In January 1806, the body of Lord Nelson arrived at Greenwich. Over three extraordinary days – the 5th, 6th and 7th – the body lay in state within the upper chamber of the Painted Hall. Here are the reports from The Times newspaper of those three days.
On Saturday the preparations having been completed at Greenwich Hospital, a few personages of high respectability and distinction were admitted, in the evening, to view the body of Lord NELSON lying in state; amongst whom were, her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, and suite, who remained there several hours, in melancholy contemplation of this solemn and affecting scene: and yesterday morning, at eleven o’clock, the Great Hall was thrown open for the admission of the public.
Before eight in the morning, every avenue from the Metropolis to Greenwich was crowded with vehicles of every description till past eleven, exhibiting a scene of confusion beyond description; but the approach to Greenwich hospital Gate, a little before that hour, must baffle the conception of those who did not witness it. When the gate was thrown open, above ten thousand pressed forward for admittance.
After the passage of the outer gate, the entrance to the Great Hall was guarded by a party of the Greenwich and Deptford Volunteer Association, and parties of midshipmen and sailors armed with pikes. With such impetuosity did the crowd rush towards the entrance of the Great Hall, as to bear down all opposition, notwithstanding the guard used every means in their power to preserve order, and to prevent accidents.
The arrangements of the solemnity were as follows:-
In the funeral saloon, high above the corpse a canopy of black velvet was suspended, richly festooned with gold, and the festoons ornamented with the chelenk, or plume of triumph, presented to his Lordship by the GRAND SEIGNIOR, after the ever memorable victory of the Nile. It was also decorated with his Lordships coronet, and a view of the stern of the San Josef, the Spanish Admiral’s ship, already ‘quartered’ in his arms.
On the back field, beneath the canopy, was emblazoned an escutcheon of his Lordship’s arms; the helmet surmounted by a naval crown, and enriched with the trident and palm branch in saltier – motto; “Palman qui meruit ferat.” Also his Lordship’s shield, ornamented with silver stars appropriately interspersed; with the motto – “Tria juncta in uno;” and surmounting the whole upon a gold field, embraced by a golden wreath, was inscribed in sable characters, the word TRAFALGAR, commemorative of the proudest of his great achievements.
The Rev. Mr. SCOTT, the Chaplain of the Victory, and who in consequence of his Lordship’s last injunctions, attended his remains from the moment of his death, sat as chief mourner in an elbow chair at the head of the coffin.
At the foot of the coffin stood a pedestal, covered with black velvet, richly fringed with alternate black and yellow, and supporting a helmet surmounted by a naval crown, ornamented with the chelenk or triumphal plume, with models richly gilt, and his Lordship’s shield, gauntlet, and sword.
Ten mourners were placed three on each side of the chief, and one at each corner of the coffin, all in deep mourning, with black scarfs, their hair full powdered, in bags. These were appointed from the Office of the LORD CHAMBERLAIN, as usual on similar occasions.
Ten banners, elevated on staves, and emblazoned with various quarterings of his Lordship’s arms and heraldic dignities, each bearing it appropriate motto, were suspended towards the coffin, five on each side.
Parties of the Greenwich and Deptford Volunteers attended in the Great Hall, to preserve order and regulate the ingress and egress of the spectators.
A railing in form of a crescent, covered with black, inclosed the funereal saloon from the Great Hall, by the elipses of which, from right to left, the spectators approached and receded from this solemn spectacle, and from the foot of the stairs ascending from the Great Hall.
A partition of boards, six feet in height, covered with black cloth, extended to the entrance, and separated the two avenues. Both the Hall and Saloon were entirely surrounded at the top by rows of silver sconces, each with two wax lights, and between each two an escutcheon of his Lordship’s armorial dignities.
The immense numbers who pressed for admittance, and the earnestness of the officers in attendance to accommodate as many as possible, occasioned the successive parties, who were fortunate enough to obtain admission, to be pushed onward with such rapidity, as to afford none of them the opportunity of having more than a short and transient glance of the solemn object of their curiosity.
Perhaps, it is no exaggeration to add, that above twenty thousand persons were unable to gratify themselves. The doors were closed at four o’clock: they are to be opened again at eight this morning.
Notwithstanding the immense number of people who visited Greenwich on Sunday, to pay their tribute of melancholy respect at the temporary shrine of the departed Hero, thousands of who were gratified by admission to the solemn spectacle, and many other thousands of whom went away unsatisfied, as finding an entrance wholly impracticable; still the concourse there yesterday was even greater than on Sunday; and from the first time of opening the side wickets of the great Western Gate, at nine in the morning, through each subsequent opening, until their close, at four in the afternoon, the rushing torrent of the multitude was so impetuous, that numbers experienced disasters similar to those which on Sunday were so numerous, and in many instances so severely unfortunate: many were crushed in a dreadful manner, in the competition for entrance through passages so narrow; others were beaten down by the impetuosity of those who rushed forward from behind, and were severely trampled – in many cases, almost to death.
Shoes, pattens, muffs, tippets, coat-sleeves, skirts of pelise and gowns, without number, were despoiled from their owners, and trampled in the mud; and though the guards were more numerous, more vigilant and peremptory, than on Sunday, still it was scarcely possible to check the impetuosity of the multitude, or prevent the entrances to the Great Hall from being carried by force.Within however, all was conducted with order.The Volunteers posted in the area of the elevated saloon, round the farther end of which the spectators passed to view the coffin, continued to urge onward the multitude at a quick pace; so that none could indulge more than a short and sorrowful glance at that mournful casket which contained, perhaps, the most brilliant of all the gems that ever decorated the naval crown of England.
