The publication of this title, written by Brian Lavery, is very timely as next month sees the anniversary of the launch of HMS Victory from Chatham Dockyard. Sumptuously illustrated, the book tells the story of the ship since she first took to the waters in May 1765. It contains what may be surprises for many readers: that she was almost wrecked on her launch; that diplomacy conducted onboard her played a crucial role in provoking Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812; and that in 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm set the First World War in motion at a desk made from her timbers
Organised in twelve chronological chapters, the book, not surprisingly, devotes one of these to the young Nelson (promoted to captain at the age of just 20). Nelson was born a few weeks before his most famous ship was ordered, and his career paralleled hers in many ways.
Although it deals with the Battle of Trafalgar in some detail, perhaps the most interesting sections of the book cover the other lives of the ship, which at different times was a flagship, a fighting ship, a prison hospital ship, a training ship for officers and boys, a floating courtroom, a signal school in the early days of radio, tourist attraction and national icon. Lavery shares with the reader how Victory was seen through many eyes, including Queen Victoria, admirals, midshipmen and ordinary seamen – and Beatrix Potter who visited as a girl!
As would be expected from a historian of the calibre of this author, there is a detailed Bibliography and Notes Section included.
Legions of books have been written about Lord Nelson and HMS Victory, many of which I consulted when I wrote my novel Victory. Despite the abundance of titles already published I was impressed with this beautifully produced book and it certainly warrants a place in my personal library.
A special exhibition, which Lavery curated, is running at Chatham until 31 May.