Vancouver Maritime Museum receives Battle of Trafalgar combat plans 0
A Trafalgar battle plan from the Vancouver Maritime Museum collection displaying the positions of the split-British fleet taking on the larger, combined French and Spanish force. (PHOTO VANCOUVER MARITIME MUSEUM)
The exact words that outgunned British Lord Admiral Nelson wrote to his fleet commanders in one of history’s greatest naval battles — Trafalgar — are now part of Vancouver’s museum collection.
The rare collection, a donation from wealthy Vancouverite Anthony Sessions worth more than $1 million, was originally from one of Nelson’s two fleet commanders in charge of his 27-ship flotilla.
On Oct. 21, 1805, as the Napoleonic Wars were in full swing, Nelson was fatally shot during the sea battle near the Iberian coast, between the British and the larger French and Spanish force.
But the family of his lieutenant, rear Admiral Northesk, kept an album of mementos from the fight for more than 150 years before being sold at auction to Sessions.
The key pieces of more than 300 battle documents in the album will now be displayed at the Vancouver Maritime Museum through January, when they’ll likely be swapped out so other pieces from the collection can be displayed, according to museum society chairman Craig Beattie.
“(Nelson) was an unconventional tactician, (his) innovation was to break his 27 ships into two separate divisions and he came at them at right angles … breaking the French and Spanish lines in two places,” Beattie said about the letter-documented strategy.
“And it worked, it completely disorganized the French and Spanish who weren’t quite sure what to do.”
The fleet commander’s letters were circulated to each of the 27 captains in the armada and the whereabouts of the remaining letters are unclear. Beattie estimated the Vancouver Maritime Museum collection is now the second largest on the Battle of Trafalgar outside of the U.K.
“One way of looking at this is: On Oct. 20, 1805, the world had three empires that were duking it out on the seas — the British, the French and the Spanish. On Oct. 22, there was just one ... the French and Spanish were essentially eliminated on the sea from that point forward.”