HMS Victory and the Battle of Trafalgar

November 2020

HMS Victory and the Battle of Trafalgar

Sam Willis explores the remarkable conservation project underway in Portsmouth to preserve Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Victory, for future generations. Her hull – obviously designed to float – has started to suffer from a century in dry dock and her immensely complex rigging has been dismantled. Her masts are about to be removed. Sam talks with Nick Ball who works with Victory at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and also with David Davies, historian novelist and Chairman of the Society for Nautical Research.

 

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    Sam Willis 

    From the Society for Nautical Research, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariner’ s Mirror Podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. It’s Wednesday 21st of October. And this is an entry from the logbook of the whaler Swan of Hull in 1836. She’s caught in the ice, and will have to overwinter in the Davis Straits between Western Greenland and Baffin Island. The logbook is held in the archives of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

    Whaler Swan 

    21st October 1836. Temperature one fahrenheit, wind direction northeast by east. The fore part of this day fresh breezes with dark weather, middle part light wind and clear weather. replenish the oil cast this day containing 22 gallons of neat whale. Last by observation 73 degrees 39 minutes north.

    Sam Willis 

    Three days later, they take down the topgallant mast to burn for fuel. The Swan eventually makes it back to hold the following July, having lost 25 of the original 48 crew. Observations in that exact location made today reveal that no ice has formed.  Welcome everyone to our first full episode and we’ve chosen a pretty fantastic date to launch upon. Yes, it’s the 21st of October and yes, it is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s one of the most iconic battles in world history, let alone British history. For the scale of the victory achieved by the British fleet led by Horatio Nelson over the Allied French and Spanish, and also for the death of the most brilliant naval commander who has ever lived,  Trafalgar became the most famous naval battle in history. It also became one of Britain’s greatest sorrows. The collective national outpouring of mourning that came with news of Nelson’s death is perhaps only comparable with that of Diana, Princess of Wales and her funeral in 1997. That said Nelson’s funeral did actually last for five entire days, which was a little more than Diana’s. Today we’re going to focus on the biggest relic of them all that survives from the battle. And yes, that’s Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory and what a relic she is. She’s built – right  – from 6000 trees. Yes, 6,000, 90% of which were oak. That’s roughly 100 acres of woodland for one ship. And I’m fairly sure that no one’s really thought about this before. But I’m convinced that we should have some fairly serious national guilt associated with destroying so much woodland in search of British naval power. The UK Don’t forget this was a pioneer in deforestation. Think about it like this. So Victory comes from 6000 trees. Okay. But consider a fleet of warships. At Trafalgar in 1805, the British fleet consisted of 27 ships, don’t forget the 17,000 men on board. But in 1795, a little beforehand the entire Royal Navy if you consider it, not just about a fleet, but an entire Navy, the entire Navy consisted of 123 ships of the line, and 160 cruisers. So ships of the line – the largest ones – and cruisers. That’s 283 ships, I haven’t got figures for that. But if you bear in mind that just one ship that took 6000 trees to build her, well, then that certainly is an impact for the forests of Britain. And it wasn’t just the British, of course, no. The combined Franco-Spanish fleet they were fighting had 33 ships. So although Britain was bad in this period, so were all the other sea powers cutting down woodland left, right and centre just for the sake of imperialism and being able to fight each other.  Anyway, back to the victory. What a fabulous relic she is, she would have had 37 sails flown from three masts, and she would have had 23 spare sails during the battle. That total sail area would have covered something like 6500 square yards. I think as I’m English it’s probably a requirement of me to compare such sizes to football pitches, and yes, it is not far off the size of a football pitch. She had over 100 guns- 104 guns – and a crew get this -of  850 men and boys and don’t forget this ship existed in a world that was full of other ships armed to the teeth all designed to destroy each other. So it is extraordinary, that she still exists and it’s not just just about surviving the Battle of Trafalgar, of course. She was launched in 1765. So that’s 40 years before the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It’s 255 years ago today, so she’d already had a mighty career before the Battle of Trafalgar, particularly, of course during the American Revolutionary War in the late 1770s, when she fought in the Battle of Ushant, which was one of the largestscale naval battles ever fought. The story of how she has come to still be here in a drydock in Portsmouth is remarkable in itself. And I’ll be discussing that later. But first of all, I want to find out a bit about how her ongoing restoration project is going at the Royal Naval dockyard in Portsmouth.  Hello, everyone, I’m chatting today with Nick ball, who works with HMS Victory. Hi, Nick. Hi, Sam. Now Nick has a fascinating job, Nick, tell us all what it is exactly that you do.

