepool in 1987 by a heavy-lift barge for restoration. It took over a decade of painstaking work to restore the ship to her former glory.
She is now the premier attraction at Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience, attracting thousands of visitors each year. Visitors are transported back to a bygone era of heroism and hardship on the high seas as the ship has been so faithfully recreated. The gun deck for instance comes complete with cannons while the mess desk is fitted out as it would have been, even down to the recreated grub infested gruel-like meals. Hammocks line the mess desk while visitors can also visit the more commodious officers’ and captain’s quarters. The adjacent Historic Quay provides further interactivity and a fascinating step into the history of the era. There are two main shops full of memorabilia and a tearoom serving food throughout the day.
David McKnight, General Manager of HMS Trincomalee, said: “Not a day goes by when I am not proud to work on Trincomalee. Visitors cannot help but be thrilled and inspired by visiting the world’s oldest warship still afloat today.”