Nelson & Minerve, Further Reading

‘Nelson at Gibraltar’ – Special orders from the C in C.

The frigate Minerve lead directly to Nelson’s becoming a famous celebrity in Britain, a knighthood and appointment as Rear Admiral.

One of The Nelson and Trafalgar Collection.

Nelson & Minerve

This painting 46 x 91 cm (18″ x 36″), oils on canvas, is presented in a handmade medium antique swept style gold frame.

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Surprisingly of the hundreds of books on Nelson most don’t mention this stirring, significant tale, The Minerve voyage. 

The research for this marine painting included Nelson’s route to the battle of Cape St Vincent.

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How many threads make a yarn?

For this sketch initially I had in mind the visit of Captain Laperouse to Botany Bay.

Later I realised it would not fit that story but the idea could be adapted for “Nelson at Gibraltar”.

Coincidentally at about the same time, Peter Goodwin and I discovered new information on a specialised matter that had interested and puzzled us for over a decade, exactly which colours Nelson’s ships were painted.

Following and thanks to the staff, my visit to Her Majesty’s United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, a secure building where the renowned ‘Admiralty Charts’ traditional and digital, are made and definitely not open to the public,  I was able to establish the appearance of Gibraltar and the British anchorages in 1796 and further prove the exterior colours of Nelson’s ships.

 

The frigate Minerve started life at Toulon, known in French service as LA MINERVE she was laid down at Toulon in 1793.

Taken as a prize into the British Royal Navy she was known simply as Minerve.

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Personal connections:

There is an incident during the voyage with Minerve, ‘borrowed’ by the most famous of naval author’s C S Forester for his character Horatio Hornblower, in “Hornblower and the Atropos“.

A book by C S Forester, given to the adolescent Gordon Frickers by his Father, was the spark that fired my interest in marine history, my eternal thanks to my Dad and Mr. Forester for the portal, this enriching my life.

HMS Minerve was the beginning of the voyage that consolidated Nelson‘s name and first made him truly famous,  yet many of the books on Nelson don’t mention Nelson’s crucial time on the frigate Minerve. 

This painting started life as a quick sketch I made one evening while quaffing a therapeutic beer in what was in those days a frequent watering hole of mine, the members lounge of the Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club.

Nelson & Minerve, sketch, available, £100..

The RPCYC has in it’s member’s lounge in pride of place two fine paintings commissioned by the committee when lead by Commodore Captain Paul Willerton, “Spring Series” and “Armada 400“; another reason I felt comfortable there.

Those RPCYC paintings were intended to show future generations how things were then, 1991; which they now do most successfully.

 

This moment shown here was the portal to Nelson’s rise to fame the climax of which was the battle of Cape St Vincent. 
This painting shows 2 of the ships in which Nelson served, HMS Minerve and HMS Captain on the 10th of December 1796.

At the time of writing this painting featuring Nelson has been exhibited only once.
That was at the Gordon Frickers exhibition “Life on the Ocean Wave” were by invitation Gordon Frickers became one of the very few artists and the first marine artist to show at the European Parliament.
Nelson at Gibraltar is at the time of writing available offers around £12,000 considered. 
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Read on:

The painting
The story
The research including Gibraltar and the ships –
The more of the story…

Contents:
Inspiration.
Surprisingly.
The research:
The composition.
Colour schemes of ships.
‘Nelson at Gibraltar’ was the prelude.
Less know facts about Horatio Nelson.
Sources include.
Nelson’s Ranks.
At the end.
About Gordon Frickers.
~
Inspiration
This painting, this story, fits well the original brief given me when I started work for HMS Victory back in 1994.
The Minerve painting is thus a natural continuation of an extraordinary series, “Nelson, Victory, Trafalgar, the less known but interesting aspects”, produced in aid of HMS Victory’s restoration to her 1805 appearance.

The original series of paintings inspired by the late Nick Varley and sponsored by Victory 2005 Ltd were intended to help raise funds to support the restoration of HMS Victory and provide the Royal Naval Museum with products to generate further interest and importantly, income.
Those originals are property of Victory 2005 Ltd, currently stored on a London bank vault and we are told the directors are interested in selling their collection.

Additionally the project was to support the work of Peter Goodwin then keeper of HMS Victory and the work of the Society of Nautical Research.

