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The Boys who went to Mars

As part of the Archives exhibition, The King, The Queen & The Vicious Strumpet, the John Gray Centre will host a talk on The Boys Who Went to Mars by Gordon Douglas on Tuesday 1st April 2014 at 7pm.

The Mars training ship

The Mars training ship

Part of our exhibition explores poverty in East Lothian and aims to tell the stories of the people affected.  The Archivists were inspired after reading the North Berwick Parochial Board minutes which  show that in 1875 two young boys, William Dishington and John Black, were sent to the Mars training ship at Dundee.  What was the Mars we wondered?  And what happened to the boys?

We discovered that The Mars was built in 1840 as a warship, then anchored in the Tay in 1869 when it was used as a home/school for young boys until 1929.  During this time, 6,500 boys from around Scotland or “Sons of the Mars” were sent here to escape poverty, neglect and a life of petty crime.  With 400 boys living, eating and sleeping aboard the ship at any one time, stories abound!

What was life like for these children aged between 12 and 16?  What type of education and skills did they learn?  And what later became of them?

Join us on Tuesday 1st April 2014 at 7pm in the Star Room of the John Gray Centre for this free talk (with songs!)which will answer these questions and many more!  No booking required.

5 thoughts on “The Boys who went to Mars”

  1. Mike Headspeath says:

    Hello I’m trying to piece together information about my father and uncle who were both sent to the Mars training ship. My father Harry G. Headspeath was born 08 May 1912 but I don’t know when his brother John Headspeath was born. I’m estimating that perhaps my father was around 12 years old so perhaps they boarded the Mars around 1924/5.
    My late aunt spoke of both brothers jumping ship and ended up living with their sister in Leith for a spell.
    My father later became a carpenter and served in Malta in the Royal Artillery Light Anti Aircraft regiment during the siege of Malta in 1940-1942.

    1. HanitaR says:

      Dear Mr Headspeath,
      Thank you for your enquiry. May I suggest that you contact the National Records of Scotland (in Edinburgh) for the Mars records. Their contact page is at this link:
      All the best with the rest of your research.

  2. Robert Baptie says:

    I’m interested to know if there are admission records available somewhere. My 2nd great uncle, Charles Baptie (b.1867) is listed aboard the Mars in the 1881 Scotland Census. I believe he was sent there after getting into trouble at the Leith Industrial School in Lochend Road!

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi Mr Baptie,
      Thank you for your enquiry.
      Please try National Records of Scotland (in Edinburgh). Their contact page is at this link:
      All the best with the rest of your research.

  3. Ian P. Carroll says:

    My Father’s dad, James Carroll, was a Mars boy in the early 1900’s. I was told by my uncle Harold, another of James’ sons, that he escaped by jumping ship and took off to be a miner in Wales. Any news of his stay there would greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for writing this book, it’s given me a whole new perspective on my deceased father, Ronald.
    Gratefully yours,
    Ian P. Carroll.
    New York.

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