In my comments on the Port Sanitary Hospital
I mentioned the Reformatory Ship Clarence, and I thought that a little more information might be of interest.
The 1854 Reformatory Act provided for the better Care and Reformation of Youthful Offenders in Great Britain, it was, however, not until 1856 that Liverpool considered the provision of reformatories for Catholic Boys. Initially boys were sent to the reformatory at the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St. Bernard, Loughborough.
The prison inspectors were not happy with this arrangement and in June 1863 the Bishop of Liverpool was informed that unless the Catholics of Liverpool provided a suitable reformatory, the Catholic offenders would be committed to Protestant reformatories or be sent to a normal gaol.
Father Nugent formed the "Liverpool Catholic Reformatory Association” and the decision was taken to establish a ship reformatory in the Sloyne, off new ferry. Father Nugent contacted the Admiralty, and persuaded them to lend the association a suitable ship for this purpose.
The Clarence was an 84 gun warship, she had originally called the Goliath but her name had been changed before her launch in 1827. She had never been commissioned and had lain in Devonport since her launch.
The Clarence was towed from Devonport and arrived in Liverpool on 15th August 1864, she was converted in Sandon dock to accommodate around 250 boys. The main purpose was to educate the boys (compulsory education didn’t arrive in England until 1870) for three years and for them then to enter the Merchant Navy.
The boys were instructed in seamanship, carpentry, shoemaking, tailoring etc. as well as reading, writing, arithmetic and geography. A chaplain was appointed by the Bishop of Shrewsbury to look after the religious instruction of the boys.
The Clarence was remarkably successful in its early years.
On the 6th April 1878 the Clarence was damaged when the steam tug Columbus ran into it in fog. The captain of the tug claimed that the bells on board the Clarence were not rung in accordance with Admiralty regulations. On 9th November 1880, a fire was discovered near the coal bunkers, it was soon put out with the help of the Rock Ferry steamers Wasp and Fairy Queen.
During the night of 17/18th January 1884, a much more serious fire broke out. The Liverpool Mercury reported on the fire as follows:
About two o’clock yesterday afternoon an alarming fire broke out on the reformatory ship Clarence lying in the river, a short distance off New Ferry. The number of boys on board was 215, and upon the outbreak of the conflagration great alarm prevailed for their safety. The seat of the fire was in the fore magazine, or in the coal bunks in the vicinity, from which dense volumes of smoke issued. [....] the crew and the boys used every exertion to keep down the conflagration, which speedily raged with great fury. Amongst the first to arrive was Captain Saunders of Her Majesty’s cutter Margaret. [....] About four o’clock the goods steamer Oxton, belonging to Woodside Ferry, was despatched to New Ferry. The Oxton took on board at the Liverpool landing stage the steam fire-engine Hamilton. Upon her arrival at the Clarence the Oxton took a position on her starboard side and the Hamilton soon commenced to play into the hold of the burning ship.
The Clarence was destroyed, eight days later six of the boys were arrested for starting the fire. The ring leader, a 14 year old boy, admitted pouring paraffin on ropes in the magazine and setting fire to it. The boys were sentenced to five years penal servitude.
Accommodation for the boys was initially found in the Port Sanitary Hospital, but due to a Cholera outbreak, they had to move again, this time to Mount St Bernard reformatory in Loughborough.
Father Nugent again appealed to the Admiralty for the loan of another ship. In November the Admiralty agreed to provide the 120-gun Royal William which had been launched in 1833.
The Royal William was re-named Clarence and was converted to accommodate about 200 boys. The new Clarence was certified as suitable as a Reformatory Ship in November 1885.
In November 1894 Smallpox broke out on the Clarence, initially the ship’s surgeon thought that it was chickenpox. On 26th November 18 boys were transferred to the Port Sanitary Hospital.
Another disastrous fire started in the early hours of 26th July 1899. No lesser paper than the New York Times reported on the fire as follows:
LIVERPOOL July 26th – The Roman Catholic reformatory ship Clarence was destroyed by fire early this morning. It was but a few moments after the fire was discovered until the great three-decker was wrapped in flames. Intense excitement prevailed until it became known that the hundreds of lads and officers on board had been saved by the ferryboats Mersey and Firefly, which quickly made fast to the blazing vessel, and began pumping water upon the flames.
The boys on board the Clarence worked with the utmost discipline until they were forced to leave the ship with the officers.
The boys were taken to St Anne’s School in Rock Ferry while arrangements were made for their accommodation in two houses in Shaw Street Liverpool.
In January three boys were arrested for setting fire to the Clarence.
There were no further Catholic reformatory ships in the Mersey, instead a nautical training school was established on dry land, St Aidan’s was built in Farnworth, Widnes.
There were three other training ships moored off New Ferry in the Mersey at the same time as the Clarence;
The Protestant Reformatory Ship Akbar
The Training Ship Indefatigable
and, most famous of all, H.M.S. Conway
[Disclaimer: There is a lot of information on the Clarence in books, newspapers and the internet, much of it contradictory, I have done my best to ensure that the above is correct, but there could be (and probably are) errors.