Anniversary of Trafalgar

Little did I realize what a smart move it was for me to have the mother of all colds last Thursday and hand the responsibility of the day over to Cara. (Thanks Cara!)

That’s because today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805. Three years ago I blogged about the two hundredth anniversary of the battle and a politically correct approach for the millenium. Today I’ve come up with a collection of things I found interesting–I hope you do too–because the whole topic of Nelson and Trafalgar is so huge you can’t do it justice in one blog. (Note the cunning way I leave things open for your comments and a possible part two on Thursday.) If you were raised in England the legend of Nelson and Trafalgar, “kiss me Hardy” and all the rest of it, are part of your consciousness–everywhere you turn there are pubs, streets, houses, memorials. And of course, Nelson’s Column in, where else, Trafalgar Square, London.

True to form, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is holding an exhibit celebrating the 250th anniversary of Nelson’s birth (September 29, 1758), and the site has some great pictures, articles, and information.

You can see Nelson’s coat, still bloodstained, which Emma Hamilton was given after his death, although Nelson’s family would have liked to have taken possession of it. She sold the coat when she’d fallen on hard times, shortly before she left for Europe, where she died in 1814. Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, bought it back and presented it to Greenwich.

I like this piece of embroidery, traditionally thought to be worked by Emma, of herself, Nelson and their dog Nileus at Merton Place, Surrey. It’s of colored silks on a silk taffeta ground, but the faces and hands are painted on the fabric with watercolors. Pictures were produced and sold to women to be worked on at home, and the Nelson-Trafalgar story caught the imagination, and the money-making instincts of the British, with a huge amount of souvenirs produced.

Here’s a Nelson snuff box from 1804.

Another fascinating sort of souvenir is artefacts made from scrap wood of Nelson’s famous ship Victory during renovations (which you can visit at Portsmouth.)

I visited eBay (of course) and found this fascinating item, an English Oak Glove Stretcher. It’s engraved with the name Victory.

There’s a wonderful collection of Nelson memorabilia here, including this very cute mid nineteenth century toby jug.

I actually own a piece of Nelson memorabilia myself, an engraving of his house at Merton Place, which I think is genuine (I paid very little for it). Mine is colored and much prettier than this version.

Do you collect memorabilia or antiques? Or, what would you like to collect if you could afford it? Do you have any thoughts on Nelson or Trafalgar you’d like to share?

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Joanna Waugh
14 years ago

I was lucky enough to take a trip to London in 2001 and took the train down to Portsmouth to visit the dockyards. I saw Nelson’s uniform (he was such a small man!) and Lady Hamilton’s ball gown, but the tour of the Victory was my favorite. They showed us the exact place on the ship where Nelson died.
Afterward, I toured H.M.S. Warrior and saw the restoration being done to the Mary Rose. Talk about a cross section of British maritime history! I highly recommend that every history buff, whether a writer or not, visit Portsmouth.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Ah, Janet and Joanna, you’ve added another place for me to want to visit.

If you are in London, visit Lock & Co. Hatters on St. James’s Street and you can see both Nelson’s and Wellington’s hats.

I collect Regency era (and a bit later) prints, especially architectural prints. I have a print of Apsley House that I bought in London.

I love that souvenirs were popular then as now.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I would love to collect vintage jewelry and rare books (if there were but world enough and time, LOL). In the meantime, I collect modern souvenirs, and I would love something like that glove stretcher. The dangers of ebay. 🙂

Thanks for the wonderful post, Janet!

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Exellent post, Janet. I have no first-hand knowledge of Nelson souvenirs, but I’m grateful to his (sorta) reigning in the excesses of the Georgian and ushering in the Regency.

Diane, are you taking notes? At this rate, our trip is going to have to be six weeks long. Jus’ sayin’… 🙂

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Only six weeks, Keira? I was hoping for more!

Cara King
14 years ago

Ooh, Joanna, I agree about touring the Victory!

Though actually the first time I went to Portsmouth, I arrived at noon, and they said that all the tours were booked up already, and I was in anguish!

Though I did get to go back a second time, and see the Victory — truly amazing.

Janet, thanks for all the great pics! I love the snuff box in particular. 🙂


Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

Portsmouth is high on my list of places to visit next time I’m in England, though I have to admit I never can manage to get interested in Nelson and the navy in anything like the same way I am in Wellington and the army.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I’m with you, Susan. I’m definitely a Wellington groupie!

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

Sigh, so many places to visit, so little time. Many of these places I visited as a young child, but I have very little memory of it at this point. I would really love to go back now that I am old enough to appreciate it all.

I collect cameos, but don’t really have any truly old ones. If I had the money there are some on some antique sites that would be MINE MINE MINE!!

I love old books. I own a first edition Byron thanks to my late DH. In bad financial times I am sure it would take care of me, but I could never sell it.

Thanks for the great post, Janet! I am a big fan of Nelson AND Wellington!

Janet Mullany
14 years ago

I haven’t been to Portsmouth in years but now I want to go again! One disappointing thing about the town is that it was heavily bombed in WW2 and very little of the older part of town survives.

I’d like to collect antique jewelry but most of it is way out of my league financially… I prefer Edwardian styles over Regency but I love 18c cameos.

Keira, I don’t think you could ever accuse Nelson of practising restraint–I’m thinking of his highly public and passionate affair with Emma Hamilton!

So come on, confess. Did anyone buy the glove stretcher?

14 years ago

I can’t really claim to collect things, but when the occasional item comes my way I am often tempted too strongly to resist. For instance, a couple of years ago when we were in Nice, I found a framed fencing print at the antiques market there–one of the plates from the Encyclopédie, which were taken from Angelo’s book on fencing. After much dithering and bargaining with the dealer (in my less-than-stellar French), I finally bought it, theorizing that I could probably pack it up and mail it home. That proved to be too difficult in the time I had, so I spent a frantic time trying to pack it into our suitcase well enough that the glass wouldn’t break en route. (Which it didn’t, thankfully.)

Anyway, the print now adorns our walls, so I guess it was a success in the end. But I don’t think I have the nerves to be a collector. 🙂


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