Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Into the Light
PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2009 8:30 am 
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It's often asked: 'Is there anything new to say about Nelson?' - and, considering the number of biographies of him that have appeared over the last 200 years, it's a fair question. The same anecdotes, incidents and events appear in different narratives, with varying treatment, over and over again.

Sometimes, however, you come across something new, or at least, hitherto unknown to you, that is illuminating, curious, interesting etc. These may be matters of tiny detail - such as Fiddler's account of Nelson in his green coat at Copenhagen; but it is detail that sharpens the focus, enlivens the character, contributes to the larger historical canvas, whether seen through the eyes of a midshipman or an admiral.

So - this is an 'occasional thread' on which we can post anything we come across that appears to be less well-known and bring it into the light. In Midshipman Millard's account of Copenhagen, for example, there is a picture of Nelson that is very vivid:

Early on the afternoon of Thursday [April 1st 1801] I observed a light gig pulling towards us, though at a great distance. On directing my spying-glass towards her, I observed several officers in her, but at the end of a boat was a cocked hat put on square, and much lower than others. I immediately ran to the officer of the watch and assured him Lord Nelson was coming on board 'for I had seen his hat'. My information did not receive much credit till, in process of time, the old checked surtout [overcoat] was discovered [revealed]; and soon after, a squeaking little voice hailed the Monarch, and desired us, in the true Norfolk drawl, to prepare to weigh. When I went aboard the Elephant at night, I found the quarterdeck full of officers and Lord Nelson giving his orders to a party which was going to take soundings along the enemy's line. The last direction his Lordship gave in my hearing was as follows:

'Are your oars muffled?'

'Yes, my Lord.'

'Very well; should the Danish guard boat discover you, you must pull like the devil and get out of his way as fast as you can'.


It seems that Nelson's old fashioned way of wearing his hat and the checked surtout [never heard of that before] were dead giveaways - part of his public persona that everyone recognised.

It is extraordinary that this unprepossessing man, with his eccentric dress and squeaky Norfolk voice (which Millard would have identified as such, being a Norfolk man himself) should have had such a charismatic presence which clearly electrified everyone under his command.

Now Fiddler - what about Michaelmas, white birds, lost right arms......?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2009 12:16 pm 
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There might be a little more to Millard's account than immediately apparent here to the casual observer.

It would seem that flag officers and lieutenants around this time both wore bicornes, or two sided hats. The former wore them athwartships (or square across the head), the latter fore-and-aft (in line with the head.) However, admirals apparently continued to wear the older tricorne, square across the head and with the angle to the front, until around 1820 when the style changed in line with the other officers.

This was presumably a distinguishing mark, apart from the gold laced edge, by which admirals would have been more noticeable – hence perhaps Millard's remark. The fact that Nelson 'sat much lower than the others' was very likely due to his slightness.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2009 12:23 pm 
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He might also have worn his hat lower in an attempt to cover the Nile scar on his forehead, just above his right eye. He always combed his hair forward too, to try and disguise it. Prior to the Nile, he wore his hair brushed back. There's a portrait by Beechey that shows the Nile scar very clearly - it's the portrait used, appropriately, on the cover of Dr Hills' book about his wounds and ill health. The scar is large, star-shaped and very livid, not quite covered by a lock of hair, so it's not surprising that he might have tried to conceal it under his hat.

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Last edited by tycho on Mon Mar 23, 2009 1:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2009 1:11 pm 
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Anna,

Yes, there is that too.

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 Post subject: James Martin at Trafalgar
PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 7:11 pm 
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I came across this link by chance - I wonder if anyone else knows it? It is the personal account of James Martin, a seaman who served at Trafalgar in Neptune under Captain Fremantle. The language is quite touching: he has clearly adopted the use of grandiose words to add dignity to his narrative, but his uncertain grasp of this elevated vocabulary, and an even more uncertain grasp of spelling and grammar add unintended humour and pathos to his story.

When I get time, I'll post it on the Information Forum under 'First hand Accounts' with a transcription, revising the spelling and adding some punctuation as it can be quite hard going to make sense of it - particularly for our readers who don't have English as a first language.

He quotes Captain Fremantle's address once the signal 'England expects....' had been received:

Our brave captain in compliance with the last signal made addressed us at our different quarters in words few, but intimated that we were all alike sensible of our condition, our native land, and all that was dear to us hung in the balance, and their happiness depended upon us and their safety also. Happy the man who boldly venture [sic] his life in such a cause. If he should survive the battle, how sweet will be the recollection be [sic] and if he fall, covered in glory and honour, and mourned by a grateful country, the brave live glorious and lamented die.'


He notes the chivalry and generosity of the Spanish compared with the graceless behaviour of the French, and pays a touching tribute to Nelson: 'while living, he was judged the pride and pattern of the British navy and in his dying hour, he still preserved the same magnanimity which had distinguished him through life as one of the greatest heroes.'


I've modernised the spelling for ease of reading.


http://www.camulos.com/trafalgar/jamesmartin.pdf

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 Post subject: Admiral Anson's Spoils of War
PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2009 10:45 am 
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This account concerning Admiral Anson's spoils of war dates from slightly before 'our' period but it gives and interesting insight into the customs of the times. It appears in Norma Clarke's biography of a well-known writer of the day, 'Queen of Wits: a life of Laetitia Pilkington' (Faber 2008). Laetitia earned her living by her pen. This included writing petitions for the less fortunate who were soliciting help from the more prosperous.

