Sternboard of HMS Colossus

Basic Information

Figurehead type
Stern Carving
Sternboard of HMS Colossus
Vessel name
HMS of the Colossus
Type (Naval/Merchant)
Copyright owner
© National Maritime Museum
Copyright notes
Photo: © National Maritime Museum
Current location
Location date

Physical Information

Sternboard from the 74-gun ship 'Colossus', a third-rate built in 1787. It comprises an elongated black-painted lozenge-shaped panel, with a gilded raised edge and mirror image foliate decoration either side of a central crown with a red cap lining.
Date made
Place made
H37.5 x W469.9 cms
Object history
Accepted by HM Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty in 1979 from Robert Arthur Dorien-Smith. The collection was begun by Augustus Smith (1806-72) who leased the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall. The figureheads in the Valhalla Collection came from vessels wrecked on Scilly.
Vessel history
The wreck of this Royal Navy ship in 1798 was a significant disaster but is now chiefly remembered for the extraordinary cargo on board when she went down. After nearly two years’ service in the Mediterranean, including action at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 1797, ‘Colossus’ was returning home barely seaworthy. She was also overcrowded with wounded from the Battle of the Nile in August 1798, as well as her usual complement. In addition she carried a large collection of Etruscan and Roman vases, statuary, paintings and other treasures belonging to Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy at Naples and husband of the celebrated Emma, Nelson’s mistress. ‘Colossus’ arrived in charge of a convoy in St Mary’s Roads, to shelter from a north-easter on 7 December. On the 10th the wind went round to south-east and increased to a gale. The main bower cable parted and other anchors failed to hold on the sandy bottom. By evening she had struck rocks to the south of Samson and next morning she had to be abandoned. She began to break up the following night.

Much was salvaged, including, to his despair, only two-thirds of Hamilton’s collection, and, to his fury, the body of Admiral Lord Shuldham (who had died in service at Lisbon) coming home pickled in a lead casket. Sir William commented that ‘it can be of no use but to the worms, but my collection would have given information to the most learned’. Some of the guns from ‘Colossus’ were raised in 1852 and put into service on the Garrison, St Mary’s, where they can still be seen. In more recent years further fragments of pottery from the Hamilton collection have been recovered by divers.

‘Colossus’ details at time of wreck. Third-rate ship of the line, 74 guns, 1717 tons (old measurement). Built by Cleveley, Gravesend, 1787. Dimensions (in feet and tenths): 172.3 (gun deck) x 48 x 20.9. Registered voyage: Inward bound from Lisbon. Captain at loss: George Murray RN. Wrecked: 10 December 1798.
‘Valhalla’ – The Tresco Ships’ Figurehead Collection (NMM, 1984)

Ownership Information

Owner type
Public Institution
Owner name
National Maritime Museum
Contact details
Royal Museums Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Ownership can be cited online
Accessible to public
Data verified by owner
Date verified

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