HMS Nelson


The HMS Nelson, once the pride of the King’s ships.

                                                                                    (c) Irene Schaffer 

The keel of the Nelson was laid in 1805, but it was not until nine years later that she was launched from the Naval DockYard at Woolwich on the 4th July 1814. The launching was a gala affair with the Royal family in attendance, and over 20,000 spectators. The H.M.S. Nelson was described as being `superb and stupendous, of immense magnitude and exciting admiration, with a figurehead of our brave and ever lamented hero Nelson, supported by the flame and Britannia, with the motto England expects every man to do his duty’. The stern was one of the most magnificent ever seen. [1].

The H.M.S. Nelson was the largest wooden sailing ship ever built in England.- Length, extreme, 244 feet; gun deck 205 feet; breadth, extreme, 53 feet 5 inches. Depth, in hole, 24 feet; Burden 2,617 tons. Complement 875 men.[2]  The length of her mainsail was 127 feet 2 inches, her main topsail 77 feet 9 inches. The diameter of the main mast was 3 feet 5 inches, the length of the main yard was 109 feet 3 inches, with a diameter of 2 feet 2 inches. The length of her bowsprit was 75 feet 1 inch with 3 feet 1 inch diameter and had 126 guns.  She required 25 feet of water to float her.[3]

With the war over before she was finished the Nelson was later moved to Portsmouth, where she lay for more than half a century.

In 1854 a start was made to bring Nelson out of retirement for the Russian war, but it ended before much had been accomplished and the aged ship returned to a life of idleness.[4]   1860 was to see her converted to a 500 h.p. screw ship of 2,736 tons, and the number of her guns reduced to 90.  The ship’s complete upper deck was also removed.

On the 7th February 1867 it was announced that the Nelson was being masted and rigged  for service in Australia. This once magnificent ship was to be turned over to the Government of Victoria for the defense of the Colonies.

After suitable alterations and minus the gilt cherubs, dolphins, angles, and heraldic devices decorating her stern galleries, the Nelson sailed for Williamstown .in 1867, under the command of Commander C.B. Payne R.N, with a mixed crew of about 130 men engaged mainly from the London Sailor’s Home.[5]

In 1882 she was altered from a battleship to a frigate and used as a training ship for neglected boys.  Hundreds of boys were to do training on board the HMS Nelson on Port Phillip Bay.  On the 9th of February 1870 the first Victorian flag was hoisted from the Nelson in a ceremony to mark the occasion.[6]

Following upon a series of Russian “scares” in the 1870’s the Nelson was converted into a fighting ship for the Victorian Navy. She was cut down to a single-decker, the fore and mizzen masts were removed, the armament modified by the landing of several old muzzle-loaders and the addition of a number of new breech-loading guns.

In 1891 HMV Nelson was laid up in Willamstown.  He boilers were removed in 1893, and on 28 April 1998 she was auctioned to Mr. Bernard Einerson of Sydney for £2,400. A few weeks later she was towed to Port Jackson and moored in Kerosene Bay.[7]

The upper section was dismantled and used to build a lighter, and called the Oceanic. The lower portion continued to be called Nelson. After some ten years service as a coal lighter she was purchased by the Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand, and in July 1908 she was towed from Sydney to Beauty Point on the Tamar River, Tasmania, for use as a storage vessel.[8]

She was also used for a coal hulk for the Tasmanian Gold Mine at Beaconfield.[9]

Unfortunately Nelson’s rudder had gone into the firewood lot, necessitating her being steadied on tow by two heavy warps dragged astern.[10]

While in the Tamar she sunk with 1400 tons of coal on board. There she remained for forty days, until at last the tide and the wind were favourable, and she was pumped out and brought to the surface. On 4th January 1915 the old Nelson was towed to Hobart by the Kakapo, encountering gale force winds in Bass Strait and on the East Coast. She passed the Iron Pot Lighthouse at 11 a.m. on the 16th January and a few hours later berthed at Prince's Wharf.

The Nelson spent another five years as a coal hulk, after which she was sold for breaking up. In August 1920 she was bought by Mr. H Gray for £500 and on the 25th of August was towed a few miles up river to Shag Bay.

Here the ages veteran died devoid of all pomp and splendor of her Thames launching, being ripped apart, plank by plank and beam by beam until very little of her remained.

HMS Nelson last days at Shag Bay 1930s

To day in the quite backwater of Shag Bay a small portion of the Nelson lays in the shallow water of the bay. Many people have passed by without knowing, that here lays the remains of what was once the pride and joy of thousands of Londoners, nearly two hundred years ago.

[1] Millar. Jack, True Australian Sea Stories.
[2] Ibid.
[3] O’May. Harry, Wrecks of Tasmanian Waters p207.
[4] Millar. Jack, True Australian Sea Stories.
[5] Gillery. Ross, From Australia’s Colonial Navies.
[6] Bastock. John, Australia’s Ships of War.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Millar. Jack True Australian Sea Stories.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Millar. Jack, True Australian Sea Stories. p 28,9.