Inspiration for the artist for Nelson at Gibraltar came from 2 main sources.
One perhaps strangely came in part from a drawing still in the artists possession made one evening while sketching an idea for a painting of Botany Bay and the voyage of the French navigator Laperouse; and enjoying a quiet beer at the Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club back in 1998.
Another thread, this painting was also in part inspired (despite his truly terrible Trafalgar puns) by Chris and abetted by Ruth Boddington who saw the sketch in Bodd’s studio thus Nelson at Gibraltar began to take form.

After various setbacks the thread for the background was researched successfully at the UK Hydrographic Office, Taunton.
~

Adventures aside, during his mission to Elba, Nelson, never a perfect hero, clearly displayed many of his finest and most admirable qualities.

By November 1796 Nelson had parted company with his beloved Agamemnon (67 guns, launched 1781 by Henry Adams at Buckler’s Hard).
The Agamemnon was sent home rotten, worn out and although John Jervis, a man quick to appreciate both Nelson’s genius and shortcomings offered Nelson the St George (90 guns) or the Zealous (74 guns) Nelson transferred with some of his key officers to HMS Captain commanded by Captain R.W. Miller.
HMS Captain had been in Gibraltar for 10 days when Nelson was ordered by Admiral John Jervis to leave HMS Captain, to board the frigate Minerve and set sail on a special mission, 15th of December 1796. 

When Sir John Jervis put Minerve, the fastest and most powerful frigate in the Mediterranean in the hands of Captain Cockburn and then sent Nelson to Minerve, the C in C had created a crack ship.

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~
The research:
As mentioned, we found this part of the Nelson story is barely mentioned and not at all in many of the books about Nelson.

One of the few books to cover the=is event is “The Life of Nelson” by Captain A T
Mahon, Publisher: Sampson Low, Marston, London, Publication Date: 1899. On ecan sometimes obtain a copy on the Internet for around £30.

Something needed to be done.
For Gibraltar Bay the staff at the HM UK Hydrographic office were extraordinarily generous with their support.
The UKHO is a secured government establishment (entry only by permit) which is responsible for among other things the world famous Admiralty Charts.
Gordon wished to know approximately how the town and Docks appeared in 1796 and where in the bay Britannic Royal Navy ships would anchor.
Both questions were successfully answered at the UKHO.
I was able to visit as recorded in a blog entry, 6 November 2009.
I considered myself fortunate to be allowed past the gates and signed in.
I was helped enormously and willingly, shown everything I could wish to see and treated as an honoured guest being introduced to senior staff.

Fact: You can’t get better charts than Admiralty Charts,

These days the UKHO still handles daily the latest undersea surveys and produces state of the art GPS driven digital charts to complement their hard copies.
My visit proved to be a day of surprises.
The UKHO charts and the collection go back some 250 years.
The charts and pictures record much of the primitive world that evolved into the complex world we know today and some remarkable treasures include maps which were being restored when I visited the UKHO from the American war of Independence showing positions of forces around New York.
During my visit I found myself looking at an original Chart of Botany Bay (for a “Laperouse” painting) drawn by Captain James Cook and thinking, ‘how many souls were drawn to Australia as a result of that chart’?
Incidentally more recently (14 May 2012) I was speaking with a serving Royal Navy officer who had been assigned to updating some of James Cooks charts.
Perhaps incredibly the lieutenant said even with the latest technology his team found very few and minor discrepancies in James Cook’s 18th century charts…
Sincere thanks to the UKHO Staff for the correct Gibraltar anchorage markers (Admiralty drafts) and access to study various pilot’s sketches of Gibraltar town for period 1796 thus giving an additional authority helping make this Painting “Nelson at Gibraltar” special.
~
The composition and details
This unusual composition was chosen partly to give us a close look at HMS Minerve, and partly to achieve maximum depth because we wanted to test a colour and light theory.
A few comments follow on the details of this painting, more on Colour scheme of ships appears else where on www.frickers.co.uk/blog under the title ‘Nelson’s Bright Yellow’.
Through out this painting there are people actively employed.
The Minerve crew is ‘present’; they are preparing to welcome Commodore Nelson onboard.
Where Nelson is to board, note the cutter hooking on to Minerve, the frigate has a midship bend, a pronounced roundness, called a tumblehome, which was a characteristic of J.-M.-B. Coulomb’s (French) design style.

