Reply To: HMS Victory – figureheads

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The following is posted to the Forum on behalf of David Pulvertaft, who usefully extends our knowledge about this topic.


Much has been written over the years on the various figureheads of the 1765 HMS Victory and, having myself made a study of British Warship Figureheads over the last fifteen or so years, my file on that particular ship quite a fat one!
I would question whether Victory had carried four different figureheads when the cigarette card to which Malcolm Lewis refers was printed, as this was in 1912 (John Player & Sons, No 17 of 25.) My understanding of her figureheads is:
1. 1765: Her original figurehead, carved by Richard Crichley and William Savage. This was a complicated carving including a bust of George III, supported by Britannia and Victory with figures of Peace and Fame and others representing the continents. The carvers’ model is in the National Maritime Museum and a half-size model is at the entrance to the Victory Gallery at the Royal Naval Museum. A detailed specification was printed in Appendix II to HMS Victory – Building, Restoration and Repair by Arthur Bugler, HMSO 1966 [and a photograph of the half-size model was printed on the dust-jacket of the 2005 Anniversary issue of Mariner’s Mirror, May 2005. Ed.]
2. 1802: Chatham Yard submitted three alternative designs for a replacement by George Williams, No 2 being approved for a fee of £50 (National Archives ADM 106/1819 & 1820). Unfortunately the design drawings have not survived and it is this figurehead that has been the subject of so much discussion, it having seen the action at Trafalgar in 1805 (see below).
3. 1815: Portsmouth Yard submitted a design by Edward Hellyer & Son for another replacement with an estimate for £65 (National Archives ADM 106/1888).
4. 1980s: The present figurehead was carved in the Portsmouth Dockyard workshops as part of the ship’s restoration.
The debate on the 1802 figurehead centres on whether the supporters beside the royal arms were two cupids or a sailor and a Royal Marine. Key elements of the discussion can be found in:
The Mariner’s Mirror Vol X (1924). This contains LG Carr Laughton’s report to the Victory Technical Committee on a search amongst the Admiralty Records. The conclusion of this long and detailed report is that “the preponderance of evidence is in favour of the cupids having been given to the ship in 1803”.
The Mariner’s Mirror Vol 55 (1969). Captain AJ Pack, director of the Museum, provides further evidence from papers that had been lent to him and he supports Carr Laughton’s conclusion.

Where the John Player & Sons’ artist for the cigarette card obtained his information remains a mystery, particularly as almost all the other cards in the series depict figureheads that in 1912 were still available to be used as artist’s models. Any new information on this would be welcome.

David Pulvertaft