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Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson figurehead

Date: 1814
Overall: 2984 x 2030 x 1360 mm, 1500 kg
Medium: Wood, paint
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Transferred from the Department of Defence
Classification:Vessels and fittings
Object Name: Figurehead
Object No: 00004040
Place Manufactured:England

User Terms

    This figurehead of British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson comes from HMS NELSON, later commissioned HMVS (Her Majesty's Victorian Ship) NELSON. The battleship was launched on 4 July 1814 in England but became a familiar sight on Victoria's Port Phillip Bay.
    SignificanceThis figurehead stands as a powerful reminder of the history, traditions and links between the Royal Navy, the Victorian and New South Wales colonial navies and the Royal Australian Navy.
    HistoryHe never visited Australia but his impact in setting the values and traditions of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has loomed large. Lord Horatio Nelson – great naval tactician and British admiral of the late 18th and early 19th centuries – also features prominently in the museum’s collection, in the form of a 1,500-kilogram figurehead from the wooden 120-gun First Rate of Line battleship HMS NELSON. The celebrated image of Nelson – the sight of his right eye lost at the Seige of Calvi, Corsica in 1794 against the French, and his right arm lost in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797 against the Spanish – is still a symbol of naval heroism.

    When it was launched at Woolwich naval dockyard in 1814, HMS NELSON’s design was already outdated as such large ships were no longer necessary. It lay idle and unfinished for almost 40 years. In 1854 NELSON underwent the first of many conversions and alterations, and in 1860 it was fitted with a steam engine and single propeller. The work was performed at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, and it was here that a new figurehead was also added. The original figurehead was a bust of Lord Nelson in his naval uniform complete with large gilt epaulettes. On either side of Lord Nelson was a trumpeting female figure – probably representing Fame and Britannia. The 1860 figurehead was designed and carved for the significant sum of £54, and it is the figurehead we see today: Nelson’s right sleeve is empty and folded against his chest, and he carries a telescope in his left hand. Drawings from the period show two trailboard carvings which carried Nelson’s now-famous words ‘England Expects Every Man’ and ‘To Do His Duty’ – but unfortunately their current whereabouts are unknown.

    Royal Navy warships of NELSON's period were sometimes painted in colour, or occasionally painted white. When NELSON was completed in 1814, the British Admiralty suggested it would "in their opinion appear more to advantage by being properly painted in colours than by plain white." NELSON's first figurehead was undoubtedly carved by William Montague Burrough, employed as a ship carver at the Deptford and Woolwich dockyards; the second (and final) was manufactured by James Dickerson at Plymouth.

    In the 1860s the colonial government of Victoria requested a vessel from the British Admiralty for training local naval volunteers. HMS NELSON was fitted out and commissioned as HMVS (Her Majesty’s Victorian Ship) NELSON in 1867. From 1868 until 1891 it was a familiar sight on Port Phillip Bay. From 1878 to 1881, it was modified and reduced to a single-decked frigate. NELSON was taken out of service in 1891, the boilers removed in 1893, and the remaining ship sold to a Sydney buyer, Bernard Einerson, in 1898. Towed to Sydney, the ship was slowly dismantled and the grand figurehead was given to the NSW Naval Brigade. The remnant vessel became a coal lighter, then a coal hulk and finally in the 1920s NELSON was completely dismantled in Tasmania, having served Britain and Australia for more than 100 years.

    The figurehead itself has a less well-recorded history. After being given to the NSW Naval Brigade in 1898 and proudly displayed at the Battle of Trafalgar centenary celebrations in 1905, it spent much of its time at the parade grounds of the naval reserve at Rushcutters Bay. In 1911 it was transferred to the newly-established RAN and was later sent to HMAS CERBERUS in Victoria – the RAN's training establishment – where it remained on open display until its transfer to the Australian National Maritime Museum in 1988.

    From The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 21 October 1905:
    The Royal Sydney Exchange will today be decorated with patriotic and national emblems. A feature of the decoration will be the figurehead of the old sailing ship Nelson, built in England some 70 or 80 years ago, and the first vessel named after the hero of Trafalgar. The ship was presented to the Victorian Government, and for many years was used for training purposes. She subsequently was sold, and came to Sydney, where she is still to be seen, or rather what remains of her, in this harbour.'
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson Galionsfigur

    Assigned title: Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson schegbeeld

    Web title: Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson figurehead

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