Saturday, 7 March 2020

All at Sea - On the Stocks in JJ's Dockyard, New British Builds, Part One

The first part of my work on some of the named British ships in my 1:700th collection has started with perhaps the most famous, and certainly the oldest, largest and still serving ship from the classic age of sail, HMS Victory of 104 guns and flagship of perhaps one of the most famous admirals in history.

I have a long memory, like so many British folks of my generation, of being introduced to Nelson at a very early age in my schooling, with the range of Ladybird, illustrated books for kids coming to mind, which were very much in vogue in the 60's, illustrating a young Nelson taking a swing at a polar bear on the ice, with the butt of his musket, as he stood over a comrade and defended him from the beast standing tall as a picture of roaring teeth and claws.

I first toured the Victory in my early teens after we had studied the Battle of Trafalgar at school, with a television documentary in the school hall, covering the battle, before we got on a coach to take the class to Portsmouth.

A few years ago I took my own sons to Portsmouth and the fantastic Historic Dockyard to help them appreciate the heritage that British naval history represents and to get to know our most famous and somewhat likeable admiral, who displays a good share of typical human weaknesses alongside his great humanity and obvious abilities as a naval commander and leader of men in battle.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2016
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2017

Perhaps it is those qualities that still keeps Nelson very much in the hearts of many of his countrymen where other great military heroes don't seem to quite appeal in a similar way.

I am a great admirer of the abilities of the Duke of Wellington who perhaps picked up the mantle of opportunity that Nelson's great victory offered Great Britain, but I know which of the two I would happily look forward to invite to dinner.

The wax cast of Nelson based on contemporary images of the man, so vividly captures his appearance.
My photo taken on our recent visits to Portsmouth.

I have never, in my time in the hobby, built a model of the great man's flagship, at his greatest battle, HMS Victory, resplendent as she must have looked in her signal bunting barrelling towards the line of the Combined Fleet, seemingly oblivious to the sporadic cannonade coming at it from the enemy ships ahead.

Thus as I sat down to prepare the model that Warlord have created, it was of that ship that I had in mind to act as a centre piece to my British collection of models.

My interpretation of HMS Victory in 1805 flying 'England expects'.

In addition, I clearly took inspiration from the visits made to the great lady over the years and reference to mine and other pictures only added to the motivation to produce a model that would grab the eye when set among other similarly arrayed model ships.

The ship had a glorious history which began long before its ultimate association with Lord Nelson.

Ordered during Britain's first world war, in 1758, at the height of the Seven Years War, with the country committed to an earnest struggle in defending its colonial possessions against the French, Victory was built to better facilitate and gain an edge in the global aspect to the conflict where naval power was crucial to the outcome.

Sir Thomas Slade 1703 -1771

The ship was designed as a 104-gun ship of the line by Sir Thomas Slade, perhaps the most influential naval architect of his generation with his ship designs gaining general approbation and providing the generic models for the principle classes of ships used by the Royal Navy of the period.

Launched in 1765 and consuming 6,000 trees in her construction from her laying down in 1759, she served as the flagship to Admiral Augustus Keppel at the Battle of Ushant, 27th July 1778, Admiral Sir Richard Howe at the Battle of Cape Spartel 20th October 1782, Admiral Sir John Jervis at the Battle of Cape St, Vincent, 14th February 1797 and of course Vice Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October 1805, a quite illustrious list of battle honours for any great ship.

Following the Battle of Trafalgar, Victory was declared too old and in too great a state of disrepair to continue on as a first rate ship of the line and so went into gradual retirement by being downgraded to a second rate in 1807 with a diminution of her armament, then to becoming a troop ship from 1810 to 1811, to a depot ship in Portsmouth in 1812 and ending her decline as a prison ship from 1813 to 1817.

Major repairs carried out in 1814 and a later general strengthening of her structure enabled the old lady to be recommissioned in 1817 as 104-gun first rate but by 1824 she was declared past the point of active service and returned to Portsmouth to act as the Port Admiral's Flagship until 1830 when in the following year the Admiralty ordered her to be scrapped.

However the Admiralty met its match in the face of a public outcry at such plans and was forced to simply leave the ship afloat to gradually spring leaks as its role changed throughout the 19th century from tender to training ship until her state of repair in 1887 almost saw her sink at her moorings.

This process of lack of care and disrepair as the Navy tried not to spend too much money on a vessel that had less and less of a role to warrant any investment on their part continued on into the next century, until the decision was taken to save the ship in 1921 and to remove her to a permanent dry dock facility, which would be the oldest dock in the world, No.2 Dock in Portsmouth.

The process of restoration and maintenance continues to this day with a huge project in progress to shore up the hull from a sag, as timbers struggle to hold their place one to another after all this time, which sees the ship today without topmasts and rigging as this vital work is done.

Thus my recent pictures of her includes none from the outside as I can't bare to show the old lady in that state, looking as if smiling without her teeth in, and so I have posted a picture of a postcard I had of Victory from my second visit to her in the early 1980's before the current work started, seen below as used as a reference for my model.

HMS Victory remains to this day the Flagship of the First Sea Lord and has been the case since October 2012, remaining the oldest commissioned warship in the world and I would guess still a ship that retains great affection among the British public.

I think Warlord have produced an excellently affordable wargame model of the great ship that really exudes the power of the Victory combined with the graceful curves of her structure, and I really enjoyed building this kit.

I am really looking forward to seeing the model at the head of a column of British ships of the line bearing down on an enemy line ahead in preparation to unleashing the number of dice this model can let lose.

