Sunday, 24 June 2012

Nelson's Private Diary, July 24th - 31st 1803

A snippet from one of Nelson's diaries (running from 27/07 - 22/10/1803) at the British Library.  To my knowledge, this diary has never been published in full.

At this point, Nelson is Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean fleet and is sitting watching the French fleet in Toulon while gathering intelligence about what the French might be up to.  This is basically the beginning of two years of build-up to Trafalgar.
I'm typing out exactly as Nelson wrote it, spelling errors, lack of punctuation, and all.

Sunday July 24th 1803
Fresh breezes & squally nothing in sight.  Carmelion in sight in the evening.

Monday July 25th
Carmelion join'd at daylight sent her with cutter to Barcelona the Termagant join'd from the bay of Roses.  Capt. Elliot was very civilly treated but refused to return his salute of an Equal number of Guns saying they were ordered to return an Equal number only to the French & Batavian Republics.  All night squally.

Tuesday July 26th
Phoebe joined at daylight from Naples with letters of the 5th, 7th & 8th.  That Kingdom in nearly all respects French for can that still be independent which is oblig'd to raise contributions at the will & pleasure of another power and to receive & pay a foreign army.  Sent the Raven to Naples & Malta with letters.  All night light breezes.  Got English papers of 1, 2, 3 June.

Friday July 29th
Light breezes.  What has become of Victory not a word from Malta since June 20th.  The Termagant brought a little French boat laden with Rice & wood for building: sent her to Malta.  All night light breezes.

Saturday July 30th
At daylight saw the Victory at 4 o clock she joined went on board.

Sunday July 31st
Nothing particular.  Capt Hardy and Sutton changing ships.

From the British Library Additional Manuscript 34,966

Termagant - HMS Termagant, an 18-gun sloop.
Carmelion - Nelson mispelt HMS Cameleon, a 16-gun brig.
Phoebe - HMS Phoebe, a 36-gun 5th rate frigate.
Raven - HMS Raven, an 18-gun brig.
Victory - HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship, which he would stay on for more than 2 years without setting foot on land, and would die on.  100-gun 1st rate warship.
Capt. Elliot - Captain George Elliot (1784-1863).  Nelson had promoted him to captain of the Termagant on 10th July 1803.
Capt. Hardy - Captain Thomas Hardy (1769-1839).  Nelson's good friend, and his captain on the Victory.
Sutton - Captain Samuel Sutton (1760-1832).  Was Captain of the Victory and took her to Nelson's fleet.  Once there, he and Hardy swapped, and so Sutton took command of the Amphion.

(ps. If I've made any mistakes, please correct me!)

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Collection

The Story so Far

Books I've Read
This Sceptred Isle - Christopher Lee.  Where it all began.  Only a few paragraphs over about five pages, but enough to hook me probably for life.

The Pursuit of Victory - Roger Knight.  The first biography I read.  Quite hard going, actually, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Nelson, his times, his navy, and the people he encountered.  I think I'd recommend it as a second one to read; however, if you only intend to read one, then this should be it, though you might need a second read.  It's a little irritating in assuming that the reader knows some of the Nelson 'myths', and then either confirming or disproving them.  For example, of the story that, during the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson disobeyed his commander-in-chief's order to withdraw by raising a telescope to his (blind) right eye and saying "I really do not see the signal" (giving rise to the expression 'to turn a blind eye'), Knight simply says "It's a myth" with no explanation as to why.  So if you have never read anything about Nelson before, you are sometimes told the truth of an untruth that you didn't even know.  The descriptions of the battles and especially the accompanying diagrams are good, though, but Trafalgar ends quite abruptly.  It's almost 'Victory fought with Redoutable, Nelson got shot, took a while to die, Britain won.'  The short biographies of other 'characters', and lists of ships, are good, and overall I think it gives a balanced view of Nelson as a man as well as a commander, and doesn't become distracted by the rights and wrongs of his private life.

Nelson: Britannia's God of War - Andrew Lambert.  From the title I'd expected it to be a sort of hero-worship, but it's not.  Lambert gives a rounded view of Nelson's character and good narratives of the battles, though is annoyingly entirely unsympathetic towards Emma Hamilton.  He's not too interested in pulling apart certain legends, though does concede that some may be exaggerated or not entirely accurate.  There is a detailed dissection of the Naples controversy which blighted Nelson's career, and asks whether the heavy criticism heaped on him for it was deserved.  Has a good, detailed list of sources.  I would recommend this as a first read.

Trafalgar - Roy Adkins.  A thoroughly entertaining and detailed narrative of the Battle of Trafalgar, which reads almost like a novel.  It not only tells of the battle itself, but also graphic descriptions of the living conditions on board the ships.  It's full of quotes not only from officers, but from ordinary seamen.  He also tells the French and Spanish stories, and has a long section dedicated to the storm after the battle, which caused more damage to the fleet than the battle but which is often overlooked.

Horatio Nelson: A Controversial Hero - Marianne Czisnik.  Essentially a dissection of biographies and perceptions of Nelson and his actions, and how those perceptions have changed over time.  Boring.  I don't recommend it.

