A study of the history of Alfred Holt and Company suggests that apprentices were not carried on Blue Funnel ships until the early part of the twentieth century when a shortage of trained deck officers prompted Lawrence Holt to propose that the Company should establish its own training facility.


As a result, a Midshipmen’s Department was established in 1916. The Company also established a hostel in Liverpool in 1922 where midshipmen were expected to stay during periods ashore. In 1963, the Company opened a new training and residential establishment for both midshipmen and engineer cadets. The new building, which actually adjoined the original hostel, comprised a purpose built chartroom, seamanship room, lecture theatre, library, general classroom and dormitory accommodation – the whole complex being named Aulis. Following the merger in 1965, Elder Dempster’s adjacent cadet training establishment – River House – was incorporated with Aulis into Ocean Fleets Training Establishment, which, with the addition in 1975 of a new wing of accommodation in single rooms, brought the total residential accommodation to 280 berths. As a result of the dramatic decline in the Blue Funnel fleet, all the buildings that comprised Ocean Fleets Training Establishment, with the exception of the original hostel, were leased to Liverpool City Council in 1981. The Company’s much depleted training facility then moved back into the hostel next door, where it remained until it was disbanded on the 31st December 1986.


Whilst, from 1916, an increasing number of the Company’s ships carried several midshipmen, it was not until 1947 that the training scheme was enlarged to include a designated training ship in which the normal deck crew were replaced almost entirely by midshipmen. The first of the Company’s 2 designated training ships was the Calchas, and she was replaced in 1956 by the Diomed. However, the number of midshipmen under training was such that no more than half of them would ever spend time under indenture on the Calchas or Diomed. Irrespective of whether or not a midshipman served on the Calchas or Diomed, it was Company policy to ensure that his training encompassed as wide a variety of the Company’s ships and trading routes as possible so as to maximise the breadth and depth of his experience.


A typical training scenario for a midshipman would start with the new recruit being sent on a short period of outward-bound training. This would normally be followed by several voyages, each on a different Blue Funnel ship and usually in the company of 3 other midshipmen. Then, during his second or third years of training, he would, if a berth was available, complete 2 consecutive voyages on the training ship. The remainder of his sea-based training would then be spent on a variety of other Blue Funnel and Glen Line ships, again in the company of several other midshipmen and probably as the senior midshipman responsible for the halfdeck.


This site will focus on the 2 ships designated by Alfred Holt and Company to operate as training ships: the Calchas and the Diomed.



A summary of the Company’s history is available for download as a pdf. It includes a tabulated list of all the Company’s ships as well as a bibliography.


A copy of the Company’s letter sent to a recruit on his appointment to the Company as a midshipman is available for download as a pdf. This letter provides a fascinating insight into what Alfred Holt and Company’s Managers expected of their deck officers. Thanks are due to John Pollard for kindly providing a copy of this letter.


A copy of the Blue Funnel brochure on “Conditions of Service for MIDSHIPMEN”, circa 1961, is available for download as a pdf. This 6 page document leaves no doubt as to the emphasis that Alfred Holt and Company placed on the development of a Midshipman’s character throughout his apprenticeship. Thanks are due to James E Cowden for kindly providing the original brochure from which this copy was made.


Ian Jackson has written a delightful account of his first voyage as a midshipman with Alfred Holt and Company in 1943, and he has called it “Three Boys in a Ship”. Ian paints a colourful, and often humorous, picture of the training environment experienced by three first-trip apprentices on an old ship during the Second World War – a far cry from the cadet training ships era that was to follow later in peacetime. “Three Boys in a Ship” is available for download as a pdf here.


Lawrence Holt drafted a letter to be sent to all Blue Funnel Captains, in which he set out Company policy and philosophy on how midshipmen should be trained in the post-sailing ship era. Lawrence Holt’s grandson, William Champion, has very kindly given permission for this draft letter to be reproduced, and it is available for download as a pdf here.