|HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship, which led the British fleet|
to Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905.
Way back in the autumn (it seems such a long time ago now), the Man of the House and I spent a long weekend down on the south coast. The weather was dire (it still is) but nevertheless we had a wonderful time, and spent a day in Portsmouth, where we looked round Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, which was absolutely fascinating. I took the camera with me, but stupidly forgot to charge the battery before we went. However, before it died on me I did manage to get a few pictures of Victory, which I’m putting up for this week’s Saturday Snapshot, as well as some of Henry VIII’s ship, the Mary Rose (I’ll try to remember to post piccies of that next week).
|Sightlines: Once upon a time this gun (or is it a cannon?) would |
have been used in war, and you would have seen a battle
raging outside, but all we saw was rain!
|Man and ropes! The Man of the House up on one of the decks.|
All I knew about her was that Admiral Horatio Nelson died on board after he was shot during the Battle of Trafalgar, when the British beat the French, so I looked it up and found that 27 British ships defeated a combined force of 33 French and Spanish ships, off the south west coast of Spain, near Cape Trafalgar. For some reason I thought Trafalgar was in Belgium, but I think I may have confused it with Waterloo!
|I have no idea of the technical terminology - I just wanted to |
get a shot looking up at one of the masts!
|Dishes and containers for the men were all made of wood,|
and you can see the hammocks strung up behind the table.
And I’d thought of the men as all being sailors – wrong again, because there was a hierarchy. At the top of the ranks were the officers, and the non-commissioned officers who included specialists like the ship’s master, the bosun, the surgeon, the gunner, the carpenter, the purser (who was 67, which must have been pretty old in those days) and the cook, as well as midshipmen. Then there were petty officers, able seamen, ordinary seaman, landsmen who had never been to sea before, and 40 boys – one just 12 years old. In addition to that there were four Royal Marine officers and 149 marines, who were a sea-based unit of soldiers.
|A close-up view of a hammock... not at all what I imagined.|
It’s the details about the men who lived and worked on board that I found most interesting. There’s masses of information about them as you walk around, and the most charming serving naval officers act as guides, to answer questions and explain what went on 200 years ago. The narrow hammocks, made from strong material, with proper sides were another surprise – they in no way resembled the flat, swinging, knotted string bedding of my imagination. But they must have been difficult to get into, and they were not very big. I think they are about 16 inches wide, so those Georgian sailors must have been jolly fit, and jolly thin!
|The galley: I reckon this is smaller than my kitchen!|
And I never dreamed the galley would be so small! It was dwarfed by the huge iron cooking range - however did anyone ever manage to cater for almost 1,000 men in that confined space? And what about the chickens and pigs kept on board to provide some fresh food!
|The cooking range - would you like to cook on that? At sea? |
In rough weather? What with this, and lanterns, and candles,
and all gunpowder on board I'm amazed there was never a
fire or explosion!
Even more astonishing are the Admiral’s quarters, which are positively luxurious compared to the space where the ordinary crew members slept and ate. Nelson’s bed, or ‘cot’ as it was called, looks bigger and more comfortable than the hammocks used by the crew, and was hung with drapery embroidered by Lady Emma Hamilton (a replica is on display). And his dining room wouldn’t have looked out of place in an elegant stately home of the period, with fashionable furniture, delicate china and fragile glassware – I dread to think what the breakage rate must have been like in rough weather!
|Part of the Admiral's Quarters.|
However, life for the men was much less grand: they had to make do with mugs and platters made from wood, which had the advantage of being cheap, and unbreakable. Breakfast was normally cold oatmeal porridge, and there was often some kind of stew, made with salt meat, in the middle of the day, while the evening meal was more likely to be ship’s biscuits and cheese.
|Men had chests to store their possessions - the scarlet jacket|
is part of a marine's uniform.
Fresh water went off quickly so, according to the guide book, the daily rations usually included eight pints of beer. That’s a gallon of beer a day – just imagine that sloshing around inside you all the time! When you stop and think that there were 820 men on board, all drinking a gallon of beer a day for the duration of a voyage, you can see it adds up to an awful lot of alcohol, which was all stored in barrels down in the hold. Gunpowder, food and water was also kept down, along with vast quantities of iron shot, and baskets of shingle, which could be moved around to ‘trim’ the ship and improve sailing performance.
The ship had to be kept clean, and the decks were scoured with ‘holystones’, which were blocks of sandstone, cut to the size and shape of a Bible. But we didn’t see any provision for washing facilities for the men. Perhaps they didn’t bother, because fresh water was in such short supply, or perhaps they hauled a bucket of sea water on board and doused themselves in that. And don’t even think about toilets. All they had was a bench, right up by the bow or the head of the ship… and there were holes in the bench, open to the sea down below! Isn't that horrible?
|Leg irons, known as bilboes, were a form of|
punishment. Sailors were also lashed with the
cat o'nine tails for things like theft or insolence.
As an unexpected bonus, our visit coincided with Trafalgar Day Celebrations (the battle took place on October 21, 1905 ), so we were lucky enough to see a re-enactment showing how a canon was fired - but without actually firing it for real, which was a bit peculiar, but there would certainly been an outcry if they used live ammunition!
|There were ropes and wheels and stuff|
all over the place - you had to watch
your feet and not trip over!
We saw the spot where Nelson died, and a barrel like the one in which his body was ‘pickled’ to preserve it for burial when they finally got back home. I’d heard this tale before and always thought it was a myth, but apparently it really is true. They stuck the body in a barrel of brandy, and I think they added other stuff to help with the preservation – a bit like making brandied peaches! Thankfully, the barrel on display is a reproduction, and is about as tall as me, so it must be around five feet, which may not be all that big for a person, but is pretty large for a barrel. And that seems like a good place to finish!
|Nelson, painted by Lemuel Francis Abbott.|
*(Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda, at West Metro Mummy - click to follow the links to other participants).