HMS Victory top-sail fragment found

A FRAGMENT of top-sail experts believe to be from HMS Victory, Horatio Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, has been discovered in East Anglia.

A FRAGMENT of top-sail experts believe to be from HMS Victory, Horatio Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, has been discovered in East Anglia.

The framed and battle-weary section of sail was taken into Ipswich-based auctioneers Bonhams and identified by specialist Mary Axon.

The rectangular piece of canvas measuring 35 x 21cm is now expected to fetch £8,000 to £12,000 when it goes to auction.

Ms Axon said: "This fragment of sail is a wonderful piece of history relating to the best known naval battle in British history.

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"It was very exciting when the vendor brought it in to our Ipswich saleroom and it's been a thrill to research it."

The fragment, which features a musket bullet hole in the bottom right hand corner, was found by the Bonhams specialist in a recent hunt for items to feature in their Nelson memoribilia sale in London. They have not named the owner, who is from East Anglia.

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Experts at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, have checked the canvas and it is thought it was cut from the top sail by a souvenir hunter after the 1805 battle.

It was inscribed in Indian ink with the words: "Part of the Fore Top Sail of HMS Victory after the Battle of Trafalgar Octr. 21st 1805. England expects that every man will do his Duty".

A spokeswoman for Bonhams said HMS Victory's topsail, which would have been a trapezium shape, is the only one of her sails to have survived to the present day.

It was discovered lying beneath gymnasium mats in HMS Nelson at Portsmouth, where it had lain for many years.

After conservation, it was displayed for the first time to the public in 1998, complete with shot and bullet holes from the battle.

During its chequered career after Trafalgar, there were many opportunities for souvenir hunters to cut scraps away and it is possible that some were also taken semi-officially for recruiting purposes.

There is a fragment preserved at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, which bears a strong similarity to this fragment, in both weave and inscription.

Included in the sale is a letter from the Assistant Keeper of Antiquities to that effect and their opinion that this is likely to be from Victory's topsail.

The sail is believed to have come from The Ship Inn, London Docklands, demolished 30 years ago, and then to the vendor.

The fact the new piece was identified in Ipswich adds a further link between Nelson and the town. He bought Roundwood, a well-wooded estate bordering Woodbridge Road in 1798. He installed his father and wife there, but never entered the house himself. It was demolished in the early 1960s.

Nelson was also awarded the honorary title of High Steward of Ipswich on July 6, 1800.

n The fragment will feature in Bonhams' Sale of Nelson and the Royal Navy 1750-1815 at 101 New Bond Street, London, on July 5.

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