An exhibition featuring our county’s links to one of its most revered sons is now open at the Castle Museum.
Nelson and Norfolk charts the Admiral’s life and career through a number of intimate objects relating to Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, many of which are under the same roof for the first time.
The exhibition is displayed in sections, each covering a distinct part of his life and legacy, with star exhibits including the fatal bullet that shot Nelson, a locket containing some of his hair plus numerous items of clothing and portraits.
Items have been loaned from across Norfolk’s Museum Service, from private collectors and from other public collections like the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and even the Royal Collection, based at Windsor Castle.
One particularly eye-catching exhibit is an enormous ensign from the French ship Le Généreux which was captured by Nelson’s fleet. The tricolor was gifted to the city of Norwich by Nelson, and has been archived ever since. It was a challenge for curators to work out how they were going to display the ensign. It now greets visitors to the exhibition mostly rolled out at an angle, complete with preserved gunpowder and dust.
The main exhibition room is watched over by an imposing portrait of Nelson painted by Sir William Beechey, and it contains other large canvases by reputed artists Whitcombe, Legrand and notably Fred Roe’s retrospective work of Nelson returning to land from battle.
Other exhibits cover Nelson’s relationship with Emma Hamilton, his funeral, and the monument to the Admiral in Great Yarmouth which interestingly predates its more famous counterpart, Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. Indeed, the original, heavily worn concrete head from the statue of Britannia on top of the Yarmouth monument is included. It was replaced with a fibreglass replica in the ‘80s as it was getting damaged and was putting a strain on the column.
A sword, hat and jacket of Nelson’s add to the authenticity. Perhaps the best preserved of these is his jacket from the Battle of the Nile. It was given to a sculptor as a token of appreciation after she had created a particularly tasteful bust. Already conscious of his legacy, not only did Nelson gift her the jacket, but he did not wash it and visitors to the exhibition can see the preserved pomatum marks on the back – eighteenth century Brylcreem if you will.
Several of the exhibition’s quirky items relate to Nelson’s childhood in Norfolk. The Burnham Thorpe parish register is displayed on the page with Nelson’s entry. His family members made records of his military victories in the margin. Also on display is a brick into which Nelson purportedly carved his initials, loaned from Paston Sixth Form College where he studied, along with a cannonball from the battle of Copenhagen.
No retrospective about Nelson would be complete without reference to the Battle of Trafalgar, where Nelson was killed in victory at the age of 47. As well as the fatal musket ball, housed in a locket, there are also a number of items made from the wood of his flagship HMS Victory.
Curator Ruth Battersby-Tooke told Concrete: “There isn’t anyone I can really think of who is like Nelson. Some people absolutely love him and some people really, really don’t. [The exhibition] makes a very interesting case study of somebody who has very deliberately invested his story into objects and then allowed those objects to carry that story into the future.”
Nelson and Norfolk runs until October 1st at Norwich Castle Museum.