If you are a French organisation trying to promote onions to the British, you could hire some men to cycle around with onions on their boris bikes, but that would be a bit too obvious.

Better is to hire a replica ship based on the sort of vessel that Nelson would have known, sail it up the Thames and let people on board to have a look around.

The Etoile du Roy

The Etoile du Roy is a replica of a privateer vessel built in 1996 originally as the Grand Turk, which was seized by the British Royal Navy in 1746. The 47-metre long vessel has three masts, contains 310 barrels and, when armed with its 20 cannons, would have needed 240 crew members.

The ship, now owned by French cruise company Etoile Marine, has been turned into a sailing museum.

On board, sailing ropes create the superficial walls of a maze to direct you around the ship, and eventually past the onion seller at the end.

Although the upper deck has all the usual sailing ship attachments, it’s the interior that is the most interesting, from the captains bed (a double!) and the officers dining room at the rear, so far so ordinary. However, a narrow corridor is lined with commemorative shields, and displays of antique weapons – slight incongruously next to safety equipment.

Officer dining

It was difficult to be sure what things did as all the signs are in French which I struggled a bit with – but it isn’t a serious loss. The signs seemed to suit most of the visitors when I was on board, most of whom seemed to be French themselves.

The sailors spoke a decent enough English though.

Lower deck

The rope maze directs you eventually down into the hold of the ship, which is where originally the crew would have slept amongst the cannons and stores. A decent display of artefacts, and a pirates shop at the rear to delight the kids (with rich parents).

For a ship promoting onions, it wasn’t surprising to see the cargo hold piled up with them.


The ship is moored in St Katherine Dock and is open to the public until 16 December and is free to visit, unless of course you want to buy some onions.

The ship itself is famous for appearing in the TV series, Hornblower, and as HMS Victory during a fleet review on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Want some onions?

If you pay a visit, do notice the 2001 monolith on the wall next door to it.

A few more photos over here.


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One comment
  1. Mark Fearon says:

    a facinating trip around a pirate ship in st catherines dock today, a real treat as it was free, and very interesting. When we asked how old the ship was, we were shocked to hear it was only built in 1996, a replica of a ship seized by the british navy in 1746, but please do not be put off by this amazing fact as it is so hard to believe this is true, as the ship and the artifacts within are totally believable.
    A true treasure to visit, and sample the cramped spaces that 250 sailors would have endured during their time on board.

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