Nelson’s Jacket

Katrina asks:

Where is Nelson’s Jacket? I’m doing the Knowledge -it’s a test question. Answer given ‘Park Row SE10′ – but where?

The Phantom replies:

Unless this is some obscure naval term, I can only assume that the question refers to the jacket Admiral Lord Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s in the National Maritime Museum, though why that’s given as Park Row, I’m not quite sure – I always assumed the address was in Romney Road. The side entrance is in Park Row – maybe that’s where cabbies have to do the drop-off.

The jacket was sent to Lady Hamilton after Nelson’s death, and despite members of the family wanting it back, a letter found in the pocket meant that she got to keep it. Actually, she ended up on the skids and gave the jacket to a certain Joshua Smith to clear a debt just before her death. Prince Albert bought it from Smith’s widow for the staggering sum of £150 and gave it to Greenwich Hospital.

It’s a fascinating garment – not least because it’s so very tiny. When we think of great men of history, somehow we tend to think of physical giants, but Nelson was really only average for his day – which is generally smaller than we are. It’s dark blue with gold epaulettes, dainty and has a brown stain in the left shoulder where the bullet went right through it.

Interestingly, I read an article on the ethics of conservation recently that focused on those stains. Apparently, after a while, the dried blood started to fade, so Victorian museum curators decided to sex them up a bit with some red paint. The ethical question is “when does the history of an object end?” Basically that boils down to whether or not the Victorian curator’s painty daubs are also part of the garment’s history now and whether they should be stripped away by a conservator or kept as a monument to historial ‘preservation.’

Any more Knowledge teasers on this bright and breezy Friday afternoon?


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