Nelson & His World

Nelson's chelengk
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Author:  Billy Ruffian [ Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Nelson's chelengk

The brooch on Nelsons scraper in my favorite portrait -the one by Lemuel Francis Abbott- is called a chelengk, and was given to Nelson after the battle of the Nile.

I'm working my way through Patrick O'Brians Aubrey-Maturin series of novels, and Jack Aubrey is enamoured of his chelengk, of course, because he, like just about everyone else in the Royal Navy at that time, held Nelson in the highest regard.

The interesting thing that I discovered about Nelson's chelengk is that the centre diamond was connected to a tiny watch-work that caused it to rotate.

Author:  Devenish [ Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:05 pm ]
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Nelson was, I believe, the first non-moslim to be awarded one and the story goes that the Sultan took it from his own turban.

It eventually passed to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, who had it until around 1950, when it was stolen. The man confessed several years later and admitted that it had been broken up. I don't think any parts of it have have ever been recovered.

To my mind this was one of the greatest ever acts of vandalism.


Author:  Billy Ruffian [ Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for the information.

Yes, the destruction of Nelsons chelengk ranks right up there with the vandalization of Michealangelo's Pieta in St. Peters.

Author:  tycho [ Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:25 pm ]
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What happened to the chelengk in the period after Nelson's death and its arrival in the NMM? I recall that Terry Coleman (I think) describes it lying abandoned on a bureau where Nelson's brother William had carelessly thrown it. Did the family donate it, loan it, sell it to the NMM? Or did it get there by a circuitous route?

Author:  Devenish [ Sun Mar 30, 2008 9:15 am ]
Post subject: 

Yes, I have heard that too, regarding William's seeming disregard of it, but cannot at the moment verify it.

Nelson had added a codicil to his will, just before Copenhagen, leaving both the chelengk and the sable pelisse to Emma, so presumably the former might have passed to the William when she had to get rid of Nelson's belongings (what a heart-rending time that must have been for her and a heart-warming one for him!).

How it passed from him into the possession of the NMM I don't at the moment know, but I think it is worth following up. I'll see if I can find out any more.


Author:  Devenish [ Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:24 am ]
Post subject: 

In further investigation into the chelengk, I have just come across this interesting page: ... scent.html


Author:  Billy Ruffian [ Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:34 pm ]
Post subject: 

Great find! Thanks for the link Devenish.

Author:  Ray [ Wed Oct 15, 2008 6:13 pm ]
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While scouring the net for information on the chelengk, I happened to stumble upon this thread. I realise that the last comment was posted way back in March, and am also aware that this particular aspect of the topic may have been covered previously - it may even be common knowledge. If so, it's eluded me so far.

Now that I'm registered, albeit sixth months too late to join the discussion, I'm hoping someone will be able be able to say exactly how the chelengk was presented to Nelson. Did Sultan Selim 111 present it to him in person? The suggestion that he may have removed it from his own turban hints that this was so, but in that case where would the ceremony have taken place? Did Selim sail out to Egypt in person (unlikely, surely). Alternatively, did Nelson make his way to the Ottoman court - or was the jewelled wonder brought to him by an intermediary ?

None of these scenarios look particularly plausible, (the third possibility seems a bit too off-hand) yet unless I've overlooked something, one of them has got to be right. Can anyone help?

Author:  tycho [ Wed Oct 15, 2008 6:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

In 'The Nelson Companion' (ed. Colin White), John Munday records in an essay on the Nelson relics (p. 67), that the chelengk was 'delivered in great state to Nelson at Naples' by the Sultan's envoy, Abdullah Kelim Effendi.

He also answers another question on p. 65. How did the NMM acquire the chelengk? By purchase, with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund, from the Eyre Matcham family in 1929. Presumably it came into their hands via William, Earl Nelson.

Author:  Mira [ Sun Oct 19, 2008 9:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Journey of the Chelengk


Here are a few bits and pieces of correspondence concerning the award of the Chelengk and how it got to Nelson. I'm sure there are many gaps, and some of it seems a little contrary.

I'm a little confused about whether Nelson received the actual Chelengk and pelisse on Dec 21st 1798, or whether he received it almost a year later - as he relates in a letter to Isaac Heard in November 1799. Perhaps someone could add more to clarify the journey of the award(s) to Naples/Palermo.

