HMS Victory and the Portsmouth naval museum


I’ve been having a good summer for adventures – they just all seem to have piled in at once. This wasn’t quite as exotic as Spain, but still something I’d been wanting to do for a long time – a combined trip to see HMS Victory at Portsmouth, and to go on a south coast trip on Waverley from Southampton.

It was a horribly wet day, and my arrival was slightly disappointing – I had read but had forgotten that Victory‘s topmasts were struck down, so I was expecting something like the arrival into Hartlepool only more so, and didn’t get it.

There didn’t seem to be any rule about how many times you could go to the diffeent things, so I decided I was going to start and finish with Victory, and see what happened in between. (The pictures are a mix of both visits, but I only got outside in the morning, because they’d decided it was too slippery and dangerous by the end of the day).

I was kind of disappointed by my first sight of the ship, too – I was expecting something *more* bigger than Trincomalee than I got. I think it was partly the effect of the missing masts, and partly that Trincomalee is 50 years younger and pretty big for a frigate, but although Victory is obviously much taller and generally bulkier, I think my impression was roughly right – we seem to be talking about roughly 20% longer and wider.


Still, there was plenty to explore. The ship has a very impressive front door, but I was a bit confused by it having a door at all – I thought you went up and over (and there were steps to do that too). Maybe the door is for more modern guests, since it’s still a working ship in a sense?

Victory’s front door

The man checking the tickets had sympathised with me being alone (which surprised me, because I forget it’s odd!), and told me not to miss the spot where Nelson died – which you can’t, really, because it’s more or less the first thing they funnel you to. (I’m not sure how I feel about having this as the great attraction. Not particularly moved, anyway.)

Site of Nelson’s death
Wet quarterdeck
Missing masts

This level has the captain’s cabin, with easy access to the deck. Apparently they’ve cleared away a lot of Victorian clutter that was on the ship, trying to put the furnishings back to something nearer how they would have been at Trafalgar. This means not a lot of explanation either, although there are guides dotted about to explain things.

The captain’s cabin

The great cabin is the level below – Victory was usually a flagship, so this was usually the admiral’s cabin. I found this more moving than the memorial on deck, really, because I could begin to picture not only Nelson but other admirals in other similar spaces, living and working away.

Nelson’s desk

There are four different sections here – an anteroom, a dining room, the main cabin, and a sleeping cabin – plus the quarter galleries!

Nelson’s toilet!

Laid out on the tables were various charts of the area around Trafalgar, and I had fun picking out all the places I’ve been this summer – as well as the Barbary Coast for Pellew!

Topical map

Down below there was an area laid out for the surgeon – and down below that it was mostly two dark for taking photos, although fun to explore.

Surgeon’s table
The surgeon’s bottles

I was surprised by just how low the beams were in some places – I know there’s 5’4″ of clearance on Trincomalee, because I can walk straight under the beams as long as I’m brave, but there wasn’t always quite that here.

Outside there was a figurehead from HMS Trafalgar.

HMS Trafalgar figurehead

In the main museum there was a lot of Nelson memorabilia, and a gallery more generally about the navy – and they let me go up the conference room stairs to have a better look at the Geoff Hunt paintings for the Master and Commander books (but despite a sign in the museum saying that they sold prints, they didn’t, which was probably a good thing!).

Another part was about Victory and Trafalgar, including a quiz where you could choose Hornblower as the commander at Trafalgar if you wanted to, and a little panel about Collingwood.


There was an explanation here that the first some of the ships knew of Nelson’s death was seeing his cabin windows dark that night – I’ve read elsewhere that the first Temeraire knew of it was seeing the Commander in Chief’s night signal on Euryalus (which had the dismasted Royal Sovereign in tow), which gives me shivers – that ships went a long time with no contact with land is obvious, but that they had so little contact even with each other is hard to get your head around now.

Upstairs there was a collection of figureheads, Nelson’s favourite signal (‘Engage the enemy more closely’, which flew all through the battle), and Charles II’s barge, used for Nelson’s funeral.

Nelson’s favourite signal
Funeral barge

I had hoped to get over to the firepower museum at Gosport, but the waterbus was off. So instead I went to see HMS Warrior, which was a bizarre cross between Trincomalee and the Waverley, but did finally give me a good masts picture!

HMS Warrior
Warrior’s masts

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