Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson

Earlier this month, we observed the 210th anniversary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s funeral in 1806. Two of the prints in our new exhibit, The Face of Nelson, depict scenes from the funeral that illustrate the lavish decorations and attention to detail that were part of this event. HMS Victory returned to England carrying Nelson’s body on 4 December 1805. His body was placed in a wooden coffin made from the mast of L’Orient, the French flagship at the Battle of the Nile whose explosion placed an exclamation point on one of Nelson’s greatest victories. The Commissioner of the Sheerness dockyard transported his coffin to Greenwich Hospital where it remained in a private room before officially lying in state beginning on 5 January.
Funeral procession of the late Lord Viscount Nelson, from Greenwich to Whitehall. On the 8th of January, 1806
Engraving by John Hill, 1806
After a drawing by Charles A. Pugin
On loan from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

On 8 January, the coffin was transported by the King’s Barge up the Thames River to Whitehall Steps. Spectators lined the shore to watch as a two-mile procession of boats followed the barge. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Parker served as the Chief Mourner. The next day, the citizens of London turned out in the thousands to watch the funeral procession march from the Admiralty at Whitehall to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The procession included royalty, nobles, ministers, high-ranking military officers and at least 10,000 soldiers. Nelson’s body rode in an ornate funeral car that invoked the likeness of HMS Victory and carried trophies from some of the ships he defeated in battle.

An exact representation of the grand funeral car which carried the remains of Lord Nelson to St. Paul’s on Thursday, January 9th 1806Aquatint, c.1806
Artist unknown
On loan from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

The funeral service itself was attended by 7,000 people including 7 royal dukes, 16 earls, 32 admirals and over 100 captains together with 48 seamen and 12 marines from HMS Victory. The five-hour service concluded with Nelson’s coffin being lowered into a marble sarcophagus that was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York and one-time Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII.

The Face of Nelson is on display now at the Naval War College Museum and runs through 30 September 2016.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Rhode Island Story

     The odyssey that was to ultimately become Relentless Pursuit: The Untold Story of the U.S. 5th Air Force’s 39th Fighter Squadron began with the 1948 article in The Providence Journal that told of the war crimes trials in Japan of the people responsible for the torture and murder of 2nd Lt. Robert E. Thorpe on the island of New Guinea.  Of the seven determined to be involved, two committed suicide, one was hanged in 1949, with the remaining receiving life sentences.  Those life sentences would be commuted after only three years, however under General MacArthur’s general amnesty and the pre-mature termination of Class A, B, and C war crime prosecutions by the government of the United States.  
     The family of Robert Thorpe received no closure with these trials and sought detailed information surrounding the death in the hope of having his body returned to his hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island.  They ran into a brick wall as all of the court records had been classified by the government and were unavailable to the family.  According to the government, Robert Thorpe’s remains were unrecoverable.
     Enter author Ken Dooley who grew up in the same neighborhood as Bob and was a friend of his younger brother, Gill.  In 2007, after speaking with Gill and hearing the difficulties they had had gaining information, Ken said he would help and, through the Freedom of Information Act, he was able to get released over 1300 pages of courtroom testimony.  After reading the transcripts, he knew the story needed to be told but it would not be a pretty one.  The original title of the book was to be Broken Trust.
     With his research, however, Dooley was able to meet members of the 39th fighter Squadron and conduct interviews about their time in the South Pacific Theater during World War II.  Providing an intimate look into the war, family letters between 1st. Lieutenant George Morgan to his family and his wife, 2nd Lt. Mary Scott, an Army nurse, were provided by their daughter, Mary Morgan Martin.  George Morgan would be killed prior to the birth of his daughter.  Another story began to emerge and that became Relentless Pursuit.
     The book evokes a variety of emotions as you read of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, governmental expediency, denial, loss, and triumph.  The book is a must read and highly recommended.  Information about the book can be found on the website and it will inform you on where you can purchase the book.

John Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Naval War College Museum Reopens

            With the completion of the overhaul to the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, the museum staff has been busy with the re-installation and update of the various exhibits around the museum.  A visit to the Naval War College Museum is one of the best offerings in Newport and, with no admission fee, it is definitely the best value.
            When the Naval War College Museum on January 4, the public will be able to view the two new exhibits that have been installed.  The DEEP FREEZE:The Seabees in Antarctica, 1955-1956 with its art and artifacts.  Rhode Island had a strong connection with Operation DEEP FREEZE.  For over twenty years the mission was supported by the Seabees from MCB (Special) Detachment One based at Davisville, Rhode Island.  Their specialty was the use of materials and equipment designed for extreme cold weather.  Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6) provided air logistical support to the units on the ice.  Their homeport was NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, until the base was closed.

