150 years of Service - HMS Trincomalee's Figurehead

No one would have ever expected a ship to last as long as HMS Trincomalee has, let alone a ship’s figurehead. This one stayed on the vessel for over 150 years, and saw every kind of weather and climate whilst the ship sailed the world.

The figurehead in 1906

We can see the figurehead in photographs from the early 1900s, by which time the ship had been sold by the Royal Navy to a private owner and had been renamed Foudroyant. 

During the Second World War, the figurehead narrowly avoided bombs which were dropped very close to the ship, but later on in the twentieth century we know that he did sustain some damage and one story is that he was hit by a submarine in Portsmouth! Evidence of that can be seen in his crooked turban - figureheads were often mended in haphazard ways which is not surprising considering that they must have been hard to access on the bows of ships. 

Before conservation we can see the strange angle of the turban which had clearly been repaired in the past. 

Many nineteenth century figureheads survive in museums as they were often saved when ships were broken up at the end of their lives. The largest collection of Royal Navy figureheads can be seen at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. Historically, they were often used to decorate shipyards and painted in the gaudy colours we are familiar with today, but evidence suggests that many were actually white when on the ship. 

Our figurehead is particularly special because it comes from a surviving vessel. It also has undeniable charm and symbolises HMS Trincomalee's Indian heritage in a way that cannot be easily detected elsewhere on the ship.

In the next HMS Trincomalee figurehead blog we will look at the condition of the figurehead and the processes that are needed to conserve him and get him display-ready.

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