The Final Farewell
In July 1805 following his pursuit of the combined fleet to the West Indies Vice Admiral Lord Nelson made Gibraltar where he struck his flag and returned
to England and his beloved Merton. He had been at sea for the best part of two years. On the 2nd September Captain Henry Blackwood called at Merton to
inform Nelson of the activity of the combined fleet which had taken refuge at Cadiz but appeared to be preparing for sea again. The Admiralty without
question and by common consent directed Nelson to take over command of the Fleet from his old friend Cuthbert Collingwood. Nelson took over command on
the 29th September, he was 47 years of age. He accepted this responsibility with resignation. Prior to leaving Merton for Portsmouth he wrote to an old
friend, Captain Richard Keats “I am now set up for a conjurer and God knows they will very soon find out I am far from being one. I was asked my opinion
against my inclination, for if I make one wrong guess the charm will be broken”.
At 0600 hrs on the 14th September1805 Nelson arrived at the George Hotel in Old Portsmouth. Later that day he left the hotel via the rear entrance to
avoid the gathering crowd. His entourage made their way on foot to the Spur Redoubt where a large crowd had gathered to get a last glimpse of their hero.
Here Nelson boarded his barge from the beach to be rowed out to where the Victory was moored at the fleet anchorage off St Helens at Spithead.
As the barge pulled away from the shore Nelson turned to Hardy and quietly said, “I had their huzzas. I have their hearts now”. Captain Hardy had been
directed to prepare the Victory for sea and indeed Nelson’s flag had been hoisted at 1130hrs that day. It was at this time that Nelson’s coffin was taken
aboard the Victory. It was presented to Nelson by Captain Hallowell formerly of the Swiftsure and was made of wood from the main mast of the French
L’Orient which was destroyed at the Battle of the Nile.
Victory weighed anchor at first light on the 15th September but with light northerly airs was obliged to anchor at 0600 hrs getting under way again at
0800 hrs finally clearing St Helens in light breezes. HMS Euryalus (Captain Henry Blackwood) accompanied the Victory until the 26th September and was
also present at Trafalgar.
The painting shows Nelson being rowed out to his Flagship H.M.S. Victory moored at Spithead on the 14th September 1805. His flag is hoisted at the fore
as Vice Admiral He is accompanied by Captain Hardy. In the right distance can be seen H.M.S. Euryalus. A 74 gun 3rd rate is moored on the larboard
side of the Victory. Preparations are being made to secure one of the cutters to the Victory’s starboard quarter davits. Men can be seen aloft on the
Victory and the Euryalus overhauling parts of the rigging in preparation for the morrow. A dockyard hoy is lying alongside Victory having unloaded stores.
H.M.S. Victory is a 104 gun first rate ship of the line. She was ordered in 1758 and laid down at Chatham Dockyard on the 23rd July1759 being launched
in 1765. She was designed by naval architect Sir Thomas Slade. An interesting fact concerns the launch of the Victory. On the day of the proposed
launching a shipwright – Hartly Larkin designated ‘foreman afloat’ realised that the hull was too wide to pass through the dock gates. Measurements were
hastily taken and it was confirmed that the gate entrance was 9” too narrow. Every available shipwright was summoned and sufficient wood was hewn from
each gate to enable the hull to pass through. Once afloat the hull assumed a distinct list to starboard which was corrected by extra ballast.
However the lower gunports were found to be only 4’ 6” above the waterline which meant that in rough weather the ports would need to be closed.
The implications of this for any action in any rough sea meant that the guns of the lower deck could not be used. Fortunately the Victory was not
involved in an action in rough weather. Following Trafalgar due to her poor structural condition her future hung in the balance. On two occasions the
Admiralty decided that she should be scrapped only to be thwarted by the strength of the public outcry and finally by a decision by King Edward VII that
she should be saved. In 1922 her condition was such that she could longer remain afloat and was subsequently towed into No2 dry dock in Portsmouth
Dockyard, the oldest dry dock in the world where she remains to this day as the oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Navy. On the 5 March 2012
ownership of the Victory passed from the M.O.D. to the H.M.S. Victory Preservation Trust. She is currently undergoing the most extensive restoration
programme since Trafalgar. This work is being undertaken by Defence Equipment and Support and BAE Systems with a 5 year contract to be extended to
10 years if required. It will be 12 years before the masts will be back in place. The multi-million restoration programme will undoubtedly secure the
Victory’s future for many years.
H.M.S. Euryalus was a 36 gun frigate of the Apollo class. Built by Henry Adams at Bucklers Hard on the River Beaulieu in Hampshire she was launched in
1803. The Euryalus (Captain Henry Blackwood) escorted H.M.S. Victory from Portsmouth to Cadiz and led a squadron of 4 frigates observing the combined
fleet in the prelude to Trafalgar. The combined fleet eventually sailed on the 20th October 1805. During the battle the Euryalus took Admiral
Collingwood’s badly damage flagship Royal Sovereign in tow turning her to enable her to engage the French ship Formidable. Following the death of
Nelson, Admiral Collingwood took command and transferred his flag to the Euryalus thus giving the frigate the distinction of becoming the flag ship of
the British fleet for a period of 10 days. Following Trafalgar, Euryalus saw service in the War of 1812. On the defeat of Napoleon H.M.S. Euryalus
spent more than two decades as a prison hulk ending her days in Gibraltar where in 1860 she was sold for breaking up.
8th June 2018