Nelson and his Captains - Ludovic Kennedy.  A great book, reads almost like a novel.  It tells the stories of the captains under Nelson, particularly during their time around the Battle of the Nile as Nelson's 'Band of Brothers'.  Nelson himself is in fact a little sidelined, so for a specific Nelson enthusiast it's good as a third read after a couple of biographies.

Nelson: A Personal History - Christopher Hibbert.  A biography with a particular interest in Nelson's character.  It contains lots of quotes and anecdoes, many that aren't often quoted.  Also contains quite a lot of detail on Nelson's personal life which is often skimmed over in books by naval historians.  This is probably my second favourite book, after Lambert's.

The Nelson Encyclopedia - Colin White.  It is what it says!  Written by one of the most acclaimed Nelson experts, there is a brief biography at the beginning but it is first and foremost an encyclopedia of the people Nelson knew, the ships he served in, the battles he fought, the women he loved, and more.  You wouldn't want to read it on its own, but as a supplement to other books.

The Nelson Portraits - Richard Walker.  Contains images of all the portraits of Nelson, analyses of them, and puts them in context of when they were painted, who by, and for whom.  Would also be good for someone with an interest in portraits in general as no two portraits look alike and you still don't get a complete idea of what Nelson actually looked like.  In fact, one artist actually refused to paint him because he didn't think it was possible to do justice to the charisma that Nelson exuded by his many expressions and his manner.   


The British Library
Add MS 34,902 - Draft holograph letters.  Originals written and signed by Nelson himself.
Add MS 34,966 - Nelson's Private Diary (24th July to 22nd October 1803) as he sits outside Toulon blockading the French fleet.  It's quite surreal to hold the journal that Nelson kept with him all the time, to see where his writing got messier and smudged as he wrote "all night strong gales" and the ship presumably lurched, and seeing the occasional fingerprint.


Things I Own

Scale Model of HMS Victory - A sexy beast.  Expensive, but worth every penny.
Victory Wood & Copper - Taken from HMS Victory while she was being refitted and displayed on a nice sepia picture of Victory at Portsmouth before she was taken in to drydock.
A Replica Trafalgar Medal - Made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle and displayed with another little piece of Victory wood.
DVD - In Nelson's Footsteps - Narrated by Colin White.  A nice little documentary visiting the places in Britain associated with Nelson.  Though, considering Nelson spent almost all of his 47 years at sea and on foreign shores, it feels a little redundant.  I guess the budget didn't stretch to plane or boat tickets.
Random Stuff - A quill pen (quite apt considering the amount of time Nelson spent writing - 8 hours a day solidly sometimes); a little notebook with a picture of Victory on the cover; a print of a letter and portrait together; a small bust of Nelson; an 1897 leather-bound copy of Robert Southey's 'The Life of...' (in great condition and smells nice!); coasters with Nelson portraits on them (yep, I really am that sad); a mouse mat with a picture of Victory at Trafalgar; digital scanned copies of fifty letters held at the National Maritime Museum; digital scanned copies of Nelson's will from the National Archives.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Title Banner

I made the title banner above with my mad Paint Shop Pro skillz.  The portrait of Nelson is an oil sketch by John Hoppner, and the background is a painting of the Battle of Trafalgar by William Clarkson Stanfield.

In the Beginning...

Everyone knows that once you become obsessed with something, you must blog about it.  So, here's my blog :)

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was undoubtedly one of England's greatest heroes, keeping Napoleon and the French from our shores.  So, a worthy subject for an obsession, I'm sure you'll agree.  

The obsession began in October 2011.  I'd been bought a book called This Sceptred Isle by my Dad for my birthday in May and had just got round to reading it (going back to work after maternity leave gave me plenty of free time on the 1.5 hour commute in and out of London!).  It's a history of Britain, and I enjoyed it greatly, especially that which covered the Tudor era which I've always been fascinated in.  But then I reached the pages about Nelson.  Something clicked.  I don't know what it was, but something about the 'little Admiral' as he was once called, and his many contradictions - ruthless yet compassionate, vain yet insecure, impetuous but focused, physically maimed yet driven by duty and spirit, dismissive of his serious injuries yet troubled by imagined illnesses; but, above all else, a charismatic genius, that drew me in.

Having previously, like many people I think, not known much more about Nelson beyond that he won Trafalgar and perches on top of a column in London, I embarked upon a pursuit of an interest that has since more or less taken over my spare time.

Since then I have set about reading every book I can get my hands on, collecting memorabilia (and my pride and joy, a scale model of HMS Victory) and have had to acquire a bookcase to dedicate solely to my collection.  My visits to the British Library to view Nelson letters and journals first-hand has become an addiction (the smell of 200-year-old paper in a leather binding is mmmmm).  I visited his tomb in St Paul's Cathedral, an experience that so touched me that it deserves a blog entry of its own.  

My enthusiasm has brought me a reputation, as this birthday and Mother's Day I received Nelson-related presents!  I think I've also sparked an interest in Nelson in people who I've spoken to about him, and that's what I'd like to continue to do.

This blog is to record my continuing journey of discovery into Nelson and his navy.  I'm also beginning work on a website, so updates to that as well as other random snippets, will be recorded here for prosperity!