In chronological order:

Nicolas contains a translation (no date, although the content appears to be contemporary with the action) of the note delivered to Spencer Smith, His Majesty's Plenipotentiary at Constantinople, on the occasion of the award:

"... it has been made known how much the Sublime Porte rejoiced... at the English Squadron in the White Sea having defeated the French squadron off Alexandria in Egypt. By recent accounts... of the Action, it appears now more positive that his Britannic Majesty's fleet has actually destroyed, by that Action, the best ships the French had in their possession. This joyful event, therefore laying this Empire under an obligation, and the service rendered by our much esteemed friend Admiral Nelson... his Imperial Majesty, the powerful, formidable, most magnificent Grand Signior, has destined as a present, in his Imperial name, to the said Admiral, a diamond Aigrette (Chelengk) and a sable fur, with broad sleeves; besides two thousand sequins to be distributed among the wounded of his crew. And as the English Minister is contstantly zealous to contribute... to the increase of friendship between the two Courts, it is hoped that he will not fail to make known this circumstance to his Court, and to solicit the permission of the powerful and most august King of England, for the said Admiral to put on and wear the said Aigrette and Pelise."

Jack Russell (Nelson and the Hamiltons) quotes Emma Lady Hamilton who, in typical style on the 27th October 1798, reports the expected arrival of the treasures to Nelson:

"Your present is a pelicia or Gibelini with a feather for your hat of dymonds large and most magnificent and 2 thousand sechins for the wounded men and a letter to you from the Grand Signior God bless him. Their is a frigate sent of a purpose, we expect it here. I must see the present. How shall I look at it, smel it, taste it and touch it, put the pelisse over my shoulders, look in the glass and say Vivo il Turk; and by the express desire of his Imperial Majesty you are to wear these Badges of Honner, so we think it is an order he gives you for you are particularly desired to wear them; and his thanks to be given to all officers, God Bless, or Mahomet bless, the old Turk - I say no longer Turk but good Christian. The Queen says that after the English she loves the Turks and she as reason, for as to Viena the ministers deserve to be hanged, and if Naples is to be saved no thanks to the Emperor, for he is kindly leaving his father in the lurch..."

And Nelson writes in his letterbook, his thanks to 'His Excellency The Grand Vizier' from Naples on 16th December 1798:

I am honoured by your Excellency's letter, delivered to me
by Kelim Effendi, for which, and your kind expressions of
regard, I sincerely thank you. I beg that your Excellency
will lay me at the feet of the Grand Signior, and express
what I feel for the great and singular Honour conferred upon
me, which I am sensible I owe to his Imperial goodness of
heart, and not to my deserts. When I first saw the French
Fleet, which, for near three months, I had in vain sought, I
prayed that, if our cause was just, I might be the happy instru-
ment of His punishment against unbelievers of the Supreme
only True God that if it was unjust, I might be killed. The
Almighty took the Battle into His own hand, and with His
power marked the Victory as the most astonishing that ever
was gained at sea : All glory be to God ! Amen ! Amen!

I cannot allow Kelim Effendi to depart without expressing
my thanks to him for the very able, dignified, and polite
manner in which he has executed his mission, and I beg leave
to recommend him to your Excellency's protection, as my dear
friend. That your Excellency may long live in health to
carry, by your wise councils, the glory of the Ottoman Empire
to the highest pitch of grandeur, is the sincere prayer of your
Excellency's most faithful servant,


I send my dear son-in-law Captain Nisbet, to carry Kelim
Effendi to Constantinople

Russell also relates the following about the visit of Kelim Effendi. Unfortunately he gives no reference:

"That evening (21st Dec 1798) Nelson and the Hamiltons and Mrs. Cadogan left the Palazzo Sessa for the last time and went to a reception given by Kelim Effendi, the Emissary of the Grand Signior who had arrived with the Admiral's presents on the December 16th. The elderly Turk must have been astonished at his guests' behaviour. Having dismissed their servants and ordered the carriage to return in two hours to take them home to supper, they walked off on foot, leaving him bowing on the steps of his residence. They hurried down to the quay where Nelson's barge was waiting and were rowed out to the Vanguard..."

Lady Hamilton puts it this way in a letter to Charles Greville in January 1799:

"On the 21st. at ten at night, Lord Nelson, Sir Wm. mother & self went out to pay a visit, sent all our servants a way & ordered them in 2 hours to come with the coach & order'd supper at home. When they were gone, we set off, walked to our boat & after 2 hours got to the Vanguard..."