    Nick Ball 

    So I’m the archaeological Data Manager for Victory, and basically I look after the artefacts and archive for the ship.

    Sam Willis 

    What an amazing job. Who out there is jealous?! I bet you all are listening to this. It’s a fabulous job. I really wish I had it, early on.  What have you been doing today- just give us a little kind of window into your life.

    Nick Ball 

    So one of the things I’ve been doing today actually is looking at the upcoming conservation work. So I’ve been researching the history of the previous repairs that happened on Victory.

    Sam Willis 

    So it must be fascinating, actually, when you’re working in conservation like this trying to – you’re realising there are layers and levels of history that you’ve got to kind of be aware of and deal with.

    Nick Ball 

    Oh, yeah, exactly. Victory has got such a long history of construction and repair and conservation. It’s fascinating to delve into the into the archive material that explains what happened on the ship.

    Sam Willis 

    And this podcast is going to be coming out on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. So we should talk briefly about Victory’s roll in the battle. I don’t think we could really ignore it. How unusual do you think her experience was compared with the other ships? Do we need to sort of focus on the history of one individual ship? Or can we talk about what happened to the entire fleet at the battle?

    Nick Ball 

    Well, I think it’s important to talk about the whole fleet, but I think Victory is special as she was at the front. She was at the van. So she was leading the line – with of course Nelson on board. So when they were heading towards the combined French and Spanish fleet victory was at the fore taking a lot of the lot of the enemy fire.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, I mean, that was a very unusual, unique part of Nelson’s plan, wasn’t it to put the largest ships right at the front and to attack at 90 degrees to the enemy.

    Nick Ball 

    Often the admirals would have put their flagship in the middle of the line, but Nelson chose to put his in the van.

    Sam Willis 

    And then because of that, when they broke through the French line and the Victory is absolutely at the heart of that battle, isn’t it? It’s where the battle is going to be won or lost.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly. And then obviously once victory had cut the line, she had Bucentaur to the port and Redoutable to the starboard so she’s completely surrounded by french ships.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, yeah, it would have been an extraordinary moment to actually be alive and be there. And particularly Victory’s gundecks – the open the weather decks – were shredded by gunfire from the redoutable weren’t they? There was real shocking level of destruction.

    Nick Ball 

    Oh, yes, the lieutenant on board described it as being like being in hell. And every man appeared as a devil because of the firepower and the shot that were coming through and splinters and everything like that. It was must have been a horrific sight.

    Sam Willis 

    You know, and it’s often everyone focuses on the death of Nelson but it’s often overlooked I think that the the carnage on the weather deck of Victory was to such an extent that the her fate certainly hung in the balance there for a while and, and French sailors from the Redoutable mass to get ready to board

    Nick Ball 

    Victory, really, the British fleet were concentrating on gunnery, the large guns, the cannons on the gun decks, whereas I think the French captain of Redoutable, Lucas, he concentrated on small arms, musketry. And and really, he was preparing to board and that was his real aim.

    Sam Willis 

    And also there’s the terrible storm after the battle and Victory suffered as much as any of the other ships, didn’t she?

    Nick Ball 

    Well, luckily enough, Victory was able to make it into Gibraltar on a jury rig and then have have necessary repairs made there before sailing back back to England.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s a miracle that she still survives today. But of course, it’s not actually a miracle. It’s down to an immense amount of money, and a huge amount of hard work of which you are the latest generation.

    Nick Ball 

    It’s an honour to be part of, you know, the continuing history of such a ship. It’s fascinating.

    Sam Willis 

    So what’s happening with Victory’s restoration now.

    Nick Ball 

    Over the last few years and Victory has been laser scanned and this found some problems with the support in the hull. T he steel cradles that she was supported on in the dry dock were actually found to be causing some difficulties with her loading and her weight within the dock, because obviously, she’s in dry dock, and

    Sam Willis 

    – not not designed to have been in dry dock. it’s an imoprtant thing about these ships: They’re designed to float aren’t they.

    Nick Ball 

    Exactly, she’s been in dry dock for well, over 90 years, we’re coming up to 100 years now, since 1922, so this, these hundred years in the dry dock have caused considerable strain on her hull. So there’s a new support system, which was just installed, it was completed this year, and a series of props that monitor the loading has 134 props. So Victory is supported in a way that’s similar to being supported in water. So it provides a much more stable structure for her to be sitting on in the dock.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, as far as I understand it, though, they’re kind of intelligent props, aren’t they, they could monitor exactly how much load is being placed on them. And then that can be adjusted.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly. So each one has a load cell. So we can monitor the exact load on every single one of those props and adjust it accordingly. Wow. And one of the good things, we’ve just actually opened the dock bottom for the first time ever, there’s a walkway. So once you’ve been on board, and you’ve gone around and looked on board, you come out to the ship, and then you go down into the dock, and you can walk along under Victory and see her keel and rudder. And it’s an amazing view, because also, the new props are much slimmer than the old steel cradle so you can really see her hull lines underneath when you stand underneath her.

