Return of The Hero
This wonderfully atmospheric painting by Maarten Platje depicts the moment when the coffin of the great admiral Nelson finally left his famous flagship HMS Victory.
After the Battle of Trafalgar, in which Nelson was killed, the men of his flagship disobeyed direct orders to allow his body to be taken to England in the frigate Euryalus. The men, grieving the loss of their beloved admiral, believed there was a danger that the body might be captured from a mere frigate and that only their mighty ship could protect their hero properly. They demanded the right to bring their commander safely home in his own flagship.
HMS Victory had been very badly damaged in the battle and required repairs both in Gibraltar and Portsmouth on the journey back. Therefore it was not until just before Christmas that Victory sailed into the Medway River, to the east of London. Here Victory was met by the pretty little yacht Chatham, the official vessel of the Commissioner of Sheerness Dockyard Captain the Hon. George Grey. (Grey had served as joint Captain on Victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent).
Nelson’s extremely heavy coffin was loaded on to Chatham’s deck and transported up the Thames to Greenwich Hospital, the Vice Admiral’s huge flag from Victory flying at half-mast on the little yacht.
This scene is full of emotion and pride, in particular for the sailors of Victory who are saying farewell to their great commander, having fulfilled their duty and seen him safe home, and many of whom are seen lining the ship’s rigging. Maarten Platje has used the atmosphere of a misty and cold late afternoon in winter to evoke this poignant mood and emphasise the huge size of the great battle-damaged flagship Victory.