- Marcus Cribb
HMS Victory Launched on this day - 7th May
Updated: May 7
HMS Victory was launched on this day, 7th May 1765, 255 years ago at Chatham Dockyard.
On the day of launch, shipwright Hartly Larkin realised the ship was too wide to pass safely through the dock gates. The gates were at least 9½ inches too narrow and all the boatwrights present jumped to work, having to hew the dry dock gates wide enough for the new ship to float into the River Medway
Only about 3% (estimate of the ship's Royal Navy crew in 2017, actual figure could be 6 to 8%) of the current ship (mostly two pieces keel wood) is original to 1765. This is partly due to the damage she took in battle before Trafalgar, but also due to degradation from remaining afloat in Portsmouth Harbour until 1921.
Victory's construction required the use of over 6,000 trees to build, mostly oak trees but other woods like elm, pine and fir were also used.
[HMS Victory from the Stern - Marcus Cribb]
Though she was one of the most impressive vessels in the world when she was launched, there was no immediate need for a ship of that size, so was, she was "placed in ordinary" after sea trials, this is the historic naval equivalent of mothballing. She was not added to active lists until 13 years later when France joined the American Revolution.
In May 1778 she became the flagship of Admiral Augustus Keppel, then commander of the Channel Fleet. In July of the same year Keppel's fleet engaged a similarly sized French fleet at The (first) Battle of Ushant, off the North West French coast. The battle was indecisive.
By the time of Nelson's triumph at Trafalgar in 1805 she was considered to be a elderly vessel, but as a 1st rate of 104 guns & approx 850 crew, she was a floating fortress.
During the Battle of Trafalgar the ship was incredibly heavily damaged and even de-masted. Twice she was listed to be broken up for scrap, (including under Admiral Hardy, HMS Victory's Captain at Trafalgar, who reportedly went back and rescinded the order) until she was permanently home in Dry Dock Number 2 in Portsmouth. Where she remains, in that time she has been hit by Luftwaffe bombs during WW2 (Further damaging parts of the origional keel) and has been altered to allow visitor access to the lower decks (including cutting a door in the lower hull).
[HMS Victory today, Portsmouth]
She remains commissioned as a flag ship, the oldest in the world. Though she is primarily a visitor attraction, with 900,000 people visiting in 2018 alone.