HMS Victory – An Audio Tour Part 2: The Gundecks

October 2022

This is Part 2 of a three-part special audio tour of HMS Victory, Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and a First Rate ship of the line which, by 1805, had already acquired a significant history. This, the second episode, looks at the gun decks where the sailors lived and fought Victory’s 104 guns; the first episode looked at the lowest two decks, the hold and the orlop deck; and episode three will look at everything open to the elements – the weather deck, quarter deck, poop deck and forecastle. Dr Sam Willis was taken on a tour of Victory by Tony Noon, one of HMS Victory’s tour guides, and by Rosey Thornber, Principal Heritage Advisor for HMS Victory.

  • View The Transcription

     

     

    Sam Willis 

    From the Society for Nautical Research in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariners Mirror podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. Hello everyone and welcome to the Mariners Mirror podcast and to this episode two of our three part audio tour of HMS Victory. Today we are exploring HMS Victory’s gundecks where the sailors lived and fought her 104 guns. If you have just landed on this episode, do please go back and listen to episode one where we explore the hold and orlop decks, those dark and gloomy spaces beneath the waterline that can nevertheless tell you so much about the lives that were actually lived on board. And also make sure that you stay tuned for Episode three in which we will explore all of those places exposed to the elements, the the forecastle, the weather deck, the quarter deck, the poop deck and the rigging. And a quick reminder for everyone. HMS Victory, a first rate ship of the line launched in 1765 that went on to have a major role in the wars that followed against the United States when allied with France and Spain between 1775 and 1782, then revolutionary France and subsequently Napoleonic France, becoming most famous as Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when he lost his life on HMS Victory’s decks.,  We are of course, enormously lucky that she still survives and that it is possible to say that she is now the oldest commissioned warship in the world. I should just add here, it’s also possible to say something that is often overlooked. She’s not only here for us all to see but is located in the oldest drydock still in use in the world, commissioned by King Henry the Seventh in 1495, an amazing fact for you all there. Anyway, the fact that Victory is still here today at all, is thanks to a public fund, the Save the Victory Fund, that was launched by none other than us. Yes, The Ssociety for Nautical Research, and it was launched 100 years ago, and it’s still very much active today. So that is why we can enjoy this audio tour. So join us as I’m being taken around the gun decks of Victory with one of HMS Victory’s tour guides, the excellent Tony Noon. And in tow, we also have Rosey Thornber, principal heritage advisor for HMS Victory, who kept us up to date on the phenomenal conservation project that they currently have underway. A once in a lifetime project with a host of craftsmen, conservators, engineers and shipwrights, who are working to fight the impact of moisture, fungus and pests that threaten her and to keep her safe for the next 50 years. As ever, I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed talking with them. So come aboard, watch your head and join us, a little stooped, at the top of a gangway. We’ve just walked up from the orlop deck and are now on HMS Victory’s lowest gundeck. Rows of huge guns head off towards the ship stern, hammocks are slung from the beams, and there’s a clear smell of tar in the musty air.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, here we are, we’re back on our tour of HMS Victory, and now it feels like we’re in the business part of the ship, we’re on the lower gundeck. So Tony, tell me about this.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So 30 guns on this deck.  The deck we’re actually standing on  has planks that are actually part of  the oldest surviving single deck remaining on the ship.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, what year does that go back to?

     

    Tony Noon 

    Well it predates Trafalgar, the bulk of the deck, so we’re looking probably to  the 1801 to 1803 refit for the bulk of this deck. And these planks when they were put in were  six inches thick, because the guns, and there’s eight originals on this level, these guns were coming in at about three and a half tons each in their carriages. So they got close to 100 tons of cast iron guns just on this deck.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So eight original guns but I can see one, two, three, four, five,  there’s twenty on one side?

     

    Tony Noon 

    Fifteen each side.  The original guns were taken off in 1812, when she went into reserve; we were still fighting Napoleon at the time. Guns are expensive, valuable pieces of ordnance. They will be taken off and they were used on other ships; guns do not live on ships for the lifetime of a ship. Their guns change; if you come in for refit all the guns will  be taken off, cleaned, tested, inspected, put into a stockpile at the Gun wharf.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I like that, so guns can have a career in the Navy.  They probably wouldn’t have been recorded according to the single item so we don’t know which gun was present at the most battles but I’d like to know.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, it would be nice if there was a way of tracking them properly.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So these guns are enormous. What size are they?

