Scientists 'rediscover' 200-year-old Royal Navy figurehead mistakenly sawn into pieces

AN HISTORIC Royal Navy figurehead, mistakenly sawn into pieces and thought lost forever, has been unearthed by scientists.

Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 5:25 pm

The stunning 10ft-tall wooden piece of art is from HMS Victory, the warship commanded by naval hero Admiral Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Originally thought destroyed in the mid-to-late 20th century, the 200-year-old artefact has been ‘rediscovered’ following a year of scientific and historical investigation.

Painstaking study of the artefact and naval historical records revealed it was made in 1815 and was the replica copy of Victory’s original figurehead – which adorned the ship during the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Remains of the figurehead that was created for HMS Victory in 1815 but was accidentally sliced to pieces by contractors in 2009. Photo: National Museum of the Royal Navy

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But a gaff by contractors had led to the artwork being destroyed in 2009 after workers mistakenly thought it was a modern-day replica, not the 1815 historic piece.

The sculpture was sliced into six pieces by a chainsaw and locked into storage in 2012.

But in 2019, heritage chiefs from the National Museum of the Royal Navy – which now tends to Victory – launched an investigation into wrecked figurehead.

Remains of the figurehead that was created for HMS Victory in 1815 but was accidentally sliced to pieces by contractors in 2009. Photo: National Museum of the Royal Navy

They discovered that the carving had in fact been created to replace the figurehead damaged in the fight against the Spanish and French armada in 1805.

Andrew Baines, the national museum’s deputy director, said his team had been blown away by the revelation.

‘When we discovered that it was 206 years old, we were absolutely delighted,’ he told the Independent.

Remains of the figurehead that was created for HMS Victory in 1815 but was accidentally sliced to pieces by contractors in 2009. Photo: National Museum of the Royal Navy

Naval archives show the figurehead was commissioned in summer 1815 and constructed on the Isle of Wight at a cost of £65 – roughly £65,000 today.

The sculpture depicts two angels supporting the UK royal coat of arms, surmounted by a crown.

The remains are set to be installed in a new dedicated HMS Victory gallery – although it's not known if the the figurehead will be repaired and reassembled.

HMS Victory, based at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

It is currently closed to the public due to lockdown restrictions.

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