Historical information

The piece of oak wood sample inside the case was obtained from Mr. H Cooper during the time he served as a shipwright for the British Royal Navy on Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, in 1891. By that time the H.M.S. Victory was around 100 years old having been built in 1765 and was currently in dry dock undergoing restoration. Cooper’s skills as a shipwright would have been well employed during this period. HMS Victory was and still does undergoing continuous restoration to preserve her for display as a museum ship, due to the vessel's significant naval history. It was during that time of early restoration that Cooper obtained the piece of Oak from HMS Victory believed to be from the ships hull.

Cooper was in Australia in September 1891 serving on the HMS Wallaroo, a British Auxiliary Squadron commissioned to serve as part of the British Royal Navy contingent, tasked to operate in Australian waters. The photograph included with the donation of the wood sample is a portrait of Mr H Cooper taken in 1895 in Sydney. The inscription on the photograph describes him as a skilled shipwright from the H.M.S. Wallaroo, depicting Cooper as a young man in Royal Navy uniform, with the emblem of a petty officer third class.

While Cooper was stationed on the H.M.S. Wallaroo in Sydney he presented the display case, containing the wood sample from H.M.S. Victory, as well as the exhibit labels to Charles Harding, ("Chas") late of the Royal Australian Navy. Harding had been based at the H M Naval Torpedo Depot at Williamstown, Victoria.

Although not mentioned, it is believed the two men met whilst serving together in Australia in their respective assignments. It could have been a retirement gift from Cooper to Harding with the photograph of Cooper likely included with the case, and gifted to Harding in 1895, as the date on the photograph indicates.

One of the exhibits labels indicates that Harding had the item on display whilst serving at the Naval Torpedo Depot in Williamstown.

The label indicates:
"This piece of Oak is part of the hull of H.M.S. “Victory” Lord Nelson’s renowned Flag Ship, which took such a prominent part in the Battle of Trafalgar. 21st October 1805. Exhibited by Charles Harding, H.M.V. Naval Torpedo Depot, Williamstown.”

After Charles Harding died in 1931 the case containing the sample of oak from H.M.S. Victory was donated by his son Reg Harding to Mr. Murphy in 1962. The display case has since become a treasured item at Flagstaff Hill. A newspaper article dated 1905 included with the donation mentions that the city of Hamilton in Victoria was shortly expecting a mounted piece of the H.M.S. Victory, to be included in the city’s commemoration of the centenary of the "Battle of Trafalgar".

Battle of Trafalgar:

On October 21, 1805, twenty-seven British ships of the line led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line under French Admiral Villeneuve. The battle took place in the Atlantic Ocean off the southwest coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar, near the town of Los Caños de Meca. The victory confirmed the naval supremacy Britain had established during the course of the eighteenth century and it was achieved in part through Nelson's departure from the prevailing naval tactical orthodoxy of the day. Conventional practice at the time was for opposing fleets to engage each other in single parallel lines, in order to facilitate signalling and disengagement, and to maximise fields of fire and target areas. Nelson instead arranged his ships into two columns to sail perpendicularly into the enemy fleet's line.

During the battle, Nelson was shot by a French musketeer and he died shortly before the battle ended. Villeneuve was captured, along with his ship Bucentaure. He later attended Nelson's funeral while a captive on parole in Britain. Admiral Federico Gravina, the senior Spanish flag officer, escaped with the remnant of the fleet. He died five months later from wounds sustained during the battle. It was prior to this battle that Nelson had issued his now-famous final orders to his ships in 12 separate flag-hoists “England expects that every man will do his duty”.


This wood sample is historically significant for its association with Admiral Lord Nelson the Battle of Trafalgar. Through Nelson’s leadership and unorthodox battle tactics, he secured not only a victory against the French and Spanish but reaffirmed Britain's naval supremacy opening the way for Britain to continuing the policy of colonisation of many countries including Australia.

Physical description

Wood sample adhered to the base of a hinged wood and glass display case. Wood is a sample of oak taken from the hull of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, built in 1765. The case also contain two exhibit labels pinned above the wood sample. Other items donated with the display case, and relating to the wood sample: an 1895 photograph, a 1905 newspaper clipping, a 1962 donor's letter (two pages), and a handwritten exhibit label with a border of red lines.

Inscriptions & markings

Photograph Front: printed- "Herbst" "28 Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Sydney", handwritten - "Mr Cooper", "see back". Back: handwritten - "Mr H Cooper, skilled shipwright, H.M.S. Wallaroo 1895"
Exhibit labels still in the case: Left: handwritten- “PIECE OF OAK FROM THE HULL OF H.M.S. VICTORY”, Right: typewritten- “This piece of Oak was originally obtained by Mr. H. Cooper, skilled shipwright on H.M.S. “Victory” & afterwards on H.M.S. “Wallaroo” on the Australian Station in 1895, when he presented this exhibit to me. Chas. Harding, Late Victorian Navy.”