Several intimate letters and rare documents belonging to Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson were on display, many for the first time.
The collection is part of a new exhibition, Nelson in His Own Words, which recently opened at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) in Portsmouth.
The exhibition includes some thirty rare and unpublished documents (including 15 personal letters) from the collection of the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, a Greek cultural institution.
These are displayed alongside personal items from the NMRN’s own collection, including an engagement ring given by Nelson to his mistress Emma Hamilton, miniature portraits and a platter of meat from HMS Victory.
It was aboard the Victory that Nelson commanded the Royal Navy in one of the great triumphs in its history, the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. The battle, which took place off the coast of Spain, saw the combined force of the French and Spaniards. navies defeated by Nelson’s fleet, cementing British rule of the seas for a century. It was on the 217th anniversary of the battle last October that news of the exhibit was announced.
A letter that visitors will have the opportunity to consult was written to Emma Hamilton in the days leading up to the birth of their daughter. “When I consider that nine-month-old day was your birthday,” Nelson wrote, “and though we had a gale, yet I was happy and sang ‘Come Cheer up Fair Emma’ even the thought of that day makes me melancholy, my heart is kind of sunk within me…’
The correspondence was written by Nelson using his left hand, having lost his right arm in the Battle of Santa Cruz in July 1797. Besides anecdotes of naval life and daily gossip, Nelson also wrote major events with which he had been centrally involved, including the 1798 Battle of the Nile, which gave the British a dominant position over the French in the Mediterranean and also projected Nelson to national hero status.
“The letters were written during the turbulent and troubled years that marked the height of Nelson’s fame,” said Matthew Sheldon, executive director of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
“They could be sent from the mid-Atlantic or from the Mediterranean; written when he rushes to board his furniture aboard HMS Victory or when he pursues the French fleet. One can imagine them signed and sealed, shipped by boat, transported by boat and carriage to the tables of friends and family.
“Through the letters, we can hear Nelson’s voice in his own words,” Sheldon added. “His emotions and energy are always close to the surface, as he goes from personal to professional in a single sentence.”
The exhibition, which runs until April 2023, is on display in the Nelson Gallery at NMRN, which traces the Vice Admiral’s life from his birth in rural Norfolk to his untimely death in Trafalgar.
It represents the first collaboration between the NMRN and the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, which, according to its website, “works to promote Greek culture and in particular Greek letters and historical and nautical research”.
And alongside the new exhibit, museum visitors can also experience Victory Live: The Great Repair, which explores how the world’s oldest commissioned ship was restored by highly skilled teams of specialist conservators and engineers using artisanal methods. and traditional construction.
The attraction allows visitors to board the scaffolding that surrounds the ship to inspect the progress of conservation work, including the first major reflooring to take place since the turn of the last century.
Andrew Baines, project manager of HMS Victory, said the experience “gives visitors the chance to see some of the incredible and painstaking work that goes on and to hear the team of experts fighting to protect it. “.