HMS Arethusa Figurehead Listed at Grade II
A wooden figurehead from the Royal Navy ship HMS Arethusa has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.
HMS Arethusa went into battle in the Crimean War in 1854. From 1867 she was one of the three training ships based in Kent.
The figurehead was carved by James Hellyer and Sons of London and Portsmouth who had a long tradition as ships’ carvers. The ship’s figurehead is a 3.5 metre high painted female bust, with brown hair parted in the centre. She is wearing an early Victorian period dress with her right breast exposed, as in the 19th century people believed a naked woman would calm a storm at sea.
HMS Arethusa was decommissioned in 1874 and loaned to a charity called ‘Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa’. It functioned as a training ship and boarding school for boys, preparing them for service in the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy.
The figurehead was taken and displayed by the charity, now called ‘Shaftesbury Young People’, at Lower Upnor, Rochester. The site has since been developed into the Arethusa Venture Centre. The figurehead is sited outside the front of the Centre, facing Upnor Reach, River Medway.
There are four other listed figureheads in England including:
- the figurehead from the 1842 wreck of the Caledonia
- the figurehead from HMS Wellesey dated approximately 1839
- figurehead believed to be from the barque Roseau
- the figurehead from the 1860 warship Admiral Lord Howe.
HMS Arethusa’s figurehead is a rare survivor of the Crimean War and an important symbol of Britain’s maritime heritage. By protecting it, we are ensuring that an important part of the country's seafaring history is preserved for future generations.
The survival of former bow figureheads as statues helps demonstrate the rich and colourful history of our maritime past. HMS Arethusa’s figurehead is a tangible reminder of the heyday of sailing ships in the Royal Navy. By listing the figurehead, we can now be certain that its future and the power of the story behind the carving will not be lost.