Centurion figurehead carefully lifted into place

Centurion figurehead carefully lifted into place

Rare figurehead to go on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for first time

02 May 2019

There’s a new face in town as a 2.5metre figurehead from 19th century 3rd Rate ship HMS Centurion has been craned into place at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard after a day-long operation. It joins over 20 other figureheads in the Victory Gallery.


The acquisition of the figurehead has been made possible by a generous grant from the Society of Nautical Research (SNR). The SNR is no stranger to securing naval heritage, having played a leading role in saving HMS Victory for the nation in 1922.

Alison Firth, curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “Naval figureheads are rare and hardly ever become available to be acquired by museums. We are so grateful to the SNR for their generosity and very excited to be able to display this for the first time ever to our visitors."

This figurehead is a male bust with a plumed helmet, tooled breastplace and a trailboard with the union flag and weapons. It has undergone significant restoration work by figurehead historian Richard Hunter and Phil Hudson. The figurehead weighs 225kg and was hoisted into place by art transporters Mtec.

The National Museum is seeking to concentrate on the ownership and improved care of naval figureheads, especially those at risk.

Figureheads date back to the very early days of seafaring. They were used as religious symbols to protect the ship and also to strike fear into the enemy and scare away their enemy’s guardian spirits. The technological development of ships in the 19th century, from sail to steam and wood to iron, led to the gradual end of the naval figurehead. Figureheads for larger warships were finally abolished in Britain in 1894, but some smaller ships kept them until the First World War (1914-1918).

See the rare figurehead for yourself

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