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Horatia Nelson (1801-1881)


Object connections:

Collection Sculpture
User collections Nelson and 'That Hamilton Woman' by Nationalmaritimemuseum
Gallery locationQH (Floor plans)
PeopleDepiction: Nelson, Horatia
Provenance: Nelson-Ward Collection

Object details:

Object ID SCU0107
Description Head-and-part-shoulders marble bust on a round socle, the sitter's head turned half to her left, with short curly hair in natural disorder and bare shoulders. The right shoulder has a grey vein in the marble showing as a diagonal line. It is signed 'C. Prosperi fecit' and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812, so shows the sitter at the age of 10 or 11. Horatia Nelson (1801-81) was the first and only surviving child - possibly a surviving twin - of Nelson and Emma, Lady Hamilton, conceived in Palermo or Naples and born in great secrecy in January 1801, just after they and Sir William Hamilton had returned overland to England late in 1800. She was initially placed in the secret care of a nurse and the lovers constructed an elaborate charade that she was Nelson's god-daughter to conceal her true identity. Her father was supposed to be a fictional seaman called Thompson who subsequently 'died' to make her relationship to Nelson and Emma adoptive. After Sir William's death in 1803 she lived with Emma at Merton and, though she later privately recognized Nelson was her father, she never knew the identity of her mother since Lady Hamilton never revealed this. Despite earlier rumour it only became incontrovertible with the publication of correspondence between the lovers in 1887, after Horatia's death. Just before his death at Trafalgar in 1805, Nelson expressly asked that she thereafter use his name only, which she did and continued to live with Lady Hamilton to the latter's death in Calais in 1815. She then returned to the care of the Matcham family (of Nelson's sister, Catherine) until her marriage to the Revd Philip Ward, later Vicar of Tenterden, Kent, in 1822. Other images of her around that time show her as an attractive and apparently well-adjusted young woman of slightly sharp features, which became more like her father's with age: a photograph taken about 1860 shows a remarkable likeness to him. She and her husband had ten children (though four died in infancy) and Ward changed the family name officially to Nelson-Ward. He died in 1859 after which she moved to Pinner, Middlesex, to be near her third son, Nelson, who was a lawyer and lived on to the age of 80: she was buried at Pinner were her grave can still be seen. Very little is known of Prosperi, the talented sculptor of this piece, who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1810 and 1816. It was presented to the Museum in June 1939, as part of the Nelson-Ward Collection, by the Revd Hugh Nelson-Ward, Horatia's grandson. This also included a copy (MNT0041) of a miniature by James Holmes, of which the Museum also has the original (MNT0213), probably made about the time of her marriage and possibly for the Matchams.
Date made 1811

Artist/Maker Prosperi, Christopher
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Nelson-Ward Collection
Materials marble
Measurements Overall: 432 x 222 mm
  • Horatia Nelson (1801-1881) (SCU0107)
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