Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

Author reveals ship life on Mars

Mars training ship (pic: Dundee City Council)
More than 6,500 boys were trained on board the Mars

A Scots author has set himself the task of finding out what happened to more than 6,500 boys who were sent to a training ship in the Tay.

The Mars arrived on the river at Dundee in 1869, and over the next 60 years homeless and destitute boys from all over Scotland were taught there.

Some were as young as nine-years-old and they learned seamanship, woodwork, metal work and tailoring.

The former warship was broken up in 1929 in Inverkeithing, Fife.

Gordon Douglas originally wanted to tell the story of the training ship in a musical - but after carrying out more research settled on writing the book We'll Send Ye Tae the Mars.

He said: "It was entitled the Mars Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys and it was basically to try to free the streets up from 'Street Arabs' as they were called.

"You weren't accepted on the Mars if you had a conviction against your name and they generally were either there because they were orphans or because they had got in trouble with the police for whatever reason - stealing grapes was one of the things."

Much of the information Mr Douglas collected came from newspaper reports, Mars account books and the admissions and discharge books in the Blyth Hall, in Newport-on-Tay, which were saved from a skip in Dundee, rebound and then taken to the hall.

On board the Mars (pic: Dundee City Council)
The boys were taught skills like woodwork, metal work and tailoring

Up to 400 boys could be housed on the Mars at any one time.

Mr Douglas believes life on board would have been tough - but better than living on the streets of Dundee.

He said: "Street conditions in Dundee would've been horrendous - the amount of disease on the city streets and if you needed to steal to live that was what you had to do.

"So here they at least had a chance - they had a roof over their head, they had a warm-ish bed. The boys lived in the orlop deck which is the very bottom deck and that would've been very cold and I think they got one cover in the summer and two in the winter in their hammocks.

"Their day started at five o'clock in the summer and they would get up and scrub the decks for an hour and a half before they had breakfast, which was porridge.

"So they did get square meals and in the morning some of them would go to school and they would be taught arithmetic, English, geography, but it would've been a hard life."

Mr Douglas plans to discover what happened to every boy who trained on the Mars and post details on the internet.

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