Timber has long been a vital backbone for shipbuilding and famously HMS Victory was built from over 5,500 oak trees, 250 years ago. It even inspired the Royal Navy’s anthem Hearts of Oak. That strong tradition will now continue with a generous donation of timber from three estates in Aberdeenshire that will ensure that the ship survives for the foreseeable future.
The timber, from eleven elm trees and ten oak trees, is due to be felled shortly and embark on its long journey south. In the 250th year of her launch in 1767, HMS Victory is in the midst of a 15 year conservation project and in need of the very best quality materials to ensure she survives a further 250 years.
Three estates are kindly donating the timber; the Dunecht Estate, the Haddo Estate and the MacRobert Trust Estate.
The owner of the Dunecht Estate, the Hon. Charles Pearson, is a self-confessed and dedicated fan of HMS Victory. He is donating ten oaks and four elm trees.
Recent timber research on HMS Victory has concluded oak, the original material the ship was built in, is the appropriate timber to use for her general future conservation.
Andrew Baines explains: “Currently the ship comprises a variety of hardwoods from years of maintenance. The return to oak is much welcomed. It demonstrates the serious archaeological research we are undertaking about the ship’s composition, from timber to paint analysis and our commitment to ensure she remains sustainable for centuries to come.
“Interestingly we understand that some 30% of the fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar hailed from Scotland so it feels entirely appropriate that timber from these estates should be playing such a big part in her future security.”
The remaining two estates are kindly donating elm. The Haddo Estate, owned by Lord Aberdeen, is donating five elm trees. Rear Admiral Christopher Hockley representing the MacRobert Trust Estate is donating two elms. This timber is valuable for the future maintenance of the ship’s structure below the waterline. Her keel in particular, made of elm and one of the oldest surviving parts of the ship, is a highly significant feature needing a strong programme of care given its exposed position in the dry dock.
“The quantity of elm donated by all three estates will serve as an important resource for this area in the future. Those elms which may not be suited to the particular size and shape of the keel can be made into new gun-carriages.”
Once felled, the timber will be transported to the Whitney sawmill in Hereford where it will be inspected and sawed to specific dimensions appropriate for use onboard the ship. The oak is likely to become planking and the elm is to remain in large blocks needed for the keel.
The timber will then be transferred to Portsmouth where it will be seasoned, so it can be dry and strong when used. This process could take as long as four years. The longer the oak is seasoned, the stronger it becomes.