National Maritime Museum to open new Nelson gallery for Trafalgar Day, October 21 2013

By Richard Moss | 08 May 2013

A major new gallery celebrating the life of Admiral Lord Nelson and his influence on both the Royal Navy and Britain during the 18th century is to open for Trafalgar Day, October 21 2013, at the National Maritime Museum.

a caricature of Lord Nelson wading through sea waters with a large club among a sea of Crocodiles adorned with the tricolor of France
'Extirpation of the Plagues of Egypt; - Destruction of Revolutionary Crocodiles; - or - The British Hero cleansing ye mouth of ye Nile’, James Gillray; H. Humphrey (published October 6 1798)© National Maritime Museum, London
Nelson, Navy, Nation: the story of the Royal Navy and the British people, 1688 –1815 will take visitors on a journey from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 in a lively tale that the Greenwich Museum promises will take in “sailors as well as Admirals, landlubbers as well as seadogs and women as well as men.”

Unfolding across an impressive new gallery, the permanent exhibition will reveal the Maritime Museum’s fine collection of treasured Nelson artworks and objects.

Among the pieces will be Nelson’s uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar and paintings including Devis’s Death of Nelson, William Hogarth’s Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin and the little known shipboard watercolours by Gabriel Bray.  

The aim is to place the legendary man, who remains one of the biggest figures in British history, within a broader historical context – and make sense of his achievements and dazzling celebrity while telling a wider story about British society.

a caricature of sailor with a fiddle and one leg
Print of Billy Waters, circa 1820© National Maritime Museum, London
Curators are promising to uncover “every aspect of the naval story” by examining all aspects of Nelson’s Navy, from the bustling dockyards of the early industrial age to the great sea battles of the era.

The everyday life of ordinary sailors will be explored through personal items such as letters, love tokens and clothing as well as dramatic objects including a seven-barrelled volley gun, amputation knife, bone saw and bullet forceps.

The complex relationship between these 'Jack Tars' of the 18th century and the British public will also be probed to reveal how the archetypal ordinary British seaman was widely depicted and caricatured – at once a figure of national pride and national ridicule.

At the centre of these narratives will be Nelson himself, whose rise to fame and sudden death led to an extraordinary personal and national grief. Poignant objects revealing this story will include the last letter he wrote to his daughter Horatia, and one of the mourning rings worn by close friends and family at his funeral.

Weird and wonderful commemorative items which demonstrate the "Nelson mania" which gripped the British people can also be seen, from a Battle of the Nile themed bulb planter to toy bricks showing scenes from Nelson’s funeral procession.

More pictures:

a painting showing Nelson lying prone on the busy deck of HMS Victory
The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, Dighton, Denis, circa 1825.© National Maritime Museum, London
a procelain pipe in the shape of nelson who morpsh into a chais longe
Pipe, maker unknown, circa 1798.© National Maritime Museum, London
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