            The second exhibit being shown, The Face of Nelson, will have the life mask of Admiral Lord Nelson along with period art.  The life mask is dated 1798 and this was a most eventful year is Nelson’s life as he gained fame for his defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.  During the battle Nelson received a near-fatal head wound and was sent ashore to recover in Naples where he was entertained by Sir William and Lady Hamilton.  Nelson would die during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.  His body was carried back to England and he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

            Museum staff have installed a new conservation frame for a recently conserved c. 1890 instructional illustration of a spar torpedo boat. This "torpedo linen" is mounted to a specially designed panel using rare earth magnets. The non-invasive mounting system will allow the museum to rotate more of these drawings for future exhibition. Until now only one of the thirty-three drawings in the museum's collection has ever been exhibited.
            As you can see, we have a lot going on with the Naval War College Museum.  So, whether you want to visit a favorite exhibit or see our new offerings, please stop in Mondays- Fridays from 10:00 to 4:30.  For more information, contact the museum at 841-4052/2101. 

John W. Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Countdown to Nelson: First Capture

Nelson Boarding a Captured Ship, 20 November 1777
Oil on canvas
Richard Westall, 1806
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK

One more day until The Face of Nelson officially opens! The first ship that Nelson participated in capturing was the American brig Revolution. After passing his lieutenant’s examination on 9 April 1777, Nelson received his commission and reported to the frigate HMS Lowestoffe for duty. Lowestoffe sailed for the Caribbean in May and carried out several cruises there.

On 20 November 1777, she encountered Revolution, an unarmed merchant ship, and took the American vessel as a prize. Captain William Locker ordered Lowestoffe’s first lieutenant to organize a boarding party and take possession of Revolution. Heavy seas made the crossing dangerous, however, and after setting out with a few men in a small boat, the first lieutenant returned to Lowestoffe, citing fears for their safety. Nelson, the second lieutenant, recognized an opportunity to prove himself to his captain and immediately volunteered to command the boarding party. He and his men crossed successfully in spite of the rough weather. Writing about this episode years later, Nelson commented, “This little incident has often occurred to my mind; and I know it is my disposition that difficulties and dangers do but increase my desire of attempting them.” That disposition would serve him well throughout his naval career.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Countdown to Nelson: Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First-Rates


The Face of Nelson opens at the Naval War College Museum in just two days! One of Nelson’s most famous battle exploits involved the capture of two Spanish ships at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797. In command of HMS Captain (74 guns), Nelson found himself at the tail end of the British line when the battle started. The fleet commander, Admiral Sir John Jervis, found that the Spanish were split in to two groups and maneuvered his force in between them. Having isolated them from each other, he then ordered his captains to follow the lead of the flagship and come about to chase down the lead group of Spanish ships.

At this point, the British fleet resembled a giant ‘u’. From his station at the end of the line, Nelson realized that he would never get in to battle if he dutifully followed the ship in front of him as Jervis instructed. Nelson was not afraid to disobey orders when he saw an opportunity to act on his own initiative. He decided to break away from the main fleet and cut across the top of the ‘u’ to engage the Spanish before they could escape. After an hour of exchanging broadsides with three of the largest enemy ships, Nelson led a boarding party that captured San Nicolas. The victors then captured San Josef when she became entangled with San Nicolas after sailing alongside to help. This incident became known throughout the Royal Navy as "Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First-Rates".

Nelson receiving the surrender of the San José
Engraving by Robert Cooper, 1800
After a painting by Daniel Orme
Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University
Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, January 1, 2016

Countdown to Nelson: HMS Raisonnable

Our exhibit about Admiral Lord Nelson featuring his 1798 life mask opens on January 4th, and to help celebrate, we’re counting down the last few days until the opening with a series of blog posts about his naval career. We hope everyone will come see The Face of Nelson which runs through September 30th. In the meantime, let’s begin the countdown with…..


The third-rate HMS Raisonnable was Nelson’s first assignment in the navy. The classification system in use at the time specified that third-rate ships should mount between 64 and 80 guns. Raisonnable carried 64, mostly 24- and 18-pounders spread over two guns decks. This configuration represented an optimal balance between firepower and maneuverability.

Captain Maurice Suckling
Oil on canvas
Thomas Bardwell, 1764
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK
Horatio Nelson as a midshipman
E. Fane, 1774

Nelson’s uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, commanded Raisonnable and took on his nephew as an ordinary seaman when Nelson was just twelve years old. Suckling was initially skeptical about his prospects for success, noting that his slight physique did not suit him well to the rigors of life at sea. Furthermore, they soon discovered that Nelson was prone to seasickness. The boy who would become England’s greatest naval hero seemed an unlikely candidate for an officer, prompting Suckling to ask his father, “What has poor Horace done, who is so weak, that he, above the rest, should be sent to rough it out at sea?” Nevertheless, he received an appointment as a midshipman not long after joining Raisonnable’s crew and began learning the skills he would need to lead men in battle.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum