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Shell commemorating Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's battles

Date: c 1851
Overall: 215 x 185 x 60 mm, 0.3 kg
Medium: Nautilus shell, nacre
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraved shell
Object No: 00030923
Place Manufactured:England

User Terms

    This nautilus shell commemorates Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's battles at Cape St Vincent (1797), the Nile (1798), Copenhagen (1801) and Trafalgar (1805). It was executed in the scrimshaw technique and features odes to Nelson, and the allegorical figures of Britannia and Fame. C H Wood is considered a fine exponent of the art of scrimshaw as applied to shells.

    SignificanceThis decorative shell is a tribute to Nelson’s lifetime of achievements and impact on naval and civilian society and culture in the 18th and 19th centuries. He is arguably the most recognised British naval hero and a common figure on commemorative items.
    HistoryThe shell commemorates Horatio, Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's most famous battles - Cape St Vincent of 1797, the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 and his last and most famous victory, Trafalgar in 1805.

    The primary engraving features a map of the world in two parts (with Australia marked as New Holland). The allegorical figures of Britannia and Fame dominate this section of the shell. To Fame's left is engraved a British Royal Coat of Arms, while to Britannia's right is an intricate and lively image of St George slaying the dragon. On the umbilicus of the shell is a fantasy animal head. Above Britannia and Fame is a decorative floral band.

    The shell itself is a pearly nautilus or nautilus pompilius, in which the outer layer of horny shell has been carefully removed to reveal the lustrous pearly layer beneath. Wood used a penknife to carve the decorations, images and inscriptions as follows: 'To the British Nation / these designs in commemoration of those glorious / victories achieved by the Immortal / Nelson.' 'The / whole of the / embellishments / on this rare and / beautiful specimen / of the green pearl / nautilus / are drawn and engraved by / C. H. Wood / the whole being executed with / no other instrument than a penknife / a similar specimen of which was accepted / by / Her Most Gracious Majesty the / Queen / the Right Hon the Lord / Mayors / of London & York / 1850 & 1851.' 'Lines / to the hero / Britannia's fav'rite and his sovereign's pride / he rul'd despotic lord of ocean's tide / each coast remember'd for some deed of fame / was made illustrious by great Nelson's name / Denmark, Iberia, Egypt's trophied shore / heard the dread thunder of his cannon roar / while laurels won from e'vry hostile fleet / he laid in triumph at his monarch's feet / and hist'ry ever shall record the day / bright with his glory in Trafalgar's bay / then did he laurel crown'd and wrapp'd in fire / upborne on vict'ry's outspread wings expire / suspended be the shouts that rend the skies / England's triumphant! - but here Nelson dies!!!.'

    C H Wood was regarded as an expert carver of nautilus and cowrie shells. He was active 1840-1865. Wood's other famous tributes were to SS GREAT WESTERN and SS GREAT BRITAIN.
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