X322: Snuff box made from part of H.M.S. Victory
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© The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath
|Title||Snuff box made from part of H.M.S. Victory|
|Object type||In category: Metalwork » Boxes and containers » Snuff box|
Unknown - Maker
|Place of origin||Europe » Northern Europe » British Isles » Great Britain » England|
11.0 cm diameter whole
3.4 cm height whole
|Materials & techniques||
Metal » Gilt-metal
Wood » Oak
|Description||Circular snuff box of oak with concave sides and a slightly domed lid. The lid is set with a circular gilt-metal plaque engraved with an image of H.M.S Victory. Below this a separate gilt-metal ribbon is engraved: MADE FROM / THE COMPANION LADDER DOWN WHICH NELSON / WAS CARRIED / ON THE GLORIOUS 21ST OF OCTOBER 1805|
|Marks and inscriptions||
Sir William Holburne was a twelve-year-old midshipman on board H.M.S. Orion, during the battle of Trafalgar. This box, made from the companion ladder from H.M.S Victory must have been a poignant reminder of the battle at which his hero Horatio Nelson died. After retiring from the Navy in 1820, Holburne appears to have had an enduring fascination for ships. He collected a dozen marine paintings together with images and books about the navy and its heroes.
The Orion was commissioned by Captain Edward Codrington (1770-1851). In July, 1805, William Holburne joined six other 1st Class Volunteers on the Orion at Portsmouth and in August set off down the English Channel and round Ushant. Captain Codrington's orders were to join Admiral Collingwood's fleet which was blockading Cadiz, preventing the Combined French and Spanish Atlantic fleets from sailing to the Mediterranean or, as had been presumed earlier in the year, from sailing north to join the Channel fleet and enable Napoleon's invasion of Britain. Codrington, with many other officers who had served for a long time in Nelson's navy, was anxious to strike a decisive blow which would annihilate the enemy fleets, destroy for good any plan to invade Britain, and bring the rapid establishment of permanent peace at sea and on land.
Codrington had long experience of naval blockades, which he regarded as dull, inactive work, during which it was difficult to maintain discipline among his crew, or provide any social life for his officers. Years later, one of the French officers from the Intrépide, which Codrington overcame at Trafalgar, recounted a conversation he had with Codrington on board Orion after the battle: 'He told me of his disappointments in the long cruises and interminable blockades that England then imposed on her sailors, and where he wasted his life far from his family and what he loved best.'
This was especially true under Admiral Collingwood, who was described by a contemporary: 'In body and mind he was iron, and very cold iron'. Codrington wrote home from off Cadiz: 'We have got into the clutches of another stay-on-board Admiral, who never communicates with anybody except upon service. And so, unless Bonaparte orders his fleet out, we stand a very good chance of forgetting that anything like society is known amongst men.' He longed for action and pleaded, 'For Charity's sake send us Lord Nelson, Oh ye Men of Power!' Through September, Codrington, with young Holburne on board, stuck to the daily grind of the blockade, keeping out of sight of land, while the British frigates watched the enemy ships in Cadiz harbour under the command of Admiral Villeneuve. His hopes must have risen when Nelson, on board the Victory, joined the fleet off Cadiz on the 28th September. Codrington dined with Nelson and the other captains on board the flagship, and on 9th October was informed of Nelson's famous battle plan: to sail fast in two columns of battleships towards the enemy when they came out of harbour in line, to attack and subdue the centre and rear of the fleet, then deal with the vanguard when those ships turned to assist.
Ten days of anxious waiting went by on the Orion before the frigate Sirius spotted the enemy's topsails being hoisted as the Combined Fleet prepared to leave Cadiz harbour for Gibraltar on 19th October. Codrington wrote to his wife, 'We are now under every stitch of sail we can set, steering for the enemy.' On October 20th he wrote to his wife, 'I went to bed last night full of hope that Lord Nelson's declaration would be verified, viz, that we should have a good battle, and go home to eat our Christmas dinner.' The following day brought frustrating delay when Admiral Villeneuve changed his plan and turned back towards Cadiz, and Nelson took his fleet out to sea in order to have the advantage of a following wind when he brought his ships into action.
By first light on 21st October Orion and the rest of the fleet had received Nelson's order to prepare for battle. Holburne witnessed for the first time the hectic activity of a battleship being cleared for action. Hammocks were rolled up and packed around the sides of the decks to give protection against shot, the gun decks were cleared and guns prepared, all the removable panels that created officer's cabins were removed and stored below, along with the Captain's furniture. Anything else that was unnecessary was jettisoned, animals were slaughtered or thrown overboard to avoid them breaking out of their pens when the firing began, and the galley ovens were put out. The Midshipmen's quarters on the Orlop deck were cleared except for the mess table which was prepared for the ship's surgeons to use.
As the Orion moved in light winds at about 2mph towards the enemy, the crew went to battle stations: the lieutenants commanded the gun decks where each of the eighty 32-pound cannon were manned by a gun crew of 14, the Marines were stationed on the main deck, and the seamen ordered to man the sails to turn, speed up or slow down the ship, and to furl the lower square sails in order to provide visibility.
William Holburne's post would have been with his Captain on the Quarter-Deck, in the most exposed position of all. On the Mars, the youngsters were sent below for protection, But it seems unlikely that Codrington did the same with Holburne and his fellow Volunteers.