    Sam Willis 

    Oh, that’s fascinating. I’d love to actually be able to see that. So the view is much less interrupted then – you can see that distinctive wine glass shape of her hull above you.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly. And that’s one of the things that made Victory such a successful ship was her design. For such a big vessel, she was fast. And everyone said she was a good sailor – everyone who served on board her. And victory was described by Nelson when he when he set out and in 1885 he described her as perfect in every respect.

    Sam Willis 

    Ah, yeah. That’s quite sweet. Isn’t it? I quite like that! Yeah, absolutely wonderful. I wonder if he actually meant that or whether he was just saying it for the sailors on board? Whether it’s, you know, a way of actually getting everyone to be on board with your mission?

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, well, I suppose that’s one of the reasons why Nelson was such a good commander, he, he managed to get everyone behind him whatever he was doing.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, it’s um, he was never never shy of a white lie. I wonder if that’s if that applies as well. But we do know that she sailed very fast and actually talking about the shape of her hull is interesting, because so much above the water changed over time, didn’t it?

    Nick Ball 

    When she was launched in 1765, she had the common features of ships of the middle of  the 18th century. So she had open stern galleries. So the officer could go out on the stern, they were balcony-like structures, she had a very large figurehead. And they were replaced in 1803, the stern was closed in the figurehead was replaced with the smaller one. And, and then obviously, in the 19th century, there were huge changes. At Trafalgar, when Victory was cutting the line, just before Victory cut the line, she was taking a hell of a lot of shot from forward and the bow was very weak. And in the 19th century, in 1814, the whole of the bow was replaced, and they installed what was called the round bow. This was a sort of design feature of the time that which increased the strength of ships. So the tactics resulted in changing the construction of the ships.

    Sam Willis 

    Hmm, that’s fascinating, isn’t it? I love just the way it’s so easy to gloss over the sheer unbelievable engineering ability of these people. So if you haven’t been to Victory everyone, just imagine –  she’s unbelievably huge. And to say that they just replaced the bow is some significant engineering challenge to take on.

    Nick Ball 

    Oh, yeah. It’s incredible. And I think people often get, you know, they don’t believe me when I say that there are over 850 men on board. It’s quite something they were built as fighting machines.

    Sam Willis 

    Then the size of the rig is extraordinary as well because we’re talking here about  the the shape of the hull, primarily staying the same, and the stone galleries closing. But the rig changed remarkably as well. It changed a lot – they had the mizzen mast changed. But I read recently that they actually moved all of the masts they moved them astern like a foot or something. Wow, that must have been some challenge.

    Nick Ball 

    That’s one of the challenges we’re facing at the moment because we’re preparing to unstep and remove the masts for the first time in 128 years. So it’s quite a big challenge. And we’re starting with the mainmast. And the current masts on board are actually from HMS Shar from the late 19th century. And they were put on board in the 1890s to replace Victory’s, wooden ones.The current ones are actually wrought iron.

    Sam Willis 

    I wonder if that makes them heavier than whether they’d be timber?

    Nick Ball 

    I think it actually makes them lighter, because they’re hollow. Yes, it’s made up of plates. And riveted together. So I think overall, it’s a bit lighter.

    Sam Willis 

    And so we’ve got this new walkway, which is going to be down the bottom of the dock. That sounds fascinating. So just take us through the visitor experience. When you arrive on Victory, which deck do you arrive on? And then where do you go?

    Nick Ball 

    So you enter on the entry port on the port side. So that’s the left side of the ship, and you enter on the middle gundeck. And then the route takes you up to the quarter deck. So this was Nelson’s kind of nerve centre on board. This is where you would have commanded the fleet from, and actually the position where he was shot is marked with a plaque. So you’re up on the quarter deck. And so this is one of the top deck so you’re open to the elements, then you can go through and see Captain Hardy’s cabin. So Hardy was the captain at Trafalgar. And then you can go down, you go forward along the deck and you go down into the Sick Bay on the upper gun deck, go along the decks and you can see where the crew would have worked the guns and they ate and slept all  in the same place on the decks between the guns.

