‘The shrine of manly virtues’: the 1920s Restoration of HMS Victory, Sarah Westbury


HMS Victory post-restoration. Detail from late 1920s postcard. Image: Sarah Westbury

Over the past year I’ve been researching HMS Victory, the 251 year old warship preserved in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The Victory is already the subject of dozens of publications, but these focus almost exclusively on the ship’s military career – so the famous battles it fought in, the famous admirals in command – and focussing especially on its role as the flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

But despite all of this published work, for me, the most interesting, and largely forgotten chapter of the ship’s history is actually its preservation and restoration in the 1920s. This was when an organisation called the Society for Nautical Research, who were a motley crew of antiquarians, naval architects, artists, and retired admirals persuaded the Admiralty to let them take control of the Victory’s future. By 1921 the Victory was found to be badly decayed: the First World War had seen to it that the Admiralty’s attention and resources had been distracted elsewhere.

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Call for Abstracts: Sea Lines of Communication 2016

Theme: Discovery
Location: Hartley Suite, Highfield Campus, University of Southampton
Date: 17 November 2016
Abstract Submission Deadline (NOW EXTENDED): 13th May 2016

The Southampton Marine and Maritime Postgraduate Group (SMMPG) would like to invite abstracts for a multidisciplinary conference. SMMPG is a collaboration between the University of Southampton’s postgraduate academics, the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI), and Lloyd’s Register. The group aims to encourage multidisciplinary  research by fostering discourse between many disciplines, from shipbuilding to archaeology and oceanography to literature.

The theme of the conference is Discovery, which is meant to be taken in a broad sense. As such, ideas for papers include (but are not limited to):

  • how do you rediscover centuries-old maritime history?
  • the discovery of new technologies to address current problems
  • new ways of improving mariners’ physical and mental health
  • how do new and novel technologies affect the interpretation of the law?
  • how does our understanding of maritime geography influence literature?
  • how do we adapt to the effects of global climate change?

The event builds on the highly successful conferences of the last two years, where papers from diverse disciplines were presented to audiences of scholars and professionals from various maritime fields; and published in a monograph of the day’s papers. As befits the theme of Discovery, we hope to engage researchers from many diverse fields to inspire a new approach to maritime research.

We are accepting abstracts from postgraduate and early-career researchers in any discipline, for papers which resonate with the theme of Discovery and relate to any four of the SMMI’s broad themes:

Society & Government ● Trade & Transport ● Energy & Resources ● Climate & Environment

Papers will each last 15 minutes and will be organised into four panels based on the categories above. Each panel will be introduced by an established academic and followed by a period of discussion. Additionally on the day we will be having poster presentations. Therefore, we will be accepting abstracts for these as well. While Discovery is the broad theme we have chosen to work within, the conference’s focus is firmly on the concept of multidisciplinary communication. The ultimate aim of the conference is to forge connections between academics with different fields of expertise as well as engage with the wider public, including representatives from business and industry. As such, the presentations should be delivered with the aim of communicating the paper’s central themes and proceedings will be published in a book, which aims to develop a set of tools that can be used to further multidisciplinary research and develop our understanding of the maritime world.

Please send your proposal (250-300 words) to smmpg@soton.ac.uk by Friday 13th May, 2016. Abstracts should be formatted in a Word file and attached to the email. Please include your full name, the name of your university, and a brief bio. Themes are open to interpretation. Please indicate if your abstract is for a presentation or a poster. Please direct any questions to the conference organisers at the above email address.

‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’ (Stephen Fisher)

Steve Fisher, a historical investigator for the Maritime Archaeology Trust, kindly agreed to speak with our group about the Trust’s newest project, ‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’.


When thinking about World War I, often the first thing that comes to mind are the trenches, and rightly so. However, because of this, WWI at sea is often forgotten, despite the fact that there are many moments that parallel World War II’s famous moments. For example, more U-boats sank ships during WWI than WWII. Furthermore, technology that is often linked with WWII was actually first used during WWI: depth charges, torpedo boats and aircraft carriers to name a few.

England saw a high amount of ship loss during WWI, with about 4,200 ships lost (with more than half of these merchant vessels). There are currently an estimated 3,000 shipwrecks in British water from 1914-1918. Looking at all of these ships would be near impossible in the four year time limit of their Heritage Lottery funding. Therefore, this project is narrowing in its focus to those wrecks found on the south coast of England. Of these wrecks, the three countries who a the most represented are Britain (550 wrecks), Norway (80 wrecks) and Germany (60 wrecks). Coming up on the centenary of their sinking, many of these ships are protected under UNESCO laws. However, UNESCO cannot protect them from the currents and other natural elements destroying the ships. It is because of this fact that this project is so important not only to the understanding of WWI, but also to the creation of an accurate historical record. The plan is to create a ‘virtual dive’ website, much like the one created for the ‘Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas’ project.

The most recent updates can be found at the ‘Forgotten Wrecks’ website: www.forgottenwrecks.org

Using historical, archaeological and palaeoclimate sources to create an understanding of the Viking expansion and collapse (James Spray)

There was a great presentation given by James on using historical, archaeological, and palaeoclimate sources together to create an understanding of the Viking expansion and collapse. He told us about cultural drivers (exile, need for more land, escape from bad rulers), climate drivers (the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age), and physical remains (animal bones). When the Vikings went to Greenland, they were in the midst of the Medieval Warm Period, which enabled them to continue their previous lifestyle of raising cattle and farming. However, as the temperatures began to drop moving into the Little Ice Age, they needed to adapt and began to eat more seals and fish (which can be see in the animal bone remains), though they were not as adept at surviving at the Inuit tribes currently living there. This was possibly because of historically documented evidence that the Vikings saw eating fish as taboo. Additionally, the colder weather created ice floes that cut Greenland off from Iceland, which was their main avenue for trade.

James also told us about how The Day After Tomorrow has actually happened before, to a certain extent, and the National Oceanography Centre monitors the North Atlantic through RAPID. RAPID measures the different streams of water coming into the Atlantic. This includes the Gulf Stream and Upper Mid Ocean, as well as the Ekman (which is a physical marker). These combined make up the Meridional Overturning Current, which can show us whether or not the temperature is changing (but not always why).