Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

The Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth was a place I have been meaning to visit since first year and I eventually got around to it on a beautiful yet chilly January weekend (as the above photo suggests)! The dockyard is home to one of the world’s oldest dry docks that was commissioned during the reign of Henry Vii in 1495. It houses the remains of the ill-fated Mary Rose and Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. In the past Portsmouth has played a substantial role for defending the south coast of Britain throughout the years and still remains as an important base for the Royal Navy today. The following documents my key features of the day

Mary Rose

The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship that was completed during the early years of Henry Viii’s reign. It was thought to have been named after Henry’s favourite sister Mary. In spite of the ship sinking off the coast of Portsmouth, it had survived other previous campaigns against the French since 1512. During one of the earlier campaigns the Mary Rose was considered to have been a fast and nimble ship of the English fleet. However it is still best remembered for sinking at the Battle of the Solent on 19th July 1545. So how did the Mary Rose meet her downfall?

During the third war with France the French fleet under the orders of Admiral Claude d’Annebault set sail for England in July 1545 with 128 ships. The English fleet swiftly sailed back to Portsmouth harbour after not being able to oppose the French without heavy galleys. However the waters of the Solent made the situation far worse. The English fleet had only thirteen small galley ships to confront the French and was commanded by two larger ships, one being the Mary Rose. Unfortunately the wind force was particularly strong that day and the very early on during the battle the ship leaned sideways into the Solent and water started to come in through the open gun ports. Many men perished as the Mary Rose sank and it was estimated that 90% of the men on board died. It has been argued that more men might have survived if the anti-boarding netting was not on the sides of the ship. As well as open gun ports other suggestions have been put forth to determine why the Mary Rose sank so quickly. Some contemporary accounts suggest the crew did not listen to orders to other suggestions that the French actually succeeded in bombing the ship and as a result the Mary Rose sank.


From the wreckage the Mary Rose is considered to be a snapshot in time. Many objects had been found from this period which include arrows, chests and even a variant of the game backgammon. For instance we can learn a lot about the men who were on the ship from the bones that have since been recovered. Common features that have been determined by the bones of Tudor seamen suggest many had rickets as the shape of the bones towards the lower leg bowed outwards, suggesting many men had a Vitamin D deficiency due to their diet and most likely from their life at sea. Other findings from the bones suggest scurvy, malnutrition and fractures too were common.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory was a ship that was launched in 1765. In spite of being launched in 1765 and experiencing battles at Ushant, Cape Spartel and Cape St Vincent. However she is best known as being the flagship of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Wishing not be buried at sea Lord Nelson wished to be buried on land after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. In order to preserve his body for burial he was placed in a cask that contained alcohol until HMS Victory made it back to England.

Punishment at sea on the HMS Victory-

Who would visit the HMS Victory without mentioning one the Royal Navy’s infamous disciplinary procedures, the Cat o’ nine tails. The Cat o’ nine tails was a multi-tailed rope that was used for physical punishment and weighed roughly 370 grams. They were administered on deck so that the crew would watch the punishment taking place it was thought this helped to deter other troublemakers of the crew witnessed the Cat. Boys at sea were however spared the Cat o’ nine tails but they were not spared an alternative form of physical punishment. They received a similar module to the Cat but it was made of softer rope and contained five tails not nine. Although a huge crowd did not gather for this punishment it was still however humiliating for the troublemaker as they were usually canned on their rear end. In order to stop the spread of infection salt was rubbed into the wounds of men. The whole point of this practice was to aid the perpetrator’s pain but salt added to the punishment as it made the wound sting further.

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