Typically HMS Victory would have carried 30 x 32-pdrs, 28 x 24-pdrs, 44 x 12-pdrs and 2 x 68-pdr carronades.


My home town of Exmouth on the East Devon coast has some links to Lord Nelson and the many Georgian fronted town houses and cottages with pillared door porches similar to that seen on the hull of the victory and with sash windows looking like the stern gallery quarters on the ship, are testament to its gentility and place among the upper echelons of polite naval society.

Lady Frances, Vicountess Nelson 1798
by Daniel Orme, National Maritime Museum

Carolyn and I were married in our local church which is the final resting place of Lady Frances (Fanny) Nelson, the Admiral's estranged wife after his liaison with a certain Emma Hamilton, and she is remembered today with a blue plaque on her former house in the town.

Sir Edward Pellew, later Lord Exmouth

As well as the Nelson connection the town donated its name to another great naval officer of the age, Sir Edward Pellew, later Admiral and created 1st Viscount Exmouth in 1816 following his successful action against the Barbary States and his bombardment of Algiers by an Allied fleet that secured the release of 1200 Christian slaves, Sir Edward being a local lad hailing from our neighbouring coastal town of Teignmouth.

Pellew is one of the greatest British naval commanders of this era with his association with the Razee frigate created from the former 64 gun HMS Indefatigable and, given his local connections, I intend to cover some of his actions with the collection going forward.

I, myself, also have a tiny piece of Nelson associated memorabilia, and something that is one of my prized militaria possessions, namely a Court Martial Record dated 11th November 1794, seen below.

HMS St George 98-guns seen here as she would have looked in 1787

The court martial document lists those present aboard the 98 gun HMS St George to hear the trial of two officers accused by the ships company of HMS Windsor Castle 98-guns, of 'Cruelty and Oppression', with the second named captain sitting on the jury of officers, as a certain Captain Horatio Nelson.

My court-martial record dated 11th November 1794, aboard HMS St George in San Fiorenzo Bay, with Captain Horatio Nelson in attendance, listed as the second named officer in the list of captains.

I have attached a transcript of the full three page document, written in the amazingly perfect hand writing of the time using a quill.

The Mediterranean Squadron, under Vice Admiral Hotham was wintering in San Fiorenzo Bay, Corsica after an eventful previous year during which it had been led into Toulon under the command of Vice Admiral Lord Samuel Hood, eventually forced out of the port by the actions of a young artillery officer called Napoleon Bonaparte.

A contemporary view of San Fiorenzo Bay, Corsica occupied by the Mediterranean Squadron in 1794

The island of Corsica was occupied by British forces in 1794 after Admiral Hood, needing a safe anchorage close to Toulon to be able to monitor the comings and goings of the French, opened communications with the Corsican separatist, General Pasquale de Paoli, and on his understanding of the parlous state of the Republican French garrison launched an invasion of the island in January and by June after several difficult sieges of the key towns, the French garrison surrendered and General Paoli formerly transferred Corsica's allegiance to Great Britain on the 19th.

When reading the court martial document, I was reminded by its date that Captain Nelson was probably not at his best for sitting on the panel of officers given that he was still recovering from the blinding of his right eye on the 12th of July when it was hit by gravel thrown up during a heavy artillery exchange during the Siege of Calvi.

It was during the actions against Corsica that the Royal Navy first encountered a new structure to them, the gun tower at Mortella Bay, which managed to frustrate a landing by troops after a two and a half hour bombardment of the tower by the 74-gun HMS Fortitude and the 32-gun HMS Juno with both ships taking significant damage from the gun tower; and with the Fortitude suffering sixty-two casualties and a fire, before pulling out of range.

The tower surrendered the next day after coming under fire from guns landed on shore, but the impressive defence was noted by British commanders and the British south coast still boasts its Martello towers to this day as a testament to the dark days of a threatened French invasion in 1805 and the sturdiness of these defensive structures.

Anyway to conclude and hopefully round off my ramblings in a post designed to talk about the latest model in my collection of ships from this period, one of the ships attached to the Mediterranean Squadron at the time of the invasion of Corsica was HMS Victory and the watercolour picture below of the Siege of Bastia in the Island of Corsica, May 1794 was made by Ralph Willett Miller from the Victory.

Work on the collection now moves on to the British Fleet box set from Warlord and two other named first rates, to include three named British frigates and 74's together with a generic British first rate, HMS Royal Sovereign and the Spanish behemoth that was the Santisima Trinidad.

More anon

Sources consulted for the post


  1. Brilliant.. without a doubt your best post to date.. As I sit hear typing Victory is no more than 10 miles away - I really must get down to see her again soon.. By the way, this may interest you, it's local to you, and there is a connection to your post... the video's of her being made are fascinating - can't wait to see her under full sail..

    1. Hi Steve, T
      Thank you, and yes you must, the project to get her fully restored needs all the support it can get, which I why I got an annual family ticket last time which was not cheap, but something I considered an investment towards national heritage.

      Wow, I just watched the video, and I am playing catch up here as my son who is a carpenter has already been following the project. He also put me on to another series of YouTube videos of some chaps who've been liaising with the Pellew project on their own rebuild of the Tally Ho, which I am now looking forward to watching when I have a spare moment.

      Thank you for the 'heads up'.


    2. JJ - Tally Ho is stunning - and the video's are well worth a watch.. been a patreon/patron since about #2 or #3... Leo was the one who gave me the lead to Pellew which is also stunning.. can't wait to see those masts on.. she's going to be a beast under full sail...