A pink battleship?

I was highly amused to read that the refurbishment of Admiral Nelson‘s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, HMS Victory, has led to some . . . consternation.

Admiral Lord Nelson’s famed flagship HMS Victory has raised eyebrows after being restored to its original colour – a shade some people say is pink.

The new colour has split opinion, with experts at the National Museum of the Royal Navy admitting that the change had met with resistance from those who preferred the old mustard-orange shade.

Conservationists examined 72 layers of paint from an original timber part under a microscope, and discovered the ship Nelson sailed to Trafalgar was actually a terracotta or pink hue.

A spokesman for the museum said that although the majority of the response had been positive, some people had been averse to the change.

“With historic ships they are close to a lot of people’s hearts and people have very clear ideas of what they like and they don’t like, but we were really determined to use historically accurate research,”she said.

The official name for the colour avoids the word pink, instead opting for ‘Victory Hull Ochre’.

The paint was produced by a specialist manufacturer working from information given by conservationists at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Even as the four month restoration project draws to a close, with the finishing touches being put to the 227ft long ship, observers are still unable to agree on the colour of the ship.

The colour is said to vary depending on the light, with HMS Victory appearing more pink on darker days.

. . .

The sides of Victory were varnished bare timber when it launched in 1765, but later in the 18th century captains were allowed to decide what colour to paint their ship.

Richer captains chose ornate shades, but Thomas Masterman Hardy, the captain of HMS Victory, was not well off and opted for pigments supplied free of charge by the Royal Navy.

There’s more at the link.

My amusement isn’t at the complaints:  it’s at the lack of understanding of how our definitions of color have changed over time.  What we call ‘pink’ today wasn’t ‘pink’ at all a couple of hundred years ago – or even a few decades ago.  Besides, pink has its military uses.  For example, during World War II the Royal Air Force developed a special camouflage shade of pink for its reconnaissance aircraft.  It led some more macho pilots to object to flying pink planes . . . until they found out from experience that it made their aircraft much more difficult to see in poor visibility (i.e. low cloud, haze, light fog, etc.), much less shoot at them with anti-aircraft guns.

HMS Victory‘s new hull color corresponds more with a light terracotta color, as used in the production of pottery a couple of hundred years ago, than it does to modern pink.  As Wikipedia points out in its definition of the color (and illustrates with examples):

“The iron content [of the clay], reacting with oxygen during firing, gives the fired body a reddish color, though the overall color varies widely across shades of yellow, orange, buff, red, “terracotta”, pink, grey or brown.[8] In some contexts, such as Roman figurines, white-colored terracotta is known as pipeclay, as such clays were later preferred for tobacco pipes, normally made of clay until the 19th century.”



  1. Must be how my monitor is set up, but I see pale yellow/tan and blue/black stripes with the insides of the gun port covers being a dark red.

  2. Chris, I have a calibrated monitor and it looks somewhat the same as you describe it on mine as well. (…closer to orange than pink.) I could see how it might look more pinkish in low light however.

    Regardless, HMS Victory is high on my list of things to see if I ever get over to England.

  3. If the Royal Navy says it is a good colour who are we to argue? Maybe the color worked as well for Nelson as it did for RAF pilots.

  4. The LRDG were quite keen on pink too, and they were definitely manly.

    That, though, isn't pink.

    I was expecting PINK-pink. Neon pink. Etc. etc.
    Instead I got tan and "they changed it, now it sucks."

  5. Roy – she's worth the trip to Portsmouth to see, along with the attached naval museum. Thing I remember from the museum some 20 years ago was Admiral Nelson's uniform. Sawed-off little effer he was, as was the rest of his crew judging by the lack of headroom belowdecks in the Victory.

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