Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:14 am 
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Dr Sam Willis, who I mentioned in the earlier thread on Roy and Lesley Adkins' new book, is also appearing at the Chalke Valley History Festival next week.

In what looks to be an intriguing live experiment, using detailed battle accounts, ship plans and a Charville musket, Sam will be replicating/demonstrating the circumstances surrounding Nelson's shooting at Trafalgar.

Wish I could be there.

More info here: http://www.cvhf.org.uk/programme/event/ ... -of-nelson

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Jacqui


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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 8:42 am 
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That looks really interesting, wish I could go but it'd be an expensive train journey for me :(

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 9:05 am 
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This looks really interesting!

I note that the link Mira provided says that it is known that Nelson was shot by a ball from a French musket. I was under the impression that The Queen, who now has the musket ball that shot Nelson in her possession, had refused permission for it to be examined, in order to lay to rest the speculation that Nelson had been killed by a ricochet British bullet.

See the discussion on an earlier thread:



viewtopic.php?f=1&t=130&p=8472&hilit=ricochet#p8472

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Anna


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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 11:01 am 
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Anna,

It would certainly have been interesting to have heard Dr Willis' lecture (I imagine though, it will be posted somewhere on the net – ideally on N&HW :wink: ) partly to see what arguments, if any, he makes on this point. Meanwhile various theories abound, and probably will continue to surface.

As I believe I said before, it is perhaps a pity that the Queen, at present, will not permit examination of the ball, if that is true. I would imagine though that she, or her collections staff, are thinking of the great historic value of the object, and that it could be damaged on examination. However, I would think that much may be deduced using modern techniques, scanning, etc, which will not injure the object itself.

As you mentioned previously however, there perhaps might just be that niggling possibility in the back of her Majesty's (and everybody else's) mind, that the ball might just turn out to be British! :shock:

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 7:50 am 
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Thanks for that link, Anna: a fascinating refresher on the subject.

Here's a short clip of the Sam Willis event at Chalke Farm, although it doesn't include any analysis of the results: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-h4vQVmBdY

I have a handful of Peninsular and Waterloo period musket balls at home - both British and French - and had always thought the most notable difference between the two was the size: the British ball being significantly bigger. Not very scientific, I agree, but easily distinguishable by eye.

Looking at a website comparing the French Charleville and British Brown Bess issue musket balls, that seems to be confirmed. According to folks who know their stuff, the Brown Bess fired a .75 calibre ball and the Charleville a .69.

I'm certainly no Napoleonic firearms expert, and my thoughts are only based on scrutinising a handful of musket balls, but I wonder why a closer examination (refused by the Queen in Anna's link) would have been needed - and what else it would have added to any verification of the type of weapon used?

On a side wind: If the report that the Queen refused permission for the Nelson ball to be examined is true, and if the request was made by a qualified and responsible organisation, I find that very disappointing. Surely - using state of the art technology - as Kester submits, it could have been done in a non-invasive way?

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 3:23 pm 
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Jacqui,

Many thanks for posting Dr Willis' 'experiment'. Interesting, but not I think, conclusive. Not only is Dr Willis an excellent maritime historian (I have a list of his books to buy) but, going by this, he would also appear to be pretty good at ad-libbing! However, he obviously accepts that the shot was from the French Redoutable, as it has gone down in history.

It was certainly unfortunate that the Charleville musket was not performing that well on the day (isn't that always the way, and not only with muskets!), but I have the suspicion that the disputes will continue, as they have done ever since Trafalgar. These will probably include such topics as the distance between the ships; the fact that the ships were moving (which Dr Willis alluded to, although I would have imagined that for a seasoned sharpshooter at sea, the long swell that day may not actually have presented significant problems); the hectic nature of the battle, which meant that one could not be certain where any particular shot came from, on either side; the accuracy of the weapons themselves. The Marines sea service musket, which I believe was a shortened derivative of the army's Brown Bess (although I think the barrel was only some six inches shorter) was, I have read, not really that accurate over more than fifty yards. I don't know if the Charleville was the more accurate, but it perhaps poses the question as to whether it was a lucky shot, if from the French side. I have also read somewhere that the sharpshooters were actually Swiss specialists that Napoleon had hired, although I have no idea how accurate that suggestion is, as many seamen in the French Navy were trained marksmen. So, I expect the controversy to continue!

