30+ years ago I went to the Mary Rose exhibition as an 18 year old student. I looked across at HMS Victory and realised we didn’t have time left to visit. So going back is long overdue!
After seeing Warrior, I’m immediately struck by how small she seems. Trafalgar and history books don’t make me realise the scale. I should know – I made her in Airfix as a kid – it took ages. But maths and scale always escape me. Inside, I am further surprised because I am 5ft and her decks are a hand breadth above me. Down in the Orlop or lower deck and towards the hold, even I have to stoop. Men weren’t much shorter then – the sailors would have spent their working lives ducking and cramped. Down in the hold we see the barrels and casks. A gallon of beer a day is the ration – 8 pints of weak beer isn’t a lot of liquid and the diet seems basic and very salty.
It must have been foetid, dark, slippery with blood during battle, and deafening. More than any other ship I have been on, I have a strong unnerving sense of historic awe. Admiral Nelson was on this ship. Under his command and that of his Captain, Hardy, a major battle was won. I am not particularly sensitive to all things weird and wonderful but I feel a profound sense of respect standing in Nelson’s “command” cabin.
Like Warrior, the mess areas have hammocks slung above them, cannon and ropes everywhere. The audio guide is excellent and there is plenty of time – I’m early and the big party of school children are not on board yet! I’m a modern human, and the Orlop deck, where the surgeon operates, fills me with horror and revulsion. Basic carpentry tools are laid out, it seems.
Our modern expectations may be too high, but this is life in the raw. I struggle to understand life this far back in history – it shouldn’t surprise me I think, ruefully, that I find the bible worldview so very different and hard to take in sometimes.