Trafalgar, First Shots

HMS Victory, battle of Trafalgar, ranging shots, the first hole in her fore topsail, the battle began in earnest.

This painting is one of “The Nelson and Trafalgar Collection Series”, read on …

"Trafalgar, First Shots", 122 x 76 cm (48" x 30"), £18,000 (about $23,000) by Gordon Frickers.


“First Shots, Trafalgar” is as fresh with salt spray and the reverberation of cannons today when I created this painting in 1994/5.

‘Around’ midday a hole appeared (pun intended) in the fore topsail of HMS Victory, last Monday 21st Oct 1805.The French & Spanish had found the range.

As described in diaries and log books by those present at the battle of Trafalgar, a hole appeared in HMS Victory ‘s fore topsail, this painting is as accurate as anyone is going to get.

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I had the world No 1 authority on HMS Victory (the Keeper and Curator at that time, Peter Goodwin) to guide me and the full co-operation of her Captain (she is still a Royal Navy flagship), crew, the director of the Royal Navy Museum Portsmouth (Dr. Colin White) and the ships official guides so you can be assured the painting is the definitive version, very creditable.

Many distinguished people and renowned companies have chosen Frickers paintings as you can discover why by reading my résumée.

First Shots, detail
First Shots a detail

Historical inaccuracy abounds; paintings here are as one of my followers put it, “you get an intimate front row seat to history” and is in most instances, as near truth and as near ‘documentary’, as meticulous, diligent research and real artistry can get.

First Shots, The Painting

Curiously, while painting ‘First Shots’ 122 x 76 cm (48″ x 30″) a colleague and friend Peter Goodwin ‘Keeper & Curator of HMS Victory, found the original topsail in Portsmouth dockyard

Mr. Goodwin mapped the sail including all the damage & had the sail restored for display.

The moment portrayed is as described in diaries and log books by those present at the battle of Trafalgar, a hole appeared in HMS Victory’s fore topsail.

This painting was created soon after Mr. Peter Goodwin Keeper and curator of HMS Victory had discovered the original fore topsail of HMS Victory in a loft in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

By carefully reading of original documents I gradually unravelled this moment portrayed.

Trafalgar, my key to realisation

The sails Victory had set at the moment portrayed, where the first hole appeared were all carefully checked with records and the leading authorities I was privileged to have access to while the only person to have ever been ‘Official Artist’ to HMS Victory.

Therefore this painting is as accurate as anyone is going to get.

The Combined Fleet have found the range, now the battle of Trafalgar will really start, ships of  The Combined Fleet will open fire in earnest.

“First Shots, Trafalgar” remains is as fresh with salt spray and the reverberation of cannons today when I created this painting in 1994/5.

Nelson did not do


as popularly thought sail straight at the French line.

The truth supported by facts is more complex, more interesting and Nelson was more clever than that.

Here is a twist upon the traditionally version outlined in most but not all books on Trafalgar.

Equally ignored by most authors, Nelson’s opponent, Admiral (Pierre Charles Jean Baptiste Silvestre de) Villeneuve, who had previously fought Nelson’s fleet at the battle of the Nile, anticipated Nelson’s tactics.

Villeneuve understood his predicament very well and that thorough understanding was the reason Villeneuve ordered the Combined Fleet during the morning, to reverse its course.

An order which given the light airs, westerly ground swell and inexperience of some crews and  seriously disrupted the formation of the Combined Fleet.

The order did though, place the safe haven of Cadiz under the lee of the Combined Fleet so had significant consequences during the stormy days following the battle of Trafalgar.

My brief

was to explore and paint lesser known but interesting aspects of the story of Nelson, Victory and Trafalgar.

So, what really happened?

My extensive, meticulous research included reading widely and visiting archives and speaking with specialists and experts in London, Madrid, Cadiz, San Sebastian (Naval Base), Paris, Brest (Naval Base), Liverpool, Portsmouth and of course, his own home port of Plymouth.

I had the privileged and honour of being  official marine artist to HMS Victory for Victory 2er and Curator, and his team of experts to return Victory to her original ‘Trafalgar’ condition for the 2005 bi centenary.

The Society of Nautical Research :

was the largely responsible for saving Victory in 1921 for posterity and continues to support the ship’s well being.

However the ship they saved had been drastically altered since Nelson’s days.

Something had to be done before 2005, the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar and funds were needed.

The restoration was an awesome success as you would have discovered for yourself if you take the ‘long tour’ or have a private tour of HMS Victory.

Click on the small images to see detail from First Shots, Trafalgar.

First Shots, detail, click for enlagement
First Shots, detail, click for enlargement

Further reading , Trafalgar, what was The Nelson Touch? HMS Victory coming under fire at Trafalgar.

The only marine artist whose paintings have been honoured by invitation to exhibit in the European Parliament is Gordon Frickers.

I created a one man show of 35 paintings (May 2011), an impressive addition to my list of exhibitions in other prestigious venues in Britain and Europe.

HMS Victory photographed by Gordon Frickers August 2007
HMS Victory photographed by Gordon Frickers August 2007

Propaganda, half truths and outright lies, there is so much in circulation.

I make a very considerable effort to present you with art work which gives you a feeling of intimacy, vibrancy and when ever possible is highly accurate.

All these ‘Nelson and Trafalgar’ series paintings are eminently suitable for public International exhibition.

Of my ‘Nelson and Trafalgar’ series, a quote; “at last I have a real painting in my house” (Nelson at Gibraltar) T. M., Wiltshire.

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Gordon Frickers © 12.03.2012 updated 23.10.2023

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This Gordon Frickers art signature is on all my more recent paintings .