Updated: Oct 19, 2020
UPDATE: Book now for Talking Objects - Nelson will feature on 3rd Nov and Statues & Memorials on 10 Nov
Admiral Nelson (1758-1805) is arguably Britain’s most well-known naval hero. If asked, most people would be able to tell you that he led the navy to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 against Napoleon and French. His death in battle escalated the romanticism and fascination that people had with the navy which is still prevalent today.
Horatio Nelson’s path to naval fame started when he joined the navy aged just 12 (1770) and became a captain by the age of 20 (1). His early success can be attributed to the fact that he started as a midshipman under his mothers eldest Brother, Maurice Suckling, who was in command of a ship.
Like other great heroes of the empire, such as James Wolfe, Nelson didn’t have the best of health. He was reportedly a sickly child at birth as well as suffering from seasickness his whole career (3). During his career, he lost his right eye at the Siege of Calvi in Corsica (1794) and his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz in Tenerife (1797). Nelson also periodically suffered from bouts of malaria and dysentery (he once almost died from scurvy) (3).
Despite his heroic tendencies, Nelson’s career was not scandal-free. He had a very public affair with Lady Emma Hamilton during his time in Naples (1793); they were both married. Nelson left his wife to be with her and in 1801 they had a daughter together (3).
His famous death came to pass at the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of southern Spain in October 1805 (3). This was the most important battle of the Third Coalition war between Britain and France (5). Nelson led a fleet of 27 ships against the Franco-Spanish squadron of 33. He was shot through his left shoulder while on the deck of HMS Victory with the bullet smashing through two ribs, left lung severing a major artery and lodged beneath his right shoulder blade (4). His body was brought back to England in a barrel of brandy to preserve it (3). Nelson was then laid in state at the Painted Hall in Greenwich until his funeral at St Pauls to which he travelled by the Thames (1).
His legacy of stopping a French invasion of Britain lives on, along with his ability to dominate the French forces 1794-1805 (1). He was hailed as a brilliant tactician with an unmatched ability to surprise his enemies with his moves (3).
The statue was commissioned by the owner of the Trafalgar Tavern in 2005 for the 200th anniversary of his death; Lesly Pover was the chosen artist. The position of the statue was chosen as it overlooks the river; Nelson can watch all the ships passing by (6). She chose to make a life-size bronze statue of Nelson to place outside the tavern which took two years to create. Her inspiration for his pose came from the idea that he ‘might be in his cabin writing a dispatch in pain from healing wounds’ and tried to portray him as the ‘archetypal warrior who moved beyond personal greed or self-interest and lived a life which he was ready to sacrifice’ (7).
Despite the relative newness of the statue, it has had a turbulent time. The statue had to be taken away to be repaired after it was damaged after an attempted theft to sell the metal off for scrap in 2012 (6).
Questions to consider:
Why is it relatively hidden from the public, not something most people know is there?
Why is it necessary, Nelson has other more important monuments in London?
If the link to Greenwich is his funeral, why is it not more in the centre?
What is the point of this statue, what purpose does it serve?
(1) BBC News, London. ‘Lord Nelson and Trafalgar’, 6 December 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8085000/8085634.stm.
(2) Cavendish, Richard. ‘Birth of Horatio Nelson’. History Today58, no. 9 (2008). https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/birth-horatio-nelson.
(3) Johnson, Ben. ‘Admiral Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar’. Historic UK. Accessed 17 February 2020. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Admiral-Lord-Nelson/.
(4) Royal Museums Greenwich. ‘The Death of Nelson’, 12 August 2015. https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/death-nelson.
(5) Vries, Fedor de. ‘Statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson’. Traces of War. Accessed 16 February 2020. https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/102515/Statue-of-Admiral-Horatio-Nelson.htm.
(6) Discover Nelson in Greenwich. ‘Nelson’s Statue by the Trafalgar Tavern’, 2015. http://nelson.greenwich.co.uk/things-to-see/nelsons-statue-by-the-trafalgar-tavern/.
(7) Lesley Pover | Sculpture. ‘Lord Admiral Nelson’, 2017. https://lesleypover-sculpture.co.uk/lord-admiral-nelson/.