Restoring the Rudder of Nelson’s Flagship

Christopher Follett describes the St George restoration project.

Working in a specially constructed dry dock at a museum in Jutland, experts are painstakingly restoring the huge 11.5 metre-long rudder of the St George , which sank off Denmark’s North Sea coast on Christmas Eve 1811, a month after this rudder had been lost in a storm. The oak rudder, weighing 8.5 tons and complete with brass mountings, protective copper sheathing plate and pintles, was recovered by divers in January this year from the sea at Nysted, off the southeastern Danish island of Lolland in the Baltic, during the building of an offshore windturbine park.

‘The loss of the rudder was the cause of the tragedy which later overtook the St George . The ship was fitted with a replacement rudder temporarily but it proved too weak to face another major storm,’ says Lars Froberg Mortensen, curator at the St George Shipwreck Museum at Thorsminde, on the west coast of Jutland. ‘We hope to exhibit the rudder next spring, after completing a special treatment involving linseed oil, in a new extension to the museum, but in the meantime the public can watch the restoration work as it proceeds.’

Launched in Portsmouth in 1785, with a crew of 853, the 1,950-ton, 98-cannon HMS St George was, though smaller, similar in design to the renowned HMS Victory. She participated in the ‘Glorious First of June’ sea battle against the French, 300 miles off Brittany in 1794, and was Nelson’s flagship before the Battle of Copenhagen under the captaincy of Thomas Masterman Hardy. The St George was held back in standby position at Elsinore during the Battle of Copenhagen itself, while Nelson transferred to HMS Elephant , on which the famous ‘blind eye’ incident was to take place.

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