Reply To: Admiral Sir John Balchen (1670-1744) and HMS Victory 1744

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1500 – 1830 Admiral Sir John Balchen (1670-1744) and HMS Victory 1744 Reply To: Admiral Sir John Balchen (1670-1744) and HMS Victory 1744

Frank Scott

    If a ship is ‘lost with all hands’ the circumstances of that loss can only be a matter of conjecture. When it was believed that Balchen’s Victory had run up on the Casquets, it was not unreasonable to ascribe that to her relatively poor windward performance. Although her later namesake, Nelson’s Victory, sailed very well, three-deckers were optimised for firepower, and tended to be much less handy than the two-deckers that formed the bulk of any battlefleet of the period. Now that we know that she was not driven onto that notorious reef, the assumption must be that she was overwhelmed in some way by the storm. Exactly how that took place is anyone’s guess.

    There is a very good contemporary model of Balchen’s Victory. However, I have not seen any formal analysis of her design and potential performance (particularly stability) done by a naval architect. Comments such as ‘she was top heavy’ have no weight unless backed up with figures. By the way, although the concept of the metacentre was established in the 18th century, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that the inclining test was developed, and the actual range of stability (as opposed to potentially misleading initial stiffness) could be established.

    The loss of Balchen’s Victory is covered by David J. Hepper, British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail 1650-1859 (Rotherfield, 1994), albeit with the erroneous location that was accepted until the wreck was found.

    For a short discussion of the problems of sailing ship stability see Frank Scott, A Square Rig Handbook (2nd edn) (Nautical Institute, London, 2001), 97-110.