The work of Luppis and Whitehead on the self-propelling torpedo in the late 1860's convinced the authorities of the future importance of the torpedo as a weapon of war. The rights of manufacture were acquired, production commencing in 1872, and the hulk of the frigate VERNON was fitted out at Portsmouth as a Torpedo Instructional Ship. At first a tender to EXCELLENT, with the rapid development of torpedo warfare VERNON became an independent command called the Portsmouth Torpedo School in April 1876. Several other vessels, including ARIADNE and ACTEON, were added to VERNON under the collective name of HMS VERNON. Moored in the beginning close to the Dockyard wall in Fountain Lake, VERNON was moved to Portchester Creek in 1895, remaining there until the school finally became a shore establishment, occupying the Gunwharf, in 1923.
From its inception VERNON was the single authority for mines and torpedoes, which had been classed together since 1867.
The period following the move ashore was one of consolidation, but in the years following the outbreak of the Italo-Abyssinian War a controlled mining base ship was equipped, the motor torpedo boat was developed and work on magnetic mines, countermeasures, etc., was pursued. A Minesweeping Department was set up.
Enemy bombing from August 1940 made dispersal necessary, Roedean School, Brighton, being requisitioned to accommodate Headquarters and Central Administration, whilst the various departments moved to Arrochar and Loch Long, Alexandra in Dumbartonshire, Weston-super-Mare, Carlisle and other places.
During the Second World War the school became responsible for Diving and in November 1944 opened a Diving School at Brixham.
For some time consideration had been given to the rebuilding of VERNON and a programme was approved even before the end of the War. Work began on the foundations of the North and West Blocks in 1945.
In October 1946 the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine Branches were amalgamated and HMS VERNON became the Torpedo Anti-Submarine School.