Nelson Visits South Wales by Dave Harrison
Nelson Visits South Wales and the Forest, 1802
Meeting of 10th October 2013
Nelson, though a tactical genius and a hero, was small, boring, his love life was a mess and he was constantly seasick. It is said that people frequently broke down in tears of disappointment on meeting him and sailors would laugh at his infamous hat with three feathers (presented to him by the Sultan of Turkey).
Following his loss of arm and eye and a head wound he took the only holiday of his life and set off from where he was recuperating at the Hamilton’s house – Merton Place – towards Pembroke. His first stop was at Blenheim Palace where, despite being a national hero and a new peer, he was again snubbed by the aristocracy for his affair with Lady Hamilton (even though her husband was travelling with them!). The Duke of Marlborough refused to meet them, just sending out cold refreshments, which Nelson in turn refused.
The party then headed to Gloucester (stopping at Frog Mill on the way) and were met by crowds and ringing church bells. When Nelson recognised shipmates in the crowd he gave them half guineas. He then headed to the prison (a traditional stop for admirals as often from there would come the next navy recruits!). He then viewed the Forest oaks which led to him writing a very long unpunctuated letter complaining that the pigs were eating all the acorns and that these uncared for oaks were not good for British ship building.
Having stayed the night in Ross the party descended the hill past The Man of Ross to take a boat on the Wye Tour (a journey of 24 miles instead of the 10 miles by road to Monmouth, but undoubtedly more comfortable than a stage coach).
As The Kymin came into view Nelson could hear the town band practising and canons firing. The whole town came to greet him. They stayed at The Beaufort Hotel where at the end of the meal Emma Hamilton sang Rule Britannia. On departure they were invited to revisit Monmouth on their return journey, in response Nelson wrote in his diary “is surprising to be known in such a little gut of a town.”
They continued westward and eventually to Milford Haven where Nelson was to advise on the harbour. The cost of this journey of 3-4 weeks (which they had agreed to split 50:50) was over £100 each.
After his death at Trafalgar Nelson was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in a coffin made from wood from a defeated French ship, placed inside Cardinal Wolsey’s 16th century sarcophagus (which Wolsey never used having fallen from favour).
Lady Llangattock’s collection of Nelson material at Monmouth Museum is one of the best in the world and items are often lent to the National Maritime Museum.
Commemorative boat trips down the Wye to Monmouth Quay and then through the town in full costume are still done.
11,000 acres of oak were planned in the Forest as a result of Nelson’s visit. The wooden ships these were intended for were known as the ‘walls of England’. The development of iron ships meant only 10,445 acres were planted, and they were not used for ships. CS