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HMS Victory leaving Agincourt Sound, 19th January 1805 - Geoff Hunt

HMS Victory leaving Agincourt Sound, 19th January 1805 - Geoff Hunt

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Oil on canvas
20 x 33 inches
(51 x 84 cms)
Signed, lower left

Agincourt Sound is now called the Maddalena anchorage, which lies at the northern tip of Sardinia. In 1803-5 Nelson used this as the principal anchorage for the Mediterranean fleet in its distant blockade of the French fleet at Toulon. The area was very imperfectly charted so the fleet relied on its own charts, made in whatever time could be spared from more warlike duties (it was first surveyed by HMS Agincourt). These charts missed a number of dangerous rocks which we now know of – in fact, one of Nelson’s ships had hit one of these just days before this incident. The fleet – Vice-Admiral Nelson aboard HMS Victory, with ten other battleships – was anchored here on 19th January 1805 when the frigates Active and Seahorse came flying in with the news that the French fleet had left Toulon and was believed to be steering this way, perhaps en route to Egypt. With typical zeal and daring, Nelson at once gave the order to unmoor, though the short winter day was nearly over and the wind was rising. In a spectacular piece of seamanship, Nelson aboard Victory then led this fleet of bulky sailing warships out through a poorly-charted channel barely six hundred yards wide, in darkness – without any shore lights – in a rising gale which put all ships under triple-reefed sails within two hours. Action with the French was believed to be imminent so the fleet then cleared for action!

Closely bound up with the design of the painting was consideration of how Victory would move, having finally won her anchor, and the painting shows the result of this thought. Having gone astern under a backed staysail and fore-topsail, she swings around quite close to the small group of ships moored inshore, but the main and mizzen sails have already filled and she is probably already moving ahead as the fore-topsail yard is squared. Meanwhile the nearest ships inshore (Spencer and Donegal) are also getting underway. Away to the right Royal Sovereign (Rear-Admiral Sir R.H. Bickerton) is already under sail, but lies hove-to while she waits for Victory to take the lead.


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