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This day will be launched his majesties ship the Victory, estimated the largest and finest ship ever built. Several of the Lords of the Admiralty, Commissioners of the Navy, and many persons of quality and distinction, are expected to be present, for whose receptions great preparations are making through the Town”, London Public Advertiser 7th May 1765

The order for the Victory to be built at Chatham was signed by the Navy Board on the 7th July 1759. Work started almost immediately and the first timbers, those for the keel were brought together at the Old Single Dock on the 23rd July 1759 in a ceremony that even William Pitt the Elder – the then Prime Minister, and the future Earl of Chatham is thought to have attended.

Once her frame was complete she was left to ‘season in frame’ until the Seven Years War had ended and work restarted on her. Launched on 7th May 1765 she was completed and fitted out – not for war, but for the reserve fleet.

It was not until 1778 that she left Chatham for sea service – as Augustus Keppel’s flagship. Following the Battle of Cape St Vincent (1797) she returned to Chatham where she underwent a Great Repair – before returning to sea as Nelson’s flagship and the battle of Trafalgar.

The Battle of Trafalgar ended Napoleonic France’s ambitions to invade Britain and her Navy’s ability to threaten Britain’s worldwide Command of the Oceans. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 ushered in a century of ‘Pax Britannica’ Britain’s undisputed naval power and position as global superpower – and laid the foundations for much of the modern world we know today.

COMMAND OF THE OCEANS

The Seven Years War (1756-63), marked a turning point in Britain’s global fortunes, with a string of victories on both land and sea that limited both France and Spain’s territorial ambitions worldwide and left the Royal Navy with unrivalled command of the world’s oceans.

Chatham-built ships were at the heart of many of these naval battles – one of the most significant being the Namur, a 2nd Rate ship of the line built at Chatham in 1756. The Namur served as Boscawen’s flagship for the capture of Fort Louisburg in 1758, and fought against the French fleet at both the battles of Lagos and Quiberon Bay in 1759. In 1762, Namur led a campaign against Spain’s Caribbean possessions culminating in the capture of Havana. In later life the Namur took part in two further worldwide wars – the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars – seeing action at the Battle of the Saintes (1782) , Cape St Vincent (1797) and in Strachan’s action in the aftermath of Trafalgar (1805) taking the surrender of one of the French flagships, the Formidable. Today part of this important ship survives at the Historic Dockyard as the Ship Beneath the Floor, archaeological find within the Command of the Oceans gallery.