THE Ministry of Defence has announced HMS Victory will receive a £50m windfall for her upkeep under plans to hand control of the iconic warship to a museum.
Defence minister Andrew Robathan filed a written ministerial statement this morning to confirm custodianship of Admiral Lord Nelson’s warship will be handed over to the National Museum of the Royal Navy on April 1.
The future of the 247-year-old Battle of Trafalgar flagship, which is undergoing a £16m restoration to stop her from falling apart, has been under consideration by the MoD for more than four years.
Today’s announcement will see the ship gifted to the HMS Victory Preservation Trust to attract charity donations and lottery grants.
The statement revealed former naval officer and car park entrepreneur Sir Donald Gosling will donate £25m to the trust from his charitable Gosling Foundation.
Sir Donald said: ‘HMS Victory is a national icon and I feel privileged that the Gosling Foundation is part of this project to ensure its future for the Royal Navy and for the nation.’
The £25m donation will be matched by the MoD.
Mr Robathan said: ‘Together, this amounts to a very sizeable endowment and would enable HMS Victory to be sustained for the benefit of future generations.’
Under terms of the agreement with the museum, the Battle of Trafalgar flagship will remain the oldest commissioned warship in the world and continue to fly the White Ensign.
Mr Robathan added that Victory, which is currently the Second Sea Lord’s flagship, will soon become the flagship of the First Sea Lord.
The statement said: ‘Although the property of the charitable trust, the ship would be licensed to the MoD so that she can remain a commissioned warship and flagship of the Royal Navy. This allows for the development of a partnership between the department and the voluntary sector for the support of this important element of British and Naval history; and enables the sustainment of this iconic symbol of our history for the benefit of future generations.’
Former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, who is chairman of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), said: ‘This is fantastic news. The National Museum of the Royal Navy is the Navy Board’s adviser on naval heritage and therefore we are the ideal charity to oversee the Trust that will be looking after this world-famous historic warship.
‘The Headquarters of the NMRN is adjacent to the ship on a site where there has been a naval museum presence for over 100 years and where the ship lies alongside other heritage jewels such as the Mary Rose and HMS Warrior 1860 in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The Museum’s mission is both to educate and enhance the experience of the many millions of visitors to HMS Victory by displaying many of the artefacts relating to the ship and the Battle of Trafalgar.’
The Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Charles Montgomery, said today: ‘The ship has been at the heart of the Royal Navy for centuries and is symbolic of the fighting ethos and values of the Service. These are as important and relevant in current times, for example in Afghanistan, Libya and the Gulf, as they were at the time of Trafalgar.
‘I am absolutely delighted with this initiative. It will significantly enhance the way in which Victory can be preserved for the benefit of the nation and future generations, while retaining her links with the Royal Navy. She will be in the hands of an organisation which will look after her unique status and has all the professional experience that her continued and enhanced preservation requires. On behalf of the Service, I am immensely grateful to Sir Donald Gosling and the Gosling Foundation for their generosity in making this possible.’
The statement confirmed the Treasury has approved the move in principle.
The ship is currently undergoing her most extensive restoration project since her action at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 after surveys found she was crumbling under her own weight in the dry dock in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. BAE Systems were awarded a £16m contract to restore the ship last October.
Mr Robathan said: ‘The detailed arrangements proposed, which are subject to legal and contractual discussions and Trade Union consultation, envisage that the Trust would assume responsibility for the ongoing maintenance contract. The MoD would provide project management assistance in support of the contract for up to two years to enable the Trust to grow this expertise. I expect the new arrangements to be in place by 1 April 2012.’
News of the deal broke last week after a naval source leaked the plans.
Reports in national newspapers were critical, saying it will result in Victory becoming a party boat for corporate functions.
But in reality dinner evenings and events have been held on the ship for many years and the navy said it will retain strict control about which functions it allows on the warship.
A 100-gun first-rate ship of the line, Victory was launched in Chatham in 1765. Her crowning place in history came 40 years later when she won fame as Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. This resounding triumph for the Royal Navy was instrumental in the defeat of Napoleon and led to Britain’s control of the seas for the next 100 years.
With the demise of the Navy’s wooden walls, Victory languished as a training vessel anchored in Portsmouth Harbour. In the 1920s her future was secured for the nation by the Society for Nautical Research when she was brought into dry dock in Portsmouth Naval Base. She was restored to the condition in which she would have fought under Nelson and opened to the public.
The only surviving example of an 18th century ship of the line, Victory has gained international renown and over the decades has been visited in Portsmouth by millions of sightseers from all over the world.