The Royal Navy frigate, launched at Chatham in 1824, is currently languishing “in exile” in the city’s Victoria Dock. She is the world’s last intact warship, from the days of sail, still afloat anywhere on the globe.
The Unicorn Preservation Society, formed in 1968 to save it from being scrapped, is campaigning to secure a prime site for the ship as part of a triangle of top attractions at the waterfront, along with the new outpost to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the RRS Discovery, the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain.
The group has now released new images of the Unicorn to help secure the backing of the council – and the public – for the move.
Lieutenant Commander Roderick Stewart, chairman of the Unicorn Preservation Society, said: “There are only five older vessels than the Unicorn in the world.
“She was designed for a 20-year life and she is now nearly 200, but she can’t stay in the water forever and that is why we need to have the Unicorn out of the Tay and under cover to preserve her.
“At the moment she is in remarkably good condition, but in ten or 20 years time that might not be the case.”
The society is working on 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.
Lt Cdr Stewart said: “At the moment the Unicorn is fairly isolated, in exile in the Victoria Dock, and we are just not getting the passing traffic we need to survive.
“When the Unicorn and the Discovery were side by side some 20 years go we got nearly six times the number of visitors, and that’s an enormous difference. It is increasingly clear that Unicorn cannot remain afloat indefinitely and that, in order to preserve her extraordinary originality, she should be docked in a dry berth and covered from the weather. We need visibility and we need a site where people will pass by, see the ship and come on board.
“She is an extraordinarily important ship. Of all the ships in the world that are older none of them are in anything like as original condition.”
Four years ago the society made a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, but are now preparing a fresh bid for financial support. Lt Cdr Stewart said the bid could not be submitted until Dundee City Council has earmarked a new site.
A spokesman for Dundee City Council said: “There are no plans for a proposal of this kind in the development of the central waterfront. However, we are in discussions with the preservation trust about potentially suitable locations elsewhere within the wider waterfront project.”