Lord Nelson's Funeral


9 January 1806, the two-day funeral procession of Lord Nelson ended in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
“The water was still cascading out through the curtains, still soaking his dripping breeches, but despite the rate at which they were bailing he did not like the feel of the barge at all. She was sluggish, lazy. The leak must be gaining on them, and they were nearing the danger point. "Keep pulling!" he shouted to the rowers; glancing back he saw the second barge, with the Chief Mourners, emerging from the bridge. Round the bend to sight the churches in the Strand - never did a shipwrecked mariner sight a sail with more pleasure. "Water's nearly up to the thwarts, sir," said Horrocks. "Bail, damn you!"  Somerset House, and one more bend, a shallow one, to Whitehall Steps. Hornblower knew what orders he had given for the procession-orders drawn up in consultation with Mr. Pallender. Here the funeral barge was to draw towards the Surrey bank, allowing the next six barges in turn to come alongside the Steps and disembark their passengers. When the passengers had formed up in proper order, and not until then, the funeral barge was to come alongside for the coffin to be disembarked with proper ceremony. But not with water up to the thwarts - not with the barge sinking under his feet.” (C.S. Forester, “Hornblower and the Atropos”)


Augustus Charles Pugin: “Nelson's coffin in the crossing of St Paul's during the funeral service, with the dome hung with captured French and Spanish flags.“ (1806)


It took a few weeks until HMS “Victory” was able to move again under her own sails after the drubbing she had received at Trafalgar and the repairs were finished at Gibraltar. Nelson’s body had been stored in a cask of spiced brandy or rum, the legends differ, and when “Victory” finally got underway, the said vat, containing the body of the naval hero, was leashed to her mainmast and the legends continue that her crew secretly drilled holes in the cask and drank the spirits, alternatively in some rather weird variant of the Eucharist, to be blessed with Nelson’s spirit or to hold their own form of a wake or just to get drunk like a lord is not recorded, however, spiced rum still called “Nelson’s Blood” and there is the idiom of “tapping the admiral” for drinking spirituous beverages through a straw from a cask - an opportunity, admittedly, that is not available very often. “Victory” finally arrived in the Nore late in December and Nelson’s body was placed in a coffin made of oak from “L’Orient’s” mainmast, the French flagship that exploded during his victorious Battle of the Nile in 1798.



Nelson's funeral procession leaving Greenwich, Wednesday 8 January 1806.


The idea of the funeral shallop that carried the body amidst a large aquatic procession on the Thames from Greenwich Pier to Whitehall Steps on January 8th under the eyes of all the mourning nation springing a leak and being nigh on sinking when the coffin was unloaded and making poor Hornblower sweat is, of course, an invention of Forester’s. The coffin was deposited overnight at the Admiralty and moved to St Paul’s Cathedral in another epic procession, the coffin was transported in a tastefully boat-shaped hearse, accompanied by almost every single senior naval officer available, an escort of 10.000 soldiers and half of London on its feet. After a four-hour service, Nelson was interred in a sarcophagus originally carved for Cardinal Wolsey 300 years before and the sailors charged with folding the shot torn colours “Victory” had flown during battle and that were placed over his coffin during the service, ripped of portions of the flags to keep as mementos.

Depicted below is a contemporary locket with a portrait of Nelson and a fragment of one of these portions of the flags, sold at an auction in December 2013 for $ 42,071 – and found its way not only in the #onthisday -series but the #wunderkammer  as well.