Five myths about Nelson and HMS Victory busted

    HMS Victory, Nelson, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
    HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
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    The HMS Victory is one of the world’s most famous warships, synonymous with Admiral Nelson. This year, the warship is being returned to her Georgian heyday at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – the biggest change in the way HMS Victory is presented to the visiting public in almost a century.

    Visitors will now get to experience HMS Victory through Nelson’s eyes, as the drama of the battle unfolds, deck-by-deck, hour by hour, as the ship sets sail on September 14, 1805.

    The new visitor route through Victory provides access to areas that have never been available to the public before. To celebrate to new experience, historian bust some strange myths surrounding the famous ship.

    nelson, victory, historic dockyard
    Nelson’s Great Cabin on HMS Victory restored to Georgian heyday of 1805 which visitors can access for first time Credit: National Museum of the Royal Navy

    Historians at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard have been able to explode some commonly held myths about life onboard.

    1 Nelson didn’t sleep in a cot and his drapes weren’t hand-sewn by his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton. He slept in a futon-style bed on the floor. He suffered with seasickness and, since the loss of his arm at Santa Cruz (Tenerife), it was easier for him to manoeuvre onto a flat bed with tent above.

    2 For decades children have squirmed at the idea of the crew having to tap their biscuits on the table in semi-darkness to “scare” the weevils out. Sadly, this is another myth busted. Weevils in food onboard were far less common: infested food was not issued and condemned.

    3 The square meal: not, as commonly believed, a reference to the shape of the plates onboard, but “squarewas 19th-century vernacular for a “fit and proper” meal. And what’s more, its origins are US-based.

    4 Not enough room to swing a cat: another favourite with visitors referring to the cat of nine tails. But, in reality, Shakespeare wrote about the questionable practice of putting a cat into a leather bag and hanging it from the bough of a tree in order to be a moving target. The cat of nine tails is first recorded a century after Shakespeare mentions the practice.

    5 Live animals were kept on the middle gun deck: simply not true. The ship was kept shipshape and clean, and keeping livestock on the middle gun deck would have caused too much mess. However, livestock was kept on the upper decks and as many as 50 live bullocks were delivered to Victory while blockading the French coast on a regular basis.

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