HMS Victory launched


HMS Victory launched

Chatham, Kent The 7th of May 1765 AD

On May 7 1765 HMS Victory was launched at Chatham. The previous HMS Victory had a short life, being launched in 1737 and lost with all hands in 1744 (this ship has reportedly been found on the sea bed recently, along with what is believed to be a huge quantity of gold). The 1765 incarnation, Nelson 's Victory as it is often called, remains active to this day, still manned by Royal Navy personnel in her dry-dock in Portsmouth .
That a First-Rater, one of the top ships of the line, should have been built at all was considered rather unusual at the time, when naval thinking was moving towards manoeuvrability and speed rather than size and fire-power. Of course when she was ordered, in December 1758, Britain was in the middle of the Seven Years' War with France, and the walls of oak were a comfort to the people and the authorities alike.
And the Victory designed by naval architect Sir Thomas Slade was the epitome of those walls of oak: 90 per cent of her wood was oak, two feet thick at the water-line. Fortuitously for posterity, and very unusually, the oak used in building her (from an estimated 6,000 trees) had been seasoned for 14 years - forward thinking meant something in those days! In addition, once the frame had been laid down in Chatham dry-dock political changes (the end of the war with France) meant that rather than a few months to season further under cover, Victory had three years. These two factors combined are believed to be the secret of her longevity.
The navy ordered a ship of 100 guns, with 30 each on the lower and upper gun-decks, and 28 on the middle, (in decreasing shot order 42, 24 and 12 pounders from lower to upper) plus 10 6 pounders on the quarter-deck and two more on the forecastle.
May 7 1765 was not the glorious launch that history might have wished for: it was a rather blustery day, putting off visitors, and when she hit the water Victory had a list to starboard that required more than 30 tons of shingle as corrective ballast. And rather than active service, the Victory was placed on the reserve and left unfinished, moored off Chatham. She may have been lost before even being commissioned, as six years after launch she had sprung some boards below the waterline and had to be rushed into dry-dock.
But finally on Monday 13th April 1778 the recently finished 3,500 ton vessel set sail for the first time, and shortly had her full complement of around 850 men on board. That same year she would see service at the first Battle of Ushant; she also fought at the second battle of the same name in 1781 and at the victory at Cape St Vincent in 1796. But of course she is remembered, revered even, for her part in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar , Nelson's finest - and last - hour.

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