Nelson from Palermo, 1st January 1799, mentions to Earl Spencer that he has received his 'Order of Merit' from Kelim Effendi (who leaves around the 7th January:)

'... Kelim Effendi, a person holding the office similar to our Under-
secretary of State, who had been sent with my Order of
Merit; for, by the form of the investiture, that seems to me
the properest name to call it...'

Vanguard, Palermo, 7th January, 1799.

'You are hereby required and directed to receive on board
his Majesty's Sloop, La Bonne Citoyenne, under your com-
mand, the Turkish Ambassador, Kelim Effendi, with his
dragoman and servants, and proceed, without a moment's loss
of time, to Constantinople...'

Spencer Smith reports the award to Nelson from Constantinople on 9th September, 1799. (Nicolas again. The reference says Vol. IV, p81 but I can't find it there, so is this date right?)

"Your Lordship will find the Vizir’s dispatch accompanied by a translation carefully done under my eye; also, by an answer to a letter from Vice Admiral Lord Keith upon a part of the same subject; and last, though not least, by a rich diamond ornament, which, as a mark of unprecedented distinction, and attention to our usages, has been adapted to the form and purposes of a Badge of Knighthood ; and as such I comprehend your Lordship is expected to employ it. I have suggested that it may be entitled the Order of the Crescent.

Cramped as I am for the time necessary even to obey the Sultan’s command by means of the annexed dispatches, I cannot let this communication pass without addressing my very cordial congratulations upon the occasion. It is, indeed, matter of flattering recollection to me, after having it fall to my lot to be the first to convey to a Countryman that decoration (the Chelengk, or Plume of Triumph) which Ottoman grandeur had hitherto exclusively reserved for conquerors of their own race, that I should be charged to present the same Hero with a Civic crown for such may be considered the Emperor’s gift, which accompanies this. I hope you will long live to display, with honest pride, these genuine Badges
of Merit, and that after the one and the other have successively passed through my hands, I may again see them united upon the person of the first Knight of the Crescent."

Soon afterwards Nelson writes about it to Sir Isaac Heard, Garter of the King's Arms.

Palermo, November 1st, 1799.

My dear Sir,

I am not certain that I answered your kind congratulatory letter
on my elevation to the Peerage if not, I beg your pardon, and
probably deferred it at the moment, in expectation of receiving
the plan of the Arms you sent to Lord Grenville, but which has
never reached me. I should be much obliged to you for them,
but now I suppose the Ducal Arms of Bronte must have a
place. If His Majesty approves of my taking the Title of
Bronte, I must have your opinion how I am to sign my name.
At present I describe myself ‘ Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte
in Sicily.’ As the Pelises given to me and Sir Sidney Smith
are novel, I must beg you will turn in your mind how I am
to wear it when I first go to the King ; and, as the Aigrette
is directed to be worn, where am I to put it ? In my hat, having
only one arm, is impossible, as I must have my hand at liberty ;
therefore, I think, on my outward garment. I shall have
much pleasure in putting myself into your management, for,
believe me, dear Sir, your most obliged servant,


I have just received the Imperial Order of the Crescent
from the Grand Signior, a diamond Star ; in the centre, the
Crescent and a small Star.'

Perhaps the 'Chelengk/Aigrette/Plume of Triumph' and 'Order of Merit' are different things - badge and hat plume? Maybe that accounts for the apparent receipt of two awards from the Grand Signior almost a year apart.

Just an additional thought. Some histories relate that on Nelson's return to England in November 1800, and at his first presentation at court, the King turned his back because Nelson wore his foreign decorations without having permission to do so. Given that Spencer Smith was requested to solicit permission for Nelson to wear the award as far back as 1798, and Nelson himself clearly asked for official guidance on the matter as early as November 1799, could that really be the reason for the King's snubbing him? And if Nelson needed two arms to control it (?), did he ever actually wear the Aigrette in his hat in public?

