Battle of Trafalgar: teaching resources and ideas

By Rachel Hayward | 28 May 2010
Showing the painting of the Battle of Trafalgar by JMW Turner with the billowing sails of HMS Victory dominating the background and wounded and dying sailors in the forground

(Above) JMW Turner's The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October. Courtesy National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection

The Battle of Trafalgar took place of October 21, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar on the Spanish coast. It saw the death of Admiral Lord Nelson but also the key defeat of the French and Spanish navies thereby scuppering Napoleon Bonaparte's plans to invade Britain.

News: With the recently launched Trafalgar Origins game from Channel 4 to coincide with their Bloody Foreigners season beginning June 28, 2010 - we thought it was also time for a museum resource response to the Battle of Trafalgar for you and your pupils.

Image from online game Trafalgar Origins showing ships in battle

Screenshot of Trafalgar Origins game courtesy Channel 4 Education

Game on
It's action stations for Channel 4's Trafalgar Origins sea battles game. The aim of the game is to complete a series of missions with your 19th century frigate ship against the enemy French and Spanish fleets in the lead up to the Battle of Trafalgar.

Your pupils can improve their score and stats by taking loot from the ships they sink and getting better crew members. They will also enjoy choosing weapons for combat including shot and powder barrels.

My nine year old son, who tested the game for me, ended up playing it for well over an hour - a very good sign. He found the manoeuvring of his ship, so he could fire rather than be fired at, quite tricky at first but he liked the practice missions and then taking part in the ocean skirmishes between the English, French and Spanish navies. There's a multi-player mode for your really enthusiastic players - or young naval historians as we should call them.

We like the fact that Brian Lavery, Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich has advised on the historical accuracy of Trafalgar Origins.

We recommend the BBC Animated Map: Battle of Trafalgar as it gives your pupils battle ship manoeuvre tactics to help them play Trafalgar Origins, including broadside, raking and the Nelson Touch. The interactive begins with detailed Battle background info more suitable for confident readers but the rest is very simple to follow.

Battle of Trafalgar on tv
Trafalgar Origins links to Channel 4's Bloody Foreigners season of programmes about the significant part non-British nationals played in the growth of British world power. In the case of the British navy, ex-slaves and foreign convicts were press-ganged as sailors.

Hats off to Channel 4 for following up its excellent Battle of Hastings series 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth with another great historical drama - this time about below deck on HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar. Trafalgar Battle Surgeon depicts the Battle of Trafalgar as experienced by HMS Victory's surgeon William Beatty and his team. There is strong language and at times it's gruesome, so you may prefer to show just clips to your class.

More Battle of Trafalgar resources from the UK museums and beyond
The Battle of Trafalgar CBBC Newsround Quiz is a great little whiteboard activity.

See a 360 degree tour of HMS Victory on the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website. Click on the link for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard events including school holiday activities. You can also find out more about learning with Education visits to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Zoom into JMW Turner's painting The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 in the National Maritime Museum's online collection with your class. Turner based the painting upon his own sketches of HMS Victory. What message about Trafalgar do your pupils think Turner is trying to give the viewer?

The Nelson Museum has a CD-based education pack you can order as well as its real-life sessions and activities for schools.

Finally, our Culture24 Nelson Trail has a comprehensive outline of venues with a Nelson connection.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: