HMS Victory was Lord Nelson's flagship in his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
Nelson served in her for just over two years until his death at Trafalgar, but the Victory had been in active service for more than 20 years.
1759: Building of HMS Victory
Victory was designed by Sir Thomas Slade and built at Chatham Dockyard. Over 2000 oak trees were used in the construction of her hull – equivalent to 60 acres of forest. The final cost was £63,176 (over £50 million today). The decision to name her Victory was not popular. The previous ship of that name had sunk with all on board in the English Channel in 1744, so sailors believed the name unlucky.
1765: HMS Victory is launched
Victory was launched on 7 May 1765, but was only commissioned for active service in March 1778 to take part in the War of American Independence (1775–83). She had 104 guns, 27 miles of rigging and four acres of sail. Quickly proving successful, Victory could sail faster than many of her smaller consorts, thanks to the excellent design of her underwater hull.
1793–97: A mighty ship of the line
Following a refit and a period of peace, the Victory was recommissioned in 1793 as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Lord Hood in the Mediterranean. She was involved in the Siege of Toulon in 1793, as part of an Anglo-Spanish fleet that was eventually forced to surrender the French port to Napoleon’s forces. She also took part in the siege of Calvi in 1794, as part of the British fleet that ousted the French from Corsica.
After another refit during the winter of 1794–95 she returned to the Mediterranean and became the flagship of the new commander-in-chief, Sir John Jervis. Under him, she was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 14 February 1797, and played a key role in the opening stages of the battle. Badly battered in the action, she was sent home at the end of 1797 and converted into a hospital ship.
1803–05: Nelson’s ship
When war broke out against Napoleon’s armies in 1803, Victory was given a refit and became Nelson’s flagship, culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She was badly damaged at Trafalgar, both in her masts and her hull, so when she returned to Britain with Nelson's body on board in December 1805, she was again given a major refit.
1823–Present: A tourist attraction
HMS Victory lay permanently at anchor in Portsmouth harbour from 1823. Sentiment and her association with Nelson ensured her survival. She became a tourist attraction, with a plaque to mark the spot on deck where Nelson fell and the cockpit where he died arranged as a shrine.
By the 1920s time had taken its toll and Victory was in danger of sinking. So she was moved to a permanent home in drydock in Portsmouth Dockyard. She was restored and opened to the public by King George V on 17 July 1928. To this day she retains her status as a fully commissioned ship in the Royal Navy and serves as the flagship of the Naval Home Command.
Find out more about Nelson's life and legacy at the National Maritime Museum's 'Nelson, Navy, Nation' gallery, and see Yinka Shonibare MBE's replica of HMS Victory in a bottle outside the Sammy Ofer Wing entrance. Entry to the National Maritime Museum is free, open daily from 10am.