Author:  Tony [ Tue Oct 21, 2008 9:41 pm ]
Post subject: 

I think the following may help a little:

The presentation of the chelengk is described in the Naval Chronicle Vol 1 Jan-June 1799 p. 340 in the Monthly Register of Naval Events:
The presents the Grand Seignior sent Lord Nelson were brought to Naples
by an Effendi or Secretary, in the Alcmene frigate, which sailed last from
Alexandria. His Lordship says, that the Effendi and his suite (thirteen in
number) performed their part with great gravity and dignity. They put on
their noble robes in his anti-chamber, and presented the Aigrette on cushions,
after the Oriental custom. The robe is of scarlet cloth, lined with the finest
sable imaginable, and of inestimable value. The Aigrette is a kind of feather;
it represents a hand with thirteen fingers, which arc of diamonds, and allusive
to the thirteen ships taken and destroyed at Alexandria, the size that of a
child's hand about six years old when opened ; the center diamond and the
four rouud it may be worth about 1000l. each, and there are abont 300 others
well set. With these two presents were several others of less value, and a letter
full of assurances of friendship from the Grand Seignior. The Alcmene's
Officers say, that Buonaparte is at Grand Cairo, with 21,000 men ; that he
bad sent a flag of truce to Captain Hood, offering him fresh water, &c. if he
wanted it.

The translation of the letter to Spencer Smith that Mira quotes from Nicolas was printed in the London Gazette Issue 15073 published on the 20 October 1798. Page 3:
Constantinople, Sept. 8, 1798.
Immediately upon receiving the News of the Victory off the Mouth of the Nile, the Grand Signior directed a superb Diamond Aigrette, (called a
Chelengk, or Plume of Triumph,) taken from one of the Imperial Turbans, to-be sent to Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, together with a Pelice of Sable
Fur of the first Quality.
He directed also a Purse of Two Thousand Zequins to be distributed among the British Seamen wounded at the Battle of the Nile.
These Presents are to be conveyed to Sir Horatio Nelson in a Turkissi Frigate.
' The following is a Translation of the Note delivered to Mr. Smith, His Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary upon the Occasion:
T R A N S L A T I O N .
I T is but lately, that by a written Communication
it has been'made known how much the Sublime
Porte rejoiced at the first Advice received of the
Englissi Squadron in the White Sea having defeated
the French Squadron of Alexandria in Egypt.
By recent Accounts comprehending a specifick
detail of the Action, it appears now more positive,
that His Bricannick Majesty's Fleet has actually
destroyed by that Action the best Ships the French
had in their Possession.
This joyful Event, therefore, laying this Empire
under an Obligation, and the Service rendered by
our much esteemed Friend Admiral Nelson on this
Occasion being of a Nature to call for Publick
Acknowledgment; His Imperial Majesty the Powerful,
Formidable, and Most Magnificent Grand Signior
has destined as a Present in his Imperial Name to
the said Admiral, a Diamond Aigrette, (Chelengk,)
and. a Sable Fur With .Broad Sleeves; besides Two
Thousand Zequins to be distributed among the
Wounded of his Crew. And as the Englissi Minister
is constantly zealous to contribute, by his
Endeavours, to the increase of Friendship between
the Two Courts, it is hoped he will not fail to make
known this Circumstance" to his Court, and to solicit
the Permission of the Powerful and Most August
King of England for the said Admiral to put
on and wear the said Aigrette and Peiice.
September 8, 1798.

It seems to me that "my Order of Merit" was Nelson's own "unofficial" name for the Chelengk / Plume of Triumph / Aigrette, which was a badge of valour. The later letter from Spencer Smith of 9th September, 1799 refers to a later award of the Order of the Crescent, which he wore on his coat. (Yes, it is Nicolas Vol. IV, p81 - the letter is in the footnote.)

Author:  tycho [ Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:04 am ]
Post subject: 

‘The Authentic Nelson’ by Rina Prentice, curator at the NMM [NMM Publishing 2005, ISBN 0948065691] has an interesting account of the vicissitudes of the chelengk from the time of its bestowal on Nelson until its theft from the NMM in 1951.

She makes a number of points that may be of interest, listed, somewhat randomly, below.

Nelson did not habitually wear the aigrette. The Times of 16 May 1831, reporting a burglary at Earl Nelson’s house in which many Nelson relics were stolen, though the chelengk was not, records that ‘Lord Nelson…was in the habit, on state occasions, of wearing it in his hat.’

A letter dated 3 October 1798 sent from the Embassy at Constantinople to the Foreign Office notes that the Plume of Triumph given to Nelson, and ‘never before conferred upon a disbeliever’ was ‘the ne plus ultra of personal honour, as separate from official dignity.’

