Built at Sheerness and launched in 1878, HMS Gannet was one of 14 Osprey class sloops built for the Victorian navy. Constructed of teak over an iron frame, and designed with the graceful lines of a tea clipper, HMS Gannet was capable of running under sail or steam. An interesting design feature allowed a telescopic funnel to be raised from the deck and a propeller to be lowered from within the stern. This ensured that no obstruction was encountered by the sails, from the funnel and that the ship encountered no drag from a stationery propeller. Normally steam would be the preferred method of propulsion but as the sloops patrolled vast areas of ocean, often for months at a time, coal supplies could not be guaranteed.
During the reign of Queen Victoria the British had a substantial empire, and sloops were engaged around the globe to police and protect the all-important trade routes. Armed with four carriage mounted 64lb guns and two 7 inch muzzle loaded rifle guns, HMS Gannet was more than able to look after herself. Her first commission took away from British waters for five years, predominately to South America, after leaving Plymouth in the spring of 1878. Before returning home in 1883 HMS Gannet had visited numerous ports in North and South America, as well as a considerable number of Pacific islands.
HMS Gannet's remaining active service was carried out nearer to home in the Mediterranean, Suez and the Red Sea. In 1888 the British along with the Indians and Egyptians, found themselves engaged in a dispute with the Dervish rebels. It was during this conflict that, on 15th September 1888, HMS Gannet fired her guns in anger for the first and only time. She finally returned to England in 1895 where she was paid off at Sheerness.
For some years HMS Gannet served as a sail training ship, before taking over in 1904 as the RNVR drill ship, HMS President, in the South West India Docks. In 1914 HMS President, late HMS Gannet, was loaned to TS Mercury, a training school for boys intent on a career in the Royal or Merchant Navies. Located on the River Hamble in Hampshire she served as a dormitory ship, a role she would fulfil for the next 54 years until the school finally closed in 1968.
Now 90 years old, HMS Gannet passed to the Maritime Trust for preservation, and today she resides at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham. In 2003/4 HMS Gannet underwent a £2m restoration that has returned her back to her 1878 glory. A fitting new chapter for 'a notable little vessel'.