The fifth warship in the British Navy to bear this name, the first being the flagship of Sir John Hawkins during the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. She was laid down at Chatham in 1759 as a first-rate ship of the line of 2,162 tons, mounting 100 guns. Her overall length was 69 metres (226 ft 6 in.) and her beam 16 metres (51 ft 10 in.). Work stopped on her when the Seven Years War (1756–63) ended, and she was not launched until 1765. During the years of peace very little work was done on her and she was not completed until 1778, the year the French joined the Americans in their War of Independence (1775–82). Her first commission was as flagship of Admiral August Keppel (1725–86), and during 1778 she was involved in her first action, off Ushant, and she subsequently saw action, always as a flagship, during the Revolutionary War with France (1793–1801). Between 1798 and 1800 she served as a hospital ship for the prison hulks before undergoing an extensive refit—almost a rebuild—which lasted two years.
At the start of the Napoleonic War (1803–15) she became Nelson's flagship in the Mediterranean, and carried him to the West Indies in his chase across the Atlantic after Admiral Villeneuve. Then, in October 1805, he sailed in her from Portsmouth to take command of the fleet watching the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Cadiz, and in the same month he was killed on her quarterdeck during the battle of Trafalgar. She was badly damaged during the battle and had to be towed to Gibraltar for repairs before sailing for England with Nelson's body aboard.
After another extensive refit she was recommissioned in March 1808 and for much of the next five years served in the Baltic as the flagship of Admiral Saumarez (1757–1836). In December 1812 she was paid off and never saw action again. She remained in reserve until 1824 when she became the static flagship of the Portsmouth Command. Although she was always recognized as a historic ship, and particularly so by the closing years of the 19th century, no steps, beyond essential repairs to keep her afloat, were taken to preserve her. It was the naval historian Sir Geoffrey Callender (1875–1946), who, as honorary secretary and treasurer of the Society for Nautical Research, instigated the drive to raise sufficient funds to restore her. She was put in dry-dock at Portsmouth dockyard in 1921, and £120,000 was raised to return her to how she had looked at Trafalgar. When this was completed she was opened to the public in July 1928, a permanent memorial to Nelson, Trafalgar, and the British Navy as a whole.
Subjects: Maritime History.