On 7 May, 1765, the first rate ship of the line HMS Victory was launched from Chatham Dockyard. It had taken six years and six thousand trees to build her. Alas, there was no immediate use for the ship. Finally, she was brought out of mothballs for first action against the French in 1778.
Victory is best known as the flagship of Admiral Lord Nelson. Nelson led his fleet against the French at Trafalgar where he was fatally shot on 21 October 1805, a musket ball lodged in his spine. To Captain Thomas Hardy, the dying Nelson said, “Kiss me, Hardy.” After Hardy’s kiss, Nelson said, “Thank God I have done my duty.”
Victory’s career at sea ended in 1812, and was nearly scrapped multiple times. One account holds that Thomas Hardy as First Sea Lord told his wife he had ordered that Victory be demolished. She broke into tears and sent him back to rescind the order.
A restored HMS Victory is dry docked at Portsmouth where it serves as a museum ship, and is the oldest commissioned vessel in the world. (The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned vessel still afloat.)
Innumerable engravings and paintings portraying the Victory exist, but I have had enjoyed a hand colored engraving commemorating its first journey in 1778 hanging in my home for several years.
The legendary Victory has even been commemorated in the sartorial world. High on my wish list of fun things to own is the lovely HMS Victory silk pocket square from Mario Rubinacci.
Happy Birthday to Victory. Thank God she has done her duty.