HMS Victory 1765

    ► HMS Victory is a 104-gun first rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, laid down in 1759 and launched in 1765. She is most famous as Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She was also Keppel's flagship at Ushant and Jervis's flagship at Cape St Vincent. After 1824 she served as a harbour ship. In 1922 she was moved to a dry dock at Portsmouth, England, and preserved as a museum ship. She continues to be flagship of the Second Sea Lord and is the oldest naval ship still in commission.


    In December 1758, the commissioner of Chatham Dockyard was instructed to prepare a dry dock for the construction of a new first-rate ship. This was an unusual occurrence at the time as the Royal Navy preferred smaller and more manoeuvrable ships, and it was unusual for more than two to be in commission simultaneously; during the whole of the 18th century only ten were constructed.

    The outline plans arrived in June 1759 and were based on HMS Royal George which had been launched at Woolwich Dockyard in 1756. The naval architect chosen to design the ship was Sir Thomas Slade who, at the time, was the appointed Surveyor of the Navy. She was designed to carry at least 100 guns and was established with that number of guns; in practice, her armament varied from 104 to 106 guns and carronades. In January 1808 the Victory was reduced to a 98-gun Second rate, but was reclassed as a 104-gun First Rate in February 1817.

    The keel was laid on 23 July 1759 in the Old Single Dock (since renamed No. 2 Dock and now Victory Dock), and the name was finally chosen in October 1760. It was to commemorate the Annus Mirabilis or Year of Victories, of 1759. In that year of the Seven Years' War, land victories had been won at Quebec, Minden and naval battles had been won at Lagos and Quiberon Bay. There were some doubts whether this was a suitable name since the previous first-rate Victory had been lost with all on board in 1744.

    Once the frame had been constructed, it was normal to cover the ship up and leave it for several months to season. However, the end of the Seven Years' War meant that she remained in this condition for nearly three years, which helped her subsequent longevity. Work restarted in autumn 1763 and she was finally launched on 7 May 1765, having cost £63,176 and 3 shillings (present day £7.06 million) and used around 6000 trees, 90% of which were oak and the remainder elm, pine and fir, as well as a small quantity of Lignum Vitae.

    Because there was no immediate use for her, she was placed in ordinary—in reserve, roofed over, dismasted and placed under general maintenance—moored in the River Medway for 13 years until France joined the American War of Independence.

    In March 1778, John Lindsay was appointed her first captain, but he was transferred to captain HMS Prince George in May 1778 when Admiral the Honourable Augustus Keppel decided to raise his flag in Victory. She was commissioned in May 1778 under the command of Rear Admiral John Campbell (1st Captain) and Captain Jonathan Faulknor (2nd Captain), with the flag of Admiral Keppel.

    The Victory was armed with smooth bore, cast iron cannon. Initially she carried thirty 42-pounders (19 kg) on her lower deck, twenty-eight 24-pounders (11 kg) on her middle deck, and thirty 12-pounders (5 kg) on her upper deck, together with twelve 6-pounders on her quarterdeck and forecastle. In May 1778, the 42-pounders were replaced by 32-pounders (15 kg), but the 42-pounders were reinstated in April 1779; eventually, in 1803, the 42-pounders were permanently replaced by 32-pounders. In 1782, all the 6-pounders were replaced by 12-pounders. Later, she also carried two carronade guns, firing 68-lb (31 kg) round shot.

First battle of Ushant

    Keppel put to sea from Spithead on 9 July 1778, with a force of thirty ships of the line and, on 23 July, sighted a French fleet of twenty-nine ships 100 miles (160 km) west of Ushant. The French Admiral, Louis Guillouet, comte d'Orvilliers, who had orders to avoid battle, was cut off from Brest but retained the weather gage. Two of his ships escaped into port leaving him with twenty-seven. The two fleets manoeuvred during shifting winds and a heavy rain squall until a battle became inevitable with the British more or less in column and the French in some confusion. However, the French managed to pass along the British line with their most advanced ships. At about a quarter to twelve Victory opened fire on the Bretagne of 110 guns, which was being followed by the Ville de Paris of 90 guns. The British van escaped with little loss but Sir Hugh Palliser's rear division suffered considerably. Keppel made the signal to follow the French but Palliser did not conform and the action was not resumed. Keppel was court martialled and cleared and Palliser criticised by an inquiry before the affair turned into a political argument.

