To generations of sailors, HMS Excellent was synonymous with naval gunnery.

HMS Excellent is now on Whale Island, a man-made island in Portsmouth which was built in the late 19th century from the spoil of excavations to build docks in the naval base across the water.

But initially a number of hulks in Portsmouth Harbour were named HMS Excellent and served as the Royal Navy’s school of gunnery through the middle of the 19th Century.

Until then it had been left to individual commanding officers of ships to make sure their men were well versed in the art of gunnery.

In the early days of Excellent, trainees would fire their guns at a range in the harbour established on Whale Island. The instructors’ advice to the men was simple: hit first, hit hard and keep on hitting.

As the range of guns increased dramatically during the Victorian Era and the number of officers and men requiring training ballooned, HMS Excellent moved ashore in 1891.

Whale Island (or Whaley) is a partially man-made island, vastly enlarged during the late 1800s by landfill as the basins and docks of Portsmouth Harbour were dug out.

In addition to its reputation as the gunnery school, its instructors became renowned as the Royal Navy’s experts in drill and ceremonial. Excellent was also home to the Portsmouth Field Gun crew until the demise of the Royal Tournament.

Excellent ceased being a naval establishment in its own right in the mid-1980s when it came under the banner of the neighbouring naval base. But it was formally recommissioned in 1994 when HMS Phoenix, the school of fire-fighting and damage control, closed.