HMS Victory to be re-painted in original Battle of Trafalgar colours

By Culture24 Reporter | 27 June 2015

Britain's most famous warship, HMS Victory, is getting a new coat of paint to make her look historically accurate

a photo of the side of HMS Victory with the hull painted in mustard and black stripes
HMS Victory is to be painted with a new paint scheme© Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The most celebrated ship in naval history, HMS Victory, is to be repainted to make her historically accurate and appear in the same colours she was painted in when she took part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. 

The repaint is part of a major revamp of the ship by the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) who are undertaking the most “comprehensive and forensic” programme of conservation work to be done on HMS Victory since she was first installed in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in the 1920s.

Due for completion in September 2015, the repaint is being implemented with the input of a team led by expert conservator Michael Crick-Smith of the University of Lincoln. Crick-Smith and his team have just completed the most extensive paint survey ever to be conducted on board a historic vessel.

Describing Victory as a “unique and extremely complex archaeological artefact”, Project Director, and Head of Historic Ships, Andrew Baines, described how the fabric of the ship retains evidence of the ship’s construction, modification, repair and conservation between 1759 and the present day.

“As such her timbers are artefacts and an incredibly rich source with literally dozens of layers of paint which have been analysed,” he added. “By combining the archaeological evidence supplied by Crick-Smith and the original accounts for Victory’s stores, held by the National Museum, we have been able to pinpoint precisely the colours worn by Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.”

Careful research has shown that she was painted externally in a combination of pale yellow and dark grey at the time of the famous victory, when Admiral Lord Nelson was fatally wounded.

a composite photo of two decks one painted a salmon pink
Left: The Quarter Deck before re-painting. Right: The Quarter Deck after re-painting.© NMRN
“Inside and out, HMS Victory has undergone layer upon layer of redecoration as she took on various different roles; from a warship, to a court-martial vessel, a hospital and now a living museum to the Georgian navy,” explained Michael Crick Smith.

“We have removed several hundred complete paint samples from various locations covering all areas, and in some places have uncovered as many as 72 layers of paint.”

It would have been the Captain, Thomas Hardy, Nelson’s trusted right-hand man, who was responsible for the painting of the ship in 1805. Being a man of restricted means, Hardy chose pigments supplied free of charge by the Royal Navy, including lead white and ochre.

Now after three years of meticulous research, NMRN and Crick Smith say they will be able to present HMS Victory to the public as Hardy had it painted and “in a state closer to the original than they dared to hope”.

As the repaint progresses, the NMRN is also taking the opportunity to repaint Victory’s name on the ship’s stern, as the current font that was added in 2005, has been revealed as an incorrect version by James Mosley, an expert on the history of letterforms and typography.

“The lettering was wrong when ownership of HMS Victory passed to the NMRN,” added Baines, “James has undertaken a huge amount of research… and suggested how we might replace it with a more appropriate letterform. James introduced us to the John Morgan Studio who very kindly developed a historically appropriate letterform for the ship’s name at no cost to the project.

“We’ll be completing the ship’s painting with the work to adopt the new letterform; it’s a small detail, but important in demonstrating the Museum’s commitment to research and accuracy in our approach to Victory’s conservation, interpretation and display.”

Visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will be able to witness the transformation as it takes place throughout the summer - with the painting of the hull on the port and starboard predicted to take six weeks each.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Latest comment: >Make a comment
I have read your artical on the newly "discovered " colour scheme of Hms Victory. It is very interesting, but unfortunately the new colour scheme just painted on Nelson's flagship is Still incorrect. A professional team of ex naval historians and lab tests carried out over twenty years ago have proved that the colour should be a light buff buttermilk yellow. Enter the website to see the true colour scheme.
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