HMS Victory ‘floats’ again as Lord Nelson’s ship is viewable from below for first time in 100 years

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For the first time in 100 years, Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory will be viewable from below – thanks to the installation of 134 metal props and the completion of an under-hull walkway.

The support structure, which will also replicate the 3,600-tonne vessel being at sea, comes as part of a 13-year renovation project costing £35million. 

Visitors will able to descend into the base of the ship at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard following its unveiling on August 24, when both the ship and dockyard are set to reopen after coronavirus lockdown measures are eased.

It may just give the public a sense of what it must have been like on board the vessel in which Nelson famously fought, and defeated, the Spanish and French fleets during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. 

The National Museum of the Royal Navy and BAE Systems described the under-hull walkway as a ‘major milestone’ in the ship’s renovation when it began collapsing under its own weight, the BBC reported.  

Structural engineers noticed four years ago that HMS Victory was slowly falling backwards, away from the bowsprit – the ship’s front end – and water was getting into the hull.    

It required 134 metal props to be fitted due to the historic vessel’s deck sinking towards its keel (a ship’s backbone) by a fifth of an inch (0.5cm) each year. 

For the first time in 100 years, Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory will be viewable from below – thanks to the installation of 134 metal props (pictured) and the completion of an under-hull walkway

The support structure, which will also replicate the 3,600-tonne vessel being at sea, comes as part of a 13-year renovation project costing £35million

The support structure, which will also replicate the 3,600-tonne vessel being at sea, comes as part of a 13-year renovation project costing £35million

Structural engineers noticed four years ago that HMS Victory was slowly falling backwards, away from the bowsprit - the ship's front end - and water was getting into the hull. It required 134 metal props to be fitted due to the historic vessel's deck sinking towards its keel (a ship's backbone) by a fifth of an inch (0.5cm) each year

Structural engineers noticed four years ago that HMS Victory was slowly falling backwards, away from the bowsprit – the ship’s front end – and water was getting into the hull. It required 134 metal props to be fitted due to the historic vessel’s deck sinking towards its keel (a ship’s backbone) by a fifth of an inch (0.5cm) each year

Visitors will able to descend into the base of the ship at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard following its unveiling on August 24, when both the ship and dockyard are set to reopen after coronavirus lockdown measures are eased

Visitors will able to descend into the base of the ship at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard following its unveiling on August 24, when both the ship and dockyard are set to reopen after coronavirus lockdown measures are eased

A contractor inspects the stern of HMS Victory as she is 'afloat' again for the first time in 100 years as a state-of-the-art support system is unveiled at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

A contractor inspects the stern of HMS Victory as she is ‘afloat’ again for the first time in 100 years as a state-of-the-art support system is unveiled at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Above, a section of the keel and rudder of HMS Victory, which has been sitting in a dry dock in Portsmouth since 1922. It was initially supported by 22 steel cradles positioned six metres apart - but these have now been replaced by the props

Above, a section of the keel and rudder of HMS Victory, which has been sitting in a dry dock in Portsmouth since 1922. It was initially supported by 22 steel cradles positioned six metres apart – but these have now been replaced by the props

The props will monitor the ship’s weight distribution and ‘mimic the variable pressures of the sea’ and provide ‘early warning of faults or weaknesses’, the museum and BAE added.

HMS Victory, which has been sitting in a dry dock in Portsmouth since 1922, was initially supported by 22 steel cradles positioned six metres apart – but these have now been replaced by the props. 

In 2016, visitors to the HMS Victory were able to walk around Nelson’s cabin for the first time, thanks to the major refurbishment project. 

It meant they could ascend onto the Poop Deck to view Victory’s surroundings in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, walk around Nelson’s Great Cabin as well as see Captain Hardy’s Cabin displayed for the first time as a working captain’s accommodation. 

On the Orlop Deck, the area was simplified to prevent over-sentimentalising the legend of Nelson, with the Devis painting of ‘The Death of Nelson’ removed for conservation and display off the ship. 

Another new area at the time was a carpenter’s store where visitors could learn about the toll the Battle of Trafalgar had on Nelson’s flagship.

The length of the visitor route was increased by an estimated 80 per cent thanks to the 2016 revamp.

The current HMS Victory was launched in 1759 and commissioned in 1778. It was used in two battles on the French island of Ushant in 1778 and 1780 as well as the battle of Cape St Vincent near Portugal in 1797. Above, the props - which will monitor the ship's weight distribution and 'mimic the variable pressures of the sea' and provide 'early warning of faults or weaknesses'

The current HMS Victory was launched in 1759 and commissioned in 1778. It was used in two battles on the French island of Ushant in 1778 and 1780 as well as the battle of Cape St Vincent near Portugal in 1797. Above, the props – which will monitor the ship’s weight distribution and ‘mimic the variable pressures of the sea’ and provide ‘early warning of faults or weaknesses’

The National Museum of the Royal Navy and BAE Systems described the under-hull walkway - which will be unveiled to the public on August 24 - as a 'major milestone' in the ship's renovation

The National Museum of the Royal Navy and BAE Systems described the under-hull walkway – which will be unveiled to the public on August 24 – as a ‘major milestone’ in the ship’s renovation

The finishing touches to HMS Victory were made 247 years ago in Chatham Dock before she set to sea and went on to cover herself in glory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

The ship was launched in 1765 at a cost of £63,176 in modern-day figures – the equivalent to building an aircraft carrier.

She was built from 6,000 trees, 90 per cent of which were oak – the equivalent of 100 acres of woodlands. 

HMS Victory has 37 sails flown from three masts and it would carry 23 spare sails during battle. The total sail area is 6,510 square yards – and her top speed was 11 knots, or 12mph.

The vessel served for a total of 47 years – a period of time seldom matched by any modern warship.