The stern of Minerve repays a closer look.
The stern is not of the standard horse shoe shape, leading to the question whether or not it is original.
This is in part explained by the absence of any quarterdeck cabin or half poop on this frigate.
There are unusual two elliptical stem chase ports in the taffrail.
It was a source of much trouble while under British ownership possibly due to poor quality wood when originally built.
After 1795 the ship’s log of Minerve shows frequent repairs made to her stern.
You may also notice the exquisite carved decorations picked out in real gold in the painting.

Background details include the frigate Blanche ‘coming out’, a 74 gun ship with topmasts down and numerous other fine details, even a ships cat on Minerve’s stern.
Xebec and Tartan:
These types of small merchant ship were formerly a common sight in Mediterranean ports and on the seaboard.
C.S. Forester in his Horatio Hornblower series of books mentions his principal character when in the Med stopping and searching xebecs and tartans.
Thanks to D. and J.T. Serres both marine painters to the crown, I have the book ‘Liber Nauticus’ thus we have an example of each vessel in this painting.

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Ships cat:

Cats and other animals feature in a number of my paintings.

Cats have an ability to adapt to new surroundings, if not overly petted can be useful so were therefore highly suitable for service on a ship.
Cays also offered companionship and a sense of home and security to sailors who could be away from home for long periods, especially in times of war.

Many authorities have noted, the ‘British Tar’, so ferocious and feared in battle was invariably tender and protective of animals.
~
Colour schemes of ships.
This painting was used to test a theory of the modified appearance at varying distances of ‘Nelson’s Bright Yellow’.

Nelson’s Bright Yellow

Our discoveries about the true appearance of Nelsonian ships are outlined in the text about the painting ‘Nelson’s Bright Yellow’ on this website.

By seeing ships at varying distances and different angles to the light source we can better appreciate how the bright yellow and other colours would be modified by light, distance and atmosphere.

At this period ships were generally painted black with a tar like substance or if new, varnished.
Older ships as the varnish degenerated invariably turned to black.
Even rancid butter was some times used on rigging!
Black was a relative term, the paint material and standing rigging often weathering to shades of reddish brown or grey.
There were of course by ancient tradition other colours and decoration used on ships.
Much depended on the commander’ attitude and the depth of his pocket.
Nelson was never a rich man but liked his ships to look ‘warlike’.
~
About the ships:
Minerve – was a 38 gun French built frigate, the fastest and most powerful frigate in the Mediterranean.
She was commanded by the renowned Captain George Cockburn (appointed August 1796) so when Jervis sent Nelson to Minerve we might expect some thing to happen.
It is perhaps surprising so many authors missed the resultant story and another good reason for this painting.

Ship Origins:
HMS Minerve (GB) – LA MINERVE (Fr.) designed by J.-M.-B. Coulomb, she was a 38 gun frigate built at Toulon in 1793.
She was cap­tured and taken into the Royal Navy as H.M.S. Minerve in 1795, she was recaptured by the French in 1803; as La Confiance she was captured yet again by the Royal Navy in 1810!
Minerve was a name of dubious luck not only for the French Navy who lost some ten vessels of that name (and one Minerva), captured by the Royal Navy but for the British and Portuguese too.
The ‘exchanges’ were not entirely one way, two English and one Portuguese Minerva were captured by the French.

HMS Captain – The 74 gun HMS Captain appears in the centre of this painting.
She was of the Canada Class, built at Limehouse, London launched 1787.
She is shown as per the period, most noticeably in a period colour scheme with out the familiar double yellow stripes on her hull.
The 74 gun HMS Captain appears in the centre of this painting.
HMS Captain was the ship Nelson used so brilliantly at the battle of Cape St Vincent.
~
‘Nelson at Gibraltar’ was the prelude to Nelson’s immortal memory, the following story runs to a climax which was the battle of Cape St Vincent,

Nelson boarding the frigate Minerve at Gibraltar; In 1796 Nelson, always an ambitious man with a sense of destiny hoped he might soon achieve the honours he keenly sought.
At that time it was not Nelson dazzling Europe.
The name on the majority of lips was that of a young French officer of artillery from Corsica.

HMS Captain had been in Gibraltar for 10 days when Nelson left HMS Captain to board Minerve and set sail on a special mission, 15th of December 1796.

