Being a navy man, I was fascinated by this end of era photograph. Here is a real life glimpse of sailing warships as it would have looked in the time of Nelson. Only two years after this photo was taken, the French Navy would commission the first fighting ironclad, which would revolutionize naval warfare in the 19th century. The Grand Imperial Fleet is clearly showing off some its muscle and technology outside of a French Bay here, because if you look closely some if not all of Her Majesty's ships have been fitted out with steam propulsion. Steam propelled wooden sailing ships could get up to speeds of 12 knots regardless of wind conditions, which could play a decisive factor in naval tactics. However, wooden ships quickly became obsolete with the invention of explosive shells (which replaced traditional cannon shot) and the corresponding need for naval armour.
The English Fleet at Cherbourg, 5 August 1858, by Gustave le Gray
This photograph is included in the exhibition Victoria & Albert: Art & Love at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, until 31 October 2010.
The Royal Collection © 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II