     

    Tony Noon 

    So these are 32 pounders, that’s the weight of the shot they fire.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right, biggest guns on the lowest deck.

     

    Sam Willis 

    For safety as well.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Biggest guns on the lowest deck. The whole ship is designed about the guns, it’s not about the height of the crew, or comfort. It’s about taking 104 guns from point A to point B and providing a stable gun platform. So the decks get lower as you go down, the hull gets thicker, and the guns get heavier just to keep that weight as low as possible.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Now we’ve got plenty of hammocks here, so let’s talk about the crew and how they they lived and slept.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So the ship’s designed for a  crew of 850; at Trafalgar slightly undermanned with 820 on board, and the bulk of the crew when they’re off duty are on the lower gun deck. So we’ve got maybe 20 or 30 hammocks here. You have 14 inches of space with each hammock, that’s your lot. I’m about 16 inches across, you’re probably about 16 inches across shoulder width as well, so it’s going to be very cosy. But these hammocks we can see are  just indicative, they would actually come the entire length of this deck. That was hammock hangings, so there’s bars set into the deck heads with holes in where you can sling your hammocks. There would be 240 forty men off duty on this deck at a time.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Sharing hammocks?

     

    Tony Noon 

    You have your own hammocks and your own bed rolls. When they’re on duty, those are rolled up and they’re put in the hammock netting around the outside of the ship at the top because obviously they take a lot of space up. But also these gun ports are only four foot six above the waterline, so more often than not these gun ports are closed. So you’ve got 240  men who’ve done their four hour shift. They’re off duty, it’s going to be very fragrant down here, fragrant again.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Absolutely, it’s interesting. So there’s no way they could have stopped water coming in through those gun ports in a sloppy sea.

     

    Tony Noon 

    No, but I mean they’ve got gun port lids which you close as tightly as possible.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I mean, assuming they’re open and they’re firing or even if they’re just open. So where does the water go if you ship water through the gun port.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So you drain down through the scuttles, through the orlop and then down into the hold and then through that shingle that we saw all the way down in the hold below. And obviously the guys on the bilge pumps, which are also on this deck which we’ll see a bit further along,  will be pumping that water back out.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes, pumps, they’re interesting things. And what are these enormous timbers, these central timbers; they’re  at right angles to each other. And we’restill up by the bows on this lower gun deck, what are we looking at here?

     

    Tony Noon 

    So these are bitts, riding bitts There you’ve got these bitts throughout the ship and they’re all for different size and different weights of rope and the strain they can take. So these riding bitts to tie the anchors off as you’re bringing up the anchor cables and the anchor,. you can tie them off to stop them slipping back out. You can see we’ve got quite a bit of wear on these riding bitts, they are some of the older parts of the ship again and as we said, with a four and a half pound anchor and five tons of anchor cable you’ve got a large amount of weight and strain at these leads to be able to brace against the

     

    Sam Willis 

    handbrake. Let’s call it that, the ship’s handbrake. Right let’s  move up or move aft, moving backwards, and still on this lower gun deck.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, as we walk down the centerline on our right you can see the thick anchor cable as it comes in through the hawesholes at the front hawser. And alongside we have a smaller cable which is the messenger cable. The anchor cable is too thick to go around the capstan so we use a messenger cable which runs effectively in an infinite loop around the inside of the ship on the lower gun deck. And although it’s on the floor, now, you can see we’ve got some rollers here around the pump, the bilge pumps in the middle of the ship here: this messenger cable would actually be slung off the floor, it’d be on the rollers coming about waist height, down the length of the ship, because if you’re trying to drag it on the floor that’s a huge amount of friction that you’re adding to it. So it actually would be running at waist height, but we can’t have it strung like that these days.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So now we’re at  a very important part of any British warship. What are we looking at here?

