The Great Cabin: An Adventure on Board HMS Victory
In 2013, I had a very special and ever-memorable adventure on board the historic HMS Victory. But before telling my story, I’d like give a little background as to how I came to be a Lord Nelson fan-girl to begin with, and the train of events that landed me on the deck of such a prestigious national relic!
By the time of the 200th anniversary of The Battle of Trafalgar, my passionate love of dinosaurs and prehistory was beginning to wane a little (it’s been revived in the last couple of years, however!) and there was room for a new interest. But never would I have guessed that it would come in the form of Nelson and his navy!
Only a few years before I was standing in Trafalgar Square, on my first visit to London, with my dad who was enthusing about the guy perched on top of the stone column, and all the wonderful things that he had done. Me: not interested. If my dad found it interesting, then I definitely wasn’t going to! (Oh, the irony!)
A couple of years later, when I was nine, I went on holiday to Portsmouth. The first time I went was when I was about two, so I didn’t really know anything about the place. Needless to say, when I was informed of our new holiday destination, I wasn’t exactly excited. Nevertheless, I ended up completely loving it. I’m not sure why, but I did!
While I was there, I went aboard HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship, for the first time. I was mildly interested- that is, I didn’t hate it. I remember my aunty Sally doing a brilliant, masterful impersonation of Nelson, while we stood on the Quarterdeck. ‘I see no ships,’ she said, raising an invisible telescope to her eye, presumably thinking that I knew what she was referring to. I didn’t.
When we returned, I was to begin my first year of middle school. A few weeks in, we were told that Friday, the 21st of October, was Trafalgar Day. My knowledge on Nelson at that point was, to say the least, pretty limited! I wrote it in my school diary, completely clueless. When the day came around, I was pleasantly surprised. We had an assembly first thing and some of the things they mentioned rang a few bells. I recognised the man called Nelson with the big hat. I recognised HMS Victory. Something clicked in my brain, and suddenly, it was interesting. The idea of a stupendous battle in which Nelson, the hero, for his country so gallantly gave his life struck a chord with me. I was hooked.
The whole day was dedicated to Nelson and Trafalgar. We went to our normal classrooms, but instead of the usual lessons we learnt about some aspect of Trafalgar or Nelson and the world he lived in. It was one of the best school days I ever had. In PE we were pretending to be seamen living on the Victory and preparing for battle. I hated PE, but this was one of the few lessons that I actually enjoyed and put effort into!
At the end of the day, unusually, my dad picked me up from school, and my mom agreed that I could stay with him for a few hours. We met up with Sally and my granddad (who I call Daddad!) in Worcester and I asked questions the whole time about Nelson. I had to keep being reminded of what his first name was, because I had never heard of the name ‘Horatio’ before! We went back to Daddad’s house, and on the TV was live coverage of some of the events that were taking place in commemoration of Trafalgar.
I had to leave before it was finished, and I had to beg my granddad to ask my mom if I could watch it at her house. She wasn’t impressed by the request, but she put it on all the same. While I was sat there glued to the telly, she jested that I was watching ‘silly TV!’- let me tell you, she wouldn’t dare now! One of the last things they did was fire an imitation broadside from the Victory. It was very impressive, and I clearly remember the excitement and pride I felt as the guns thundered and poured out smoke. I wanted to be there. I still wish I could have seen it in person!
In the following weeks, my enthusiasm continued, probably because my dad and granddad were moderately interested in it themselves, and would happily answer some of my questions. Over the years, after a slow start, my knowledge began to grow. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m getting there!
Anyway, now to my personal experience that took place in 2013. On a visit to HMS Victory during my holiday to Portsmouth, me and my little sister, Skye, were actually invited, past the barriers, into, guess where… Nelson’s Great Cabin!!! *Fan-girl scream!*
How, you ask, did I manage to get into a barred off area of the Victory without feigning a celebrity or paying for a special tour?
Well, basically, me, Dad and Skye were going on the Victory on our last day in Portsmouth, and I let Skye carry my Nelson Teddy (yes, I really have one, lol!) on the Victory (the perfect excuse to take some pics of him on the ship without getting weird looks!). He was spotted by a lady who was checking our tickets before entering the ship, and she suggested us asking the person posted in Nelson’s cabin if we could take some pics of him in there. My dad replied that it would be very cool, but it all depends on the mood of the person up there! The lady (I never got her name), agreed and checked who it was, saying, ‘Oh, it’s John, he’d definitely do it!’
So we went up the ramp leading to the Victory‘s entrance port, and were greeted with the usual strong oaky scent on the dimly lit middle gun deck (there are three in total, with extra guns on the Quarterdeck and Forecastle). It was very busy that day and throughout the entire circuit of the ship, we were constantly trying to dodge, slip through and just generally escape the crowds.
In Nelson’s cabin, on the upper gun deck, we were, much to our surprise, greeted at the door, with John saying that he was expecting us. Fair play to the lady outside, who had obviously taken the time to give him a heads up. I was expecting John, a stocky guy with a white beard and wearing a Royal Navy uniform, to just take Nelson Ted into the far end of the cabin and we’d take a pic of them from behind the barrier at the other end. That would have been exciting enough.
But, nope, John did one better. He asked who was in charge of the camera, with me nervously replying that it was me. With that, me and Skye were taken past the rope barrier, (poor Dad was stuck behind it!) and lead into the Nelson’s day cabin, which everyone else can see but cannot enter. With Nelson Teddy placed on the table (which is, as I understand it, Nelson’s actual table), and Skye sitting on one of the chairs, I took a grainy snap with my iPod, and was pretty much shaking from panic and excitement. Skye also sat at the window seat at the back of the cabin, had a pic next to replicas of Nelson dress and undress uniforms, and modeled a replica of Nelson’s everyday hat (complete with eyeshade) that they have on his table.
I was pretty overwhelmed, to say the least, and everything passed by in a rather flustered blur. To makes things even more intense, behind the barriers, the cabin was packed with other tourists watching us and questioning what was happening. It was kind of like being a celebrity, but let me tell you, I don’t envy Nelson being followed around by crowds everywhere he went!
Before leaving the Great Cabin, I took a snap of Nelson Teddy inside Nelson’s cot, (which I probably would have done anyway, haha!), and we thanked John for so kindly letting us in. John even shook Nelson Teddy’s hand! We took several other pics during the rest of the visit, although I was in a bit of a shocked daze at this point! I couldn’t really believe what had just happened. When we left Portsmouth for the new holiday destination of Plymouth, I left in buzzing mood- probably the happiest I’ve ever felt when leaving Pompey!
Victory is always a good attraction, but this experience took it to a whole new level of awesome. It was easily one of the most memorable moments of my life, and I feel like I have some weird, permanent connection with the old vessel now! My dad bought me and Skye a wristband with HMS Victory on it, and I’ve worn it every day since!
I can’t help but think how, if the Historic Dockyard hadn’t changed their so-called ‘yearly’ ticket (which actually only allowed one visit on the Victory and half the other attractions), to a real yearly ticket, which you can use to visit the attractions as many times as you like within a year of your purchase of the ticket, then I very probably wouldn’t have been able to go on the Victory on holiday, and this experience would never have happened! It’s difficult to describe how glad I am that the Historic Dockyard finally saw sense after all these years!