Very few first-rate ships were built during at any period of British naval history because it is at some points very expensive to build and maintain. Around 1712, there were no first-rate ships on active duty as the second-rate ones performed functionally. So many problems encountered in building these large ships and a decision to build one concerned much political and financial issues as it was military. So few of these ships were constructed that Thomas Slade, a most able and talented ship designer had but built one. Despite those problems, the first-rate ship was constructed and commissioned as flagship, being large enough to carry a fleet Admiral and his staff.
The first years of Seven Years War, Britain has experienced many military disappointments, but in 1759, it was a turning point that Britain won many victories in North America, Caribbean and in Europe. Prime minister Pitt has realized that France was still a threat and Britain’s strength laid in her navy, a decision of ordering 12 new ships was made, one of them was HMS. Victory ship – the first rate of 100-gun ship. However, HMS. Victory was not the first-rate ship to bear that name as she had four predecessors:
- The first Victory was built in 1559 and named Great Christopher. She was bought by Queen Elizabeth and renamed. Being rebuilt to 800 tons and 34 guns with a crew of 750.
- The second Victory was designed by Phineas Pett. The ship was built at Deptford Dockyard by Burrell and launched in 1620. Originally, she was of 870 tons and carried 42 guns with a crew of 500 and then rebuilt in 1666 to 1029 tons and carried 80 guns. The ship was broken in 1691.
- The Royal James of 1675 as the third Victory. Built by Deane at Portsmouth, in 1691 the Royal James was the first-rate ship of 100 guns renamed Victory. In 1695, she was rebuilt from 1422 to 1486 tons and remained number of guns – 100 guns with a crew of 754 by Lee at Chatham Dockyard. The ship was broken up in 1712.
- The fourth Victory suffered tragical fate. She was of 1920 tons and carried 100 guns with a crew of 900 when she was launched at Portsmouth in 1737. In October 1744, she was lost by a gale while off the Casquets and the entire crew was destroyed with her. This caused the name “Victory” was deleted out of Admiralty’s ship names list.
The construction of the fifth Victory was under the war pressure, however, the pressure was relieved during her construction progress with a relaxed pace. She was commissioned on 12 March 1778 and by May of that year, she was a flag ship under the command of Admiral Keppel. HMS. Victory first action was at the battle of Ushant between British and French fleets on 23 July 1778. Both fleets suffered damages and Victory returned to Plymouth to be repaired. The pattern of service and refits were taken place throughout the years.
In May 1803 Victory was sailed for the Mediterranean under command of Admiral Lord Nelson. On 21 October 1805, Nelson’s fleet won a remarkable victory, the ship Victory was badly damaged and only returned to England the following December for repairs at Gibraltar. Forever associated with Nelson’s last battle, Victory is now one of the most famous ship of the time.
After many years of serving the British Navy under many admirals and fleets, Victory was paid off at Portsmouth on 28 November 1812, her career ended after 34 years of service and HMS. Victory is now preserved as a museum at Portsmouth.
Source: The 100-gun ship Victory by John McKay