In 2013/14 we will be spending about £2million on conservation and maintenance of HMS Victory. A significant portion of this sum will be spent on routine maintenance, so anyone visiting the ship over the summer will see that she is being painted, regular surveys will be carried out, and the ship’s boats will be undergoing a thorough overhaul. The majority of the funds, however, are focussed on a few key projects.
Keeping Up Appearances
Launch to First Commission:
1765 – 1779
Victory was launched in 1765, but remained in Ordinary (reserve) until 1778 when she received her first commission. That same year she took part in the Battle of Ushant against the French fleet and afterwards needed slight repairs for battle damage.
This artist’s impression from about 1779 shows Victory’s original appearance a few years after launch. There are some significant differences from how she looks today. The artist has described her as His Majesty’s ship Victory, a First Rate carrying 116 guns and a crew of 960. She is shown sailing by the White Cliffs of Dover.
- The side planks are not painted in streaks, but ‘payed’ with a single broad band of yellow-brown varnish. The gunport lids are painted red.
- The figurehead, which is very large and ornate, was completed in 1765. It was carved by William Savage, who was employed by Richard Chicheley and his wife.
- On the lower gun deck are large 42 pounder guns.
- The planks below the waterline were painted white with an anti-fouling mix of oil and brimstone. This was to prevent sea grass and barnacles growing on the hull.
- The planks at the waterline, know as the ‘wales’, are coated with black tar.
- There are open galleries on the stern (back). These were for the private use of the captain and senior officers.
- When Victory was first commissioned the mizzen-mast was setup in very a old fashioned way with a long yard. This yard was eventually replaced with a shorter ‘mizzen gaff’ although the shape of the sail, the ‘mizzen course’, stayed much the same over the 34 years she was at sea
1780 - 1799
This is a painting of Victory in 1793. She flies a Union Jack on her bowsprit and a red ensign at the stern (back). She is also flying the flag of Lord Hood as Vice-Admiral of the Red, as she heads outward-bound with her squadron for the Mediterranean.
In 1797 Victory was found to be in a bad way. She was first re-fitted as a hospital ship and then very nearly became a prison hulk, which would have ended her sailing days. With the loss of the 98 gun Impregnable In 1799 it was decided instead to keep her sailing and she was sent for a large repair at Chatham.
- In 1787 all three masts were moved slightly aft (towards the back). The foremast was moved 2 feet (60cm), the main mast 1 foot (30 cm), and mizzen mast moved 6 inches (15 cm). This would have required a large amount of work to decks, supports and rigging.
- Name ‘Victory’ is painted on the stern (back). The stern galleries are still open.
- Victory’s hull has now been coppered. This process took place for the first time in March 1780. The bottom of the ship below the waterline was covered with 3923 sheets of copper to protect her hull against shipworm.
- Victory was painted black and mustard yellow in 1780, but in one big mustard yellow streak, with black uppers. The planks at the waterline (wales) are coated with black tar.
- The heavy 42 pound guns on the lower deck were replaced with lighter 32 pounders, which could be loaded and fired much quicker and used less gunpowder. Some admirals thought that bronze 42 pounders were too big, heavy and cumbersome. In this picture the lower deck portlids are shut to keep the sea out.
The Time of Trafalgar:
1800 - 1805
Between 1800 & 1803 Victory underwent a large repair at Chatham. At the same time she was updated according to the latest instructions from the Navy Board. Her external appearance changed dramatically.
There were also many internal changes, including a properly designed sick bay. She was also painted with her now famous yellow and black streaks. When the work was finished, Victory must have looked more or less as she does today. It was this appearance that the restoration team decided to recreate in the 1920s.
- Her pole masts with sections made from single tree-trunks were replaced with composite masts, where sections were made of large strips of wood bound together with iron hoops.
- The rails were boarded as a protection against enemy small arms fire.
- Victory was repainted for the first time in black and mustard yellow streaks. The portlids were later painted black in the famous ‘Nelson chequer’ pattern you can see today.
- The open stern galleries were removed and the entire stern closed in with glass windows and wooden shutters to protect it from heavy following seas.
- Two gunports in the stern transom were blanked off.
- The heavy 42 pound guns, which had been put back on the lower gun deck, were replaced with 32 pounders. These guns were lighter and could be loaded and fired much quicker. They also used less gunpowder.
- The fixings on the sides of the ship for the standing rigging, known as chainwales, were moved up above the upper-deck gunports to avoid the rigging interfering with the firing of the guns.
- Two extra gunports were cut at the bow on the lower gun deck.
- The heavy ornate figurehead was found to be very rotten, and was replaced by a simpler, lighter design similar to the one she carries today.
- The tops of heavy oak were replaced with tops constructed of fir in two halves to save weight.
1817 - 1922
By the early 1920s Victory’s condition was so bad it was decided she could no longer safely remain afloat. This photograph shows Victory in 1922 shortly after she was moved permanently into No. 2 dry dock.
Her external appearance has continued to change since the large repair of 1814 – 1816, and there have been a number of ugly additions. She looks nothing like the ship that Nelson knew at Trafalgar.
- Victory’s gunwales (upper sides) have been built up into high solid lines of planking along the length of the ship.
- Victory had been painted with black and white streaks since 1816.
- Many gunports are now fitted with glazed windows. Most of the portlids are missing.
- When first moved into dry dock Victory sat too low. In 1925 she was carefully raised to her current position by floating her up. This was the last time her hull would touch the sea.
- One of Victory’s duties had been to salute visiting ships and dignitaries. Small 6 pounder saluting guns were placed on the upper gun deck.
- In 1904 a fixed steam fire engine was installed. On the upper deck was the fire pump house and long collapsible chimney.
- The ship carries a much reduced set of rigging
- Victory’s wooden lower masts were replaced with wrought iron masts taken from HMS Shah in 1893. No attempt has been made to make them look like the wooden originals. There are no iron binding hoops on the masts.
Ancient & Modern
It is nearly 250 years since HMS Victory was launched. Given her great age, it is amazing that a large part of her structure is still original.
- Present at Launch (1759 - 1765)
- Present at Trafalgar (1805)
- Modern (1923 to present day)