Reply To: HMS Victory 1778 Bucket?

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Malcolm Lewis

    An afterthought re the carving of 1778 on this bucket. I see that the bucket pictured on page 88 of Peter Goodwin’s HMS Victory Owners’ Workshop Manual is referred to as a wooden “swab bucket”, not leather.
    The keel of the fifth ship-of-the-line to be named Victory was laid down with eleven others with some urgency by Wm Pitt’s the Elder’s government in 1759 because of the increased invasion threat by France’s Republican government. She was eventually” floated off” the keel blocks at Chatham in 1765 by which time the French threat had reduced. After initial sea trials Sir Thomas Slade’s (1703/4-1771) splendid new ship went into the “ordinary” (reserve) for ten years at Blackstakes near to the mouth of the River Medway. First Rates with a complement of some 850 men were expensive to keep in service.
    In May 1778 Victory sailed on her first commission wearing Admiral Augustus Keppel’s flag with a fleet of thirty ships-of-the line and four frigates to engage a French force of thirty two ships-of-the-line, seven frigates and five corvettes 100 miles off the Isle of Ushant on the North West corner of France. Shots were fired and damage done to both sides but in difficult weather conditions it was generally considered an indecisive result.
    The engagement received little public applause in either France or England at the time although it led later to the Court Marshall. of Keppel. It is interesting therefore that the fire bucket in question noted Victory’s involvement in the Battle of Ushant in 1778. Perhaps it was carved by a sailor aboard Victory who took part.