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HISTORY OF THE HMS VICTORY OF 1765
On December 13th, 1758, the Board of the Admiralty ordered the construction
of a new 100 gun first rate ship of the line. It was the largest Royal Naval
vessel ever commissioned and the edict came less than three months after
Horatio Nelson was born.
Her designer was Thomas Slade, Surveyor of the Navy. The keel was laid on
July 23rd 1759 at Chatham Dockyard's No 2 Dockyard, supervised by Master
Shipwright, Edward Allen.
She was christened Victory. Some sailors considered the name unlucky as
previous vessel bearing this name sank off the Scilly Isles in 1744 with
loss of all hands.
The name, however, captured the spirit of the age. Britain had scored
several notable successes over the French and Spanish during the Seven Years
War. The figurehead included the words "annus mirabilis".
Victory and her 11 sister ships were essential to Britain's continued
superiority on the seas during the Napoleonic Wars. She was a floating gun
platform with a crew of more than 800 officers and men, and 104 guns to
broadsides from her three decks.
She cost £63,176 - around £50m at modern prices. More than 2000
oak trees -
60 acres of forest - were needed for her hull. She took six years to build
which had its compensations as the timbers became very well seasoned,
helping her stay seaworthy for longer.
She was launched on May 7th 1765 but placed in reserve for 13 years. She
first saw action in the American War of Independence.
To prepare her for battle was a massive task involving the installation
her three masts, her 27 miles of rigging, four acres of canvas sails, and
finally the guns. She was very manoeuvrable for her size because of the
innovative shape of her lower hull. In certain weather she was as fast as
some of the smaller ships.
On her maiden voyage, Victory led the Grand Fleet as it engaged 32 French
ships following the France's recognition of the American colonies. It was
indifferent mission, and her masts and rigging were slightly damaged. She
went to Plymouth for repair and returned to sea three weeks later.
Short refits, each costing around £8000, were carried out in 1779 and
her bottom being coppered in the second of these. The hammocks were painted
instead of using tar, giving them some protection when stowed on the weather
decks. This was popular with the crew as tar dried slowly and contaminated
the hammocks in hot weather.
She was at sea again until November 1782, then had another refit while a
peace deal was signed between France, Spain, Holland and America. Placed
reserve until 1787, she had seen very little action over her two decades
commission and she received little attention from the dockyard.
When relations with Spain deteriorated in 1789, Victory flew the flags of
Admirals Lord Howe and Lord Hood. The completion of another first rater,
Queen Charlotte, meant she lost the flag of the main fleet's admiral.
Following another short refit, Lord Hood, Commander of the Mediterranean
Fleet, sailed her at the head of the fleet to Toulon at the start of the
Napoleonic Wars in 1793.
Carrying her sick admiral home in 1794, Victory underwent more repairs and
resumed her Mediterranean duties, the following year seeing action against
the French at Hyeres. There, her mast, yards, rigging and sails were
Admiral Sir John Jervis took command of the Mediterranean fleet in 1795.
Victory and the fleet remained at sea to blockade the French. Later, they
withdrew and headed for Gibraltar.
Victory was at Cape St Vincent, where a Captain Nelson was making his name.
At the end of 1797, the flag was taken from Victory by the Ville-De-Paris.
She became a private ship, used as a prison of war hospital ship, moored
An early demise seemed inevitable, but in 1800 the Navy decided to refit
at Chatham. This lasted three years, cost £71,000, and was almost a
reconstruction. It transformed her into a formidable, floating, fighting
fortress and she became Nelson's flagship.
Her galleries were removed, the stern enclosed and the figurehead changed
into the elegant royal coat of arms that led her at Trafalgar. A sick bay
was fitted under the forecastle for crew members suffering illness and
injuries. The magazines were lined with copper to stop rats getting in and
carrying gunpowder in their fur all over the ship.
Nelson asked for the quarter deck gratings to be decked in to improve space
for operating 12 pounder guns. She was possibly the first first-rater to
have a main armament of thirty 32 pounder flintlock guns.
