Nelson, Navy and Nation

On Trafalgar Day, and throughout the year, in a fascinating permanent gallery the National Maritime Museum tells the story of the Royal Navy and its staggering effect on the British people of the 19th century.

Fall-of-Trafalgar
The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, Dighton, Denis, circa 1825 © National Maritime Museum

October 21 is Trafalgar Day, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805: a day that saw the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s plans to invade Britain, but also the death of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, the heroic British naval commander, famous for his victories against the French during the Napoleonic wars. Where better to visit, then, than National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London, to experience its Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery?

Nelson, Navy, Nation focuses on the years between 1688 and 1815 – starting at the Glorious Revolution and ending at the defeat of Napoleon – when the Royal Navy shaped the lives of British society and sea-farers were more than just brave heroes, they were national celebrities, doted on by landlubbers.

The gallery contains over 250 extraordinary objects from the NMM collection – including beautiful love tokens sent to sweethearts. Sailor’s fashions of the day are showcased – from the shoes they wore on shore leave and wanting to impress to Lord Nelson’s uniform. Visitors will get a true grasp of how celebrated Nelson was, thanks to all that he achieved.

Plenty of paintings will hang on the gallery walls – perhaps most notably The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, by Denis Dighton.The highly-detailed work shows Nelson, on the right, in his final moments on the upper deck of Victory.

There is all manner of memorabilia from the 19th century – such as a pipe in the shape of Nelson or a Royal Naval lion figurehead from a small vessel – through which visitors get a vivid account of what life was like then for British society, whether in the midst of a tumultuous battle or living a more ordinary civilian life on dry land.

The NMM is the world’s largest maritime museum and the Nelson, Navy and Nation is just one aspect of all it has to offer.

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