Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Preserved ships: HMS Victory

It has taken me a long time to write this post, and I cannot really think why. After all, HMS Victory is a must see if you are a ship buff, probably because she is such a unique ship in her own right.

I first saw her on the 18th of April 2013, although did not go on board her at the time.  Unfortunately she was sans her topmasts and a lot of her rigging, so looked kind of strange, but she is still impressive, and I added her to my bucket list for the future.


I returned to Portsmouth on the 28th of April with the intention of doing Victory and Warrior, although the time I had available was not really ideal as I wanted to squeeze in a harbour tour too. I did Warrior first and must still do a report on her. Victory was next on my list. Unfortunately the weather was kind of gray that day, so many of the exterior shots I have of her come from 18 April.


She is not a small ship, in fact she is a substantial vessel, and has so much history associated with her that she can make one feel somewhat insignificant. 

Like so many wooden ships her construction was a labour of skill, you did not assemble a ship like this from metal plates and blue prints, you literally grew the trees 100 years before you needed them and then looked at each one to see whether it was the right shape to fit a particular section that you wanted to build. The trees had to be felled and cut and shaped and transported too, and there were no heavy load vehicles to do that with.

Probably everything about this ship was handmade, mass production was not something that was done, and lean manufacturing had not been invented yet. 

Once you built her and she was afloat you needed a large crew to sail her, and they were tough, hardly men who worked these wooden walls, and they probably died young too, given the circumstances of their age. Wimps did not apply to join the Royal Navy (although some probably did get press-ganged).


But, enough waffling, lets go on board...


Mind your head is the best bit of advise to remember once on board. Either the people were shorter back then or the deckheads were lower.


Victory was a warship, and as a result the first priority is gunnery, and then maybe accommodation. Officer country was aft, and while their accommodation may have been slightly better than that of the crew, they were really limited as to what there was available. And, the higher your rank, the better your berth.



You may even had access to the Royal Naval equivalent of a porta-potty.


The ship would have had a sick bay which would probably become a hellish place in the middle of a battle, and as we know HMS Victory did go into battle at Trafalgar.


And it was on this ship that Lord Nelson was killed, the spot where he was wounded is shown by means of a brass plaque affixed to the deck.


The upper decks of the ship are equally crowded as below, this is the area above the officers accommodation, the companionway on the left leading upwards to the Poop Deck.


The small cabin on the left was used by Nelsons Secretary. A row of leather and copper firebuckets hang from a bracket. Fire was an ever present danger on a ship like this.

And while discussing the poop deck, the toilets for most of the crew were fitted each side of the short beak deck at the head of foremost of the ship, and that is probably why they are referred to as "heads".

Access to this deck was through 2 doors fitted in the bulkhead which closed off the foremost upper gundeck. At the time of Trafalgar the ship had a crew of  821 so the heads could have been quite crowded.

Waste was discharged into the sea through wooden or tarred canvas pipes. In rough weather using the heads could have been a very tricky business.



The upper decks are probably not as crowded with rigging as they usually would be due to the removal of the top masts.


There is quite a debate on the go as to the restoration of the ship, the massive weight of masts and rigging and its consequences, as well as the sheer age of the vessel are causing a rethink as to the restoration, conservation and maintenance of the vessel.

Its a mammoth task that has to be achieved, and one question that has to be asked is: how much of the original HMS Victory is left? I cannot answer that question, however, if every model of HMS Victory that was supposedly made from her rudder was put together we would probably find that the rudder was very much larger than the ship! 

The ship rests on cradles at the bottom of the dry dock and the stresses placed on the hull are enormous. Ideally though, she should be afloat, her whole hull supported by the body of water.




I have to admit that even in this slightly bedraggled state she is still a very impressive ship, especially when you take a close look at her inner construction below deck.


Like any ship every space has a use (or 3), and Victory is no different, with little cuddies all over just waiting to be found.  


The carpenter being an especially important person on board a wooden ship. He would be an extremely experienced crewman, and the constant work required to keep the ship afloat would have kept him very busy. 


Another important person on board the ship would be the cook and his assistants. And his galley would have been coal fired, and there was always the inherent danger of setting the ship alight!

The galley would have consisted of a pantry and a coal burning hearth, and that rested on a tiled deck. Food however would be dependent on the rations available, and those in turn would be limited by the fact that there was no refrigeration on board this ship (and neither would there be for a long time), and stores would often be limited by how long they remained edible, and the imagination of the cook and his assistants. The quality of naval biscuits is legendary though, and I am amazed they these were not better utilised as armour plating instead of rations. 


A fine dining area for the officers in their wardroom would have seemed quite odd if all there was to eat was hard tack.
Life on board the flagship may not have been all honey and roses, but I am sure that it was an improvement to what was available on a lot of other ships or the era.



It really depended on what you were in the organisation, and if you had enough money and connections could even aspire to being an officer. However, in the heat of battle, everybody was a target, including the admiral. These ships fought hard and died hard, and their crews were almost expendable in the greater scheme of things. It was time for me to go on my harbour cruise, to view how far the Royal Navy had come since the Victory was in service. I know I certainly would not have liked to be a "jolly jack tar" back then, but I do feel a certain pride in those men who served on ships like this, because they accomplished great things. 

Random Images.

Rudder assembly
Complete rigging of Victory
DR Walker 2013-2015. Created 07/02/2015

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