Nelson in 1796 then a commodore, was ordered by John Jervis to supervise the British withdrawal from the Med which Nelson described in a letter to his wife Fanny as “most important” but “it is not a fighting mission, therefore be not uneasy”.

After years of frustration and the Revolutionary war going against Britain, in late November 1796 the British Mediterranean fleet including Nelson came under the command of Sir John Jervis.
Not all the officers of the fleet were as pleased as Nelson to see the arrival of Sir John Jervis.
Jervis was a strict disciplinarian, did not always have an “unruffled command of his temper”.
With a some times grim sense of humour John Jervis if he felt provoked could unleash “a torrent of impetuous reproof in unmeasured language”.
John Jervis did not suffer those he thought fools.
On the other hand he generally gave prompt and ungrudging acknowledgement to zeal, skill and gallantry and was privately kind and generous.

Leaving Gibraltar in company with the frigate HMS Blanche, the 2 British frigates at 11.00 p.m. on the 19th of December off Cartagena encountered 2 large frigates suspected as enemies.
It was said that when her opponent was hailed by Minerve she replied, ‘this is a Spanish frigate and you may begin when you wish!

A fierce 3 hour night action against 2 Spanish frigates immediately followed.
The Spaniard lost 164 men including all her officers except her captain.
The commander of Minerve’s opponent (La Sabina) much to Nelson’s pleasure (he admired all royalty) turned out to be Don Jacoba Stuart a descendant of The Duke of Berwick.

Soon after the close of action another Spanish frigate was brought to action but hauled off after half an hour; to be reinforced by 2 more frigates and two ships of the line, all attracted by the sound of gunfire.
The 2 prizes had to be abandoned because of the considerably superior Spanish force
Among the abandoned prize crews was one Lt Thomas Masterman Hardy.
The damaged British frigates very narrowly escaped capture.

When Blanche and Minerve eventually re united Nelson showed qualities very remarkable even today
Nelson boarded Blanche and personally thanked each member of her crew for their efforts.
Nelson knew the crew of Blanche had recently refused a captain and almost mutinied.
Nelson spontaneously knew how to win hearts and minds.

Nelson completed the rest of his delicate mission to evacuate the Navy from the Mediterranean despite problems with the army commander, with tact, diplomacy and speed.
He then tried to locate the Spanish fleet by risking making a round of Spanish ports.

On returning to Gibraltar he learned a large force of Spanish ships of the line had just sailing west past Gibraltar.
Nelson in Minerve was not sure if the Spanish fleet were going to head North or West.
Nelson was prepared contrary to orders to abandon his post in an effort to locate the Spanish fleet.
He decided to sail west and if needed to warn the British in the Caribbean or north to join John Jervis’ fleet on watch off Cadiz.
This initiative risked his career.

He pursued; and in turn was pursued by 2 large Spanish war ships one of which almost caught Minerve.

Of C S Forester, Nelson and Hardy:

By then Lt. Hardy had been exchanged and re joined Minerve.

As Minerve feld before two powerful enemy ships of the line, either of which easily outclassed, outgunned the frigate minerve, a man fell overboard.

Unhesitatingly going after a man overboard, Hardy was left behind, the much more powerful Spaniard being almost within gunshot.
Nelson exclaimed “by God I’ll not loose Hardy” and at great risk to Minerve backed the mizzen topsail, stopped to recover his people.
Fortunately for Minerve this manoeuvre confused and disconcerted the leading Spaniard she probably fearing her prey had sighted a British squadron, stopped to let her consort catch up and thereby lost the slippery Minerve.
Nelson did not lose Hardy.
He steered that night south to loose his pursuers
Partly by luck, partly good judgment and in fog Minerve found the Spaniards by accidentally sailing into their fleet.
Skilfully escaping undetected, the next day Nelson found the British fleet and reported to Admiral Jervis.
Commodore Nelson transferred back into the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Captain (shown in the painting) in which he was serving prior to the transfer to frigate Minerve.
A battle followed off Cape St Vincent 14th February 1797 where again Nelson brilliantly broke with conventions.
The engagement won Jervis an Earldom, made Nelson’s name and reputation and after which Nelson was created a knight of the Bath and made up to Rear Admiral.
~
Sources include:
Probably more has been written about Horatio Nelson than any other single sea commander.
UK Hydrographic Office.
‘The History of the French Frigate 1650-1850’. Jean Boudriot Publications, ISBN 0-9
48864-15-X
Gordon Frickers copy is dated 1993.
‘Nelson’s Ships’ by Peter Goodwin, ISBN 0-85177-742-2.
Gordon Frickers copy is dated 2002.
Robert Southey, born 1784, made Poet Laureate in 1813; many agree he wrote the first sound account of the life of Nelson and the public perception of Nelson is still under its influence.
Southey was a friend of Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott and regular contributor to leading journals of the period.
‘The Life of Nelson’ by R. Southey was first published in July 1813.
“I am such a lubber” admitted Southey, to his eternal credit he was advised on nautical matters by his brother Captain Robert Southey who read the proofs, he accepted reasonable criticism, earnestly corrected faults and the results appeared in the outstanding 1830 revised edition.
Even Princess Victoria told Southey she had read his Life of Nelson “with great pleasure”.
The very favourable reaction of Americans to ‘The Life of Nelson’, published during the war of 1812, is particularly curious.
Gordon Frickers copy is dated 1990.

