HMS Eagle was the first boys’ training ship to be stationed off Southampton. Built by Pitcher of Northfleet, she was launched on 27 February 1804.
Originally a 74-gun third-rate frigate, she was reduced to a fourth-rate frigate of 50 guns in 1830. The Eagle served as a Coast Guard ship at Falmouth (1831) and at Milford (January – March 1857) before – following a refit at Portsmouth - taking up position as a naval drill ship in Southampton Water on 13 November 1860. William Digby Seymour, elected MP for Southampton in 1859, claimed credit for her arrival.
The Eagle was initially stationed on moorings laid down for the Great Eastern opposite Netley Hospital. Almost immediately local politicians pressed for her relocation nearer the town. William Rogers spoke of the great inconvenience and expense of her being moored so low down, four miles from Southampton; “if she were two miles nearer the Quay she would be a very beautiful feature in the water and it would save a great deal of expense going backwards and forwards” (Hampshire Advertiser, 19 January 1861: Pier and Harbour Board meeting).
The cadets had originally to pay to be carried to and from the ship. In May 1861 the Eagle was towed to the Gymp off Town Quay: the preferred location of the Pier and Harbour Commissioners.
The training ship proved a success, and by November 1861 was so full as to be incapable of receiving any further cadets (Hampshire Advertiser, 23 November 1861). Three months earlier, the significantly larger HMS Boscawen had been ordered to be fitted at Devonport Dockyard as a replacement (Hampshire Advertiser, 31 August 1861). HMS Eagle was paid off on 4 March 1862, when the Boscawen arrived from Devonport. She could accommodate an additional 200 boys.
HMS Eagle became a Royal Naval Reserve drill ship on the Mersey, originally based at Birkenhead. She continued as a drill ship and an Auxiliary Patrol parent ship until lost by fire in 1926 and sold in January 1927. She was renamed Eaglet in March 1918 (B Warlow, Shore establishments of the Royal Navy, 2nd edition, 2000).
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