There were originally only seven rays. The Sultan ordered that a further six be added to represent the thirteen enemy ships taken, burnt or destroyed at the Nile. The clockwork mechanism that caused the central rose to revolve was also added at this time, though this appears to have been removed. Viscount Bridport wrote in a letter to ‘Country Life’ in 1951 that ‘In the modern form there was no watchwork. I believe that the Chelengk may have been altered by order of my great-grandmother '[the then owner.]

The monetary value of the chelengk has been open to debate. The Times report quoted above also records that ‘One of the same description' [as Nelson’s chelengk] 'but of a smaller size, had been also presented to Sir Sidney Smith, who subsequently sold it for 13000 l [pounds] so the value of that which had escaped the thieves could not be less than 20,000 l. In fact, that sum had been refused for it.’

However, on 12 June 1951, the day after the chelengk was stolen from the NMM, The Times reported that ‘though Nelson’s chelengk is of the very greatest sentimental and historical value, its value as a collection of diamonds is small. The stones are cut very shallow, and before the last war, the valuation of them as diamonds was less than £150.'

There has been much discussion about the possibility that the chelengk was altered after Nelson’s lifetime, or the diamonds replaced by stones of inferior quality, though on 3 May 1913, Alexander Hood had written to Mrs Eyre-Matcham. ‘As far as I am aware, the Aigrette – it was thus we always spoke of it – remains in the identical condition to which [sic] it was given to Lord Nelson’. The aigrette was was still contained in its original case.

Rina Prentice’s book is full of fascinating information. It ‘investigates the dispersal of Nelson’s possessions and traces their regrouping in public and private collections….and the ways in which some of these displays have been the target for burglaries, and how deliberate copies and fakes have confused the story for collectors and curators.’

Author:  Mira [ Fri Oct 31, 2008 12:03 am ]
Post subject:  Harrison 1806 - chelengk

There is some repetition of the Naval Chronicle report in this account from James Harrison's 1806 Life of Nelson. But one or two additional details too.

Harrison includes a transcript of a letter said to have been written by the Grand Signior to expain the award of the chelengk to Nelson.

"... These presents were conveyed, under the care of Mahomet Kelim, an Effendi, or secretary of state, in a Turkish frigate to Alexandria; from whence, on finding the hero had departed for Naples, the Effendi, and his suite, immediately followed, in the Alcmene frigate. The Turkish secretary, and his twelve associates, performed their parts with suitable solemnity and address. They put on their state robes in the hero's anti-chamber; and presented the aigrette, seated on cushions, after the oriental method. The pelisse was composed of the finest scarlet cloth, lined and enriched with the most beautiful fur imaginable.

The aigrette, which is a sort of artificial plume, or feather, represents a hand with thirteen fingers, covered with diamonds; allusive to the thirteen ships taken and destroyed by the hero: and it's size is that of a child's hand, at the age of five or six years, when open. The centre diamond, and the four by which it is surrounded, are estimated at a thousand pounds each, and these are said to be at least three hundred diamonds of smaller sizes. This immensely rich and beautiful jewel is more particularly described in the following extract of a letter, said to have been written by the Grand Signior himself.

In this letter, it is called a chelengk, or plume of triumph: such as has been, on every famous and memorable success of the Ottoman arms, conferred on victorious Mussulmen, Seraskiers - - "never, before, I believe," says the imperial writer, "on any disbeliever -- as the ne plus ultra of personal honour, separate from official dignity. The present is esteemed rich in it's kind; being a blaze of brilliants, crowned with a vibrating plumage, and a radiant star in the middle, turningon it's centre, by means of a watch-wrok which winds up behind. This badge, actually taken from one of the imperial turbans, can hardly, according to the idea of such insignia here be considered as less than equivalent to the first order of chivalry in Christendom: such, at least, was my view in the indication." (Dated October 3, 1798)

Even the Dowager Sultana, mother of the Grand Signior, caught the enthusiastic admiration of our hero from her generous and illustrious son, and sent his lordship the superb and flattering present of a very rich diamond ornament, in the form of a rose..."

Author:  Mira [ Fri Oct 31, 2008 12:27 am ]
Post subject:  Nelson's Turkish Order

Very topical: ... 286.c0.m14

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