BRITISH MERCHANT NAVY CADET TRAINING SHIPS
A study of the history of Elder Dempster shows that, as early as 1904, the Company had produced a memorandum "For the Guidance of Parents or Guardians of Midshipmen desirous of entering the Elder Dempster Line”.
This memorandum begins by stating that:
"The Company carries midshipmen – that is, apprentices being trained to become officers – aboard of its vessels except those in the West African coast trade. Boys who have served one of two years on a sailing ship or two years on the training ships Conway or Worcester are the most suitable, but all well educated boys of sufficient physique who are willing to work hard are eligible.”
Almost fifty years would pass from the date of that memorandum before Elder Dempster chose to embrace the concept of a dedicated training ship, in which the apprentices, in effect, took over the role of a normal deck crew.
The first of the Company's dedicated cadet ships was the Obuasi, and, although she was not specifically designed for this role, she was adapted to fulfil it from the beginning of her second voyage in 1953.
Obuasi was replaced in 1961 by the Fourah Bay – a vessel specifically designed to operate as a cadet training ship – and she continued in this role for a period of eight years. During that period it became evident that, as a result of changes in the way that apprentices were being trained, a decreasing proportion of Elder Dempster's cadets, as they were called from 1967, were guaranteed to serve on Fourah Bay; the Company's management therefore decided that she should no longer operate in the role of a cadet training ship, and she was returned to normal manning arrangements in the summer of 1969. Although the Onitsha was then modified to provide accommodation for twelve cadets taking part in their first or second voyage, and cadets were also carried on many of the other vessels comprising the Company's deep-sea fleet, the Company would never again operate a dedicated cadet training ship.