     

    Tony Noon 

    So these are chain pumps.  We have four black, or dark wood, humped mechanisms, with bars running between them, linking them together and coming at the aft end, and we don’t have them all at the moment. But coming at the fore end, you have crank handles as well. So you’d have round about 8 to 10  men per bar. So up to 32men on  these bars and on the right hand side of the four of the cranks, and these men will be turning them; think of  Trumpton,  Windy Miller or whatever, really cranking things up in Trumpton. So the men will be cranking the bars; four chain pumps are turned by these bars. Each one has a chain that goes all the way down to the bilges two decks below  at the bottom of the hold and then back up. Every so often on these chains, we have two metal discs with a rubber disc in between. So as the chain turns, the downpipe is square, so there’s no friction, so  the chain, and the round plates go down, and the up pipe is round, and it fits exactly that rubber tube. So as you’re turning it the rubber grips along the side of the tube and sucks the water up out of the bilges.  And then we have a hole on each side of the bilge pumps here. And that’s pointing at the side of the ship. But obviously that’s no good. So under each side of the ship, you will see it just under the table on this side, you’d run a leather hose or a wooden trestle table to the side there, and that spits the dirty bilge water back out through the side of the ship,

     

    Sam Willis 

    And how efficient were these, how much water could come out?

     

    Tony Noon 

    Something like 1300 gallons a minute for an operation.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s amazing.  And it was a significant advantage of the British ships over French over Spanish, Danish, Russian, whatever it might be.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, I can’t remember the exact date that bilge pumps come in. Now everyone’s got differing varieties and types of pumps. But that’s a huge amount of water though after Trafalgar with the damage we’ve taken these are being pumped continuously for the first 48 hours where the carpenter and his guys are trying to get in control of the damage and the water coming into the ship. Plus there’s a large storm as well.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes, well, a fascinating piece of engineering there. And a little further down from the bilge pumps, we have that capstan, another crucial piece of equipment. Tell me about this, Tony.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So the capstans are actually on two levels, the the aft capstan  is used just for the anchors. It’s a round, almost it was like a cotton giant cotton reel, on this deck and the same on deck above and they’re linked through the two decks. So when you turn the bottom part, the top part turns at the same time as well. And you have the capstan bars, there’s one here just above our heads, it’s 14 foot long. There’s 14 bars on this level, 12 bars on the level above. So it’s 26 bars, double windmill of people  and it’s 10 men per bar. So it’s 260 men just on this aft capstan and when we look at the 14 foot if you have a bar in place on this deck, the end of the bar comes to pretty much the the top of the gun on the hull so there’s not a lot of space. So on the deck above, you actually have to turn the guns sideways to have enough space to turn the capstan on the deck above. I mean that’s each gun on that deck had  just over two tons a  gun, and then you put it  all back

     

    Sam Willis 

    And you’ve very obviously got pillars supporting the deck which get in the way.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, so white stanchions, and you’ll see them all through the ship, any stanchion like that you see through the ship, they can be removed, they give the ship rigidity for when she’s sailing and when she’s fighting, but when you need space to work such as turning the capstan you’re going to take a Beam Jack, you’re going to put some pressure on the Beam. And you can actually slide and use a mallet to  knock the stanchions out the stairs and the ladders you can see that are in within this 14 foot circuit turning circle. They can be lifted out and you put gratings over the companionway to give you the clear deck space you need to have your 140 men down here turning it and then when you finished you turn the guns back into position. But let’s take the gratings away, put the ladders back put the beams back in and carry on with what you need to do next

     

    Sam Willis 

    Fascinating stuff; make you realise how these these huge ships seem very solid and permanent but actually you can kind of pull them apart and you know a lot of the structure is temporary,. it’s all movable, which is what you needed. Brilliant stuff. Let’s head up to another gun deck, the second of three. So going up the companionway stairs here we’re still at the aft end of the ship.

     

