According to the historic coating specialists, Michael Crick-Smith and Ian Crick-Smith, the current black and orange-yellow color scheme of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory is “an early 20th century invention of what an 18th century warship looked like.” Based on their study of hundreds of fragments of the original paint surfaces, they have concluded that the original ochre was a much paler yellow instead of what they refer to as “that hideous orange.” Many interior spaces were also said to be less elaborately and brightly colored than they are now on the famous ship.
But the Crick-Smiths’ analysis – which in some places involved disentangling 72 layers of paint – suggests the hull was originally mostly black, with a lot of varnished timber above the water line. It was later partly repainted in an ochre shade, probably before Nelson took it over, but a much paler colour than the present vivid shade.
The orlop deck, where desperate attempts were made to save Nelson’s life after a French sniper’s bullet went through his shoulder and lungs and lodged in his spine, leaving him drowning in his own blood, was a pale creamy stone colour. The surgeon’s cabin and the other small cabins on that deck were a surprisingly grand two shades of blue – good quality paint, compared to the cheap limewash and poor quality oil paint used in much of the ship.
Thanks to Alaric Bond for passing along the news.