Nelson's artefacts and memorabilia net over £1m at auction

Britain’s greatest admiral continues to be the No.1 draw for collectors after they forked out over £1m on Nelson-themed artefacts, mementoes and personal effects.

A fragment of a flag flown on HMS Victory on the day of the admiral's triumph - and death - was bought for just under £300,000, more than three times the sum auctioneers estimated.

And bidders smashed the asking price on a portrait of Emma Hamilton; it eventually went under the hammer for £369,000.

Nearly 50 items linked with the Georgian admiral went under the hammer as part of Sotheby's 'Of Royal and Noble Descent' auction which raised over £3m for various sellers.

The flag segment - 86cm by 92cm (34in by 36in) - was the 'jewel in the crown' of 18th/19th-Century 'Nelsoniana' made available to buyers.

In the run-up to the decisive clash with the Franco-Spanish fleet, Nelson ordered all British warships to fly the national flags as well as their squadron Colours when they went into battle.

Of the 33 Royal Navy ships which raised the Union Jack on October 21 1805, only two standards are believed to still exist intact: one is held by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the other is in private hands having been bought for nearly £400,000 a decade ago.

Yesterday's auction generated a huge amount of interest, which was borne out in the total value of the items on the day

Andrew Baines, Director Deputy of Heritage at the National Museum of the Royal Navy

After Trafalgar, the flags flown in the battle were carried by Victory's sailor and marines as part of Nelson's elaborate funeral service in January 1806. Two of the battle ensigns - one Jack, one St George's flag - were buried with the admiral, but the largest flag was torn apart by the bearers as a memento.

This particular piece eventually ended up in the hands of RUSI, who donated it to a Royal Navy captain in the early 19th Century.

Other objects included a painting of the 1805 battle (valued at circa £80k, sold for £237k), a Faberge-esque commemorative egg (sold for £13,750), ring (£7,500), figurines (£1k), newspapers and pamphlets (£2k), letters penned by Nelson such as to Lady Hamilton (£18,750) and a decanter set with wine glasses (£69k).

"Yesterday's auction generated a huge amount of interest, which was borne out in the total value of the items on the day," said Andrew Baines, Director Deputy of Heritage at the National Museum of the Royal Navy - and its resident HMS Victory expert.

"I think this speaks volumes for the continuing interest the Battle of Trafalgar, but in particular Horatio Nelson, generates amongst the public. Of course, I suspect it was also bolstered somewhat by the sterling job the auction house's PR team have done over the past few weeks - one couldn't pick up a paper without reading about the flag fragment!"

The museum did not bid for any of the lots.

Pictures: Courtesy of Sotheby's