    Tony Noon 

    We’re a little bit cheeky here because this section is actually part of the Royal Navy’s crew section here. The wardrobe for them here because she’s still a serving ship. She’s still a flagship for the first Sea Lord, ceremonial in name. She still has a navy crew on board. So the wardroom is here we can’t actually get into. This is where the Navy have their crew, she has a crew on 24 hours a day. So we’re going to carry on forward past this section.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Walking up here very good to see members of the public enjoying this ship, still very busy, which is nice to see. So we’re on  the middle gun deck.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Mddle gun deck. On this deck we have the 24 pounders, and as I said, these are about 2.2 tons per gun, only 28 of them on this deck. We’ve also got running down the centerline of the ship the trundle heads, the top of each capstan, so the aft capstan we were just looking at is used just for the anchors. The capstan in the middle which is the oldest surviving Georgian capstain on the ship, she’s the gia capstan which is a corruption of the word gear. So every other task that needs extra manpower to do, whether it’s lowering boats, bringing supplies on and off, etc, this can be rigged up to actually give you that manpower to work through, and then also the foreign end here. We also have probably the most important thing of a ship for 820 men away at sea for six months or more at a time. I mean, Victory was away from England for two and a half years. prior to Trafalgar although  she came back briefly in September: none of the crew left that ship really, they were pretty much on the ship constantly for two and a half years. So here we have what’s called the Brodie stove. So in the galley, the cooking area, all the cooking for men is down here. There are no other cooking areas, all the crew’s  food is cooked here.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So let’s describe it, I mean, it looks on the left hand side there’s a wooden structure which almost looks like a little butcher’s shop or a kind of grocery shop in a village.  There’s some small glass windows and a nice timber door the top of which opens as if you could lean in and order yourself a cookie. And next to it is an immense iron evil looking thing; It looks like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, there are kind of pipes and funnels and hot bits. Yes, so this is the stove. And this is very different from say the stove that you might find on the Mary Rose, something hundreds years before, this is extremely sophisticated.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, so that’s by a Scotsman, Brodie obviously, which is where it gets the name Brodie stove from.  We’ve actually got lots of different options of cooking compartments on here, the two main bits, we look at the back end of the stove underneath and put coal into it. And above those are two giant boilers. So that’s  the way the men will cook their stews, and we actually have Boil in the bag.  Boil in the bag is not a new thing from the 70s,  Boil in the bag exists long before. So each mess table that you see between the guns have up to 8 men per mess table. One man is responsible for the cooking of the midday meal. For the mess table, he would go down, he would get the lump of salted beef or salted pork, you put it into your bag that’s got your mess number on it, you boil it off for an hour and a half or more to get it softened up, cook it and to get some of the salt out of it. After that time, add some dried peas to it, boil it for a little bit longer in these giant boilers, and then they’ll be slopped out onto the men’s plates. So Boil in the bag from these two boilers. But  also your morning meal would be your burgers, so it’s like a porridge and your evening meal’s a cold meal. But all of the cooking is done here. There was only one thing on the entire ship that is not done by hand. So the forward part of the stove, there’s a flu, a giant flu, probably about a foot across that goes up through the ship to put the gases and the smoke out through up into the forecastle area. In the flu there is a fan that’s turned by the heat. And on the other side, you can see a chain mechanism, the fan actually turns to achieve, which then turns a wheel with a chain on the end of it, which comes down and it turns a spit here, so the only thing not done by hand is the cooking on that spit.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That smelled very good, though when you got some chickens going, or cows

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, or cows or goats,I think, something like that. I believe in 1804 the Mediterranean Fleet got through just over 3600 Goats.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Wow.goat roti, yummy, Fascinating stuff, so difficult being able to feed so many people and keep them happy for so long.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes,, but the  Navy  didn’t really change the menu for about 110 years, a few tweaks to it like the addition of rum. Addition of lime juice or lemon juice to the rum in 1800. But that 110 year menu, it’s the same food every Monday, the same food every Tuesday. So the guys who have been at sea for a long time, and the oldest on board Victory was 69, you might not want to get to Tuesday and think I don’t want my butter ration this week and we’re the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. You have a butter ration twice a week. We have no refrigeration onboard, I’m not quite sure butter is the thing you want.

     

    Sam Willis 

    You’re right, it’s liquid, but I can drink it. Well  brilliant, let’s go up to the upper gun deck and see what we can find out there. So walking back to the centre of the ship up through another companionway ladder, more members of the public enjoying themselves here. Nice to see. Rainy September day, nice place to seek shelter.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So right to the forward part of the ship here on the upper gun deck we have the sick bay. And we mentioned earlier about in battle this will be moved below because you can actually see the guns between the hammocks of the sickbay so it’s all about the guns. So in battle all these hammocks will be taken down and the sick men will be moved down to the orlop deck.. We’ve got a small dispensary here as well, but by having it in  the forewrd part of the ship it’s airy and light. So it helps prevent infection spreading.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Very noticeably airier and lighter.

     

    Tony Noon 

    They have their own internal toilet. On the right hand side, the Roundhouse here, is a little toilet up there. And again, nobody else could use that apart from the men in the infirmary to help prevent the spread of infection.

