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  • Writer's picturePamela Lawton

Historic Ships of Portsmouth, UK

Our Fulbright cohort took a cultural field trip from Southampton to Portsmouth, a historic port. To date this has been the coldest day during our UK trip. Our first stop was the Mary Rose museum built specifically to house the remnants of the 500 year old ship, that took 40 years to raise from the bottom of the Solent and prepare for exhibition. Henry VIII personally funded the building of the warship that sailed for 33 years before sinking in the Battle of the Solent. 179 skeletons have been found. The ship fell in tact to the bottom of the Solent and one half of the ship was in an anoxic environment, covered in silt that held no oxygen and thus no living microbes. This part of the ship was almost perfectly preserved and was extracted from the riverbed. Inside many items tell the story of the ship's inhabitants from the upper to lower classes. What I found most interesting was a perfectly preserved wood backgammon set and the skeleton of a dog. Portsmouth also houses two other famous ships, the HMS Victory warship where Admiral Lord Nelson lost his life, but won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The ship, perfectly preserved by the Royal Navy went into service in 1765. Our guide stays on board about 7 days a month--so it is a living quarters for some members of the Royal Navy, many of whom reported seeing ghosts playing cards. Most of the crew slept in hammocks, but officers slept in 'coffin beds' constructed of wood that could be easily sealed and thrown overboard for burials at sea. Admiral Nelson had the only traditional bed aboard. The last ship we visited was the HMS Warrior, a steam powered, iron clad frigate built in 1860.


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