HMS Victory repainted in Battle of Trafalgar colours

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015
The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), Portsmouth has announced a historically accurate re-painting of HMS Victory, the most celebrated ship in naval history, in collaboration with expert conservators Crick Smith, University of Lincoln. 
 
The re-painting is due for completion in September 2015, taking almost four months – including six weeks each for painting the hull on the port and starboard – with visitors able to witness the transformation as it takes place. It is part of the most comprehensive and forensic programme of conservation work to be done on HMS Victory since she was first installed in dry dock at the heart of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in the 1920s. 
 
For the first time, visitors will see the ship in the colours she was painted at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Careful research has shown that she was painted externally in a combination of pale yellow and dark grey at the time of her famous victory, when Admiral Lord Nelson was fatally wounded. It would have been the Captain, Thomas Hardy, Nelson’s trusted right-hand man, who was responsible for the painting of the ship. Being a man of restricted means, Hardy chose pigments supplied free of charge by the Royal Navy, including lead white and ochre.
 
Project Director and Head of Historic Ships, Andrew Baines has been leading the project since 2012. He explains: “HMS Victory is a unique and extremely complex archaeological artefact; her fabric retains evidence of the ship’s construction, modification, repair and conservation between 1759 and the present day. As such her timbers are artefacts and an incredibly rich source with literally dozens of layers of paint which have been analysed…By combining the archaeological evidence supplied by Crick-Smith and the original accounts for Victory’s stores, held by the National Museum, we have been able to pinpoint precisely the colours worn by Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.”
 
The NMRN has teamed up with the University of Lincoln’s renowned conservation consultancy Crick Smith, to undertake the archaeological investigation needed to deliver this ambitious and historically accurate renovation. The team, led by Ian and Michael Crick-Smith, from Lincoln’s School of History & Heritage has undertaken the most extensive paint survey ever to be conducted onboard a historic vessel. 
 
Michael Crick-Smith expands: “Inside and out, HMS Victory has undergone layer upon layer of redecoration as she took on various different roles; from a warship, to a court-martial vessel, a hospital and now a living museum to the Georgian navy. We have removed several hundred complete paint samples from various locations covering all areas, and in some places have uncovered as many as 72 layers of paint.”
 
After centuries of remodelling and refitting it was feared that many original features were lost. However, after three years’ meticulous research, NMRN and Crick Smith will be able to present HMS Victory to the public in a state closer to the original than they dared to hope. 
 
The NMRN is also taking the opportunity to repaint Victory’s name on the ship’s stern, as the current font that was added in 2005, has been revealed as an incorrect version. 
 
Andrew Baines comments: “The lettering was wrong when ownership of HMS Victory passed to the NMRN, and we were contacted by James Mosley, an expert on the history of letterforms and typography. James has undertaken a huge amount of research… and suggested how we might replace it with a more appropriate letterform. James introduced us to the John Morgan Studio who very kindly developed a historically appropriate letterform for the ship’s name at no cost to the project. 
 
We’ll be completing the ship’s painting with the work to adopt the new letterform; it’s a small detail, but important in demonstrating the Museum’s commitment to research and accuracy in our approach to Victory’s conservation, interpretation and display.”
 
This project is part of NMRN’s on-going mission to preserve and celebrate its naval heritage, closely aligned with academic research by Museum staff and visiting researchers. 
 
HMS Victory
 
Additional information on the re-painting from Project Director and Head of Historic Ships, Andrew Baines
 
Repainting Scheme
 
“HMS Victory is a unique and extremely complex archaeological artefact; her fabric retains evidence of the ship’s construction, modification, repair and conservation between 1759 and the present day. As such her timbers are artefacts and an incredibly rich source with literally dozens of layers of paint which have been analysed…Combining the archaeological evidence from the ship with the evidence contained in historical documents has allowed us to establish beyond reasonable doubt the ship’s appearance when Nelson flew his flag in her.
 
Victory’s appearance has changed on numerous occasions since the Battle of Trafalgar. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the yellow and black chequer so familiar to Nelson was replaced by a white and black scheme intended to be cheaper to maintain. During the ship’s restoration in the 1920s, the Society for Nautical Research undertook extensive research in an attempt to recreate an accurate yellow for the ship’s side. The decision was made to use chrome yellow, a very bright pigment that was in fact introduced in the 1820s - after the Battle of Trafalgar. This colour scheme was used until the 1990s when chrome yellow was banned and the existing colour was introduced. Over the past twenty years, the colour has changed slightly as different manufacturers have been used to supply the paint.
 
By combining the archaeological evidence supplied by Crick-Smith and the original accounts for Victory’s stores, held by the National Museum, we have been able to pinpoint precisely the colours worn by Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Although the pigments used originally are no longer available – containing lead they were highly toxic – we have been able to recreate the colours using modern paints.
 
The resulting colour has been something of a surprise – we actually expected the colour to be a creamy hue, what we have found is that Victory was painted in bands of graphite grey and a colour that ranges from a creamy-orange to almost salmon pink in certain lights; It’s a radical change in the ship’s appearance, and we’ll be interested to hear what visitors to the ship think of this historically accurate paint scheme.”
 
New Letterform
 
“In the 1920s, there was a lot of debate over whether or not the ship’s name should be painted on the stern. In the end the restoration team decided it should, but did it quite discreetly and surrounded the text with a neat box – called a cartouche. In 2005 this was changed to a new font, which was believed to be more accurate. As it turns out, the new font was wrong and when ownership of Victory passed to NMRN, we were contacted by James Mosley, an expert on the history of letterforms and typography. James has undertaken a huge amount of research to demonstrate that the 2005 version of the ship’s name was incorrect, and suggested how we might replace it with a more appropriate letterform. James introduced us to the John Morgan Studio who very kindly developed a historically appropriate letterform for the ship’s name at no cost to the project.
 
We’ll be completing the ship’s painting with the work to adopt the new letterform; it’s a small detail, but important in demonstrating the Museum’s commitment to research and accuracy in our approach to Victory’s conservation, interpretation and display.”