HMS Victory


Victory’s stern galleries, with accommodations for flag officers and the captain.


Original gun from Trafalgar and exhibit showing selection of shot that could be fired.


Replicas of Nelson’s uniforms, from Great Cabin on Victory. During the Trafalgar battle he refused to cover his epaulettes and medals, this making himself a highly visible target.


Great Cabin set up to look like it did at the time of Trafalgar. Note Emma Hamilton’s portrait. All of this would have been struck below before Victory engaged in battle.


Wider-angle view of Victory’s Great Cabin.


Middle gundeck on Victory. These are replica cannons.


Victory showing the three gundecks and her tumblehome style of ship architecture

HMS Victory currently rests in drydock at Portsmouth Royal Navy Dockyard undergoing a refit of her masts and rigging. With no topmasts or topgallant masts she looks rather “curtailed,” to borrow one of Patrick O’Brian’s most famous puns. There are many paintings of Victory under full sail in all her glory.  I particularly recommend any done by Geoff Hunt, who has painted all the Aubrey-Maturin bookcovers and has done several studies of Victory at Trafalgar. The following is “Victory and Squadron in Light Airs”, copied from a book I own, The Marine Art of Geoff Hunt.HuntL24-VictorySquadWe think of wooden ships as low tech, but “Ships of the Line”  or line-of-battle ships, were the technological marvels of the 18th and 19th centuries.  The well-informed docents on board Victory point out all of the ingenious solutions that shipwrights and outfitters came up with to deal with the problem of creating stability, fire-resistant gunpowder storage, and facilities for cooking.  British ships like Victory also enjoyed a significant technological advantage over French and Spanish ships at Trafalgar.  British cannon had flintlocks, while Spanish and French gunners still depended on “slow match” to fire their big guns.  The latter were a slow burning fuse-like material.  On rolling decks, instant-firing flintlocks gave gunners a much better aim because they could fire when they wanted to (“on the roll”).  A heavy swell was running before and during the Trafalgar battle, and Nelson’s strategy surely took into account his technological superiority.  History records that the British gunfire was more accurate than the French or Spanish (the Royal Navy rate of fire was also quicker because of constant drilling on the big guns).

Victory, a “first rate” three-decker, was about as as large as Royal Navy ships got at that time.  The Royal Navy had no more than a few ships of Victory’s size — the most common ship of the line was a 74 gun two-decker.  Victory’s hull and interior have been meticulously restored and you can admire the beauty of her lines and the quarters that admirals and captains enjoyed,  Then you realize that over 700 men lived on Victory and you can imagine how poor their living conditions must have been.  (My grandfather, great-grandfather and great uncle sailed “before the mast” on English merchant ships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)


Chair made with wood from HMS Temeraire, which followed Victory through the line at Trafalgar


Temeraire’s emblem.


Commemorative Plaque onboard HMS Victory


Victory with Gunports Open


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