|Picture courtesy Wikipedia|
The other week he happened to mention that he knew the chap who ran the museum there, and that this chap was willing to show us around if we liked - not surprisingly I almost bit his arm off - Whale Island is a military station so it's quite difficult to get in there - an opportunity like this was not to be missed!
First off though, a bit of history ... Whale Island (or rather the tidal mud bank that became Whale Island) was purchased in the second half of the 19th Century and was intended to eventually replace the permanently moored ships that up until that time had provided gunnery training to the Royal Navy since the War of 1812 (HMS Excellent, and later HMS Queen Charlotte - which was renamed Excellent) .
The first Excellent was a prison hulk already moored in the harbour... cleaned up and repaired she was pressed back into service.... the Navy used Royal Marine Light Artillery gunners as instructors.. Live firing was at high tide only, otherwise the shells sometimes bounced out of control across the harbour... the Navy used to pay salvage for the return of used cannon balls as it was cheaper than buying new...
|The original HMS Excellent (image courtesy swaythlinglawn.co.uk)|
The requirement for shore space to practice gunnery was driven by the new heavier iron clads coming into service that were using larger/heavier guns which could no longer be mounted and used in the constrictive space available in the older traditional wooden ships.
|Manoeuvres - turn of the century...|
|"If you want peace, be prepared for war" or words to that effect - base motto over the doorway to the officers wardroom|
In the end the island comprised shooting ranges (for small arms) and eventually a custom built "gun deck" where the biggest guns could be set up to allow live firing training..
The Island also houses the gun carriage used in several state funerals since the death of Queen Victoria
This was in active service until the death of Queen Victoria and is (I believe) a Royal Horse Artillery 18 pounder. The story is that when the funeral cortege arrived at Windsor the horses that had been pulling the carriage became restless, and were considered not able to pull the carriage for safety reasons... the funeral cortege included a naval party who had been trained (at Excellent) in manhandling guns so they did the job, and have done at all State funerals since (only the Sovereign is automatically accorded a State Funeral, for anyone else to be afforded one, a motion must pass in the Houses of Parliament) Other members of the Royal family get a Royal Ceremonial Funeral, one of the differences being that the carriage would be pulled by horses at a Royal Ceremonial Funeral...
|Victoria's funeral with Naval side party|
The following is Churchill's funeral - clearly not a Sovereign, but his funeral was voted for by Parliament. It gives an excellent view of the Naval Party, and how they were arranged... about 140 men all told... hugely impressive..
As a gunnery school there are of course lots of examples dotted around the place... much to the Museum curators disgust they have mostly been polished within an inch of their lives over the years!
|Inside the Wardroom - the silver in the cupboards at the end was presented by gunnery classes at their completion|
Although the base is still used by the Navy - the gunnery school as a separate entity closed down in the mid-80's - still chock full of history though and if you get the opportunity to have a tour I would grab it with open hands...
- 1862, what is now Whale Island, was just a narrow strip of land. Whale Island of today is predominantly reclaimed land which used deposits dredged from Portsmouth Dockyard during the 19th Century which increased the land area by about 125%.
- 1867 a viaduct was constructed from the north wall of the dockyard to the south-east corner of Big Whale Island which allowed spoil to be moved from dredging at the docks which was used to reclaim the land between Big Whale Island and Little Whale Island forming the land mass that is the island of today. The construction work was mostly undertaken by convicts.
- 1885 Whale Island was home to five rifle ranges, three of which were soon decommissioned to make way for the Gun Drill Battery and Drill Ground
- Mid-1980's - Gunnery School closes