Nelson’s statue in Greenwich
National Maritime Museum Galleries
The National Maritime Museum galleries are small, yet spectacular. The collections comprise about 2.48 million items, many on loan to museums elsewhere in Britain. The thematically arranged galleries contain the most important holdings in the world on the history of Britain at sea, including maritime art, cartography, manuscripts, official public records, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments, and time-keeping and astronomy.
It also features more than 700 items about Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), Britain’s greatest naval hero. His exploits were commemorated in paintings, prints, souvenirs, poetry and song and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar made him the model of duty and devotion to his country.
During the Victorian era, Britons found it difficult to mesh his celebrated standing with his immoral private life: Nelson deserted his wife for a ménage à trois with Lord William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples, and his wife, Lady Emma Hart Hamilton, who bore his illegitimate daughter, Horatia.
In 1800, Nelson’s wife, Fanny, issued an ultimatum on whether it was to be her or Emma. Nelson replied, “I love you sincerely but I cannot forget my obligations to Lady Hamilton or speak of her otherwise than with affection and admiration.”
The two never lived together again. The contradictions between the hero and the scoundrel have prolonged fascination with Nelson’s life and career for 200 years.