Second battle of Ushant

    In March 1780 Victory's hull was sheathed with 3,923 sheets of copper below the waterline to protect it against shipworm. On 2 December 1781 the ship, now commanded by Captain Henry Cromwell and bearing the flag of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, sailed with eleven other ships of the line, a 50-gun fourth-rate, and five frigates, to intercept a French convoy that had sailed from Brest on 10 December. Not knowing that the convoy was protected by twenty-one ships of the line under the command of Luc Urbain de Bouexic, comte de Guichen, Kempenfelt ordered a chase when they were sighted on 12 December and began the battle. When he noted the French superiority he contented himself with capturing fifteen sail of the convoy. The French were dispersed in a gale and forced to return home.

Battle of Cape St. Vincent(1797)

    In 1796 Captain Robert Calder (First Captain) and Captain George Grey (Second Captain) commanded Victory under Admiral Sir John Jervis's flag. Sir John Jervis sailed from the Tagus on 18 January 1797; after being reinforced on 6 February by five ships from England his fleet consisted of fifteen sail of the line and six frigates. On 14 February the Portuguese frigate Carlotta, commanded by a Scotsman named Campbell with a Portuguese commission, brought news that a Spanish fleet was close. Jervis manoeuvred to intercept, and the battle was joined. Principe de Asturias , leading the Spanish leeward division, tried to break through the British line ahead or astern of Victory, but Victory poured such a tremendous fire into her, followed by several raking broadsides (that is, a ripple broadside delivered to the stern of the enemy axially), that the whole Spanish division wore round and bore up. Horatio Nelson, in HMS Captain (primarily), also played a decisive role in this action.

In February 1798 Victory was stationed at Chatham under the command of Lieutenant J. Rickman. On 8 December, unfit for service as a warship, she was ordered to be converted to a hospital ship to hold wounded French and Spanish prisoners of war. In 1799, Rickman was relieved by Lieutenant J. Busbridge.

    However, on 8 October 1799 HMS Impregnable was lost off Chichester, having run aground on her way back to Portsmouth after escorting a convoy to Lisbon. She could not be refloated and so was stripped and dismantled. Now short of a first rate, the Admiralty decided to recondition Victory. Work started in 1800 but as it proceeded an increasing number of defects were found and the repairs developed into a very extensive reconstruction. The original estimate was £23,500 but the final cost was £70,933.

    Extra gun ports were added, taking her from 100 guns to 104, and her magazine lined with copper. Her figurehead was replaced along with her masts and the paint scheme changed from red to the black and yellow seen today. Her gun ports were originally yellow to match the hull but later repainted black, giving a pattern later called the "Nelson chequer", which was adopted by all Royal Navy ships after the Battle of Trafalgar. The work was completed on 11 April 1803 and the ship left for Portsmouth on 14 May under her new captain, Samuel Sutton

Nelson and Trafalgar
   ► Vice-Admiral Nelson hoisted his flag in Victory on 16 May 1803 with Samuel Sutton as his flag    captain and sailed to assume command in the Mediterranean on 20 May. Nelson transferred to the faster frigate Amphion on 23 May.

   On 28 May, Captain Sutton captured the French Embuscade of 32 guns, bound for Rochefort from San Domingo. Victory rejoined Lord Nelson off Toulon on 30 May when Captain Sutton exchanged commands with the captain of Amphion, Thomas Masterman Hardy.

