The Battle of Trafalgar by JMW Turner. Commissioned by George IV, 1822. © National Maritime Museum, London.
At the top of the Nelson Stair, in the boardroom where Admiral Horatio and his captains planned perhaps the greatest maritime victory in British history, details of celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar were revealed to the gathered press, organisers and dignitaries.
Even the great man himself turned up, accompanied by a motley crew and in the guise of an actor, to offer a few words on great deeds, duty and, above all, courage.
Running from January 2005 until the end of the year, Sea Britain 2005 promises a nationwide celebration of Britain’s maritime heritage.
"Sea Britain is a year-long festival to celebrate Britain’s long love affair with the sea," explained David Quarmby CBE, Chairman of Sea Britain 2005.
"We want to raise awareness of the importance of the sea to us all, the significance to our history and the way it touches our lives everyday."
Somerset House, the former Naval headquarters was a particular appropriate place to launch Sea Britain 2005. Photo: David Prudames. © 24 Hour Museum.
But, of course, at the core of it all is Trafalgar 200, commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s death, the 200th anniversary of which takes place on October 21 2005.
Speaking on Nelson’s birthday, September 29, David Quarmby described the great man’s most famous victory as "a defining moment in the history of our nation," adding, "Trafalgar established Britain’s naval supremacy for over a hundred years, enabling the phenomenal growth of Britain’s trade and empire."
Among the events will be the Trafalgar Woods Project, run by the Woodlands Trust, in which 27 copses will be planted all over the country, each named after a British ship from the battle.
The Thames Nelson Flotilla on September 16 2005 will recreate the fallen hero’s waterborne funeral procession from Greenwich to Whitehall.
While the New Trafalgar Dispatch (August 4-September 11) will see a modern version of HMS Schooner Pickle’s voyage from Cape Trafalgar to Falmouth carrying the news of victory and Nelson’s death. The despatch will then process through to London as it did in 1805 and, the route being marked permanently as the Trafalgar Way.
These small, shaky lines were the genesis of Nelson's greatest victory. © National Maritime Museum, London.
The point of remembering the battle, as David put it, is to let "the leadership, heroism and courage of Nelson and his captains reach across the years to touch us today."
At the centre of the commemorations will be an exhibition staged between July 7 and November 13 2005 at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
Bringing the greatest of foes, Nelson and Napoleon will present the stories of Horatio and Bonaparte from the making of their reputations, and their personal lives, to the political and military conditions that brought them against one another.
The display will also see the first public outing for a unique piece of tatty paper with nothing more than some shaky, thin black lines drawn on it.
Discovered in the archives of the NMM by Colin White, chair of the Official Nelson Commemoration Committee and director of Trafalgar 200, the tiny document is Nelson’s original Trafalgar battle plan.
In the form of an actor, Horatio Nelson himself turned up to help with the launch. © National Maritime Museum, London.
Colin explained that although the exhibition will not be bringing to light any extraordinary revelations about nelson, it will offer the most recent new research into his life and times.
"What we are getting is light and shade, nuances, new ways of seeing him as a person, as a man, a human being," he said, "rather than just a hero on top of his column."
Other exhibitions will be held at the Norfolk Nelson Museum and the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth where the fore topsail of HMS Victory will be on show for the first time.
Officially launched last Trafalgar Day (October 21, 2003) by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Sea Britain is backed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and brings together a number of different organisations.
As well as the National Maritime Museum, VisitBritain, the National Trust, Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation, a large number of local and national bodies are also behind it.
For all the latest information about what's planned, have a look at the Sea Britain 2005 website.
The Royal Navy will also be heavily involved in order, as Rear Admiral James Rapp explained, "to honour a remarkable and inspirational national icon."
Among various other events, the Navy’s celebrations will include the International Fleet Review in the Solent on June 28. Naval vessels, tall ships, merchants and small craft representing 40 countries will create what Rear Admiral Rapp described as "a modern symbol of international maritime friendship."
Not only are the various events intended to remember a great maritime triumph of the past, but the organisers hope to leave a legacy to inspire future generations to look to the sea for inspiration.
"We expect to reach out to the nation," added said David Quarmby, "and we invite, no, in the words of Nelson, we expect the nation to take a fresh look at the sea."
For more information about Sea Britain 2005, visit www.seabritain2005.com.