The death of Nelson on board Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar is an iconic moment in history. The Vice Admiral was fatally shot on 21 October 1805 by a French sailor in the mizzen mast of La Redoubtable. After being shot, Nelson was carried to the Orlop Deck, where many other injured seamen and officers were awaiting medical attention. Three hours later he was dead but a British victory was assured.
Less well known is Victory’s earlier history. First floated out in 1765, Victory spent 13 years in reserve at Chatham before going on to become one of the most successful naval ships of all time, leading fleets in a series of history-changing wars, including the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic War.
At the age of 40, Victory achieved lasting fame at the Battle of Trafalgar. Yet, even after her finest hour, she went on to further service in the Baltic and other seas before her career as a fighting ship ended in 1812. Coincidentally, she was 47 years old, the same age Nelson had been when he died.
On 12 January 1922, after years moored in the harbour she was saved for posterity in 1922 following a national appeal and placed into No. 2 dock at Portsmouth, the oldest drydock in the world still in use, her condition having deteriorated to the extent that she could no longer safely remain afloat. During the initial restoration period from 1922 to 1929, a considerable amount of structural repair work was carried out above the waterline and mainly above the middle deck. In 1928, King George V was able to unveil a tablet celebrating the completion of the work, although restoration and maintenance still continued under the supervision of the Society for Nautical Research.
Restoration was suspended during the Second World War, and in 1941, Victory sustained further damage when a bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe destroyed one of the steel cradles and part of the foremast. On one occasion, German radio propaganda claimed that the ship had been destroyed by a bomb, and the Admiralty had to issue a denial.
In 2016 Victory saw the biggest change to the way she is presented to the public since 1928, with a major reinterpretation of the visitor route through the ship. Visitors can now follow in the footsteps of Nelson, her most famous Admiral, from the time the ship embarks on her defining voyage to Cape Trafalgar, to the aftermath of the fearsome battle with the French.
With thanks to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and The National Museum of the Royal Navy: www.historicdockyard.co.uk