HMS Victory

HMS Victory

HMS Victory
Few, if any, of great ships that moved through the waters in the ages of yesterday are around today outside of pictures or old memories.


One of these great pieces of history is the HMS Victory. She is the oldest commissioned English warship still in service. The Victory dates back to July of 1759 when her keel was laid.


She was launched in May of 1765 but was not commissioned and set to sea until 1778. These thirteen years made her wood well seasoned and is considered to be the reason she has lived so long.


Through her 110 years of active service she became a favourite of admirals and was generally used as their flagship. Through her years she has seen nearly 100 admirals walk her weathered deck boards.


Throughout her lavish career the HMS Victory served through the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic wars. In the latter she served as Lord Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.


The HMS Victory is a first rate 100-gun ship designed by the Surveyor of the Navy, Sir Thomas Slade. She was built at Chatham Dockyard in July of 1759 under Master Shipwright John Lock and was completed by Edward Allen in May of 1765.


Here are some basic facts about this historic beauty:


She sizes in at 226’ x 51’ x 21’ (feet). She was made out of a forest of trees (approximately 6000) and is mostly constructed with oak. She can spread up to 37 sails and keeps 23 spare sails on board. She was also one of the fastest ships of her era.


At the time of one of her most memorable battles – the battle of Trafalgar – she had a crew of over 800 men, which comprised of more than 20 nationalities.

The current figurehead that adorns the front of the HMS Victory is a replica of the one that was placed on the ship during the repairs between 1801 and 1803. The design is of two cupids supporting the royal coat of arms and the royal crown.   It bears the Latin inscription of the Order of the Garter: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense, meaning: Shame to him who evil thinks.   At the battle of Trafalgar the two cupids were damaged – the starboard figure had its leg shot away, and the port figure lost its arm.

The Victory carries 6 extra boats. In the times of the sailing ship – these boats were used for many purposes including anchoring and mooring the ship, exchanging communications, sounding shallow water channels and they were even used as ‘tugs’ for towing when there was no wind available for propulsion. During war they were also used bring soldiers to enemy shores or to move between ships when one was defeated in battle. These boats were not used as life rafts as it just took too much time to lower them to the sea.

Its armoury of canon’s consists of the following (equipped after the great repairs in 1801-3): The lower deck had 30 – 32 pounder’s – long range (canon’s), middle gun deck had 28 – 24 pounder’s (long range), upper gun deck had 30 – 12 pounder’s (long range), quarter deck – 12 – 12’s – short range canons and the forecastle has 2 – 12 pounder’s (medium range). Nine of the Napoleonic canon’s still remain on the ship today- though none of them are likely to have been used at Trafalgar as the ship was repaired in 1806.

To those today that do not understand masts and riggings – the maze of ropes that hold the sails has no visible rhyme or reason to it, but of course everything has its purpose and place. The Victory has three masts – the bowsprit, the foremast and the mizzen. Over 40 km of rope was used for the rigging of this vessel – which is composed of standing rigging that supports the masts, and running rigging, which move the sails. Finally over 58,000 meters of canvas was used to make one set of sails for the Victory.

The Battle of Trafalgar was one of the HMS Victory’s most historically memorable battles where she was lead into the fight by Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson – her most historically famous leader. It was at this battle that Lord Nelson lost his life. HMS Victory bears a plaque in his honour.

Her war career ended on November 7 1812 and she was moored in Portsmouth Harbour off Gosport. By 1921 the ship was in such poor shape that the Society for Nautical Research agreed that HMS VICTORY should be saved. The HMS Victory is a lasting reminder of the great days of yesteryear and for Admiral Lord Nelson, The Battle of Trafalgar, and the Royal Navy’s dominance when war was fought on the sea. She was moved into her present dock in January 1922 where she underwent extensive repair and restoration returning her to her Trafalgar glory. She sits there today, in all her historic wonder, still working her naval duties and also attracting over 350,000 visitors each year.


To see this marvel of ancient technology is nothing short of looking through time into our past. When one has the honour of walking her weathered planks they should do no less than stop and feel the presence of greatness that surely must reside there.


Written by: K.E. Heaton