Nelson’s Pelagic Furniture

Horatio Nelson was a career sailor who, as Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, accrued a number of personal pieces of furniture befitting his status. England embraced the hero and as a result, many of his belongings still survive in private and public collections.

Nelson’s Wash Stand

Nelson's_wash_stand_c1787_01aFig. 1. Portable mahogany wash stand, circa 1787. (National Maritime Museum)

This small, portable mahogany-veneered wash stand has a split top hinging to both sides, rising mirror, wash bowl cut-out, cupboard and drawer to the front, with four brass castors and a lifting handle to each side. It appears to be missing its shelf on which a water jug would have sat. An attached silver plaque bears the inscription: “Lord Nelson’s cabin Washstand on board the Victory. Owner J. Augustine Brown Esq.” [1]

Nelson’s Writing Box

Nelson's_writing_box_c1798_01aFig. 2. Brassbound writing box, circa 1798. (National Maritime Museum)

The writing box is made from timber retrieved from the French Vice Admiral Brueys’ flagship ‘L’Orient’ which was dramatically destroyed when her magazines ignited during the Battle of the Nile. An engraved brass plaque on the lid is inscribed: “Part of ‘L’Orient’ blown up at the Battle of the Nile 1st August 1798. In Lord Nelson’s possession at the time of his death 21st October 1805.”

George_Arnald__The_Destruction_of_L'Orient_at_the_Battle_of_the_Nile_1st_August_1798_01aFig. 3. George Arnald, The Destruction of ‘L’Orient’ at the Battle of the Nile 1st August 1798. (National Maritime Museum)

By the by, Giocante Casabianca – the young son, of L’Orient’s commander, Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca – was the subject of Felicia Hemans’ poem, Casabianca (The boy stood on the burning deck…).

The ‘Foudroyant’ Chairs

After his decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile, Nelson sailed for Naples to effect repairs to his ships. Whilst in Naples (and possibly influenced by his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton), Nelson acquired six[2] painted chairs (figs. 4, 5 & 6) which he used in his cabin aboard the ‘Foudroyant’.

Nelson's_Foudroyant_chairs_c1775-01aFig. 4. Original painted decoration, Napoli chair, circa 1775. (National Maritime Museum)

The pale-blue-painted chairs have woven marram grass seats and wooden backs painted with neo-classical scenes. The chairs were later painted dark green overall (fig. 5).

Nelson's_Foudroyant_chairs_c1775-01bFig. 5. Later green painted finish. (National Maritime Museum)

Nelson's_Foudroyant_chairs_c1775-01cFig. 6. Two of the ‘Foudroyant’ chairs; pre- and post-restoration. (National Maritime Museum)

The ‘Victory’ Armchair

Nelson's_cabin_armchair_c1800_01aFig. 7. Leather armchair, circa 1800. (National Maritime Museum)

The mahogany-framed, black leather-upholstered and brass-nailed armchair was Nelson’s personal cabin chair aboard HMS ‘Victory’. The chair originally had a black silk cushion on the right arm, on which Nelson allegedly rested his arm stump.

Jack Plane

[1] James Augustine Brown served as clerk under Nelson in the ‘Boreas’, to which he transferred from the ‘Goliath’ in the spring of 1784. His chief responsibility was the pay lists and it was during this time that he was probably Nelson’s secretary.

[2] An inventory of Nelson’s belongings, in the British Library, lists six of these chairs.

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Maritime Furniture and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Nelson’s Pelagic Furniture

  1. Hi Jack,
    I had to look up the meaning of the word Pelagic – I’m thinking of ways to work into a conversation at the water cooler. Not only do I get a little history on Lord Nelson’s furniture, I learn new words too.


  2. Eric R says:

    Love the history surrounding the Writing Box.
    That piece is worthy of the effort, and may make it on my list.
    This was an exceptionally nice posting Mr. Jack Plane.
    Yours is by far one of my favorite sites.
    Thank you.
    central Florida.


  3. John Wolf says:

    Who did the prints you use? They look a lot like some my uncle had, can’t for the life of me think of the artist’s name.


  4. Mark Cass says:

    I had the privilege of working on an almost identical washstand many years ago. The mirror lifts up and out from the carcass but is counterbalanced – rather like a sliding sash window – with slim corded weights that run inside the hollow rear legs. Fantastic.


  5. hughjengine says:

    Of course, HMS Victory could count as the ultimate piece of campaign furniture!


  6. Prof charles jones says:

    I have a pair of 18c mahogany ‘library’ chairs with a curved wooden cross bar connecting the base. This bar has a hole drilled in it (not modern) looks like it is meant to anchor the chair onto a ship’s deck. Have you come across such a feature? Thank you.

    Prof charles jones Edinburgh Scotland


    • Jack Plane says:

      Interesting. I have encountered Georgian chairs with period iron eyes attached to the undersides of the side seat rails, though I have no proof they were ever on board a ship.



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