     

    Tony Noon 

    And where did everyone else go to the loo.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So we’re now looking at a  perspex door here to protect it, this would have been open, but we’re looking at  the beak head, the ornate fancy bit at the front of the ship that swoops upwards to  the bowsprit. And you can see we’ve got some black benches on there, probably about three foot across, there’s two holes in each, so the sailors would sit back to back, and that just drops straight down to the sea. So you do your business and then  hanging down from there is a rope with a piece of old cloth on it, you pull that rope up, that’s what you wipe with on the cloth on the end, you drop it back down to the sea  to wash off for the next man to use. But that is a tow rag. So if your parents have ever called you a tow rag when you were growing up, you’re a piece of recyclable toilet paper.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now we’re in the sickbay here and these  hammocks look very different.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, so these are far wider, you have more space on them, you have the spaces on the hammocks as well to keep them reinforced and keep them flat effectively. So the sailors’ hammocks that we saw earlier, they sort of curve up around you, whereas these are flat rectangular ones, rather than the sort of sausage shaped ones.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes, so I suppose less chance of wounds being squashed.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, it’s far more stable for the men to be stable and healthy. And again, we’ve got partitions here partitioning the sickbay off from the rest of the deck. And these partitions, you can see we’ve got bolts on them. So again, just before battle, when you beat into quarters, all these will be stripped out so it becomes completely cleaned on deck and the same with all of the cabins. You see anything that’s above the waterline, every cabin sidewall can be removed.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now, what are we looking at here, these tools look nasty.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So punishment, 821 men on board up to two and a half years. Punishment and discipline is an incredibly important part of the ship’s life. There were always horror stories about punishment, and everyone said how bad it was and how bad it would have been. But there is a rulebook that the captains and the officers are supposed to stick to, for the number of lashes for example. You have a cat of nine tails, which is a whip with nine strands on which has got knots through it as well. So it should be a dictated or set level of punishment. The horror stories come because the further away you get from England, you have some captains who are more authoritarian with a religious vein as well that might take it and they would actually increase the amounts of punishments as they saw fit rather than what they should have stuck to  with the rule book. You know,32 lashes for drunkenness; 8 pints of beer a day and  your ration of rum a day. But yes, it’s  harsh, but the men would have been used to that as well. And it’s no different really than what should have been issued on land. So we have the cat of nine tails. That’s your standard punishment that will be taken up on the deck above because there’s not enough room down here to swing a cat, which is where the expression comes from. So then men have been lashed to a grating on the upper deck; on a ship this size, you’d more often than not do the punishment once a week because you want to gather the crew around because you’re setting an example to the crew as well. On the smaller ships, it may be done there and then, but it tends to be once a week. But say you’re having a lash the only person who can really stop the punishment is the ship’s doctor. So he might be looking at it and go oh, Tony’s had 18of his 32 lashes, but his back is down to the bone so we’re going to stop it. That will bring me down to the sickbay here, the  surgeon will clean it off with spirit of turpentine, vinegar, all the really nice stuff to clean it. So you’re up, they give you a little pot of salt to take away to rub salt into your wounds. And then a couple of weeks later, as they’re going back through the punishment log there, Oh, Tony only had 18 of his 32 lashes, the surgeon would inspect me and say yes, he’s good to go and they would stick me back up to finish it off. So just because you pass out or it’s too deep, the cuts have gone too deep, you will not escape your entire total amount of punishment. And we also have billboes here so there’s iron bars on the floor with shackles in for your ankles. So for the lighter punishments, you’d be shackled into the billboes here and you’ll be given menial tasks to do such as mending sails, repairing ropes or taking rope apart for the seisal  inside it. And occasionally you might also be down here making your own cat of nine tails for your own punishment as well.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s cruel, that’s really cruel.

     

    Tony Noon 

    But it will be tested and checked by the boatswain  before actually being used to make sure you had tied it properly and put the knots in at the right size.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now we’re heading up towards a slightly more sophisticated area of the ship.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So again as we walk past we can look at the partitions and we can see the hinges on the partitions. So although they make the cabins and give you personal and private space, again getting ready for battle, cleaing for action, they all fold up and out of the way. So this becomes a complete clear gundeck.  Even if we look at the chairs, hopefully I’ve got the right one here, so it’s like a standard chair, wicker chair, no arms on it, so it looks like a whole chair. But actually, it’s a  wicker seat, but actually, the chairs are hinged as well. So the chairs fold completely flat.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I really want one. Fantastic.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So you can fold it up flat, store it in the hold. And again, it’s all about speed and getting the shpt ready for battle. And Victory has 18 minutes to get her ready for action.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Just 18 minutes.

     

    Tony Noon 

    And it’s as soon as the signal is given beat to quarters.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right. So where are they?  A lovely light but right at the stern looking through the stern gallery windows out to Portsmouth, into the harbour of Portsmouth, the dry docks, and the floor was fantastic.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes. So again, all officers’ territory, you mark it out, you put canvas on the floor, and then you paint it the checkerboard pattern. Two reasons; it mimics a posh country house tile floor. So again, for the officers when they’re entertaining, which is a very important part of their life and wining and dining, It just makes it look posh. But it’s also a clear indicator to the common sailor that if he’s walking along and he’s about to put his foot down on a checkerboard pattern, if he doesn’t have permission to be in officer territory, that’s a punishable offence.

     

    Sam Willis 

    He knows all about it.  So what what happened here.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So we’re in Nelson’s day cabin now. So we’re actually not at the top level of the ship because the Captain’s on the top cabins above; although Nelson’s more important it’s still the Captain’s ship to run on a day to day basis, and at Trafalga  it was Captain Hardy. So the Admiral gets slightly more spacious apartments below. But he can be left to get on with the planning because obviously he’s responsible for the whole Mediterranean Fleet, not just the one ship, so he has these quarters down here, John Scott would come and get him if needed. So he has a day cabin which we’re standing in looking at the stern. So we have a replica of his chair here in the corner, and you’ll see it’s actually got a flap on each side. On the left hand side when you sit in it, you can put your hands down the flap on the side of the chair, there’s a little pocket there that says In tray. So all his stuff to be processed, all these letters, etc to be processed, we put into the flap on that side of the pocket. And when he’s finished, he will put it into the right hand pocket for his aid to come  and then make duplicates off, send it on, etc, to the right place as needed.

     

    Sam Willis 

    What was this part used for?

     

    Tony Noon 

    A lovely little spot.

     

    Tony Noon 

    This is John Scott’s day cabin, having his ante room effectively for Nelson. And it’s also where steerage comes from, because these are the ropes that come down. So you can see the ropes from the steering wheel above has actually come through the centerline of the ship here, it’s a largish space.  John Scott was the Secretary for Nelson so he will be in here, it gives him plenty of space to work, copy letters, file, store, do research, etc, as needed, and he has his own working space here.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Yes, apart from the steering ropes coming through.

     

    Sam Willis 

    They might be annoying and creaky

     

    Sam Willis 

    And this is where Nelson will entertain, we’re in a  bigger space here with a large table.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So from the stern of the ship we have Nelson’s day cabin, then we have the dining cabin, and then Nelson’s sleeping quarters and John Scott’s office side by side. So we’ve got a very large table in the middle, and this is the table around which Nelson gathered the Captains, a few weeks prior to Trafalgar, to outline his plan for them of crossing the ‘T’, the Nelson touch it’s called. Back in the day cabin, we’ve got a door open on the side here. If you peer in you’re looking into the quarter galley. And that’s when you look at the ship from the outside and see she flares out with a little bit at the stern. It’s all fancy and ornate. And as we’re looking inside there, we can see a bench with a hole in, so it’s Nelson’s seat of ease. So that just drops into a potty which is able to come in empty because the captain’s got the same arrangement above.  And the senior officers have the same arrangement below. But you have a great view.

     

    Sam Willis 

    it’s like going to the loo in a mini conservatory, you’re sort of on the side of a ship.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Although if you’re  in port everyone can work out what you’re up to,

     

    Sam Willis 

    Then I’ve always had a point to make about this, that the hull of Victory is three feet thick, or whatever it is. It’s an immensely strong thing, they put a conservatory in the back, it’s windows isn’t it.

     

    Tony Noon 

    It is and actually it was even weaker than that originally. So we’re standing here and it’s enclosed with sash windows that can be opened, and there’s fancy woodwork on it and all of that woodwork can be removed. And we’ve actually got three gun ports behind each of these. So obviously this

     

    Sam Willis 

    literally pulled off a bit of the wall, bit of the housing there, don’t tell the boss.

