14 January, 2007

HMS Victory

In the post with the title English vernacular there is a reference to the name painted at the stern of HMS Victory in 2005, when she was refurbished with the intention of bringing her back to her state in 1805. The one conspicuous failure in this well-intentioned programme was the anachronistic choice of ‘Trajan’ capitals for the name, a style that even the Ministry of Works – which used it on signs for everything from iron age camps to royal palaces – might hardly have dared to suggest for this purpose if it had been asked for advice in (say) about 1950.

The painting, above, by Louis-Philippe Crépin, 1807 (Musée de la Marine, Paris), shows a distinctly French view of Victory and Redoutable at Trafalgar, with a sharp-shooter aloft in Redoutable in the act of killing Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson, and the battle ensign of Victory trailing in the water from a severed mast. (Redoutable later struck her colours, and sank next day.) Although the state of Victory’s stern shown here was derived by the artist from an earlier source and the detail is minimal, this painting is one of several that confirm that the name was indeed painted there. The small detail, below, from a painting by Nicholas Pocock, an invented scene bringing together all the flagships that had been under Nelson’s command, shows the same anachronistic view of the open stern galleries of Victory that did not survive her major refitting completed in 1803, but gives an even more convincing view of the large letters of the name painted across the counter.

Above Painting by Nicholas Pocock, ‘Nelson’s Flagships at Anchor’, 1807. BHC1096 (detail). Below Ship model ‘Barfleur’, SLR0453. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

At the foot of this post there can be seen the name of Victory as it would appear in the capitals from Bowles’s Roman and italic print alphabets of 1775, and in the example that follows, capitals from an alphabet in Bickham’s Universal penman of 1733, etc. No doubt they would both benefit from some additional robustness that would bring them nearer to the lettering in Pocock’s painting, and to the names on the ship models of the National Maritime Museum, such as Barfleur:

But as a style of lettering they both seem likely to be considerably closer to the one in which the name of Victory must have appeared in 1805.

Perhaps they could be borne in mind when the next repainting is planned, a little sooner (one hopes) than 2105.

My thanks to David Collins for his images of Victory in 2005, and to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the Musée de la Marine, Paris, for their generous help.