    Sam Willis 

    There’s that wonderful area where all the hammocks are laid out. There’s so little space.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly. And we we’ve got it set up as if the ship is if she’s on the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar. So the guns are ready, there’s boarding pike’s and cutlasses set out ready for, you know ready for if they were planning to board the French ships. When you go down through on the on the upper deck, you’ve got the Admiral’s cabin, so Nelson’s cabin, you can see where he dined, where invited his captain’s to dine, where he slept as well. And then you go down into the lower gun deck, you can go down and see more guns as well as the ship’s pumps and capstans. And then you go down to the Orlop deck…

    Sam Willis 

    …that is my favourite deck!  This is definitely my favourite experience, everyone, if you have a chance to go to Victory go as low as you can…

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, so the Orlop deck is below the waterline. So it’s pitch black, we’ve got a few lights just so people can don’t bang their head. It’s very, very low decks. And this is where Nelson was taken after he was wounded. So this is where the surgeon worked and where everyone was taken when they were injured. So and it’s the spot where Nelson died just before the end of the battle. He heard the news obviously that the British had won… and then you’re you go through the orlok deck and you see the gunners’ workshop the carpenters’ workshop

    Sam Willis 

    I find the stores fascinating as well. I think it was an area where you’ve just got coiled ropes – I know that coiled rope sounds boring but Ladies and gentlemen, this is unbelievable! The diameter is the size of a small tree.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, when you go through you see the anchor cable so these are huge ropes that hold the anchors, and they’re all stored in the Orlop deck and then you can go down into the hold of Victory and this is where they stored all the provisions – all the beer and and all the bread and everything that they needed on board.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, and to actually go down layer upon layer it’s quite bewildering, isn’t it once you get down to the bottom and you can’t quite work out how many decks you’ve gone through to get there.

    Nick Ball 

    It’s a kind of warren of decks and in small storerooms and cabins and everything like that.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s so authentic as well – what I think is the distinctive smell of – it’s the Stockholm tar, isn’t it and the ropes.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly.  The smells are really authentic. It’s you know, it’s from wood, the timber and the ropes and everything like that.

    Sam Willis 

    So what’s happening with the ship’s hull planking? I know that’s something else you guys are working on.

    Nick Ball 

    So one of the big problems with keeping a ship in dry dock or keepign a ship anyway is keeping her watertight and so there’s lots of water, getting in, rainwater, getting in through the, through the decks through the planks. So we’re going to start next year replacing a lot of the hull planks. And so you can see if you come visit Victory, you’ll see shipwrights using traditional tools and methods to replace these huge planks, some of them are, you know, metres and metres long. And it’s a huge task to get these planks up on board and then fit them to the hall.

    Sam Willis 

    How many? How big is the crew working on this project? How many shipwrights are there?

    Nick Ball 

    Oh, well, we’re expecting to expand the team, I think and we’re going to have I think we’ve got about half a dozen at the moment. And we’re going to expand.

    Sam Willis 

    I only asked that, because it’s such a fraction of what would have been available in the 19th century to do something like that when it would have been crawling over with shipwrights like ants all over the place.

    Nick Ball 

    And, and one of the things, it’s keeping these skills alive, because there are often fewer and fewer people who were using these traditional techniques to work on these wooden ships. And of course, it’s not many wooden ships of Victory’s size around today.

    Sam Willis 

    No. And I when I went to see her recently – the rigging has been taken down in anticipation of you guys removing the masts by my immediate panicky thought was like does anyone know how to put this stuff back? Because it’s so confusing!

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, well, that’s where a lot of the archive research comes in, which is one of the things I’m working on, you know, so it’s keeping records, meticulous records of rigging plans and planking plans and everything, so we know exactly what’s happened. And how to put it back.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s like a crazy jigsaw puzzle, isn’t it?

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly.

    Sam Willis 

    But once you do put everything back  how do you then decide which bits of Victory’s life you want to present to the public because you say at the moment, much of it is set out as it would be on the eve of Trafalgar – That was what was decided in the 1920s, wasn’t it? And a key part of this is what colour do you paint her? Because she wasn’t always this chequered black and yellow.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, exactly. So one of the things that we’ve been doing over the last few years is researching the details of Victory. And, of course, we know that she was yellow and black at Trafalgar, but the actual exact colours that she had, were unknown in the 1920s, when she was repainted yellow and black. So we undertook some research to look at the exact colour she would have had on the day. And you do this by cutting samples of paint off and studying the many layers because Victory has been painted so many times that you look at the layers of paint, and you look at the earlier ones, and then you can work out exactly what the pigments and the colours were at the time

    Sam Willis 

    That’s cool. forensic paint investigation.

