Earl of Dalhousie ‘ousted’ from Unicorn charity

The figurehead from the HMS Unicorn. Picture: Yottanesia (CC)
The figurehead from the HMS Unicorn. Picture: Yottanesia (CC)
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ONE of Scotland’s leading aristocrats has been ousted as chairman of the charity his father founded to save the Frigate Unicorn - one of the oldest wooden warships in the world - from being scrapped.

The Earl of Dalhousie, Lord Steward of Her Majesty’s Household and vice Lord Lieutenant of Angus, has been voted out of office as chairman of the Unicorn Preservation Society in Dundee.

The society, whose Patron is the Princess Royal, was formed in 1968 by the Earl’s late father to restore the Royal Navy frigate, launched at Chatham in 1824, which is the world’s last intact warship from the days of sail still afloat anywhere on the globe.

Mervyn Rolfe, a former Lord Provost of Dundee and the society’s vice chairman, has also been voted out of office as part of a an alleged board “coup.”

But today 65 year-old Lord Dalhousie refused to comment on allegations of unrest within the board about the future of the historic vessel.

‘Won’t rock the boat’

He said: “My main interest is to try and get the Unicorn safely looked after but I am no longer chairman. I am still a governor of the Unicorn and involved in ongoing negotiations with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which are quite crucial at the moment, and also with Dundee City Council whose help we also need.

“And I would rather - if it’s not a bad metaphor - not rock the boat.”

Lord Dalhousie, who lives at the ancestral home at Brechin Castle, said the appointment of Michael Clark, a Dundee solicitor, as chairman would mean only a “slight change” in emphasis in the running of the society.

And he stressed: “At the end of the day we want to save the ship and everybody’s in line with that.”

Lord Dalhousie continued: “I think, with any charity, you will get rumblings and changes of emphasis. We have quite a big board and we have some quite strong characters amongst the board. But I will remain actively involved.”

‘No coup’

Mr Clark denied there has been a “coup” to remove Lord Dalhousie and Mr Rolfe. “I wouldn’t say that is the case at all,” he said. “There is obviously a change in strategy and direction because it was originally hoped that the Unicorn would be put alongside the Discovery at Discovery Point. But we were unsuccessful with a Heritage Lottery funding application a few years ago, and when the V & A came along it was made quite clear by Dundee City Council that was no longer an option.”

Mr Clark continued: “There have been no resignations from the board and the Earl of Dalhousie and Mr Rolfe are still very much involved.”

He explained that the society would now be pressing ahead with plans for the Unicorn to become a major feature of proposals for a new marina at the Victoria Dock on Dundee’s waterfront It is hoped that the Unicorn could eventually be moved to a new permanent site at the East Graving dock, a short distance from its current home at the Victoria Dock.


Said Mr Clark: “We are not a big charity at all. We have some money in the bank but certainly going forward the hope is that the Unicorn will be completely refurbished and become a prominent feature on the waterfront.

“It is a question of being able to work in partnership with the major funders like Heritage Lottery and also perhaps the National Museum of the Royal Navy to get backing. The actual refurbishment of the Unicorn, I believe, will cost more than £10 million. “

He also stressed that the removal of Lord Dalhousie was not a reflection on his role as chairman. Said Mr Clark: “He certainly is still a governor and charity trustee and we obviously all want to find a sustainable and viable future for Unicorn going forward. We are moving forward and it was decided there should be a change as we seek a new future for the Unicorn.”

Boat move plan

Last August the society unveiled ambitious plans to move the Unicorn to a new site, on a pontoon or plinth, at the heart of the central waterfront in Dundee, close to Discovery Point and the site of the new V&A museum.

HMS Unicorn spent her early years in reserve in the south of England and was brought to Dundee in 1873 to serve as the reserve training ship for the Tay. The warship carried out this function for nearly a century, and also acted as the headquarters ship for the Senior Naval Officer in Dundee during both World Wars.