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H.M.S. Victory

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, War on Tuesday, 31 May 2011

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This edited article about HMS Victory originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 954 published on 3 May 1980.

Victory, picture, image, illustration

H.M.S. Victory, by C L Doughty

The guns aboard HMS Victory are silent now, but it is not difficult to imagine how this mighty warship once led the British fleet into battle against the French at Trafalgar.

She was merely an ordinary warship until a very small, ordinary-looking man came aboard. Now Nelson and the Victory are part of English naval history.

HMS Victory was built in the naval dockyards at Chatham between 1759-1765, at a cost of £63,176. When ready for service against the French, she carried 102 guns, two of which were special cannons called “carronades”.

The crew numbered 850, most of whom were “pressed men”, that is to say, they were ordinary men who just happened to be around when the press gang arrived on the scene.

Also aboard a typical ship of the time would be marines – naval soldiers whose duties ranged from policing the ship to superintending executions. The total length of the Victory is 69 metres and it measures 15Ω metres from side to side. During her career, HMS Victory had no fewer than four figureheads. The one believed to have been carried at Trafalgar was a shield surmounted by a sailor on the starboard side and on the port side, a marine.

Netting was fitted around the whole deck and was called “hammock netting”. The idea of this was to serve as partial protection against enemy fire during battle. Also, it had a second purpose, as the gun crews normally slept at their posts and they could be ready for battle at a moment’s notice.

HMS Victory is now a national monument and can be seen at Portsmouth. Troops of children and thousands of tourists visit it, most of them keen to see “the spot where Nelson fell”. This is marked by a small plaque on the deck. The rigging is all rope, covered in tar to protect it from the weather. This may well be the origin of the name “Jack Tar”, because a seaman of that time was always using tar for the ship, and no doubt, smelt of it. Made of English oak with a keel built of elm, this ship exists as a vivid monument to a famous victory.

The Victory, after suffering extensive damage during the battle of Trafalgar, was repaired and re-fitted in 1806 and for the next six years, during the months of March and September, she served in the Baltic as flagship for Admiral James de Saumarez.

During the Peninsular Wars against France, the Victory sailed to the aid of General Moore’s troops who had retreated to Corunna Bay. In January, 1811, the overloaded ship made a hazardous journey to Portugal, but managed to conquer a series of violent storms to bring her passengers to safety.

The Victory left the Baltic in 1812, bringing an end to her 47 years of active service. This, however, was not the end of HMS Victory. Because of her reputation, the Admiralty continued to keep the ship in trim.

The Victory remained in Portsmouth, filling various roles. The ultimate honour came in 1844, on Trafalgar Day, when she was paid a visit by Queen Victoria.

Sir Philip Watts, at one time Director of Naval Construction, developed a great interest in the Victory, and in 1905 wrote a paper about the ship. In 1921 he was to save the ship by pleading for its repair. In a paper written for the Institute of Naval Architects, he stated that the ship would sink at her moorings, unless immediate measures were taken.

By the 14th January, 1922, the ship had been moved into No. 2 Dock, Portsmouth. The Society for Nautical Research took over from here. Experts were worried about increased wind pressure on masts and yards.

Then, on 3rd July, 1922, George V inspected the docks. He ordered the ship’s immediate repair and this was completed in 1925. In 1932, measures were taken to improve ventilation throughout the ship, after wet rot and death-watch beetle were identified. Further structural repairs were carried out between 1955 and 1964. The ship’s maintenance today is in the hands of highly skilled technical experts.

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