The HMS Victory currently in dry dock in Portsmouth is the sixth ship to bear the name after five previous ships did so.

Of these, the first two were broken up and rebuilt, two were destroyed by fire and the fifth sank in 1744.

The current HMS Victory was launched in 1759 and commissioned in 1778.

It was used in two battles on the French island of Ushant in 1778 and 1780 as well as the battle of Cape St Vincent near Portugal in 1797.

However its decisive role came in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, under the captaincy of Vice-Admiral Nelson who was fatally wounded on board during the conflict.

The ship was taken out of service in 1812 and remained in Portsmouth Harbour until 1922, when it was moved into the Royal Naval Dockyard amid fears for its deteriorating condition.

HMS Victory: Lord Nelson’s flagship during Britain’s victory over the French at the Battle Of Trafalgar

HMS Victory first floated out from the Old Single Dock in Chatham’s Royal Dockyard on May 7 1765.

During 206 years in service she would gain recognition for leading fleets in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War.

HMS Victory in its dry dock in Portsmouth, where it is viewed by thousands of visitors each year

HMS Victory in its dry dock in Portsmouth, where it is viewed by thousands of visitors each year 

HMS Victory is renowned for being the flagship of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, Britain’s most celebrated naval leader, fighting in the defeat of the French and the Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

However, her service was not to end here – in 1808 she was recommissioned to lead the fleet in the Baltic, but four years later she was relegated to harbour service – serving as a residence, flagship and tender providing accommodation.

In 1922 she was saved for the nation and placed permanently into dry dock where she remains today, visited by 25 million visitors as a museum of the sailing navy and the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

Source: Royal Navy National Museum 

During the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson (above) attacked the Combined Fleet line head on - and sailed perpendicular towards the fleet, exposing the British to heavy fire

During the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson (above) attacked the Combined Fleet line head on – and sailed perpendicular towards the fleet, exposing the British to heavy fire

The epic sea clash off Cape Trafalgar that laid foundations for Britain’s global power – and claimed the life of Lord Admiral Nelson

Fought on October 21, 1805, the Battle of Trafalgar is one of history’s most epic sea clashes.

Not only did it see Britain eliminate the most serious threat to security in 200 years, but it also saw the death of British naval hero Admiral Lord Nelson.

This was not before his high-risk, but acutely brave strategy won arguably the most decisive victory in the Napoleonic wars. Nelson’s triumph gave Britain control of the seas and laid the foundation for Britain’s global power for more than a century.

Despite signing a peace treaty in 1803, the two nations were at war and fought each other in seas around the world.

After Spain allied with France in 1804, the newly-crowned French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had enough ships to challenge Britain.

In October 1805, French Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve led a Combined French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships from the Spanish port of Cadiz to face Nelson and Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood.

Nelson, fresh from chasing Villeneuve in the Caribbean, led the 27-ship fleet charge in HMS Victory, while Vice Admiral Collingwood sailed in Royal Sovereign.

Battles at sea had until then been mainly inconclusive, as to fire upon the opposing ship, each vessel had to pull up along side one another (broadside) which often resulted in equal damage.

Nelson bucked this trend by attacking the Combined Fleet line head on – and sailed perpendicular towards the fleet, exposing the British to heavy fire. 

He attacked in two columns to split the Combined Fleet’s line to target the flagship of Admiral Villneuve.

11. 30am Lord Nelson famously declared that ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’, in reference to the command that the ships were instructed to think for themselves. The captains had been briefed on the battle plan three weeks before, and were trusted to bravely act on their own initiative and adapt to changing circumstances – unlike their opponents who stuck to their command.

Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood led the first column and attacked the rear of the line, and broke through. 

Nelson sailed directly for the head of the Combined Fleet to dissuade them from doubling back to defend the rear. But before he reached them, he changed course to attack the middle of the line – and Villeneuve’s flagship.

Speeding toward the centre of the line, HMS Victory found no space to break through as Villeneuve’s flagship was being tightly followed – forcing Nelson to ram through at close quarters. 

In the heat of battle, and surrounded on three sides, Nelson was fatally shot in the chest by a well-drilled French musketeer.

The Combined Fleet’s vanguard finally began to come to the aid of Admiral Villeneuve, but British ships launch a counter-attack.

Admiral Villeneuve struck his colours along with many other ships in the Combined Fleet and surrendered.

4.14pm HMS Victory Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy dropped below deck to congratulate Nelson on his victory.

4.30pm With the knowledge he has secured victory, but before the battle had officially concluded, Lord Nelson died. 

5.30pm French ship Achille blew up signalling the end of the battle – in all 17 Combined Fleet ships surrendered.

 … so did Nelson really say ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ with his dying words?

By RICHARD CREASY for the Daily Mail (in an article from 2007) 

It was Britain’s greatest naval victory and for more than 200 years historians have analysed every detail.

Now, amazingly, a new eye-witness account of the Battle of Trafalgar has emerged during a house clear-out.

It gives not only a first-hand view of proceedings from the lower decks but also a different interpretation of one of history’s most enduring arguments – Admiral Lord Nelson’s dying words.

Robert Hilton was a 21-year-old surgeon’s mate on HMS Swiftsure, a 74-gun ship that played its part in the destruction of the French and Spanish fleets and of Napoleon’s dream of invading England.

It was 13 days later, after Swiftsure had made it through gales to Gibraltar for repairs that Hilton took up his pen and wrote a nine-page letter home on November 3, 1805.

In it he says Nelson’s last words, relayed to his ship’s company from Nelson’s flag captain, Captain Hardy, were: ‘I have then lived long enough.’

Many people believe Nelson said: ‘Kiss me Hardy.’ 

But historians rely on his surgeon’s reports that he said: ‘Thank God I have done my duty.’

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