Wooden Bust of Vice-Admiral Nelson

Object 64: A History of Charterhouse in 100 Objects 

Number 64 in the Charterhouse in 100 Objects series is a carving that resonates English history. This bust of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (1st Viscount Nelson) is carved out of wood salvaged from HMS Victory. As every History student knows, Lord Nelson’s fleet met the French off the Cape of Trafalgar near Cadiz on 21st October 1805. Nelson ordered the fleet to battle stations and his famous flag signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty” was flown from the masts of HMS Victory. At the ensuing Battle of Trafalgar, the Royal Navy was victorious, but Nelson himself was shot and fatally wounded by a French sharpshooter, easily identified as he stood on the deck of HMS Victory in his best uniform and regalia.  

Nelson was carried below deck for treatment, but the bullet had punctured his lung and the ship’s surgeon was unable to save him. The Naval Chaplain on board HMS Victory on that fateful day was an Old Carthusian, the Reverend Doctor Alexander John Scott. This famous painting of the death of Nelson shows Scott immediately to the left of Nelson, rubbing his chest to relieve the pain.

Nelson was revered as a national hero and this bust is just one of the many thousands of items of memorabilia sold to commemorate him. Like fragments of the ‘true cross’, cynics may say there are enough wooden artefacts from HMS Victory to build several ships. However, the ship was extensively repaired over the years and it is estimated that today it only has 20% of the original timbers, so a lot of salvageable wood has been removed: Victory was badly damaged at the Battle of Trafalgar and had to be towed to Gibraltar for extensive repairs. This bust of Nelson is said to have been carved by a sailor from one of HMS Victory’s damaged oak masts and was owned by Alexander John Scott.

HMS Victory was still in use for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars, but then was permanently moored in Portsmouth harbour and gradually fell into disrepair. After World War I she was brought into dry dock in Portsmouth and work started to replace rotten timbers, but she was not fully restored until 2005, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.