    Nick Ball 

    Exactly. And then in 2015, we repainted her in her true Trafalgar colours.

    Sam Willis 

    So that’s what you get if you go and see see the hull today, even though she is without her rig. Now, I just wanted to pick up on a fascinating thing which I’ve come across, which you will know very much about and this is the letter, which was relating to HMS Victory from the 19th century. Tell me about that.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah. So we have in the archive, a letter from Franklin Roosevelt, the American president, and it’s thanking a descendant of one of Victory’s crews, who are returning a  medicine chest to the White House.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah. I’m just going to read this out. It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s addressed The White House, Washington, April the 26th 1939. That’s an important date. I’m going to come back to that. My Dear Mr. Kains, – I’m sorry, I don’t have a good American accent I could put on – My Dear Mr. Kains, I need hardly assure you of the pleasure which it gave me yesterday to receive a call from you, and Mrs. Kains and Mr. Stillman. And of course, I am delighted to receive that very interesting memento of the far away days of the war of 1812. How time mellows our perspective of events, I do want you to realise that I appreciate not less than the quaint little medicine chest itself, the gracious sentiments, which you expressed in bringing it to me as well as the very interesting account of its journeyings through the last century and a quarter. The chest will become one of my most cherished possessions, and for your generosity in bestowing it, I am more grateful than I can say. Very Sincerely yours, Franklin D. Roosevelt. What a letter! That man’s a wordsmith. So? Um, yeah, this story’s amazing.

    Nick Ball 

    Yes, Thomas Kains. He was Purser on board victory in the 1830s.

    Sam Willis 

    We should just say that a purser is someone who’s responsible for the accounts and the money in the stores.

    Nick Ball 

    Yeah, yeah, exactly. So he was he was purser of Victory in the 1830s. And he had in his possession, this medicine chest, which he took, or maybe one of his friends took from the White House when, when it was burned in 1814.

    Sam Willis 

    This is August 1814, during the war of 1812, when Major General Robert Ross gets into Washington and sets fire to several government and military buildings, including the White House and the Capitol Building. It’s the only time since the American Revolution – that’s in the 1770s – that a foreign power captured and occupied the capital of the United States. So it relates to that. So yeah, it was from the White House. Amazing.

    Nick Ball 

    As I understand it, they still have the medicine chest there today,

    Sam Willis 

    I’d love to see that. I’d love to see that actually get in touch with them and see if they can send us a picture. And I’m also really fascinated by this, this is April 26 1939. There’s quite a lot going on in April 1939 in the world, and I love this image of, of Roosevelt sitting down and writing a wonderful, and patient thank you letter, when he knows that the Germans have just invaded Czechoslovakia. And it’s only two days after this, that Hitler decides to reject the Anglo-German naval agreement, which is one of the most fundamental things that happens in Nazi aggression in 1939. And the Germans then go on and start building an enormous Navy. So the world’s absolutely changing. And yet, there’s this beautiful moment of calm, a moment of contemplation of history, going back to the war of 1812. That’s why I like it so much – all of these links through time, Nick.

    Nick Ball 

    It’s quite something. And it’s amazing when you when you have these. That’s what I like about working with archives, when you actually have these things, and see them in the flesh, you know, in the museum. It’s amazing.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time. And I’m definitely going to come back because you guys are working on a new gallery aren’t you.

    Nick Ball 

    So that’s one of the things I’ve been doing working on a new HMS Victory gallery. So more news of that down the line.

    Sam Willis 

    Well, thank you so much for your time. And I promise I’ll come back. Cheers, Nick. Bye.

    Nick Ball 

    Thanks very much. Cheers.

    Sam Willis 

    Well, that’s an amazing story of what’s happening to the ship now and how they’re constantly be forced to innovate to keep Victory in decent shape for future generations. But there’s another fascinating story here of how we even got to be in this position in the first place, how the flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar is still in one place in Portsmouth. So now I’m talking to David Davis, chairman of the Society for Nautial Research, which was instrumental in saving HMS Victory, to see if we can get to the bottom of the story. Hi, David. Have you been to victory recently?

    David Davies 

    Yes, I was there a few weeks ago when I didn’t have a chance to go on the ship itself. But I had a look at the new system of props under the hull. And it was actually the first time I’d ever been right under the hull.To see it from that perspective is absolutely stunning. I mean, it gives you an incredibly different look at the the ship and its lines and so on. Absolutely. Tremendous.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, it’s a very innovative way of looking at it and presenting it. It’s going to be fabulous, when when the public can get in there and have a good look. But she’s looking a bit sad without without the rigging, I always think.

