Sunday, 30 November 2014

Letter to Emma Hamilton sells for almost £24,000

A letter that Nelson wrote to Emma Hamilton shortly after the birth of their daughter, Horatia, has sold at auction at Christie's in London for £23,750.

Perhaps responding to an accusation that he has been slack in corresponding with her, Nelson, writing from aboard the San Josef, tells Emma that the midshipman he sent to post the letters "assures Me that he untied the Red tape and put the three letters into the post office", so if she still hasn't received anything from him, it has been intercepted.  But as far as he's concerned - he writes perhaps as much for the benefit of the interceptor as for Emma - if it has been intercepted, it "is of no further consequence then the interruption of a free communication between 2 such dear friends."

Nelson then goes on to say, "Mrs: Thomson's friend desires you will assure her of his unalterable & affectionate Regard, and begs she will be assured that all the World cannot either change or make him wish to change for a moment and that he is unalterably hers."  He ends with, "Kiss my God child."

Horatia was born on the 29th January 1801 while Nelson was waiting to sail for the Baltic.  It was a turbulent time in his relationship with Emma.  Since they were both still married to other people, they couldn't be together openly, and so they invented the 'Thomsons'.  Supposedly, Mrs Thomson was staying with Emma, and Nelson would write to her 'on behalf of' Mr Thomson.  In this way he could communicate what he really wanted to say to Emma, for as this letter shows, they were afraid of their relationship being discovered.  Although by that point, it really wasn't a secret to anyone.  Nelson and Emma were both essentially open and honest in expressing their emotions, and both found it difficult to stick to the alias, so it was always a flimsy one.  

Still, they used the cover story to 'adopt' Horatia from the Thomsons, and Nelson called her his god-child right up until the last letter he wrote to her before his death, which he signed with "the affectionate parental blessing of your Father."

But this letter betrays the jealousies and insecurities that blighted their relationship at this early stage.  They both thought the other would play away, which at times led to Emma having to promise not to dine with the Prince of Wales, and to Nelson having to swear not to set foot ashore.  Nelson frequently, as in this letter, reasserted his devotion to Emma in an effort to placate her.  However, once Emma's husband, Sir William Hamilton, passed away in 1803, they were able to settle at Merton when Nelson was ashore during the Peace of Amiens, and their relationship became more stable.

Two other letters also sold at the same sale.  One, written aboard the Foudroyant at Naples to Spencer Smith on the 25th July 1799, sold for £5625.  In it, Nelson praises Spencer's brother, Captain William Sidney Smith, on the successful defence of Acre from a French siege.  The other is a draft letter to the Prime Minister Henry Addington, dated 32rd April 1803, which sold for £4375.  Here, he appeals for an increase in his pension, arguing that his achievements are comparable to those of Admirals St Vincent and Duncan, and therefore his pension should be equal to theirs.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Is HMS Victory the Wrong Colour?

The black and orange stripes of HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, are iconic, but experts have discovered that the orange probably isn't the same shade as it was in Nelson's time.

Originally, Victory had been a red colour, but Nelson had her, and the rest of the Mediterranean fleet, painted with the stripes.  The gunports were painted black, so when they were open it produced a checkerboard effect.  This helped the British ships be distinctive in battle amidst the melee of ships and clouds of smoke from the guns, and minimise the risk of friendly fire, as well as being a means to intimidate the enemy.  The stripes became the standard for the British navy after that.

When she became a guard ship years later, she was painted in black and white stripes.  Years later still, as a tourist attraction, she was repainted to Nelson's colours. 

But the experts have discovered, by peeling away an incredible 72 layers of paint in places, that it might not be in Nelson's colours at all.  That the current 'orange' would in fact have been a paler ochre colour.

There are plans to repaint the Victory to more closely resemble the ship that Nelson knew, however there is still more research to do to make sure it is as accurate as it can be.


Friday, 14 February 2014

Nelson Letter for Sale

A letter written by Nelson to Thomas Lloyd in January 1798 has gone on sale, valued at £2000-£4000.  It was written only a few months after Nelson lost his right arm, but his left-handed writing was already clearly legible.

January 29th 1798
My Dear Lloyd,
There is nothing you can desire me to do that I shall not have the greatest pleasure in complying with for I am sure you can never possess a thought that is not most strictly honourable. I was much flattered by the Marquis's kind notice of me and I beg you will make my respects acceptable to him. Tell him that I possess his place in Mr. Palmers Box but his Lordship did not tell me all its charms that generally some of the handsomest Lady's at Bath are partakers in the Box and was I a bachelor I would not answer for being terrified, but as I am possessed of everything which is valuable in a wife I have no occasion to think beyond a pretty face. I am sorry the King is so poor, had he been worth what those Vile Dogs of opposition think, what a vast sum would have been given to the nation, but I now hope all the nation will subscribe liberally, you will believe that I do not urge others to give and to withhold myself but my mode of subscribing will be novel in its manner and by doing it I mean to debar myself of many comforts to serve my country and I expect great consolation every time I cut a slice of salt beef instead of mutton. The Vanguard will be at Sheerness next Saturday and if this wind holds she will be at Portsmouth before Thompson quits the Channel, I only pray that the French may not be ready to leave Brest I have been in a fever ever since the Boadicea's return with the account of their being ready for sea. Lady Nelson and my father thank you for your kind remembrance of them and believe me my Dear Lloyd, you most affectionate
Horatio Nelson

£4000 is rather low for a Nelson letter, so it will be interesting to see how much this one does go for.