Like so many great ships before and since, H.M.S. Nelson was one of those vessels conceived in time of war but, when eventually completed, found herself obsolete due to the advent of peace.
Named as a fitting memorial to Admiral Lord Nelson who had been mortally wounded at Trafalgar the previous October, H.M.S. Nelson was ordered as early as May 1806 even though she was not actually laid down until December 1809. The nameship of three "Nelson" First Rates, she was built at Woolwich Dockyard to a design based upon Sir William Rule's plans for his Caledonia of 1794, her tonnage and dimensions being virtually identical. Measured at 2,601 tons with an overall length of 205 feet and a 53½ foot beam, she carried a total of 120 guns, principally 32-32pdrs. on her gundeck, 34-24pdrs. on her maindeck and 34-18pdrs. on her upper deck. Launched on 4th July 1814, by which time the long conflict at sea was essentially over following Napoleon's abdication and exile to Elba, her final completion was then completely overshadowed by the aftermath of Waterloo and the government's perfectly natural desire to cut back on naval expenditure after twenty-three years of almost continuous war.
The years of peace saw Nelson laid up for long periods until, after over forty years of enforced idleness, the introduction of steam into the fleet gave her a new lease of life. Although not one of the early conversions, anxiety about a Franco-Russian rapprochement after the Crimean War spurred the Admiralty into further conversions of old line-of-battle sailing ships. Some of the most suitable of these were the 120-gun three-deckers of both the "Nelson" and "Caledonia" classes and thus H.M.S. Nelson was drydocked in 1858-59 for the necessary work. Cut down and lengthened along the lines of H.M.S. London, she emerged 11 feet longer and 1 foot broader with new 500nhp. engines by Miller & Ravenhill fitted amidships. On her speed trials in Stokes Bay on 21st June 1860, she achieved a very satisfactory 11½ knots and returned to duty with a reduced armament of 90 guns. Despite the money spent on her conversion however, the era of the ironclad was dawning and the days of England's "wooden walls" were rapidly coming to an end. In the absence of a fighting rôle for her, Nelson was fitted out as a schoolship for the government of New South Wales in October 1867 and was employed thus until she was sold in April 1898. Thereafter used as a store hulk and later still as a coal hulk, she was eventually broken up at Launceston in September 1928 although it is unclear how long she had been back in home waters.