|1805 HMS Victory Admiral Nelsons Flagship|
The HMS Victory is the most famous 104-gun ship in Royal Navy history. She was built between 1759 and 1765. She is best known as Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. As of today, she is docked at Portsmouth and is commissioned the oldest warship in the world. She is a flagship of the Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command.
The commissioner of Chatham Dockyard was told to prepare a dry-dock for the building of a new 106-gun first rate ship in December 1758. This was strange because the Royal Navy were known to like smaller and more maneuverable ships. The outlines for the new ships were based on the HMS Royal George that had been launched in 1756 at the Woolwich Dockyard. The architect to design the ship that Sir Thomas Slade who was the appointed Surveyor of the Navy. The keel was laid down on July 23, 1759 and she was finally named in October 1760. It was named after the Annus Mirabilis or Year of Victories of 1759. That was the year of the Seven Years’ War and land victories were won at Quebec, Minden and naval battles were won at Lagos and Quiberon Bay. The ship was then left to be seasoned until May 7, 1765, the day when she was launched.
In 1759 she was the most powerful type of ship of her day. She had three gun decks and each one mounting 100 guns. The Royal Navy always built very large ships in order to fight major fleet battles. Unlike the Spanish and French navies, who did not build First Rate ships until the end of the American War of Independence of 1783. The Victory was launched in 1765 but she was not commissioned until 1778. This long waiting period was a weathering period for her timbres and that made them well seasoned and that was one reason why she lived such a long life.
The Victory’s first captain was John Lindsay who was appointed in March 1778. However, he was transferred when Admiral Honorable Augustus Keppel decided that he wanted to raise his flag on the Victory. She was commissioned in May 1778 under the command of Rear Admiral John Campbell as 1st Captain and Jonathan Faulknor as 2nd Captain with the flag of Admiral Keppel. She had armor of smooth bore, cast iron cannon, and 42 pounders, 24 pounders, and 40 pounders. She later also had two carronade guns and fired 68lb round shots.
She was in service for almost forty years and was known for her superb qualities and she served as the flagship to many known Admirals that included Kempenfelt, Howe, Hood, Jervis and Saumarez. She fought the battle at Ushant in 1781 and St. Vincent in 1797. However, in 1797 she was said to no longer be fit for service and she was ordered to become a hospital ship. However, the First Rate ship HMs Impregnable was lost in 1700, the decision was reserved because the Royal Navy needed a good First Rate ship and a great refitting took place at Chatham between 1800 and 1803.
The First Battle of Ushant was when she went out to sea on July 9, 1778 and had a force of thirty ships of the line and on July 23, she saw a French fleet of twenty nine ships 100 miles West of Ushant. The French Admiral was supposed to avoid battle, but he was attacked and did not have a choice. Two of his ships fled and so he battled with the British with twenty seven boats. The French managed to pass the British and then the Victory opened fire on the Breatagne of 110 guns. The British escaped with little loss except for the rear division of Sir Hugh Palliser. Keppel told him to send his ships to follow the French but he refused and the battle was over. In 1780, the Victory received 3,923 sheets of copper on her hull to protect the hull below the waterline.
The Second Battle of Ushant was on December 2, 1781 and the Victory was led by Captain Henry Cromwell and held the flag of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt. She sailed with eleven other ships, a 50-gun fourth rate, and five frigates in order to intercept a French convoy that was sailing from Brest on December 10. The British did not know that the Brest was protected by twenty other ships and so Kompenfelt ordered a chase when he saw the convoy. The French lost fifteen sails and were forced to return home.
The Battle of Cape St. Vincent was in 1797. Captain Robert Calder and Captain George Grey were commanding the Victory under the flag of Admiral Sir John Jervis. The fleet consisted of fifteen sail and six frigates. He then heard that a Spanish fleet was close. Jervis maneuvered to intercept and the battle of Cape St. Vincent occurred. The Spanish fleet tried to break though the British line but the Victory poured so much fire into her that the whole Spanish fleet turned around and bore up. Horati Nelson was a decisive figure in this battle.
The Victory’s most famous Admiral was Horatio Nelson who commanded her between May 1803 and October 1805. He was Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. He blockaded that French fleet for eighteen months. In March 1805, the French fleet slipped out of harbor and Nelson chased it all the way to the West Indies and back and never met it for battle. The French were battle in Cadiz in Spain and then when they set sail to the Mediterranean on October 19th, Nelson was waiting for them. On October 21, 1805, the Victory went into battle off Cape Trafalgar against the Franco-Spanish force. At 1148 the most famous signal in the history of the Royal Navy, 'England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty' flew from her masthead.’
Nelson was eventually shot by a marksman from France at the height of this battle and Nelson died at 1630 navy time when the victory as defined. The Victory lost 57 men and 102 were wounded. Nelson was take to Greenwich and buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in January 6, 1806. After she served some more in the Baltic and off the coast of Spain, the Victory was placed into reserve in 1812 in Portsmouth. From 1824 she became the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief in 1889. On January 12, 1922, she entered the dock in Portsmouth where she still stands today. There is a story that states that when Thomas Hardy was the First Sea Lord, he told his wife that he had just signed an order for the Victory to be broken apart for scrap metal. His wife began to cry and made him go back and rescind the order. Though this may not have happened, there is in fact a page missing from the duty log containing orders for that day.
In 1889, the Victory was also fitted as a Naval School of Telegraphy. Soon, she became a proper Signal School and signal ratings from ships paying off were sent to the Victory and not the barracks. The School remained on the Victory until 1904, when training was moved temporarily to the HMS Hercules and in 1906 the school was moved permanently to a place at the Royal Navy Barracks.
The Victory had a campaign to restore her because she had been decaying while being docked. This was in 1921 and was led by the Society of Nautical Research and called the Save the Victory Fund. The outcome was that the British Government agreed to restore and preserve her to commemorate history and Nelson. In 1941 she was bombed by the Luftwaffe and received damage to the hull. The HMS Victory is still in commission as the flagship of the admiral for the time being acting as Second Sea Lord in his role as Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy’s Home Command. She attracts about 350,000 visitors per year because she is a museum ship now. The current commanding officer is Lt. Cdr. John Scivier and the most senior Trafalgar descendant alive and HON Commanding officer is James Hardy.