A Russian aircraft carrier, steaming (literally by the look of the black smoke) through the English Channel this week reminded me of the many photographic magic lantern slides that exist of Royal Navy ships. Most of them date from the First World War and were, I think, produced by the War Office or the Navy itself, as they appear to be official photos in a standard format. However, today’s slide is of a much earlier warship, HMS Victory. Undoubtedly Great Britain’s most famous naval ship, the Victory was built in 1759 and is currently undergoing a major refurbishment (a 13 year, £35m programme) so, hopefully, will be with us for a few years yet.
She (why are ships always female?) was preserved for the Nation as a result of a public appeal in 1922 and is now based in Portsmouth. The Victory’s claim to fame is that she was Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar, off the west coast of Spain in 1805. The British fleet of twenty seven ships was facing the combined forces of thirty three French and Spanish ships and, despite Nelson’s death during the battle, the British were the victors. Astonishingly, no British ships were lost but twenty two French and Spanish vessels were. It was at this point that Britain established its reputation as ruler of the waves and, in the 19th century, our empire grew as rapidly as it did, partly because we could deploy Royal Navy fire-power to trouble spots relatively quickly and we out-gunned any opposition.
Today’s photographs are from two magic lantern slides, a hand-tinted one of HMS Victory probably from the 1890s, the other, a rare Edwardian image of the ship’s deck.
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