A stunning artifact from one of history's most famous naval battles.
This section of topsail originates from the HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.
The battle saw the British Royal Navy defeat the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, preventing an invasion of Britain.
The victory has been credited in large part to Nelson's leadership of the fleet, and his unconventional tactics for naval warfare known as 'Nelson's Touch'.
Nelson was tragically killed during the battle, and is today remembered as a national hero whose iconic statue stands in Trafalgar Square in London.
At more than 260 years old, the HMS Victory remains the world's oldest naval ship still in commission, and attracts 350,000 visitors from around the world each year.
History of the topsail
The original topsail of the HMS Victory is the largest single artefact to have survived from the Battle of Trafalgar.
It was made in 1803 in the sail loft at Chatham Docks, whilst the Victory underwent a refit in preparation for war.
A team of highly skilled workers took approximately 1,200 man hours to stitch the sail together, using bolts of cloth from Dundee covering an area of 3,618 square feet and weighing 370kg.
The Victory returned to Chatham in January 1806, battle-scarred from the Battle of Trafalgar and in need of repairs. The topsail, riddled with some 90 holes from enemy cannon fire, was removed and stored away as the ship returned to active service.
For around a century, the movements of the topsail are relatively unknown. At some point it's believed the sail went on public display, as the words "VICTORY's Fore Topsail" had been painted on it during the period.
It was returned to the ship by 1905, when the Victory was lit up with electric lights in Portsmouth Dockyard to celebrate the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
It remained on display on the ship until the 1930s, and was then removed before being rediscovered in a Portsmouth Navy barracks sail loft in 1960. It was found beneath a pile of gymnasium mats, returned to the Victory once more, and displayed on the Orlop deck until 1993.
At this point the topsail was found to be badly deteriorating, and removed for professional conservation and restoration by a team from Southampton University and the Carpet Conservation Workshop in Salisbury.
Today it is displayed in environmentally-controlled conditions at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
This section of the topsail comes directly from the collection of a rigger who spent more than 50 years working at Portsmouth Naval Base.
In 1983 he was assigned to work on the HMS Victory, leading a team of 15 men responsible for the ship's rigging including the masts and miles of rope.
In 1995 he was sent to Salisbury to aid the restoration of the topsail. He used his expertise to restore severed bolt ropes, splicing new ropes in with the originals around the topsail's perimeter to help maintain its shape.
During this process sections of the topsail and fragments of its original rope were removed, and he was allowed to keep these items as mementos. They remained in his personal collection for 20 years, and were exhibited at historic maritime events in the UK and abroad.
Both this section of topsail and the collection of rope fibres were present at the battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. The sail fragment measures approximately 12" (30cm) and is displayed with a sketch by the well-known maritime artist John Green.
Both items come directly from HMS Victory, were removed during the well-documented conservation work, and come with a detailed letter of provenance from the man who acquired them.
A rare and remarkable piece of history, relating to Britain's most famous ship and its greatest Naval hero.