     

    Tony Noon 

    So you can see the mounting point there for one of the guns. So all of this will be removed prior to battle, windows be taken out, not all battles, but most battles, the windows were generally taken out as part of the process of clearing for action. But when Victory was first floated out in 1765, about a foot back from where the windows are, the windows stopped here and you actually had where you’re standing. So you’re sort of six inches ahead of me towards the stern of the ship, you would have been standing in an open balcony. So I would have the windows here and doors, and then you have a  step out, you’ve got an open balcony, to look out through, however, incredibly expensive to maintain, not as watertight and weaker in battle as well. So in the refits of 1801 to 1803,  the Navy had moved away from balconies on new designs by that stage. So they took that opportunity to rebuild the stern of the ship to actually fill these balconies in to give us some strength there.

     

    Tony Noon 

    Gosh, I think I would have liked a balcony, I can tell you that I would have been disappointed by that change. Right? Let’s talk to Rosey about the conservation of this area of the gun deck. What are the conservation challenges of these gun decks?

     

    Rosey Thornber 

    We’re stood beside where the main mast used to be. So that was a major conservation challenge, taking the main mast out in May 2021. Because we did thickness testing of the metal, and we found that the mast needed to come out for conservation work. So it was a major challenge. easing the mast up via crane through such a tiny gap and avoiding hitting anything surrounding it, particularly for example  the elm tree pumps that we believe to be original to 1765. So with millimetres to spare, we’re bringing this mast up slowly, and actually the crane driver brought it up millimetre by millimetre, did a brilliant job straight up, then out of the ship. So that was one challenge.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So that it could come up;  I assume it was jammed in.

     

    Rosey Thornber 

    Held with wedges. They were wooden mast wedges, some of them dated to 1894 when that particular mast was put in, but some of them dated to the 1960s and had shipwrights’ initials on them and things. So we eased those wedges out and then it was free to lift out carefully with strops round it and things and carefully carefully came out.

     

    Sam Willis 

    How long did that whole process take from  planning to execution?

     

    Rosey Thornber 

    So execution, I would say about a year and a half; the actual lift took basically all day with two absolutely enormous cranes outside that we had parked here for five days. So it was a whole five day sort of piece of work.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Where’s the mast gone, where do you put a mast for an 18th century warship?

     

    Rosey Thornber 

    You’re  right, it’s  very big, it’s 32 metres or so. It’s sitting on the dock side over by the  M 33  waiting for full conservation work.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I’ll make sure I go and have a look at it; what conservation work will that entail?

     

    Rosey Thornber 

    So this particular mast is a metal tube structure of what we believe to be either wrought iron or mild steel, we’re still not sure, dating from the HMS shaft from 1870. And it’s becoming thin as I say in places from corrosion. So also it has lots of lead paint and things on it. So we literally want to strip it back to the good metal and then build it up again, and coat it and consolidate and make it strong enough, and then hopefully put it back in the ship at the right time.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Wow, extraordinary. I know there was a particular conservation challenge with Nelson’s toilet as well.

     

    Rosey Thornber 

    There is, he has a leaky toilet. So basically, Nelson was very lucky he seems to have had a toilet either side of his day cabin, or heads rather. And Hardy has a similar arrangement on the deck above, but Hardy’s heads don’t leak at all. But Nelson’s heads on the starboard side, a lot of water comes in. And so it can’t be coming directly from above because Hardy’s heads is fine. So it must be coming sideways and in, so back in 2019 I built this tarpaulin to funnel all the water dripping  into buckets. And today they’ve emptied six buckets worth of water out of the toilets.  It’s a major piece of

     

    Sam Willis 

    Or even upwards possibly, yes.

     

    Sam Willis 

    and the water is just sort of sneaking along sideways somewhere, or possibly even upwards

     

    Sam Willis 

    Thank you all so much for listening. If you’re interested in naval history and the Battle of Trafalgar in particular, please do check out the Mariners Mirror podcast YouTube channel, where you can see just how we have used artificial intelligence and digital artistry to bring to life a plaster cast of Nelson’s face that was taken from him before he died, resulting in an astonishing, and many who’ve seen it say that it’s more than a little creepy, likeness of Nelson. Please make sure you find the Mariners Mirror on Instagram, Tik Tok, and the Society for Nautical Research on Facebook and Twitter. This pod comes from both the Society for Nautical Research and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation. So please check out both of those institutions, the Society for Nautical Research@snr.org.uk where you can join up and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation at h e c.lr foundation.org.uk. where you can find out about all of their many and fascinating projects to do with maritime heritage. That’s it for now. Episode Three is on its way soon.

Category: | | |