    David Davies 

    Well, yeah, and it’s just gonna look a bit sadder for a while, really, because the masts are coming out next.

    Sam Willis 

    And it’s gonna be like that for a long, long time, isn’t it?

    David Davies 

    It is. I mean, this is an incredibly long term project. I mean, it’s like painting, not just one Forth Road bridge, but several of them. It’s, an incredible thing, which will be still going on long after our time.

    Sam Willis 

    I mean, it’s fabulous having her there, isn’t it? It’s a reminder of, obviously the type of warship that she was that once dominated the oceans. But also, you can tell with these new props that she’s a model of standards and methods to be followed for other wooden ships that need to be conserved.

    David Davies 

    Oh, absolutely. I mean, she’s a tremendous example, a tremendous survival, you know, in all sorts of respects. We are just so so lucky that that ship survived. I mean, one thing that really struck me when I was down there under the hull was that, you know, in the Second World War, a bomb literally struck the side of that dock you can still see some of the bomb damage and literally a very few feet the other way and the entire ship would have been completely wiped out. It was that close. So we are unbelievably lucky that it’s still there. And you know, you can still go aboard and see the place where Nelson lived – where he died.

    Sam Willis 

    It wasn’t an accidental bomb drop that was it? You’ve got to bear in mind that Victory was in Portsmouth dockyard and Portsmouth dockyard was a pretty high target for the Luftwaffe.

    David Davies 

    Absolutely, yeah, of course, it was. I mean, this was, this was the point- it was in, in what until 20 years earlier, had been one of the active working dry docks of Portsmouth dockyard, it was surrounded by active dock yard buildings. So I mean, it was an incredible stroke of luck.

    Sam Willis 

    It must have been extraordinary seeing her in that period in the 40s. With the bombs falling down around her. She’s probably in her element, David.

    David Davies 

    Well, yeah, there’s there’s actually a wonderful painting not many people see this. It’s in the sort of the gallery in the naval museum of what victory looked like during the Second World War, you know, with all the the ships in grey and so on around it all the camouflage. It really is an amazing picture.

    Sam Willis 

    And it wasn’t just that survival, the the near destruction from the bombs. I found this quote here from Sir Edward Seymour. And he was writing in 1886. So this was 40 years or so before a significant movement was made to actually save the ship and he wrote ‘A more rotten ship never probably flew the pennant. I could literally run my walking stick through her sides in many places’. Wow!

    David Davies 

    Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is this is the key thing. I mean, throughout the 19th century, the ship deteriorates. It’s obviItously changed a lot anyway. But of course, it’s still in the water. It’s in the water all the time. And it receives very little major maintenance. And of course, it has another incredibly close shave in 1903. When the old battleship HMS Neptune is being towed away to the scrapyard and something goes wrong. It collides with the Victory. Now, it could easily have smashed Victory to pieces at that particular point, but it’s actually – that is the turning point. Because from then on, people start to realise, well, we need to do something about this. And slowly, the momentum starts to build to actually preserve Victory properly. That of course, is interrupted by the First World War. And that’s why it actually takes until the 1920s for something actually to happen about it.

    Sam Willis 

    When was that collision? Did you say 1903? Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Because you’ve got the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905. Yeah, so that’s when you’ve got renewed public attention in the battle, in the ship itself. And I think at the same time, it wasn’t just Victory, there was a rapid disappearance of other wooden 19th century or even earlier ships, which had actually been slumbering in naval harbours. One of the important things to realise is yes, we’ve got Victory now. But it wasn’t so long ago, where there were many other ships. All with fascinating histories lurking around the harbours and ports of the UK. And so yes, she does survive. But there is a there is a ghost fleet of ships out there that didn’t survive that weren’t lucky enough.

    David Davies 

    Absolutely.Of course the classic example of that was HMS implacable, which actually fought on the French side of Trafalgar, the second tremendous survival of Trafalgar. But again, there’s hardly any maintenance, it becomes more and more difficult to keep it going. Then the Second World War happens after the Second World War, it’s finally agreed, well, it’s in such a bad state, that even if somebody did want to preserve it, you know, it simply couldn’t be done. So in 1949, the Implacable was actually towed out to sea there’s a ceremony it flies both the British and French ensins and it’s blown up and it is sunk in the Channel and obviously, the ships that surrounded salute and all the officers on those ships salute and so on. But the fact remains that it is deliberately sunk and something like that or more likely in Victory’s case an accidental destruction, may well have happened and we would have lost this absolutely fantastic survival of the 18th and 19th century sailing navy,

