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Exploring HMS Unicorn in Dundee, Scotland

Hailed as the "most original historic ship in the world", HMS Unicorn has made its home along the shoreline of the river Tay in Dundee, Scotland since the late 1800s. Our love of a good ship and the restorative effects of breathing in fresh sea air has been well-established on this blog (e.g. check out our visit to Britannia or voyage to Inchcolm Island). Therefore, we were excited to check out such an amazing ship during our day trip to bonnie Dundee. So, step aboard and join us for a wee 'explore and discover' mission of HMS Unicorn.

HMS Unicorn is a fascinating example of early 19th century shipbuilding design. Her story started in England (Chatham, Kent) where she was built as a frigate (where the main armament is carried on just one full-length gun deck) and was laid down in 1822.

However, HMS Unicorn never saw battle and became obsolete before ever seeing service. She served as a gunpowder store before making her way to Dundee in 1873. At that time, she was converted to a drill ship for the Royal Naval Reserve. Let’s take a wee tour of HMS Unicorn as she is seen today.

Originally, HMS Unicorn’s uppermost deck was open to the elements, and the roof we now see was built in 1824.

Moving inside the ship and down to the Gun Deck, HMS Unicorn’s main battery would have consisted of 28, 18-pounder long guns (weighing over 2 tons each!).

As we toured the ship, we were accompanied by a surprising, but unassuming ‘guide’- Diego the cat. Hopefully our canine tour guide, Sawyer, won’t be too jealous if he sees the photos below!

One of my favourite parts of HMS Unicorn was the Captain’s Cabin. I can just imagine the captain dining here in private- a brief reprieve from his job of overseeing the crew and entire ship.

While the captain was able to experience a bit more ‘luxury’, the same cannot be said for the rest of the crew. Exploring the Lower Deck of HMS Unicorn, you can experience a bit of what life would have been like at sea for the crew- all 278 seamen and Royal Marines. However, one “distinct advantage for the 19th century sailor was that a frigate had a lower deck with no gun ports (and therefore no guns), so there was more living space compared to a ‘ship-of-the-line’. You can even try out one of the hammocks the sailors would have slept in to test out just how comfortable they were.

A slightly more private and comfortable part of the ship was the Gun Room. In addition to being the sick bay of the ship, this is where the officers (other than the captain) lived and ate. They had separate rooms where they slept (which I have to say seems a lot nicer than the hammocks the rest of the crew had to sleep on out in the open).

The lowest deck of HMS Unicorn is the Orlop which is located below the waterline. It isn’t actually a complete deck, but “a series of platforms in the bow, midships, and stern that ‘overlap’ the hold; hence the name”.

The very bottom of the ship is the Hold where supplies such as water and food would have been stored.

We can give thanks to the Unicorn Preservation Society (formed in 1968) that we are able to visit and explore such the magnificent HMS Unicorn. However, maintaining such an historic ship is not easy and the Society has identified serious renovations and repairs that need to be undertaken in order to preserve her for future generations. In fact, as of this writing, HMS Unicorn is currently closed for renovations, but is said to be re-opening late February 2023. If you would like to support the vital work the Unicorn Preservation Society (a registered charity) does, please consider making a donation. HMS Unicorn celebrates her 200th anniversary in 2024, and we certainly hope we can help her last another 200 years!

If you visit Dundee, Scotland, we highly recommend that you take the time to visit HMS Unicorn. It is a stunning ship that gives you a unique glimpse into what life would have been like for sailors in the 19th century. Be sure to head over to the HMS Unicorn website for the most-up-to-date information on how to best plan your visit.

We hope you have enjoyed this wee look at the fascinating HMS Unicorn. If you have, the good news is that there is another famous ship in Dundee- RRS Discovery. We will be covering this in an upcoming post along with more sites to visit in Dundee. So be sure to subscribe to our blog so that you can get notifications as soon as we publish a new article!

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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