In fact it was exactly 150 years ago this week (May 1869) that orders were given for the 'Mars' to be brought forward from the reserve at Sheerness as a training ship for boys. There were already a number of other training ships dotted around the country at the time and Dundee was selected as the location for this latest addition. Following a two month refit, the Mars arrived in Dundee in August of 1869 to much anticipation. It could accommodate 400 boys.
The daily routine on board involved being awoken by a bugle call at 5 am in summer (6 am in winter), before stowing away the hammocks and assembling on deck for prayers. Then a wash in cold water followed by an hour of deck scrubbing before breakfast. An inspection took place before the boys dispersed to either a schoolroom or workshop for the day - with a break for dinner at 1pm and then for tea at 5pm. At 6:30pm there was time for such activities as reading, swimming, football, boxing or draughts. Supper was served before bed at 8:45pm. Skills such as carpentry, metalworking, blacksmithing, shoe making, tailoring, rope making and sail making were taught on board.
Boys from all over Fife, other areas of Scotland and further afield spent time on the Mars. Above is the case of two brothers from Lundin Links who were sent there for theft (Dundee Courier 20 Jan 1915 and Dundee Evening Telegraph 19 Jan 1915). While running messages around the village, the boys - who resided at Paradise Place - had stolen various items including clothing, household linen, shaving equipment, hens and game, and a bicycle. At the time George Dewar was aged just eleven (James presumably either slightly older or younger). They were to stay on the Mars until they turned 16.
Another local case, three years later saw a 12-year-old Leven boy sent to the Mars after taking 16 golf balls from the golf club house at Lundin Links. This offence, together with his previous convictions, saw him also being sent there until he reached the age of sixteen. His three friends were let off much more lightly.
For many years, the Mars boys spent a month in the summer at Elie, staying in the granary building. More on that here:
On at least one occasion, they made it to Largo. The Dundee Courier 16 August 1895 reports that Mars Training Ship Band played at the Largo Flower Show, in the grounds of Largo House. Music was a big part of life on the Mars and competition to get into the band was fierce. Performances were given all over Scotland. When the Mars reached the end of its life in 1929, before it was taken to Inverkeithing to be broken up, an auction was held to dispose of various stock and equipment. Many of the brass band instruments were purchased for use on HMS Unicorn and some are still in use to this day.
A model of the Mars is on display at the McManus Galleries in Dundee along with other memorabilia.