    Victory was passing the island of Toro on 4 April 1805, when HMS Phoebe brought the news that the French fleet under Pierre-Charles Villeneuve had escaped from Toulon. While Nelson made for Sicily to see if the French were heading for Egypt, Villeneuve was entering Cádiz to link up with the Spanish fleet. On 7 May Nelson reached Gibraltar and received his first definite news. The British fleet completed their stores in Lagos Bay, Portugal on 10 May, and two days later sailed westward with ten ships and three frigates in pursuit of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet of 17 ships. They arrived in the West Indies to find that the enemy was sailing back to Europe where Napoleon Bonaparte was waiting for them with his invasion forces at Boulogne.

    The Franco-Spanish fleet was involved in the indecisive Battle of Cape Finisterre in fog off Ferrol with Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron on 22 July before taking refuge in Vigo and Ferrol to land wounded and abandon three damaged ships. Calder on 14 August and Nelson on 15 August joined Admiral Cornwallis's Channel Fleet off Ushant. Nelson continued to England in Victory leaving his Mediterranean fleet with Cornwallis who detached twenty of his thirty-three ships of the line and sent them under Calder to find the combined fleet at Ferrol. On 19 August came the worrying news that the enemy had sailed from there, followed by relief when they arrived in Cádiz two days later. On the evening of Saturday, 28 September, Lord Nelson joined Lord Collingwood's fleet off Cádiz, quietly, so that his presence would not be known.
Nelson's famous signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty", flying from Victory on the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

     When Admiral Villeneuve learned that he was to be removed from command he took his ships to sea on the morning of 19 October, first sailing south towards the Mediterranean but then turning north towards the British fleet, beginning the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson had already made his plans: to break the enemy line some two or three ships ahead of their Commander in Chief in the centre and achieve victory before the van could come to their aid. Fitful winds made it a slow business. For five hours after Nelson's last manoeuvring signal the two columns of British ships slowly approached the French line before Royal Sovereign, leading the lee column, was able to open fire on Fougueux. Twenty five minutes later Victory broke the line between Bucentaure and Redoutable firing a treble shotted broadside into the stern of the former from a range of a few yards. At 25 minutes past one Nelson was shot, the fatal musket ball entering his left shoulder and lodging in his spine. He died at half past four. Such killing had taken place on Victory's quarter deck that Redoutable attempted to board her, but they were thwarted by the arrival of Eliab Harvey in the 98-gun HMS Temeraire, whose broadside devastated the French ship. Nelson's last order was for the fleet to anchor, but this was countermanded by Vice Admiral Collingwood. Victory lost 57 killed and 102 wounded. 

 After Trafalgar
Final years afloat

    Victory took Nelson's body to England where, after lying in state at Greenwich, he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral on 6 January 1806.

    Victory bore many Admirals' flags after Trafalgar, and sailed on numerous expeditions, including two Baltic campaigns under Admiral Sir James Saumarez. Finally her active career ended on 7 November 1812, when she was moored in Portsmouth Harbour off Gosport and used as a depot ship.

    It is said that when Thomas Hardy was First Sea Lord he told his wife, on returning home, that he had just signed an order for Victory to be broken up she burst into tears and sent him straight back to his office to rescind the order. Though this story may be apocryphal, the page of the duty log containing the orders for that day has been torn out.

    In 1889, Victory was fitted up as a Naval School of Telegraphy. She soon became a proper Signal School, and signal ratings from ships paying off were sent to Victory, instead of the barracks, for a two-month training course. The School remained on Victory until 1904, when training was transferred temporarily to HMS Hercules, and in 1906 the whole School was moved to a permanent establishment at the Chatham Royal Naval Barracks.

    As the years passed by Victory slowly deteriorated at her moorings. By 1921 she was in very poor condition, and a campaign to save her was started with the Save the Victory Fund under the aegis of the Society for Nautical Research. The outcome of the campaign was that the British Government agreed to restore and preserve her to commemorate Nelson, the Battle of Trafalgar and the Royal Navy's supremacy before, during, and after the Napoleonic period.

