HMS Victory, Nelson’s last Flagship
HMS Victory – First Rate – Flagship at 5 Battles: First Ushant (Keppel) – Second Ushant (Kempenfelt) – Cape Spartel (Howe) – Cape St Vincent (Jervis) – Trafalgar (Nelson)
c. 43 x 36 cm (17 x 14 inches)
HMS Victory is a 104-gun First Rate. First Rates were the largest classification of warship in the Royal Navy. Starting in the Jacobean era (1603-1625) they comprised any vessel of more than 400 crew but by the end of the eighteenth century they comprised vessels of at least 2,500 tons with at least 100 guns on 3 decks. First Rates were always built at Royal Navy Dockyards, of which there were 7 around the S and SE coasts of Britain. Portsmouth (in the S of England) was the oldest followed by Woolwich, Erith, Deptford and Chatham – all on the Thames nearer to London. Harwich, Sheerness and Plymouth then followed. Of these just Portsmouth and Devonport (by Plymouth) continue as RN bases.
By the last quarter of the eighteenth-century Chatham, on the River Medway, nearly 50 miles ESE from London near the mouth of the Thames Estuary, was the largest and most important of these. Victory’s keel was laid there on 23rd July 1759 having been ordered the year before and she was launched there on 7th May 1765. First Raters were reckoned to take 5 years to build and consumed 2000 mature trees.
Victory enjoyed a long and illustrious career. This was despite her being declared unseaworthy in 1796 with direction for her to be converted to a hospital ship. But HMS Impregnable, another First Rater, was lost that year so Victory was reconditioned. This accounts for the great age of this vessel compared to all of those with whom she fought at Trafalgar in 1805. She remains in commission to this day at Portsmouth where she is the flagship of the First Sea Lord – the oldest vessel in the world still in commission. Click Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where HMS Victory is located.
Whilst she was, most famously, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar (on October 1805), she had previously been Keppel’s flagship at The First Battle of Ushant (1778), Kempenfelt’s flagship at the Second Battle of Ushant (1780), Howe’s flagship at the Battle of Cape Spartel (1782) and Jervis’s flagship at the Battle of Cape St Vincent (1797). Victory also fought at the Siege of Gibraltar (1782).
The Battle of Trafalgar was fought against the combined French and Spanish fleets off the coast of southwest Spain on 21st October 1805. Although victorious, Nelson was shot by a French sniper during the battle and died at 16:30 shortly after his Flag Captain, Sir Thomas Hardy, had bid farewell to his revered friend and Commander. After Nelson’s death, Admiral Collingwood, aboard The Royal Sovereign, itself in the thick of the action surrounded by Spanish vessels, assumed command of the British fleet. When hostilities ceased Collingwood ordered the fast schooner, HMS Pickle, to sail for England with his dispatches on the outcome of the Battle and of Nelson’s death. HMS Pickle is also available as a print to buy on this site here.
Nelson Chequer was the colour scheme adopted by RN vessels, modelled on that used by Admiral Nelson in battle: bands of black and yellow paint along the sides of the hull, broken by black gunports as shown in our own image of Victory (above). In 1715 an Admiralty order decreed the use of yellow and black, and a uniform colour within. However, this was generally ignored. Again in 1780 the Admiralty issued an order allowing captains to paint in yellow or black. Nelson favoured yellow, with black bands. He also had the underside of his gunports painted black so when the ports were closed the hull would appear striped, and when opened (ready for action) the hull would appear chequered. No chequering signalled “intent” over distance – necessary when sailing into fortified friendly harbours.
After Trafalgar the colour scheme became popular, and most major vessels in the Royal Navy sported this pattern. The Nelson Chequer fell into general disuse after 1815, when the yellow hue was superseded by white. Although she was painted white and black in accordance with post 1815 (see image) she has since reverted to Nelson’s chequer in which she remains.
Launched: Chatham dockyard 1765. Sail plan: full rigged; Displacement: 3,500 tons; length o/a: 227 ft 6 in (69.3 m); beam: 51 ft 10 in (15.8 m); draught: 28 ft 9 in (8.76 m) crew c. 850; armament 100 x 32 pounders, 2 x 16 pounders and 2 x cannonade.
|Dimensions||43.1 × 35.6 cm|