Edwards, Howell G.M., Nikhassan, Nik F., Farwell, Dennis W., Garside, Paul and Wyeth, Paul
Raman spectroscopic analysis of a unique linen artefact: the HMS Victory Trafalgar sail
Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 37, (10), . (doi:10.1002/jrs.1609).
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The Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805 and is generally accepted to mark the last occasion of combat between major fleets of sailing ships, when a combined Franco-Spanish force of 33 battleships was defeated by a British fleet of 27 battleships blockading Cadiz and the approaches to the Mediterranean Sea. The HMS Victory Trafalgar sail, the fore-topsail from Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, was severely damaged and has since suffered significant natural deterioration. As the only extant early 19th century sail in the world, it is a unique artefact and arguably Britain’s foremost maritime textile treasure. Prior to its display at the bicentennial exhibition in 2005, the sail was analysed by Raman spectroscopy. Complementary tensile tests were also completed on loose yarn from around the damaged areas. The mechanical data and Raman spectral comparisons suggest a good correspondence between the historic sailcloth and surrogate
specimens. The latter were prepared by subjecting modern linen canvas to a four-stage regime of artificial ageing in an attempt to reproduce the weakened state of the 200-year-old sailcloth, and provide model material to help appreciate the properties of the historic canvas. Detailed analysis suggests that certain Raman signatures are characteristic of ageing and may correlate with reduced performance of the fabric, suggesting that the technique could offer a non-destructive approach to informing the preservation of a national textile heritage.
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