Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery opens

The new Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery at the National Maritime Museum had its opening party in Greenwich last night, with TV historian Dan Snow as speaker, while your correspondent was also lucky enough to attend.

Or unlucky enough to be suffering a sore head today from the potent rum cocktails on offer, depending on your perspective on things.

In a bit of related news, the museum has secured for the nation a Union Jack that was flown from one of Nelson's warships at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the NMM's director, Kevin Fewster, let slip.

The historic flag had previously been in a private collection, Fewster said, but will now be displayed in the NMM, once the museum takes possession, within the next year.

The Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery opens to the public this Trafalgar Day, that's October 21 (next Monday) for landlubbers. I was attending last night's sneak-peak in a bit of naval capacity, as a member of HMS President, the London unit of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).

The new gallery showcases some of the most important artifacts and artwork in Britain's naval history, and therefore for the world's maritime heritage (seeing as the two became so interwoven by Nelson's time).

The centrepiece remains, of course, Nelson's coat, worn when he was shot and mortally wounded at Trafalgar, the moment of his death and also his greatest victory, ushering in a century of imperial Pax Britannica.

I was chatting to a former lecturer of mine from university days, Professor Andrew Lambert of King's College, London, present at the gallery's opening, who has described the tunic as "The Turin Shroud of Naval History".

Blasphemy, perhaps, but understandable from the author of the eminently readable Nelson: Britannia's God of War, as well as being a nice line that rings true among navy geeks.

There are too many precious artifacts presented in the gallery to list, but one beautiful example is an ornate musket presented to Nelson by a grateful Ottoman Emperor, one of many gifts Nelson received after his dramatic victory at the Battle of the Nile, which shattered Napoleon's ambitions in Egypt, the Middle East and India.

These many objects tell the story of the global repercussions of Nelson's and the Royal Navy's victories, not just for securing naval supremacy, but also for advancing global trade, commerce and prosperity.

Dan Snow (pictured, up top) echoed this point in his speech, talking about the ongoing legacy of Nelson's era, observed through the proliferation of British values, like free trade and parliamentary democracy, that we can see in the globalised world of today.

Other speakers at the gallery's opening included Admiral Lord West, Falklands veteran and former First Sea Lord; and Lord Sterling, chairman of the NNM's trustees, former P&O boss and an honorary RNR Rear Admiral.

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