The distinctions of rank were forgotten in the general avidity to pay the last melancholy honours to the hero’s remains; and though curiosity be the ruling passion of John Bull, it was, on this occasion, marked by feelings that do honour to his heart. The votaries of Saint Monday evinced they were no strangers to “the luxury of exalted woe,” and that they could participate in the sorrow and veneration manifested by their country for the great and justly honoured subject of general regret.Amongst the visitants of yesterday were numbers of high rank and fashion: her Grace of DEVONSHIRE; and many of her noble friends were in the throng. A vast number of Military Officers also attended to pay their last tribute of respect to departed heroism, and to contemplate the noblest stimulus to gallant deeds.
Yesterday morning, at nine o’clock, the wickets of the great Western gate of Greenwich Hospital were thrown open, for the admission of spectators to the Great Hall and Funeral Saloon.The many serious accidents on Sunday and Monday, resulting from the want of better system and regulation outside the gates, suggested to the Governors the necessity of adopting some more effectual steps to prevent further mischief; they had, therefore, obtained from London a party of the Kings Life Guards, who were posted in different divisions at the west and South avenues, and rendered very essential service the whole day, in checking the eager impetuosity of the multitude in pressing for admission at the wickets, from which most of the former accidents had proceeded.
The wickets were, as before, opened at successive times, for the admission of fresh divisions of spectators, as the former had been gratified with a view of the solemnities; and though the pressure on those occasions was unavoidably rapid and violent, no serious accident, that we could learn, occurred.The steps leading up to the entrance of the Great Hall, was the principle scene of contest; and curiosity, the ruling passion of the fair sex, rising superior to all the suggestions of feminine timidity, many ladies pushed into the crowd, and were so severely squeezed, that several of them fainted away, and were carried off, apparently senseless, to the colonnade; we were, however, highly gratified to learn, that they were rather frightened than hurt, and that no injury occurred more serious than a degree of pressure not altogether so gentle as could be wished. In general, however, the result of better regulation was obvious; for, although the multitude was even more numerous than on the preceding days, and the attendance of fashionable personages much greater, order was much better kept, and tumultuous violence scarcely anywhere apparent.
Some trivial alterations had taken place in the solemn arrangements of the Funeral Saloon. The sable pall was cast from the coffin, which was fully exposed to view, and upon it was placed the cushion supporting the coronet, with two armorial shields, properly emblazoned. The six mourners, who before were seated at the head of the coffin to the right and left of the canopy, now took their places, three on each side of the coffin, outside the benches, whereon the tressels stood, and facing inwards; the effect was much more solemn and impressive.
This was the only thing novel in the interior arrangements; but a novelty, not without very considerable and forcible impression, occurred outside the Hall, which, as an appendage of the melancholy ceremonies, demands mention.A little before four o’clock, the brig Elizabeth and Mary, from off Chatham, hove in sight, from the Terrace, on the River, having on board a chosen band of Seamen and Marines from the brave crew of the Victory, who are intended to fall into the Funeral Procession.Of their old and gallant Commander. Lieutenant BROWN, their Commanding Officer came on shore, to take orders for their proceeding.
The St. George’s Jack. At the mast-head of the brig, was lowered half mast high, as a funeral salute, which was immediately returned by the colours of all the ships in sight from the Terrace.The Lieutenant Governor of Greenwich then proceeded to inform Lord Hood of the arrival of this brave band: when the gallant Admiral, accompanied by a party of the River Fencibles, armed with their pikes, proceeded to the North –gate, next the River; and ordered the Heroes of Trafalgar to be brought on shore. The brig then hauled up alongside the quay, and the brave tars jumped ashore amidst the warm greetings and grateful acclamations of the surrounding throng. Alas! How different the sensations of those gallant fellows from what they would have been, under the brave NELSON’S eye, in boarding the deck of an enemy.
They consisted of forty-six Seamen and fourteen Marines, each bearing his hammock; and if they were a fair specimen of their messmates in the Victory at Trafalgar, that triumph is the less wonderful; for each seemed a true bred cub of the British Lion, and most of them bore the honourable scars they received on the day their lamented Leader fell in the cause of the country.Upon their passing within the gates, they were ordered by Lord HOOD, who approached them, to stow their baggage in the Royal Charlotte Ward of the Hospital; after which they should be gratified with a view of their heroic Leader’s body lying in state, which, however, he was sure, would be to them no pleasant sight. The brave fellows bowed assent to this remark; they then proceeded to stow their hammocks in the ward appointed, and were afterwards escorted by a part of the military to the Great Hall, when they were conducted to the Saloon, where the remains of their beloved Commander lay; they eyed the coffin with melancholy admiration and respect, while the manly tears glistened in their eyes, and stole reluctant down their weather-beaten cheeks. Strangers were excluded during this affecting scene; and on the return of this brave band to the parade in front, they were again warmly greeted by the multitude; and even the eyes of beauty, everywhere glittering amidst the crowd, beamed on the rough and hardy crew, the radiant glances of approbation and sympathy.
At five o-clock the doors and gates were closed, and this morning the body will be carried to London on its way to final interment. It will be conveyed from the Saloon through the Great Hall, out the Eastern Portal, round the Royal Charlotte Ward, to the North gate, on the Thames, and placed on board the State Barge, which will be rowed by the detachment from the Victory, before- mentioned; and fifty picked men from the Greenwich pensioners, who attend as mourners, will also row in the procession.