Figurehead of the HMS Illustrious
© National Museum of the Royal Navy
Photo: © National Museum of the Royal Navy
National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth
The existing figurehead is a draped male bust apparently wearing armour. He wears a long curly wig and wreath of laurel around his head. Pulvertaft suggests this is George III but it appears to represent an early 18th century personage such as the Duke of Marlborough or George I. It has been suggested that this figurehead may have been replaced during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901).
An Edward Hellyer design for the first figurehead shows a bearded king wearing a breast-plate and a crown. During a major repair in 1816, Hellyer submitted a second design depicting George III in an ermine cape wearing the collar of the Order of the Garter. This was apparently rejected in favour of a coat of arms.
The HMS 'Illustrious' was built by Randall of Rotherhithe and launched in September 1803. She won battle honours at Basque Roads in 1809 and Java in 1811. After conflicts with the French and Dutch she became a guard and hospital ship at Portsmouth harbour. She was then used as gunnery and cadet training ship in Dartmouth. In 1868 she was broken up in Portsmouth.
David Pulvertaft ‘The Warship Figureheads of Portsmouth’ (Stroud, 2009) p.30
National Museum of the Royal Navy
National Museum of the Royal Navy, HM Naval Base (PP66), Portsmouth PO1 3NH
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