You mentioned the fact the British musket ball was somewhat larger. Whilst true, It may not be quite as simple as that to decide on its 'nationality'! Lead balls have a habit of distorting on impact with anything hard, which would probably include bone, thus I would imagine this might have been one of the questions regarding its examination, which alas does not appear to be happening any time soon.

Jacqui, you also mentioned your collection of musket balls, both British and French. I trust you didn't also have the muskets to go with them, and now in the safe keeping of Her Majesty's Constabulary, if they were still in working order!

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 4:00 pm 
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You can still own a musket on a UK firearms license. When I re-enacted as a Coldtream Guard I had one. Gave it up when I had children though.

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 6:23 pm 
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Joss,

Yes, I'm sure you're right. I know that when I worked in a museum in the UK, the firearm collection (which included one once owned by Shackleton) was regularly checked by the police – to make sure that none of them had a firing pin, or mechanism that rendered them usable. That was only the museum though.

You're re-enacting as a Coldstream Guardsmen must have been interesting – from that I take it you weren't actually in the Guards themselves, or were you? Two years from now, I'm sure there'll be a big re-enactment of a particular battle taking place – I think somewhere in Belgium. The Coldsteam Guards were, I beleive, entrusted with the defence of a certain farmhouse, La Haye Saint, I think.

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 3:23 pm 
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Better late than never. Was at the Chalk Valley History and saw the Sam Willis event. Sam's argument is that Nelson was deliberately targeted by the French marksman. I would argue that it was still a lucky shot. We know there was a large swell running at the time so both ships would have been either pitching or rolling or both. In Sam's re-enactment both the 'cherrypicker' (serving as the mast of the Redoubtable) and the dummy dressed as Nelson were static, making the close range shots, albeit with an inherently inaccurate musket, fairly easy. Whether the marksman was aiming at Nelson or not we shall probably never know, but I would maintain that the fatal shot was still a matter of luck. (I served for 30 plus years in the infantry so I do know a little bit about small arms.)

Ray


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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 4:45 pm 
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Ray,

Thanks for your input, your experience would make you rather more knowledgeable about such matters than most here – including me!

Yes, the demonstration had one rather crucial thing missing – the fact that on the day both the target, and the position of the sharpshooter, were moving. Not only that, they would also have been moving in relation to each other. I also tend to agree, irrespective as to whether the marksmen were specially trained or not, that it was a lucky shot. Despite what Dr Willis maintains, attempting the experiment on a nice, sunny, calm day is surely not quite the same as being in the midst of a battle, with a swell on the sea, and surrounded by the uncertainties of the fighting!

There is also a school of thought which maintains that the sharpshooters were aiming at the Victory's quarterdeck in general, rather than at any particular individual. There would seem to be some sense in that, seeing the inaccuracy of the weapons of the time, and the fact that a large number of the officers, including Nelson would have been stationed there. Perhaps they hoped that by killing the officers, the ship would become unmaneagable. However, not all the officers were on the quarterdeck deck – and I have a suspicion that the average British seaman wouldn't have given in so easily!

As I said, I think the controversy will still rage.

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 10:30 pm 
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Thanks Ray - it's good to have the thoughts of someone who was there - and with 30 years experience to boot.

Kester - I agree that the question will rage on and on.

The best fun I ever had at a shoot, was being (gently tutored) to load and fire a black powder musket at a 'have a go' event a couple of years ago. A completely different experience from using a shotgun or airgun. But not, I don't think, as inaccurate (within say 25 yards) as is often stated. And I'm a rank amateur.

Ray - re: the Chalke Valley event. Did Sam indicate where the shots from the cherry picker landed?

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 Post subject: Re: The Death of Nelson - Live!
PostPosted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:39 pm 
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Sorry Mira, another slow reply - been away. The shots hit the dummy in the chest area and of course passed through. I spoke to Sam Willis at the event and mentioned that the fatal shot had hit Nelson in the left shoulder passing through his epaulette, remnants of it being stuck to the extracted ball. Sam said there was no real evidence of this and that some said the material was stuck to the ball at a later date! (Presumably for dramatic effect) I was taken aback by this as the evidence I was quoting was directly from Beatty who stated "On removing the ball, a portion of the gold-lace and pad of the epaulette, together with a small piece of HIS LORDSHIP'S coat, was firmly attached to it". I suspect Dr Sam may be given to flights of fancy.

Ray


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