The massive 227. 5 ft. long 100 gun First Ship-of-the-Line HMS Victory was one of the larger most ships of the time. The only other ship that can compete is the American naval vessel USS Constitution. With many battles under its belt, it’s surprising she has lasted 251 years. As with any other ship of the time she was built entirely of wood besides the other material to keep her running such as screws, bolts, ropes, and canvas. But the wood had to come from somewhere and that somewhere was 100 acres of naturally grown British forest oak. Over 5000 hand selected mature trees.
There were three different variants that were sought after. These three allowed for the easy manufacturing of much needed pieces for the ship. This wood would sometimes be stored for up to 14 years before use. This long wait made the wood strong and much more seaworthy. Unfortunately this oak was only used for the ship itself and not the things that went into the ship like the decks, masts and yardarms. These parts were made from two different woods such as fir and spruce. These two woods were much lighter than oak which made them ideal for the ship’s innards.
Almost 3000 ft. was used. In the meantime while all the wood was being collected, processed and stored things like nails, canvas, cannons, and other was being built. The canvas alone took many years to make considering more than 6510 sq. yards of its was used. This canvas total did not include the spare canvases. Not only that but to work with the canvas almost 27 miles of rope was also on board. But that was just the materials being used.
Making the ship was a feat in itself. The making of bent planks and beams used a common technique. The planks ould be set over a fire whilst water was poured over to prevent the wood from burning. Weights would then be set over the soaking hot wood to bend them into shape. Certain parts of the ship like the waterline and lower would be as thick as two feet. When it came to moving the mast helped out. Its immense size alone took five to seven trees just to make the base. This did not include the other trees used to make the rest of the massive mast. But before the rest of the mast was installed huge iron hoops had to be put around the base to ensure it didn’t fall apart during rough conditions.
Finally after years of production she was released to the sea in 1765, although rough conditions were played a huge game in this ships future layout; because water wasn’t the only getting friendly with the hull. After fighting for a while it was decided that in 1780 the hull would be covered in over 17 tons of copper sheeting. This ensured that water as well as cannon balls would not do more damage than anticipated. Even though she was a larger ship of the time she also needed more than wood and nails to operate. As with any ship, she needed a crew.
Over 500 men were needed to fully operate everything she had. Some of the mock up of the ship included 70 skilled Petty Officers, 212 experienced seamen, 193 regular seamen, and 81 landmen. Royal Marines serving as the fighting force were also onboard and totaled 11 Officers and 135 Privates. Age range for crew mates could go from 12 to 67, with 40% of those men being under the age of 24. Crew was easy to find certain time because the ship was government funded. Pay was the same as a merchant yet the work was a lot easier.
Not to mention food, water and of course shelter was a guarantee. Sadly the work was also dangerous. Cannon balls and drowning were the well known ways of dying. Ship accidents, wrecks and disease accounted for 90% of the 92,000 fatalities during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In order to make sure the ship was a well oiled machine, the captain and nine other officers were in charge of the 500+ men onboard. Along with being responsible for the men’s duties, they were also in charge is correcting wrong actions. Discipline was a major play in the way the ship was ordered.
Unlike today’s form of discipline were crew have to go to military court and possibly serve jail time for their actions, men were punished at sea mainly because of how long it might take to return to land. Discipline was done onboard, whether it be a minor infraction or a major offense. Punishments as simple as stealing food could be taken very harshly. Men caught stealing were subject to running the deck while fellow crew members beat him with knotted ropes. Drunkenness, insolence, or neglect of duty could be punished with anywhere from 12 to 36 lashes with whips and/or sticks.
Sometimes when nothing else could be thought of, the men would be chained to the deck with only bread and water to eat Younger crew member were no different to the offenses but instead of such harsh treatments they could be flogged with a cane. One of the other things the officers could do is to tie them to the mast. Exposed to the wind and cold would be the least painful yet worst way to be punished. Any battle is sure to be deadly and have a lot of loss. Especially when fighting against the British. 100 guns helped her during battle tremendously.
She survived 5 major battles during her lifespan and yet her only true loss was the one of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. On July 27th, 1778, as a flagship under Admiral Augustus Keppel, the HMS Victory goes off to fight in the First Battle of Ushant. Along with 30 other ships they fought the French fleet of 29 commanded by Comte d’Orvilliers. Unfortunately the battle went nowhere and soon led to political unrest between both Britain and France. Preceding the first battle came the Second Battle of Ushant.
HMS Victory under the leadership of Vice Admiral Richard Kempenfelt and 11 other ships intercepted a French convoy under poor weather conditions. Soon the British Fleet took part of the French Navy, being composed of 15 transports, 1000 soldiers and 550 French sailors. The last battle the Victory served in the American Independence was the Battle of Cape Spartel in 1782. Serving as the flagship of Admiral Richard Howe, the British fleet of 35 successfully resupplied Gibraltar for the third time. They fought over an unsettled issue against both the French and Spanish fleet consisting of 38 ships.
Under the command of Admiral Sir John Jervis, the Victory went into the battle of Cape St. Vincent with 15 other ships. After a long fight with the Spanish fleet of 27 they won. Along with the win was the capture of 4 ships and 3000 sailors. Victory’s most famous battle was the Battle of Trafalgar. Under the command of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson the British fought the combined fleet of the French and Spanish. The French and Spanish fleet lost a total of 22 ships and the British losing none. Unfortunately during the battle Nelson was shot and soon died after receiving news of the British victory.