Historical information

This meticulously hand crafted ship model is one of the most intricate and challenging projects for a ship modeller to create. Jim Williams took up the challenge, choosing to make all of the components by hand, following a plan of the ship rather than purchasing a pre-made kit. He even made his own tools specifically for working with this model.

The “Sovereign of the Seas” 1637-1697 -

The magnificent ship “Sovereign of the Seas” was ordered by Charles I of England, who desired a giant Great Ship to be built. It was built by Peter Pett under the guidance of his father Phineas, the King's master shipwright, and launched with 102-guns at Woolwich Dockyard on 13th October 1637, as the Navy’s second three-decker first-rate ship. It was the most extravagantly decorated warship in the Royal Navy, bought with the help of a special 'Ship Money' tax imposed by the King. Soon afterwards the ship was remodelled and cut down to a safer and faster ship. Over the ship’s lifetime it was renamed “Commonwealth”, then in 1650 it became simply “Sovereign” then again after a rebuild in 1660 it was named “Royal Sovereign”.

By 1642 the ship’s armament had been reduced to 90 guns. In 1651 Sovereign was made more manoeuvrable by reducing the upper works. It served throughout the wars of the Commonwealth and became the flagship of General Robert Blake. It was involved in all of the great English naval conflicts fought against the United Provinces and France and was referred to as 'The Golden Devil' by the Dutch. By 1660 the armament was changed attain to 100 guns. After the English Restoration, it was rebuilt as a first-rate ship of the line, with flatter gun decks and 100 guns, and most of the carvings were removed.

During the First Anglo-Dutch War, in a secret session on 21 October 1652, the States-General of the Netherlands announced reward money for the crews of fire ships that succeeded in destroying enemy vessels; the Sovereign was singled out with an extra prize of 3000 guilders to sink or ruin it. Although repeatedly occupied by the Dutch, the Sovereign was retaken every time by the British and remained in service for nearly sixty years as the best ship in the English fleet.

The Sovereign was in regular service during the three Anglo-Dutch Wars, surviving the Raid on the Medway in 1667. After a second rebuild in 1685 the Sovereign was relaunched as a first-rate ship of 100 guns, before taking part in the outset of the War of the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV of France, venturing into the Irish Sea, and later participating in the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690 and the Battle of La Hougue. At this time she was more than fifty years old. It was the first ship in history to fly ‘royals’ above the topgallant sails and a top gallant sail on the jigger-mast. The Sovereign eventually became leaky and defective with age and was laid up at Chatham when, on 27th January 1697, the famous ship caught fire, burning to the waterline.

Jim Williams, the model’s maker -

Jim (James Bernard) Williams was born in 1888 at The Forth in Scotland. He lived in Tasmania for some time and enlisted to fight in France in WW1. After the war he moved to Warrnambool, Victoria, where he worked at the Cramond & Dickson clothing store until the Great Depression in the 1930’s. He was later employed at Fletcher Jones Menswear, where he worked for 27 years until just before his death in 1959.

Jim was a passionate ship model builder. He worked on his model ships between 1930 and 1955, including The Endeavour and The Sovereign of the Seas, which was one of the most intricate historic ship models to build. He had a table set up in a bay window and worked on them on and off using a jeweller's eye glass on the finer pieces. Jim’s long-time employer, Fletcher Jones, knew of Jim’s hobby and skill as a ship model builder and requested Jim to describe the model, Sovereign of the Seas, with the view of putting it on display. When the model was finished there was a full article and photo in The Standard newspaper.

Jim described his work on the ship mode “Sovereign of the Seas” in correspondence to his then employer, Fletcher Jones. The document gives us an insight into his skill, patience, and regard for replicating the details of the original ship. Some of the details are:

"In making the model the time taken to make certain items might be of interest. For instance "The Great Lantern" on the stern, four weeks, a similar time for the figurehead of St George & the Dragon.
"The lower shrouds three to each side about six weeks & the rigging as whole several months. There are nearly 300 blocks and pulleys ranging from nearly 1 / 16 inch in diameter. Dead eyes were bored with 3 to 5 holes. To do this needles of different sizes, set in handles & ground to wedge ends were used. Glass cut and ground to shape were used windows. All gun-port covers (74) hinged.
"All guns and anchors made of wood. Nothing for the model was purchased ready-made; everything hand made."

Jim’s family donated the ship model along with many associated tools, accessories and papers.


The model of the Sovereign of the Seas was a Royal Navy ship of the line launched in 1637 with a significant British maritime heritage. These days the Sovereign of the Seas still remains one of the most intricate historic ship models to build, representing to the model enthusiast a true challenge to the art of model shipbuilding.

The example in Flagstaff Hill's collection of the Sovereign of the Seas is an exemplary example of a ship model built and hand crafted from a plan with the making of every item on the model, not a model kit with prefabricated parts. It was made by a local Warrnambool man Jim Williams as a leisure activity in the mid 20th century.

The hobby and craft of ship model making has resulted in visual representations of the changes in maritime technology and advances in world-wide navigation.

Physical description

Ship model of HMS Sovereign of the Seas, a 17th century British warship. The handmade model is in wooden framed, airtight glass case. All components were hand crafted. Many of the tools used were made by the model maker, Jim Williams. An inscribed plaque is within the case.

Inscriptions & markings

Inscribed on plaque "SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS / 102 GUNS - 1634"