NRS VOLUMES, 2019-2020
Admiral Sir Philip Durham (1763-1845) was one of the most distinguished and colourful officers of the late Georgian Navy. His lucky and sometimes controversial career included surviving the sinking of HMS Royal George in 1782, making the first conquest of the tricolour flag in 1793 and the last in 1815, and having two enemy ships surrender to him at Trafalgar. A Scot distantly related to Lord Barham, Durham entered the Navy in 1777, serving initially on the American and West Indies stations. He was Kempenfelt’s signal officer on HMS Victory during the second battle of Ushant in 1781 and on the Royal George. Making his reputation initially as the daring young master and commander of HMS Spitfire early in the French Revolutionary War, he became a crack frigate captain with a fortune in prize money, and commanded HMS Defiance at Trafalgar, where he was wounded.
He ended his war service as Commander-in-Chief, Leeward Islands. En voyage he artfully captured two brand-new French frigates which were subsequently taken into the service of Britain, and during his tenure he won the heartfelt gratitude of local merchants by ridding the surrounding seas of American privateers preying on British trading vessels. True to form, he clashed with the judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court on Antigua and with the general with whom he led a combined naval and military assault on Martinique and Guadeloupe following Napoleon’s escape from Elba. He later served as commander-in-chief, Portsmouth having resigned his parliamentary seat to do so.
Married first to the sister of the Earl of Elgin of ‘Marbles’ fame, and secondly to a cousin of ‘sea wolf’ Lord Cochrane, he was well-known to George III, who as a result of Durham’s amusing yet improbable anecdotes, dubbed any tall tale he heard ‘a Durham’. This collection of his papers consists mainly of letters and despatches relating to his service in the Channel Fleet, the Mediterranean, and the Leeward Islands. Correspondence with his parents during 1789-90 reflects his anxieties relating to employment and prospects for promotion when he was a young lieutenant with an illegitimate child to support. The collection, featuring items from and to him, comprises a fascinating and informative set of documents.
The aim of this critical edition of Admiral Nelson’s letters to Lady Hamilton is to bring together the important letters of Nelson to Lady Hamilton that have only been published in parts over the last 200 years. Only by bringing the letters of Nelson to Lady Hamilton together is it possible to assess their relationship and to present certain insights into Nelson’s personality that are not revealed in his official correspondence. Thorough research into this side of Nelson’s personality and into the nature of his notorious and unconventional relationship with Lady Hamilton has been hampered in the past by a desire not to look too closely at Nelson’s personal morality.
To a considerable extent their relationship was regarded as a challenge to traditional gender roles and it indeed did not conform to stereotypes that are usually attributed to men and women in a heterosexual relationship. Lady Hamilton was so obviously lacking in the subservience and passivity expected from women in that era that authors over the course of time started to exclude her in their accounts of the public sphere by reducing her to a private weakness of Nelson’s, who could be successful at sea, where he was far away from the enthralling influence of a manipulating woman.
The letters in this edition testify how Admiral Nelson’s life at sea was not exclusively public nor was Lady Hamilton’s life ashore solely private. It also shows how the two supposedly separate spheres of male and female lives were connected. A fresh approach and a thorough discussion of this important and neglected aspect not only of Nelson’s life, but of gender history, demands this exact and scholarly edition of the primary material, which consists of about 400 letters that Nelson wrote to Lady Hamilton over the course of the last seven years of his life and about a dozen letters of her to him that have survived.
To read the whole book please Become A Member.