    Sam Willis 

    Impacabable was actually used as target practice. I mean, that’s, that’s what they did. They kept her stern. So her stern is now – you can see her stern the stern gallery, the stern windows in the National Maritime Museum. In the big hall downstairs. I always thought it could be – if anyone’s listening from the National Maritime Museum, can you please put it up? So it’s possible to look out of the windows, because that’s the whole purpose of the windows on the back of a sailing warship. And at the moment, it’s hard against the wall. So you can’t get that experience of being in, and looking through the windows. Nonetheless, it’s there, it’s good. And then there’s the National Historic ships Committee, which is set up to look after our historic fleet and ‘Implacable never again’, is their motto.

    David Davies 

    Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s a great example of, you know, let’s not go there again, ever.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s interesting as well, that you’ve got Victory in the dock. I mean, some people assume that she was in the dock that she was built in. And that’s wrong. It’s a common misconception, because Victory was actually constructed at Chatham. But there were, it’s important to realise that there were numerous ideas proposed about how to preserve her for the nation once the momentum – we should say The Society for Nautical Research got behind this idea of saving HMS Victory – there were various other plans, which were proposed, one of which was that she would be lifted into a cradle and placed permanently in Trafalgar Square! Which, wow! that would have been quite spectacular, but not really her natural environment – where at least now she’s in a dock.

    David Davies 

    Absolutely, I mean, undoubtedly in the right sort of place with something like that, where it’s, you know, just going to be this absolutely bizarre site of a completely inappropriate location. No, I mean, it’s in absolutely the right kind of location. In other words, surrounded still by the working warships of the Royal Navy. I mean, when I was down there, as I say, quite recently, you know, you could just turn slightly from looking at Victory. Just turn a few feet around. And you’re looking at the two huge new aircraft carriers. Yeah. HMS Queen, Elizabeth, HMS Prince of Wales. Well, that is exactly the right context for HMS Victory. Not, you know, in Trafalgar Square.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s so profound for understanding the context of actually what’s going on. It really does make you stop and think, because it’s really interesting coping with the size of Victory. So part of you goes, ‘it’s absolutely enormous’. And then you look left, as you say, and you’refacing an aircraft carrier, and you’re like, ‘it’s unbelievably tiny’. You get very bewildered about what sort of scale you’re supposed to kind of how you’re supposed to deal with it. It’s a real challenge, isn’t it?

    David Davies 

    It is absolutely. I mean, both externally and internally. Because I mean, internally, it’s almost like a reverse TARDIS. It’s actually, it’s actually smaller on the inside than you think. And I mean, I’m six foot three. So I always have a terrible, terrible problem aboard Victory and often leave Victory with a headache. Because, of course, the deck beams are just so low. And I mean, all right. Nelson, in a sense, was lucky. He was a very short man. But you know, taller people throughout history on these wooden warships must have had a terrible time.

    Sam Willis 

    Well, Duncan, you know, if you think of Admiral Duncan in the 18th century. Big Scottish man. He was huge. He was well over six foot.

    David Davies 

    Yeah, he was indeed. Yes.

    Sam Willis 

    So we’ve got this this kind of moment in the early 20th century, we talked about the near collision in 1903. This report from the 1880s, as well about her being rotten, and the Society for Nautical Research gets involved in the 20s. And starts raising money.

    David Davies 

    It’s 1921. And I mean, it’s actually in the spring of 1921. And it’s the Society’s first president, Prince Louis of Battenberg, subsequently, Mountbatten, who is of course, our current patron, the Duke of Edinburgh’s grandfather. And it was he who wrote to say, look, you know, something really, really needs to be done about Victory. He died later in the year, but the momentum was, was there. And in 1922, on Trafalgar day 1922, the Society launches, what becomes known as the ‘Save the Victory Fund,’ which we still administer. The ship was actually restored to what we see now, the lines, that were considered to be what it looked like at Trafalgar. And that was very, very much something that came from the Society; it was the Society that said, ”right, this is how we’re going to restore it.’ So it was very much the driving force there in the early days.

    Sam Willis 

    And this is the 20s they managed to raise over £100,000 and the 20s are not known for their booming, booming times. It was a time of fairly serious economic troubles. And yet they still managed to raise all of this money. One of the ways they did it – they had collections in theatres, which I thought was great, I came across that recently. absolutely fascinating, with people, literally rattling buckets and saying, ‘Give us your money. Give us your money.’ And and the public responded.