'The admiral [Admiral Anson], having returned to England in 1744 after capturing a Spanish treasure ship, paraded his booty through London in a procession of thirty two wagons. His valet, however, had not been paid for seven years, nor received any share of the prize money. The valet's sister had nothing at all and was starving. Laetitia wrote the petition and decided to deliver it in person to the admiral at his house in Hanover Square.' Laetitia, 'knowing how dress commands respect' borrowed some jewels and lace from an acquaintance and took a chair instead of walking. 'The admiral came hurrying down to meet her. Unfortunately, the moment he realised she had come with a petition his eagerness disappeared. The navy was notoriously sluggish in paying wages. Admiral Anson was only too used to being petitioned by wives, sisters, daughters, the wounded...the infirm. He told her all the money was tied by the Treasury, there wasn't a shilling he could call his own.' However, Laetitia managed to extract a guinea from him for the poor woman.

Was it usual, I wonder, for Admirals to parade their spoils of war in this way? The story reinforces, though, if re-inforcement were needed, how difficult life could be for the poor, and how precarious it was to have to depend on the bounty of the rich.

Nelson records in one of his letters how beset he was by appeals from strangers, many with no connection with the navy and no personal claim on him. One man wanted several hundred pounds to open a school. 'Do they think I am mad?' he asked rhetorically, of Emma.

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 Post subject: Hair and hat revisited; and some astrology
PostPosted: Sun Apr 05, 2009 9:09 pm 
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Back to the hair and hat for a moment.

This is utter conjecture teetering on the brink of fiction, but I wonder if any adjustments could have been Emma's doing.

First the hair and the Nile scar. By this time Nelson might not have cared that much about one more visible ding, another bodily badge of honor. After an arm goes it might be useless to fret about appearance. If we look at the Grignion (or Grignon) portrait done in Palermo in February 1799, we see he still appears to have his hair pulled straight back over the top of his head.

http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/prints ... oID=PU3760

As the year wore on and he and Emma grew closer I can imagine Emma suggesting a trim, maybe even doing it herself; then just flopping that chunk of hair right down over the forehead and the scar. I can imagine Nelson liking the result once he saw it.

Emma really knew how to wear a hat. She had style. So I can just see her reaching across and putting a bit of an angle to Nelson’s hat, that little bit of slouch…not necessarily to hide the scar, but because a hat generally looks better offset. Not many people look good in a hat put on square, ask any hat maven. You’ve got to tip it a little. And if Nelson did that when putting on his own hat I think he probably would have slouched it on the left, being perforce left-handed, it’s easier than reaching across to the right.

Who knows, could’ve happened…

* * *

A little astrology.

In looking at the Grignion picture we see, as in so many of Nelson’s portraits, what astrologers call the “Egyptian eyelid,” a highly typical physical trait in people with an Ascendant Scorpio, or Scorpio “Rising.” (This is presumptive in Nelson’s case, the ascendant being the astrological sign that was rising on the eastern horizon at the time of birth. I very much doubt the time was documented. Anyone? However, in the absence of such information an ascendant can be arrived at by a process called rectification, and the Nelson charts I’ve seen all indicate Scorpio in this position.) Ascendant Scorpios usually have a distinctive countenance with an intensity of gaze, a certain profile, almost always a prominent nose; strong brows, full lips, wavy hair. They are often of no more than middling stature; but are typically more broadly built, and they usually have dark hair... But with Mars placed as it is in Nelson’s chart, he could easily have had reddish hair.

Also a real gift for swearing. That's the Scorpio in his chart.

Many military people, warriors, have Scorpio or Mars outstanding in their chart. Nelson has Mars in Scorpio, and Mars rules Scorpio.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2009 7:16 am 
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You might well have a point there, about Emma's influence. An honourable battle-scar wouldn't have worried Nelson. But a quick glance through Richard Walker's book on Nelson's portraits reveals that the lock of hair over the forehead seems to have been a post-Nile characteristic (and therefore, possibly, also a post-Emma influence.) It may well just have been a gesture to fashion. Again, fashion didn't interest Nelson - there are numerous comments on his eccentric, old-fashioned dress, for example - and he held onto his pigtail when others were adopting the rumpled, tumbling-onto-the-forehead locks of Regency fashion that you see in many officers' portraits of the day. It might well have been Emma who encouraged something slightly more fashionable. Benson Earle Hill in 'Recollections of an Artillery Officer' records the visit paid by Lady Hamilton and Horatia to Nelson's effigy in Westminster Abbey:

....she told the man that the likeness would be perfect if a certain lock of hair was disposed the way his Lordship always wore it: this she offered to arrange. The guide refused to let anyone touch the figure.

'I am sure,' she said, with that bewitching grace with which she was pre-eminently gifted, 'when I tell you that I am Lady Hamilton you will not refuse me.'

The man fixed his gaze upon her. 'Lady Hamilton! What, Lord Nelson's Lady Hamilton? Oh, madam, who could refuse you?' He hastened to open the case and the lock of hair was adjusted.'


The effigy still has the lock of hair over the right eye.

I've made an 'astrology' comment 'Inside Nelson's World'.

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