Lord Nelson’s Trafalgar Uniform
The National Maritime Museum, November 2011
The uniform worn by the Nelson at Trafalgar was given to Emma Hamilton upon Nelson’s death before it was bought by Prince Albert for the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.
The top photo shows the hole left by the ball from the French sniper, who, like many others, fired from the rigging of the Redoutable onto the officers of the HMS Victory's quarterdeck. It took part of the epaulette with it, but an even larger portion of the epaulette was cut away after getting stuck to the bloodied head of another young sailor who was laying wounded next to Nelson as the admiral died. The musketball that felled the indomitable little Admiral was placed in a necklace and can now be found in a glass display at Windsor Castle; I almost walked right by it, tiny and inconspicuous as it is. I let out a little whimper when I spotted it, so small, hardly bigger than an air soft pellet if you ask me — amazing that it could wreak such awful damage.
The blood on Nelson’s stockings was actually not his, but that of his secretary John Scott, who had been fatally shot on the exact same spot just a while earlier.
According to a gallery assistant at the National Maritime Museum,
It is a vice-admiral’s undress uniform and not at all spectacular. His chest measurement in this coat is 38 inches (or 97 centimetres), his waist is 33 inches (84 centimetres), and his height a whisker short of five-foot-six (1 metre 17 centimetres).
There are four orders of chivalry on Nelson’s coat. These are all copies of the real ones; they were made by skillful needleworkers using gold and silver thread, beads, and sequins. They were sown on closely woven fabric, stretched across a frame; they were then pasted on the reverse side, allowed to dry thoroughly and then cut out without the backing fabric fraying.
At the top is a British order, the Order of the Bath, awarded to Nelson for his part in the victory of the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in February 1797. On the right is the Order of the Ottoman Empire, with a star and crescent, but it has been sown on upside down. Lower down is the German Order of Saint Joachim and the more complex order near the edge of the jacket is the Neapolitan Order of Saint Ferdinand. The first three replicas mentioned cost Nelson £1 10p each and the Neapolitan Order cost him £1 40p, £4 70p in total, which could easily be multiplied by ten today.
The empty sleeve across his chest reminds us that Nelson’s arm was amputated at Tenerife in 1797. The sleeve has a small loop on it which fits over a button. The empty sleeve is not lined but the left sleeve has a silk lining. There is no black patch with the uniform — that is because Nelson never wore one. His blind eye looked relatively normal, but he did sometimes wear a green shade attached to his hat to keep strong sunlight from his good left eye.