BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
NELSON'S PURSE, by Martyn Downer
, March 26, 2005
New light on NelsonNELSON'S PURSE
By Martyn Downer
London: Bantam Books
Hardback RRP: $59.95Almost 200 years after the death of Lord Nelson, one of Britain's greatest heroes, an extraordinary collection of artefacts related to him surfaced.
The author - head of jewellery at Sotheby's of London - during a business trip assembling items for auction, was presented by a client with a diamond brooch whose motif was an anchor and Nelson's initials. This began a search which resulted in the discovery of a chest belonging to Alexander Davison, a close friend of Nelson, containing, amongst other things, the purse Nelson was wearing when he was mortally wounded and a cache of letters.
Despite its title, Nelson's Purse focuses not on Lord Nelson, but rather on his friend, Davison. Born of comparatively humble origins in Northumberland, he sailed for Canada where he amassed a fortune. It was during this period that he and the young Nelson met.
The account explores Davison's subsequent return to England, the rise and fall of his business career and his friendship with Nelson.
Perhaps some of the most interesting items in the case of effects were the letters from Lady Nelson and Emma Hamilton to Davison, which indicate that he was the confidante of both of them, particularly during the period of Nelson's marriage breakdown.
Downer argues that, whereas in the past people have tended to be critical of Lady Nelson, these letters portray a woman who loved her husband deeply and was particularly upset by the breakdown of the marriage.