It was reported in the weekend papers that HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, has had a historically accurate repaint and is now pink, which was the colour it was at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. Previously the ship had been a mustard colour, which I thought was the standard Royal Navy paint colour for 18th century warships, but apparently not. When Victory was first built in 1765 it was plain varnished timber but later in the century, captains were permitted to paint their ships whatever colour they chose.
Whilst richer captains chose more ornate and expensive colours, Thomas Hardy, captain of the Victory, could not afford to customise his ship and so opted for one of the free pigments that the Royal Navy offered. These would typically have included black, yellow ochre and red ochre. It was only after Trafalgar that Nelson’s famous yellow and black checkerboard design became standard. Earlier ships also had lots of decoration; The Royal George, for example, had a bust of King George II on its stern, and figures of Britannia, Neptune, Ceres, Mercury and Hercules. It also had rich interior decoration with mother of pearl handles on the cabin doors.
It was whilst conservationists were working on restoring Victory that they examined all the layers of paint on the ship – 72 – and discovered it’s original pink hue. Some have called the colour smoked trout, others pale terracotta. Ships like the Hermione, pictured right, were bright blue. Personally I see nothing wrong in pink. It was good enough for Nelson. What do you think?