In dry dock

    On 12 January 1922 she was moved into No. 2 dock, the first drydock in Europe and the oldest surviving, at Portsmouth for restoration - her condition having deteriorating to the extent that she could no longer safely remain afloat. During the initial restoration period from 1922 to 1929, a considerable amount of structural repair work was carried out above the waterline and, mainly, above the middle deck. In 1928 King George V was able to unveil a tablet celebrating the completion of the work, although restoration and maintenance still continued under the supervision of the Society for Nautical Research.

    In 1941, Victory sustained some damage from a bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe into her dry dock, causing damage to the hull. On one occasion German radio propaganda claimed that the ship had been destroyed by a bomb, and the Admiralty had to issue a denial. Very few structural repairs were carried out in the period between 1929 and 1950. In the early 1950s, a detailed structural survey was completed. From that survey, it was apparent that the lower structure in the vicinity of the keel and extending up both port and starboard to beyond the turn of the bilge, was in very poor condition. Repairs were put in hand and completed in 1964. The wood used to carry out some of the restoration was teak in the case of the timbers internal and external planking, and oak for the keelson, riders in the hold, beams and pillars. After 1964, some repair of a belt extending around the ship which contained a fair proportion of decayed wood was carried out using Iroko hardwood.

    Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, in the early 21st century the ship underwent another very extensive restoration for the bicentenary of the battle in October 2005 to bring her appearance as close as possible to that which she had at Trafalgar. Replicas of items including mess bowls, beakers and tankards in the 'Marines' Mess', and a toothbrush, shaving brush and wash bowl in 'Hardy's Cabin' are on display.

    Victory's foretopsail was severely damaged during the battle of Trafalgar, perforated by upwards of 90 cannonballs and other projectiles. It was replaced after the battle but was preserved, and eventually came to be displayed in the Royal Naval Museum. The sail is laid out across a large chamber, illuminated by alternating lowlight projectors.

Current status

    HMS Victory is still in commission as the flagship of the Second Sea Lord in his role as Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy's Home Command (CINCNAVHOME). She is the oldest commissioned warship in the world, although the USS Constitution, launched 30 years later, is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat. Victory attracts around 350,000 visitors per year in her role as a museum ship.
    The westernmost entrance to the Royal Navy's facility in Portsmouth, HMS Nelson, is known as Victory Gate.
    The current and 99th commanding officer is Lt-Cdr DJ 'Oscar' Whild Royal Navy, who assumed command on 1 September 2008.
    Of the living descendants of the Trafalgar ship's company, the most active (although not the most senior, as several of Nelson's direct descendants are still alive) is James Smith-Hardy, who only discovered he was descended from Sir Thomas Hardy in October 2005

Future support arrangements

    In June 2009 Defence Equipment & Support, DE&S issued a request for Expressions of Interest to private industry for the future support arrangements for HMS Victory. DE&S aims to award a single 9-year project management contract in time for planned works to commence in April 2010 through to April 2019. The sum total value of the contract award is indicated to be worth between £15 million and £30 million spread over the life of the contract. The contract is to be funded from the British defence budget.

    However due to restructuring within DE&S (responsibility for HMS Victory transferring from Minehunter Patrol & Hydrographic IPT to Surface Combat Directorate), the contract competition was subsequently placed on hold.

    In June 2010, DE&S Surface Combat Directorate re-issued the Expression of Interest to private industry. The terms remain unchanged although DE&S now aims to award the contract in time for works to commence in April 2011.

    After some 40 years, significant repairs to the hull are now required, the deterioration being worse on the Starboard side than the Port. It is anticipated that the majority of manufactured hull planking will be issued as Ministry Supplied Material (MSM) to the successful contractor. Whilst the contractor will not, for the most part, be expected to employ authentic methods and skills, whenever it is practical authentic materials will be used.




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