    David Davies 

    I mean, it’s absolutely tremendous. As you say, there are the really small contributions from all sorts of ordinary people all over the country and indeed, all over the world, you know, there are contributions coming in from other countries as well. In the end, of course, they did have a stroke of luck that a rich benefactor came along as well and finally pushed the fund to completion. And this was a man named Sir James Caird, who was a Scottish shipping magnate. And he became incredibly involved not just in the affairs of the SNR, but subsequently in the foundation of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. And to this day, if you actually go and do some research, down at Greenwich in the museum, you’re working in the Caird library – his influence on that place is still huge. But yeah, from him down to the humblest person in the cinema, it was a fantastic national effort.

    Sam Willis 

    And it wasn’t just the ship.We’re concentrating on the ship here but at the time, when it was saved in the 20s, there was a mini museum on board, I would love to go back and look at that now, just for what it tells us about how naval relics were dealt with in the 1920s, it would have been really, really interesting to see what was presented and how it was presented. But that collection of relics which was on board the ship, but had to be removed when they were preserving Victory then became the foundation for the Victory gallery at Portsmouth.

    David Davies 

    It did indeed, and that, again, was very much an initiative that came from the SNR and it was suggested that this should be done- something like this should be established -as you say to hold that collection, and lots of other things as well. And it was opened in 1937, again, very, very much through the driving force that came from the Society. And it’s really, really appropriate to me, we are still involved with that we’ve recently given a grant to the restoration of that to the fantastic new displays that will be opening early next year.

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, one of the most interesting things I think that has survived is the Fortopsail from Victory, which is an absolutely extraordinary thing. It’s enormous. It’s 54 feet wide at the top, it’s 80 feet across at the foot. So it’s narrower at the top than it is at the foot. It’s got the I mean, it is the actual topsail that she he was flying at Trafalgar, they’ve taken it off and so it’s it’s still got all of the damage, from the shot and the musket balls there. And I think it’s it’s one of the most profoundly impactful naval relics I’ve ever seen.

    David Davies 

    I agree entirely. I first saw it in 2005, the bicenteary. It was hung up in the boathouse in Portsmouth dockyard. And when I first went in there, I just stood in front of it and stared at it for minutes on end. I mean, I couldn’t move I couldn’t say anything. It was just such an extraordinary sight – as you say, the thing that really makes it incredibly powerful is the actual damage that’s on it – you can see the shot holes, you know, where the enemy’s shot has gone through the sail and, and again, I mean, we were really, really pleased to be able to provide funding at that time in 2005 for that sail, to go on display – and I would love nothing more in terms of Victory at the moment than to find a way in which that sail could be on permanent display, I think it would be absolutely incredible.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s a mixture of the scale of the damage and the size of the sail. It looks like it’s been taken by a kind of a giant and chewed up and spat out is the only way I could describe it –  you can’t kind of get your head around what could possibly have caused that much damage to something that big!

    David Davies 

    I mean as it as I say it is just a stunning sight and it’s sad that so few people have actually had the opportunity to see it and actually the last time it was on display it was laid flat in a building so – it was actually even better in my opinion but I would say this wouldn’t I – when I saw it actually hanging vertically as it would have been on the day of the battle.

    Sam Willis 

    It’s being able to see through the holes that I thought was completely extraordinary. So if you say okay, there’s a sail with holes in it, but you can’t quite clock that in the gaps there is no sail. Almost sort of 60% of what you’re looking at actually isn’t there. It’s very difficult to get your head around but a wonderful thing and let’s certainly hope that in the future we can all get up close to that sail. I’d like to do a study of that actually. So there we are. That’s  in broad brushes that how the Victory is here. It really is a fascinating story. And all to do with the Society for Nautical Research. Interestingly, you said the Duke of Edinburgh is our patron I wrote a letter to the Duke of Edinburgh, telling him we were launching a podcast and he wrote back!

    David Davies 

    He takes it very seriously. He has been a fantastic, you know, helped the Society over many, many years.

    Sam Willis 

    He does. And we’ve got a personal message from the Duke of Edinburgh wishing us all the best in our new endeavours. So, this is the first episode of this great new endeavour. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. We’ve got so much more exciting stuff coming your way. And thank you all for listening. Do please help us by spreading the word. You can follow us on social media.  Twitter is @nauticalhistory. Facebook – can find us at The Society for Nautical Research. snr.org.uk is our website and the best thing you can do if you want to support the podcast – i f you want to support HMS victory, the best thing you can do is to join the society. So please do so at snr.org.uk and we’ll be back with you soon with some more fabulous stories and some exciting news. Thanks for listening guys. Bye.

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