Orion sailed into action quite far down in Nelson's column, behind Victory and Temeraire, Neptune, Leviathan and Conqueror. As a result she was not part of the early action when Nelson's flagship bore the initial brunt as she cut the enemy line and the ensuing carnage of close engagement. The sight of the vast fleets as they engaged was dramatic: Codrington wrote, 'I suppose no man ever before saw such a sight so clearly as I we did; for I called all my lieutenants up to see it.'
Codrington's approach was as cool and professional as could be imagined, and he recounted 'As we were the only ship thereabout not firing (for even the 'Agamemnon', far astern of us, was blazing away and wasting her ammunition), we were the only people who could have a distinct uninterrupted view of that grand and awful scene. The shot both from friends and foes were flying about us like hailstones, and yet did us hardly any damage whatever; and, to the honour of 'Orion's' crew, they did not attempt to break my orders to reserve their fire till I could put the ship where I wished.'
Codrington's aim was to find unengaged enemy ships and disable them as rapidly as possible and claim them as prizes before going to assist other British ships already involved in the action. He ordered his highly disciplined crew to hold fire until he had identified his target, as he loathed wasting shot. His first target was the French Swiftsure. By 'going close under his stern we poured him in such a dose as carried away his three masts and made him strike his colours. Having repeatedly pointed out to my men the waste of shot from other ships, I now had a fine opportunity of convincing them of the benefit of cool reserve.'
Codrington then engaged the Spanish Admiral Gravina's flagship, the three-decked Principe de Asturias, and endured a savage cannonade before encountering his major challenge, the French Intrépide, into which he poured massive, accurate and sustained fire as Nelson's life ebbed away on the Victory. By five o'clock only the foremast of the French ship was still standing, the wheel and tiller had been smashed and over half of Captain Infernet's crew had been killed or wounded when he struck his colours to Orion. Codrington took on board the French Captain and his eleven-year old son, put a boarding crew on the Intrépide and began to take off the most severely wounded for attention on his own ship.
When the Achille exploded at 5.30 pm, the battle virtually ended after five and half hours of intensely heavy fighting and the official British loss of 449 dead and 1214 wounded, although many more were to die of wounds in the days and weeks that followed.
Codrington's excellent seamanship and battle tactics, as well as the timing of his entry into the action, resulted in comparatively little damage to his ship, the death of only one member of his crew and twenty three men wounded. Later he wrote to his wife, "In the ships which led the noble attack it must be much greater. But our Nelson, our truly noble Nelson, is no more! He was killed early in the action, having himself led the van division. Collingwood led the other famously, and all is well. All the Officers and youngsters are well except Townshend… I cannot write more fully now. … I am shaking off the severe fag of the most severe week I have ever passed, and am as well as you can wish me…" In a letter to Lord Garlies, a Lord of the Admiralty, on October 28th, Codrington summed up his feelings:
'I am now of a mind to rest contented, whenever I get once on shore again, with having made a good finale. We have not one officer killed or wounded, although we have some very awkward shot about the hull, except, indeed, two mids (midshipmen), who are wounded slightly. But such is the confusion that we hardly know, or can find out, how to make out our list: we have on board men belonging to all the ships of the fleet, taken out of the different prizes destroyed.'
Nelson was a regular visitor to Bath, and for some years it was effectively his home, when his wife Fanny lived in New King Street from 1794-7. During the 1770s and 80s he paid frequent visits to his father Edmund Nelson, a clergyman from Norfolk, in Pierrepont Street, who had been coming to Bath for the cure for many years. Two of Nelson's sisters worked in a milliner's shop in Milsom Street during the 1770s. One of these girls, Kitty, later met her husband in Bath and then settled here with their children. Another sister, Ann, died in 1783 after catching a chill after attending the New Rooms, and is buried in Bathford Churchyard. Nelson himself came to Bath as an invalid in 1781, probably suffering from a tropical disease, from which he recovered after bathing in the thermal waters and taking medication prescribed by Dr Francis Woodward. Following his marriage to Frances Nisbet in 1787, the Nelsons came to Bath for her health; Mrs Nelson settled here permanently in 1794, where she enjoyed the company of many other naval wives. Nelson's final visit to Bath was in 1798. By 1801 Nelson had stopped visiting his wife, as she had asked him to choose between herself and his mistress, Emma Hamilton. However, Lady Nelson continued to visit her father-in-law Edmund at Bath until his death in 1802. Emma also visited Bath after Nelson's death, first in 1809, when she stayed in Great Pulteney St, and again in 1814 (Edward St.).
Nelson's victories were celebrated with enthusiasm in Bath, and his death mourned publicly. On his death in 1805, A Patriotic Fund was established in the city to raise money in Nelson's memory for sailors, their widows and orphans. In the Assembly Rooms, Venanzio Rauzzini performed his famous Dirge for Nelson. The Battle of Trafalgar was celebrated with public dinners and fireworks.
See also Louis Hodgkin, Nelson in Bath, Nelson Society, 2004.
Art and Culture in Georgian Bath 1714-1830
The History of the Holburne Collection » Sir William Holburne and his Collection » The Founder: Sir William Holburne of Menstrie (1793-1874)
The History of the Holburne Collection » The Collection » Miscellaneous
|Method of acquisition||Bequest|
|Provenance||Thomas William Holburne (1793-1874); by whom bequeathed to Mary Anne Barbara Holburne (1802-1882), by whom bequeathed to the Museum|
Title of exhibition: Holburne One hundred: an exhibition to commemorate the Centenary of the Museum's opening and the Bicentenary of Sir William Holburne's birth
Title of exhibition: Town House Treasures; Sir Thomas William Holburne of Bath
Title of exhibition: A Trafalgar Boy: Sir William Holburne and the sea