Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Victory Parade

Here are my Mum, Dad and brother in 1960, standing in front of 'HMS Victory' the famous flagship of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). I took the picture I believe, so it wasn't bad for an eight-year old. One of the possible themes from this week's Sepia Saturday photo prompt, is big ships. HMS Victory qualifies on two counts; her size and her reputation.

I don't remember much about the 1960 visit, but I have been a few times since to the Naval Dockyards, Portsmouth, where not onlyVictory, but also Warrior (1860), are berthed. HMS Warrior was the Royal Navy's first armour-plated, iron-clad warship and has been beautifully restored. When completed in October 1861, she was the largest, fastest, most heavily-armoured warship the world had ever seen, but she was never to see battle in her time in service. She had rather a chequered career over the years and had several name changes, narrowly avoiding the fate of her sister iron-clads who were sold as scrap metal. She is now the fully-restored museum ship we can see today in Portsmouth.

The dockyards are well worth a visit, though perhaps this should be spread over two days as there is so much to see. Henry VIII's warship is also on view there. The Mary Rose was sunk accidentally during an engagement with the French invasion fleet, on 19th July 1545. The wreck was raised in 1982 and yielded up artefacts and human remains which have helped to inform our knowledge of the life of the Tudor sailor. Perhaps most telling is that of the bones of 179 individuals recovered, all male, many were between the ages of 11 and 13 years and the majority below the age of 30. The ship was stocked 'like a miniature society at sea' and many of the objects related to indiviual crew members; clothing, games, various items for spiritual and recreational use and those relating to mundane everydays tasks, such as personal hygiene, fishing and sewing.

I remember being fascinated by the conditions on board Victory on each of my visits. I was surprised at how cramped the living quarters for the sailors were, but we really do get a good impression of their lives 200 years ago. Nelson's quarters are all beautifully preserved, including his dining table, where he would have dined with his brother officers. His 'cot' looks exactly like that of an infant, which would make sense if he wanted to sleep when the seas were at their most turbulent. There are many stories woven around Nelson, his flagship and the Battle of Trafalgar. The one which most people remember is that he hoisted the flags which displayed the signal 'England expects that every man will do his duty' immediately prior to the battle on October 21st 1805. He lost his life on the deck of The Victory, when shot by a French sniper later that morning. A commemorative plaque now marks the spot on deck.

In 1989 we took our son and daughter to visit these famous English ships at the Naval Dockyards. Here they are seated in front of a ship's figurehead.

This is from  HMS Hibernia and represents the Celtic God, Dagda with his lyre. The figurehead no longer stands in Portsmouth, but was restored, just five years after the above picture was taken, and returned to Malta, from where it had been removed. The ship had been a permanent fixture in the Grand Harbour in Malta, until the middle of the last century. Hibernia was a first rate ship of the line' when launched in 1804, with a full complement of 850, including the Admiral. She served in the Napoleonic Wars and remained in the Mediterranean for a time as a flagship, but then sailed for Malta as a receiving ship, the Naval equivalent of a barracks. She was broken up in 1902 and the figurehead sent to Portsmouth. A book has recently been published chronicling Hibernia's story and this was reviewed in 'The Times of Malta' a couple of weeks ago. Click here to see some real sepia pictures of Dagda.

To bring my Victory Parade full circle, The (London) Times newspaper carried a story this very week about the Victory. The ship is currently undergoing a £50, million facelift which includes the removal of modern sealant from its decks and its replacement by hemp reclaimed from old ropes. The material, known as oakem, is then made waterproof with pitch. Conservators are using the same materials and implements which were used originally prior to the battle of Trafalgar. Then the crew did the job in a month, the latest restoration is expected to take at least 20 years.

If you can't wait that long, why not lift anchor and go and see what other Sepia Saturday contributors made of the prompt.


  1. That was really interesting about the Mary Rose, so poignant about the ages of the sailors. I remember being very surprised when I found out how old my grandfather was when he ran away to sea, changed his name and told fibs about his age too!

  2. Thank you for another interesting trip to one of England's historical places. I'm impressed that the HMS Victory still is in such a perfect state. No Dutch ships of war survived the 19th century. I remember visiting the Cutty Sark in London (before she burned down) when I was young.

  3. I'd enjoy touring these dockyards. I'm in awe of old ships, whether restored or replica. I marvel at how people lived day to day in cramped quarters - no electricity and no refrigeration and no bathrooms! Riding out a storm in a little wooden ship had to be unforgettable, and not necessarily in a good way.

  4. Wow, you certainly did bring forth the "big ships" so very interesting, the stories behind these lovely vessels is always enjoyable for me. Your family look so happy in the first photo, and your brother is so handsome too! I can bet your daughter and son had lots of fun on that trip too, the sights and things they had to see! You are so very lucky to be able to walk in the footsteps of lives so long ago. One of the reasons I can't wait to visit England again! When I was last there we toured the Dover Castle and got to go inside and through the underground tunnels that they had only recently opened to the public! What fun! You know the more I venture out to see things, the more I realize I've missed so much, need to keeping tracking what else I've missed!

  5. Our visit to the SS Great Britain at Bristol was fascinating and I have promised myself that I will get to see Victory and the Mary Rose at Portsmouth and the Cutty Sark at Greenwich. Thanks for jogging my memory.

  6. You have told us so much today, Nell. Very, very interesting post. Thank you for your effort. I wonder why there were so many young boys aboard that 1545 ship? That must have been such hard work for them.

    Kathy M.

  7. I am told that one of the reasons cots were so short then, was that people believed it was dangerous to fall asleep in a horizontal position. All blood would flow towards the brain... So you had to fall asleep in a semi upright position.
    I certainly did not fall asleep reading your post! Thank you.

  8. I love your view on the matter, but that article you linked, it says the rotten part of the Hibernia was sold to bakeries. For what purpose? I like nothing rotten near MY food!!

  9. Very interesting! As you described the ship, I started thinking about our trip to Plymouth and touring the ship there - same reactions of wonder at how they lived aboard these early vessels. And thinking of all the boys on board the Mary Rose. Tragic.

  10. The Dagda figurehead is very impressive. It really looks huge next to the children.

  11. The great ships of the line were a marvelous technology but the sailors' history was pretty horrific. I still can't imagine fitting 800 men AND all their rope, sails, food, powder, etc. into such small wooden ships.

    The traditional oakum that they will use to refit the Victory was once the product of the many workhouses in Britain. Impoverished children and the elderly picked through old rotten rope, shredding it into fibers that would be stuffed into the chinks of the wooden hulls.

  12. Great post! And your eight-year old self did a great job taking that photo! The artifacts from the Mary Rose sound quite fascinating.

  13. I suppose that, though the life of a sailor was hard by modern standards, it might have compared favourably with the lives they might have lead otherwise - at least they got fed.

    While Victory was fascinating, I found Warrior much more impressive. Because it has an uncluttered deck, you can see the whole length of it when on board. For that reason, I found the huge batleship USS New Jersey amazing from the quayside, but underwhelming when on board, because you could never see more than about 100 feet, even when on deck.

  14. Alas every ship I ever sailed on became either scrap or a reef. I did go on the Queen Mary a few times which now sits in Long Beach, California. My grandmother sailed on her in the 1950s on a visit back to Scotland. How fascinating would it be to go onto a ship as you've described knowing an ancestor had sailed on it?

  15. Fascinating information and cute family pictures...the stuff that sepia saturday is made of. I can't stop thinking about those little boys!


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