Although the Victory was ordered for the Royal Navy in 1759 and is still in commission as a flagship, she is for ever remembered for just one battle on one day; Trafalgar, 21st October 1805, and her association with one man; Admiral Horatio Nelson.
…. “in his new flagship, the Victory, [Nelson] had one of the stateliest three-deckers ever built, a vessel in every way worthy to receive him [in 1803]. She had been laid down when he was still in his cradle, had been launched at Chatham in 1765, and had worn the flags of Keppel, Kempenfelt, Howe, Hood, St Vincent and other, lesser, admirals. She had just undergone a large repair which was practically a rebuilding, and was capable of a surprising turn of speed. Had Nelson been offered his choice, he could not have proposed a finer or a lovelier ship.
Such a ship was “tall” indeed, for her main-mast, with its top-mast and top-gallant, rose 175 feet above her deck. She mounted 104 guns, and with all her size and capacity there was not a corner wasted, from the depths of her hold with its ordered stores and well-stowed ammunition to the skid-beams on the spar-deck where the boats were ready for hoisting out by tackle at the word of command.”
‘A Portrait of Lord Nelson’, Oliver Warner. The Reprint Society, 1958. [Edited]
The Victory remained in service after Nelson’s death and the French/Spanish defeat at Trafalgar until paid off in 1812, and was afterwards moored at Portsmouth as either a receiving ship or flagship into the early part of the 20th century. Then, in 1922……
….. “it was discovered that Nelson’s famous flagship, the Victory, was sinking at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbour, and that the timbers of the hull were in perilous condition. She was accordingly moved permanently into dry dock, and thorough measures taken to restore her. A careful study of naval records has enabled the Victory’s appearance at the time of the battle of Trafalgar, and the Admiral’s quarters, to be reproduced.
On July 26th, 1924, before holding the Naval Review at Spithead, the King and the Prince of Wales went over the famous old man-of-war, and inspected the work of reconstruction.”
‘The Reign of H.M. King George V’, 1935. W.D. & H.O. Wills.
“Impressive as the Victory still is, in her meticulously preserved condition at Portsmouth, she is now but a shell of the sea fortress which dominated the Mediterranean. Her immense spread of sail, which gave her speed, has gone forever; her eight hundred and fifty men, who gave her power, are no more than memories.”
This impressive “shell” has managed to draw visitors by the million since 1928 and, with the help of some expensive, high tech care and attention should continue to do so for many more years.
It could be argued that Trafalgar was as important to Britain in the 19th century as the Battle of Britain was in the 20th, and for the same reason; they both foiled an invasion by a foreign power. Trafalgar Day will be commemorated this Sunday.
I had intended to write more about the ship, the battle, and the Admiral but Mike at A Bit About Britain did it first – and better – with his post on 24th August. I recommend you read it. In fact, if you’re planning to visit Britain, or just want to explore the place without leaving your chair, this blog is essential reading. (And he didn’t pay me to write that).