7 May 1765, HMS “Victory” was launched at Chatham Dockyard on the River Medway
"Westminster Abbey, or victory!" (Horatio Nelson)
|HMS "Victory" during her finest hour at the Battle of Trafalgar|
A new age of naval warfare had begun in the second decade of the 16th, when Henry VIII launched the first purpose-built warships since antiquity, the great carracks “Mary Rose” and “Henry Grace a Dieu“. The revolutionary invention that made the construction of an 800 ton vessel carrying up to 90 guns in three decks possible was the gun port, basically a hole to push a cannon barrel through. The key feature of these holes was that they could be made watertight and this simple enough idea allowed shipbuilders to cut these holes close to the waterline. Down there below, even heavy artillery pieces could be placed, balanced on both sides of the ship, without risking the overall stability of the construction. It was the birth of the famous broadside and consequently, naval tactics changed from all-out-melees with the intention of boarding and capturing enemy vessels to ships sailing in straight lines into battle and exchanging artillery broadsides. A hundred years after the launch of “Mary Rose”, a new name for these battleships began to assert itself. They became known as sail or ships-of-the-line and since a battle line could only be as fast as its slowest member, the focus in ship design was put on their sturdiness, often by using 3’ oaken timbers for their hulls, rather than speed or elegance, as well as the power of the guns they carried. By 1750, the backbone of European navies was the “Seventy Four”, a warship armed nominally with 74 guns placed in two decks, half the number of ordnance Wellington had at his disposal at Waterloo in one vessel alone, one of the about 300 in service of the European naval powers at the time. Called a “third rate” by the Royal Navy, with the huge three-deckers being first and second rates and small two-deckers armed with 50 guns or large single-deck frigates rated as “fourth”, a “Seventy Four” ship-of-the-line could fire a single broadside weighing 500 pounds, measured 180 feet in length and had a beam of 50 feet, displaced roughly 3,000 tons and was crewed by 700 men and usually a few women, along with marines and officers. First rate ships-of-the-line were rare and neither the Spanish, French nor the British Royal Navy had more than 20 in service at any time, simply because their construction and maintenance costs outweighed their usefulness compared with a “Seventy-Four” by far and it’s not without irony than one of them is the last survivor of the hundreds that once ruled the waves during the Age of Fighting Sail, admittedly the flagship of the winning side of the most decisive and consequential battle of the era, Lord Nelson’s “Victory”.
Two eras meet: HMS “Victory” and HMS “Dreadnought”. Both were the peaks of warship design of their day, here in a painting by Henry J Morgan in 1907.
“Victory’s” fate was sealed by a hairsbreadth by Sir Thomas Hardy in 1831, of all the people, then First Sea Lord, back in 1805 at Trafalgar her captain, the man in whose arms Nelson famously died in the orlop of the old lady after the battle. Sir Thomas came home after he signed the orders for breaking up the ship, his wife Louisa broke out in tears when she heard the news, didn’t even say “Kiss me, Hardy” but sent him straight back to office to rescind the order. He did. “Victory” had already returned in 1812 from her last voyage and lead a miserable existence as depot ship in Portsmouth and finally survived the 19th century as a floating Naval School for Telegraphy. The centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905 revived interest in her existence, she had already been badly damaged by an ironclad carried off course and was rotting at her moorings anyway. Her condition was described as being "..nothing short of an insult" in 1911 but it was not before 1922 that repairs and restoration began in earnest, a process that had not really ceased since then to this day. Restoring her to the condition she was in before the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was completed at the battle’s bicentennial , though, and since 2012, HMS “Victory” serves as flagship of the First Sea Lord, making her the world oldest still commissioned ship and the Royal Navy’s personnel not on active assignment is listed as part of her crew, the “Westminster Abbey of the Royal Navy“.
And more about HMS “Victory” on:
and on her official website: