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Step on Board HMS Victory

Step on board HMS Victory

When you step on board HMS Victory, it is 14th September 1805 and the ship is in preparation for Trafalgar and ready to sail from Portsmouth. See Victory through Nelson's eyes throughout, with his flagship presented as she was in her Georgian heyday. Soak up the atmosphere as the ship and her crew get ready for the Battle of Trafalgar, see where sailors and officers ate and slept, and fully feel the drama and impact of the day that changed history forever.


HMS Victory in the dry dock

For the first time ever visitors leave Victory from the Hold into No.2  Dock. The view of Victory from the dry dock is always impressive. What’s more it gives an albeit brief glimpse into the architectural beauty of the dry docks – functional forms which transformed ship building.

Victory has been in dry dock for almost a century.  She requires 134 individual props positioned to support the ship’s frames, which provide even the better support than she would have received from being in the water.


A simpler version of the Great Cabin, usually dressed for corporate meetings, now dressed as it would have been at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, including authentic colours. Hardy has been at sea since 1803 so he is busy replenishing the ship; buying crockery etc,. Everything he buys, he buys himself. The cabin is painted blue, unlikely to have been his own personal choice, rather that it looks like it was used throughout the Officer’s spaces across the fleet. There’s a writing desk here, along with packing cases; it’s a working, functional environment. Hardy is the Captain in charge of one ship; below him in the Great Cabin is the Admiral, in charge of 27 ships of the fleet.



The highest point of the ship that visitors have ever been able to reach, the poop deck is now accessible to the public. From here you can see into the working naval base and direct comparisons are possible between the Type 45s, the First World War veteran HMS M.33 or the new supercarriers. Some of the buildings date back to 1805 and would have been much like Nelson would have seen. Visitors can also see why Portsmouth was (and remains) such a significant harbour. Dry docks can be identified and the role of building and repair highlighted.



HMS Victory  Orlop deck

It was to the cockpit, here on the orlop deck, that Nelson was carried by two seamen after being shot. The deck was already beginning to grow crowded with injured men requiring medical assistance – 40 seamen and several officers were patiently waiting to be seen by Victory’s Surgeon, William Beatty, when his attention was diverted by some of the wounding calling to him: ‘Mr Beatty, Lord Nelson is here: Mr Beatty, the Admiral is wounded.’  Nelson was certain of his own fate, exclaiming:  ‘Ah, Mr Beatty! You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live: my back is shot through.’

Beatty laid Nelson upon a makeshift bed on the deck and examined the wound. He quickly found that the musket ball had penetrated deep into Nelson’s chest and broken his spine. Nelson explained to Beatty: ‘He felt a gush of blood every minute within his breast: that he had no feeling in the lower part of his body: and that his breathing was difficult, and attended with very severe pain about that part of the spine where he was confident that the ball had struck.’

Nelson spent the next three hours in great pain as the battle was fought around him. Slowly the noise of battle faded away until, at about 4.30, Lord Nelson died of blood loss, which had been exacerbated by spinal shock.

The shock and upset felt throughout the BritIsh Fleet, the Royal Navy, and Britain as a whole is perhaps best described by Nelson’s friend Captain Henry Blackwood: ‘In my life I was never so shocked or completely upset as upon me flying to the Victory, even before the Action was over, to find Lord Nelson was then at the gasp of death…such an Admiral has the Country lost, and every officer and man so kind, so good, so obliging a friend as never was.’



The lower gun deck HMS Victory

The planks of this deck are over 200 years old, etched by the feet and guns which have run over them in the course of two centuries of naval service.

Lower gun deck - HMS Victory

Stood on the Lower Gun Deck, alongside the massive 32-pdrs weighing more than 4 tons, it’s possible to get a glimpse of what it must have been like to live and fight in this little wooden world. Here the deckhead – ceiling – is lower, the light is dimmer, and the surroundings feel cramped. At meal times 600 men ate in this space, and at night 460 slept, hammocks interlocking so as to make any chance of privacy impossible.

LGD HMS Victory

It is easy to concentrate on the harsh nature of life in the Navy at this time, but for these men the standard of living was relatively good: they were provided with plenty of food, a place to live, and had access to relatively good (by the standards of the day) medical treatment, on top of which they earned a reasonable basic wage.



HMS Victory is a floating gun platform. The first decision taken when designing the ship centred on the number of guns she would carry. Once this was set at 100, the number of guns on the lower gun deck could be calculated, and the other dimensions of the ship were derived from this. On Victory, the gun is king.

At the Battle of Trafalgar, the ship carried 104 guns spread over four decks. Whilst fewer than the 161 guns the British army had at the Battle of Waterloo, Victory’s guns were far larger and therefore more powerful; all of the cannonballs in Victory’s first broadside fired at the Battle of Trafalgar weighed 1.25 tons!

HMS Victory - guns

Today, relatively few guns from Trafalgar survive, and due to Victory’s age the majority on board are replica – made of either wood or fibreglass. The ship, however,  does still have 8 of the original-Blomefield guns, which date from when embarked into the ship 5th April 1808 and inspected by the Inspector of Ordnance two days later. It is likely these guns were used at Trafalgar, but it cannot be easily proved.

One of these, a 24-pdr weighing over 3 tons, is displayed on Victory’s middle gun deck. At the height of battle the gun’s 12-man crew achieved a rate of fire of one round every ninety seconds.

In battle this deck was surrounded by noise. Lewis Rotely, Victory’s 20-year-old 2nd Marine Lieutenant wrote ‘A man should witness a battle in a three-decker from the middle deck, for it beggars all description: it bewilders the senses of sight and hearing.’



HMS Victory Galley

The importance of food at sea cannot be overstated. Britain’s strategy in war relied upon her navy, and the efficiency of the navy was dictated by many things – none more important than ensuring the crew were well fed and therefore healthy. A significant portion of the 5,000 calories a seaman consumed each day came from the main meal of the day, which was either boiled beef with suet pudding, or boiled pork with peas.

This one ‘hot’ meal – by the time the men sat down to eat it was probably cold – was cooked on Victory’s Brodie stove. Regardless of whether you were an admiral or an ordinary seaman, every member of Victory’s 821-man crew ate food that had been cooked on this single, surprisingly small stove.

The stove is also equipped with a small copper still, which produces fresh water from salt water. The very small quantities produced in this way would be saved for the men on the sick list.

On the stove’s aft face, an automatic rotating spit powered from a fan in the stove’s chimney could spit roast chickens and pieces of fresh meat. Although not usually part of the ration – salt meat was more common - both officers and men could bring live animals on board to be slaughtered as required. In such a case, spit-roasting, resulting in a far tastier meal than boiling, would usually be employed.



The quarter deck

The Quarter Deck was the ship’s nerve centre. Officers directed operations from here, whilst the ship was steered by the wheel under the overhang of the Poop Deck. On the morning of October 21st 1805 Nelson emerged on deck to view the enemy fleet, stretched out in front of Victory in a line some 5 miles long. Later that day, whilst pacing the Quarter deck with Victory’s Captain, Thomas Masterman Hardy, Nelson was shot by a French seaman in the rigging of La Redoutable. The place where Nelson fell is now marked by a simple brass plaque.

Nelson plaque on the quarter deck

On receiving his wound, Nelson’s face and medals were covered by a handkerchief so as not to damage the morale of his crew, and the Admiral was carried below to Victory’s Orlop deck to receive what medical assistance was available.

Quarter deck painting

Today, standing upon the quarter deck, it is possible to get a sense of how a First Rate ship of the line such as Victory dominated the surrounding area – standing as she does so high out of the water. Nelson is not alone in having stood here whilst battle was waged. Keppel, Kempenfelt, Howe and Jervis also fought battles from this spot, whilst other great names in the history of the Royal Navy such as Parker, Hood and Saumarez commanded fleets from this deck.



HMS Victory Great Cabin

Victory was usually in service as a flagship, meaning that she was the home of an Admiral in command of the whole fleet as well as of her Captain, who commanded the ship. Although life at sea could never be truly comfortable, with the constant damp and movement of the ship and the threat of sea sickness (from which even Nelson suffered), the Admiral at least had a light and spacious living space. Generally known as the Great Cabin, it occupies one quarter of the Upper Gun Deck and is actually in four separate parts.

Great Cabin - HMS Victory

The Day Cabin was the Admiral’s office, where he planned battle strategy, commanded the fleet and wrote his despatches. It was at the breakfast table here that Nelson wrote his famous prayer before the Battle of Trafalgar. However, all is not as it seems; concealed in the quarter galleries on both sides are ‘seats of ease’ – private toilet facilities. There are also gunports carefully hidden by bulkheads and seats, ready to be used when the ship was cleared for action so that even the cabin became part of the fighting machine.

Victory - Great Cabin

The elegant Dining Cabin was used by the Admiral to entertain senior officers in style – it was here that over two consecutive nights in early October 1805, Nelson explained his plan for battle to the captains of the fleet.

Outside the Dining Cabin is an ante-room, known as the Steerage where valets, clerks and secretaries worked, along with the bed place. The Nelson cot is a myth, he slept on a “futon” style tent bed. It’s worth remembering that Nelson had one arm; was a very restless sleeper and would have suffered from sea sickness in the early days of the voyage – a tent bed was much more convenient for him.



Foremast SectionThis section of mast shows the hugely destructive power of solid shot – cannonballs – when fired at close quarters.

During the Battle of Trafalgar, all of Victory’s masts were badly damaged and required complete replacement when she returned to Chatham. Visitors today see HMS Victory equipped with wrought-iron lower masts. These masts are important artefacts in their own right – they were originally manufactured for use in HMS Shah in the 1870s. They were placed into Victory in 1894 and have been in the ship ever since – some 128 years.

The masts carried by Victory during her seagoing career were ‘made’ masts – they were assembled from a number of pieces of timber and held together by rope wooldings and later, iron hoops.



Conservation Log

The National Museum of the Royal Navy is committed to preserving Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. The vessel is currently undergoing the biggest restoration programme in her history following guidelines set out in the National Historic Ships UK (NHSUK) Publication ‘Conserving Historic Vessels’.

Current efforts focus on the development of a new support system and preventing water damage. All of these measures are of critical importance and are very time and resource intensive.





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