HMS Victory 96 Gun ship at Trafalgar?

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    Gary Morgan

    I have been constantly perplexed by the differing accounts of the caliber and number of ordnance pieces carried by the Victory at Trafalgar, it seems almost that no 2 authorities agree. This wavering continues through to her Second Rate refit completing in spring 1808.

    So, during a visit to Kew Gardens I also visited the National Archives to review the records they hold, thinking I’d go straight to the source material. What I discovered agreed with nothing that I have witnessed to date.

    The ‘Returns of ordnance on H.M. Ships’ ADM 160/154 record that at 28 April 1803 Victory was issued with 30 x 32 Pounders of 9 feet 6 inches, 28 x 24 Pounders of 9 feet 6 inches, 32 x 12 Pounders of 9 feet, 10 x 12 Pounders of 7 feet 6 inches, and a 24 Pounder carronades for the Launch.

    Omitting the Launch gun, that is 100 guns. The next entry for Victory relates to 1808 which I won’t detail here as it adds nothing to the discussion.

    The ships Logs then record that on Friday 17 August 1804 Victory (ADM 51/1482) was “Getting stores from the Kent, rec’d from the Kent two 68 Pounder carronades, and two long 24 Pounders, and returned six 12 pdrs”. A second copy of the log corroborates this statement.

    So now we have something like 30 x 32 Pounders of 9 feet 6 inches, 30 x 24 Pounders of 9 feet 6 inches, 30 x 12 Pounders of 9 feet, 6 x 12 Pounders of 7 feet 6 inches, and 2 x 68 pounder Carronades. That is 96 guns (excluding as is usually at this date carronades)! This accords with nothing else I have accessed.

    My next port of call was to review Gunner Rivers logs at Portsmouth, however those records are not available whilst the Museum relocates its archives, and wont be available for another year or so.

    So, rather than wait a year I thought I would consult the forum to see if any of the members have had sight or copies of any primary evidence of further ordnance transfers to/from the Victory between April 1803 and October 1805.


    Frank Scott

    Peter Goodwin, for many years the Keeper & Curator for HMS Victory, informs me that the Gunner’s Monthly returns, held by NMRN, Portsmouth, are the best source as they represent an inventory of what was on board. It is this source that he used to come to the total of 105 Guns at Trafalgar:
    Lower Deck: 30 x 32 pdr
    Middle deck: 28 x 24 pdr
    Upper deck: 30 x 12 pdr (long)
    Quarterdeck: 12 x 12 pdr (short)
    Forecastle: 2 x 68 pdr (carronade) & 2 x 12 pdr (medium)

    Additionally there was an 18 pdr (carronade) for the launch, but no ammunition recorded as expended in the battle, so this does not appear to have been used.

    Peter Goodwin, Nelson’s Victory: 101 Questions & Answers about HMS Victory (Conway press, 2000) – paperback version, Countdown to Victory, includes a lot of esoteric Q & A about Victory’s armament.

    Gary Morgan

    In part it is some of Peter’s works that peaked my interest, in his ‘Nelson’s Ships’ he cites on page 249 that following the 1803 refit Victory was armed thus:

    30 x 32 Pounders
    28 x 24 Pounders
    30 x Long 12 Pounders
    12 x Short 12 Pounders
    2 x Medium 12 Pounders
    2 x 24 Pounder carronades

    In both his Pocket Manual and 101 Questions and Answers the only difference quoted is that by Trafalgar the carronades are now 68 Pounders. He attributes the source for the above list as being ADM 160/154, however this does not tally as the ADM 160/154 entry in respect of Victory on 28 April 1803 (when recommissioned after the refit) is as originally listed above.

    On the face of it between April 1803 and October 1805 Victory in terms of long guns lost 2 long 12 pounders, gained 2 short and 2 medium 12 Pounders. The carronades are easier as documented above, but then the coincidental addition of 2 24 Pounders and loss of 6 12 Pounders exacerbates the change or amount of flux of ordnance all the more, yet I find no further mention in the ships logs. Given the logs extensively detail movement of stores I fail to understand how such further ordnance changes, or at least some, are not mentioned.

    Referring to the published works doesn’t clarify how and when such changes may have occurred, and due to the archive relocation at Portsmouth the Gunners Monthly returns won’t be available to view until Spring next year, hence my search for an alternative source if available, otherwise it’s a long wait to satisfy my curiosity.

    Frank Scott

    Peter says that his final check was made using Gunner’s Monthly returns, which is how he picked up on the boat carronade. Looks like you will have to wait until next spring to do your own check.

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