Among those observing and sketching her as she left Chatham in her new black
and yellow livery was the artist John Constable.
She flew Nelson's flag for the first time when war was declared on May 18th,
1803. It was a tough 18 months which followed; comprising blockades in the
Mediterranean, the West Indies, Egypt and France.
Victory had another refit, and armed with 68 pounder carronades on her
forecastle, she left England on September 14th 1805. Trafalgar was just
a month later, during which Nelson was killed and she was seriously damaged.
After the battle, just nine feet of mizzen mast remained; the sails were
tatters and her hull peppered with shot, causing severe internal damage
the beams, knees and riders.
She was towed to Gibraltar for temporary repairs, then began her long limp
back to Portsmouth. She arrived there on December 4th with Nelson's body
Her ship's company paid off, Victory went back to Chatham on March 6th 1806
for a survey, repair and refit, all carried out in the dock where she was
first floated 41 years beforehand.
At the end of her refit, she was "demoted" to a second rater to
hull from the strain of the armaments usually carried by first raters.
A shadow of her former self, in April 1808 Victory resumed duties. For the
next four years she was flagship to Admiral Saumarez, a Channel Islander,
who sailed her to Gothenburg in Sweden. After the Baltic Campaigns, she
returned to the Iberian coast to help evacuate Sir John Moore's army from
the Peninsular War.
Victory's remarkable career ended in December 1812. She had a final refit
the Port Admiral's flagship in 1823. She stayed by the entrance to
Portsmouth Harbour for a century.
The custom of holding Trafalgar Anniversary Dinners on board her began in
1824 along with toasting The Immortal Memory, flying the signal "England
Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty" on Trafalgar Day, and laying
wreaths at the places where Nelson fell and later died.
Over the years, Victory's condition deteriorated with only minimal repairs
carried out to her. The Society for Nautical Research mounted a rescue,
achieving funds through a national appeal. She again took pride of place
Portsmouth Dockyard No 2 dock in 1922.
Refits over the years meant she looked little like the ship at Trafalgar,
a major research and restoration operation began which continues to this
On July 17th 1928, King George V declared her open to the public. Since
then, millions of visitors from across the world have seen her, making her
one of Britain's top tourist attractions.
Her passage through time has not been easy. She was damaged during the
Second World War and then attacked by death watch beetle during the 1950s.
It was even suggested she should be taken out of service in the 1970s and
given another refit.
Slowly but surely, all the pieces in the puzzle are coming together, so
by the year 2005, Victory will be ready for the Battle of Trafalgar's
Ben Garrett, Captain of the Schooner Victory, is linked to the Pilgrim's
the Mayflower by his mother, Helen Garrett.
who was a Poet
She was a member of the Mayflower Society until her death in 1995.
Did you know?
The International Space Station is 171 feet long. It will
grow to 361 feet when finished. Current crew compliment is 3
people. It circles the globe at 397 kilometers/173 miles.
What other types of craft are near the current length of the
ISS? For one there's a number of sailing ships.
Bluenose II: 161' sparred length. The original Bluenose was
multiple winner for Canada in the International Fisherman's
Trophy, for working sailing vessels. The replica Bluenose II
sails with a crew of 18 and visited the Great Lakes this
Bounty- Built for use in a Mutiny on the Bounty Movie the 169
foot Bounty is a full rigged ship- that is all square sails.
Bounty is currently in Maine for under the waterline repairs.
18 crew are needed to sail the Bounty.
Picton Castle- Converted from a fishing vessel the ship is 176
feet. Currently on a 19 month around the world voyage. The
successful voyage currently has her in the New Hebrides
Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Picton Castle sails with up
to 50 split between permanent crew and paying trainees.
Pride of Baltimore II- The Pride of Baltimore is a replica
built on the lines of an 1812 Baltimore Clipper. At 170 feet
she can be sailed by a crew of 12. The original Baltimore
Clippers were built to out sail stodgier British navel
So craft of this size have gone to space, been international
race winners, starred in movies, been fishing vessels and
taken part in sea borne combat.
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