Museum Reviews Hms Gannet Chatham Dockyard UK

When visitors pass through the gates of the impressive Historic Dockyard at Chatham they see an amazing assortment of naval and maritime history laid out before them. One of the most visually striking of all is the Victorian sloop HMS Gannet. She is safely enclosed in a flood dry dock located next to the unique wooden shipbuilding sheds constructed around the same time that the ship was built. Unique can also be said of HMS Gannet, she is the last survivor of a class of warship that changed British naval construction techniques and also saw a sea change in how the vessels were employed in defence of the British empire.

HMS Gannet is a relatively small warship, but it is her construction that makes her unique in many respects. She is of composite construction where metal sheeting was placed over a strong wooden (teak) hull. Gannet was built at the naval dockyard at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey around twelve miles by road from her current location, but a much shorter distance by sail down the River Medway upon which Chatham and Sheerness both reside. The ship was also unique in that she had shared wind and steam propulsion.

The sloop went onto serve the Royal Navy for over fifty years in a variety of roles. At first she was sent to the far reaches of the British Empire and served at Khartoum during the raids made famous by General Gordon. Later in her career she served in the Mediterranean before returning home where she progressively assumed less and less significant roles until at one point she was used as a coal hulk. Historians soon discovered the importance of the ship and started a campaign to preserve the ship for the nation.

The restoration program of HMS Gannet started in the late 1960’s when it became apparent that she was the last of her kind and a vital link between the wooden walled battleships like HMS Victory and the ironclads of the Victorian era. A multi million pound program was initiated and over twenty years the shell of the ship was lovingly restored to her heyday. The restoration program involved many hundreds of thousands of hours of craftsmen working on skills that had literally passed into history, these techniques had to be relearnt and also passed onto a new generation. Apprentices were taken on to create a workforce capable of maintaining HMS Gannet in the condition she is in today.

Today HMS Gannet rests alongside two other fabulously preserved warships, the World War Two destroyer HMS Cavalier and the Cold war submarine HMS Ocelot safe within the historic confines of the Historic Dockyard at Chatham in Kent.