The Life of Nelson” by Captain Alfred T. Mahan USN first published 1897, is generally regarded as the other classic biography.
Try Chapter VII for the Elba mission.
Gordon Frickers copy is dated 1899.

‘The History of the French Frigate 1650-1850’. Jean Boudriot
‘Liber Nauticus’ by D. and J.T. Serres, first published 1805, Gordon Frickers copy is dated 1973.

‘The Pursuit of Victory – The Life and Achievements of Horatio Nelson’ by Roger Knight.
Gordon Frickers copy is dated 2005.
~
Less know facts about Horatio Nelson:
Nelson read widely & kept himself well supplied with books.
Nelson’s letters always lacked polish, his English often showed bad grammar & awkward phrases, eccentric spelling. They are though, vigorous, direct & there is rarely danger of mistaking his meaning.
Horatio Nelson was said to speak with a strong Norfolk accent.
Contemporary evidence to suggest he was actually about 5’6″ & built medium to slim.
Horatio Nelson had always said he would rise if possible to the very top of what ever station he entered.

John Rathbone took a merchant ship belonging to Hibbert, Purrier & Horton, to the West Indies.

The young Nelson made this voyage as a crewman before the mast.
The voyage made him a seaman & taught him the ways of ordinary sailors including their distaste for the R.N. (“aft the most honour, forward the better men”).
His uncle and guardian Captain Suckling next put young Nelson into small boat work. This was also a reward for attending to his navigation. The boats were a cutter & decked longboat which worked the Medway, Swale & as far afield as the Pool of London & N. Foreland. The intention was to develop his pilotage, decision making, fearlessness of responsibility, both professional & personal.

As a part of that scheme, Nelson talked his way into becoming one of “the young gentlemen” on the specially adapted HMS Carcass which together with HMS Racehorse made the first voyage of science and discovery by the Royal Navy to the Arctic Ocean.
Nelson clearly had a high opinion of himself yet was obviously a competent officer who managed to tactfully avoid giving his fellows cause to resent him, all necessary qualities in a leader.
~
Nelson’s Ranks.
1771 Jan 1 Midshipman aged 12
24th September 1776 Acting Lieutenant aged 17
10th April 1777 Lieutenant aged 18
8th December 1778 Commander aged 20
11th June 1779 Captain aged 20
4th April 1796 Acting Commodore: 2nd Class aged 37
11th August 1796 Commodore: 1st Class aged 37
20th February 1797 Rear-Admiral of the Blue aged 38
17th May 1797 Knight of the Bath aged 38
6th November 1798 Peer of the Realm aged 40
14th February 1799 Rear-Admiral of the Red aged 40
13th August 1799 Duke of Bronte, Sicily aged 40
1st January 1801 Vice-Admiral of the Blue aged 42
22nd May 1801 Viscount aged 42
23rd April 1804 Vice-admiral of the White aged 45
21st October 1805 – Nelson died in this rank, aged 47.

Son of Edmund & Catherine Nelson, born 29 Sept. 1758, fifth son, sixth child, in the parsonage house of Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk. (Burnham means “homestead by a stream”).
Father a rector, Mothers maiden name was Suckling.
Her grandmother was eldest sister of Sir Horace Walpole, who had been 20 years a prime minister.
Sir Robert’s second brother had been named Horatio & his son was called Horace, that being the more common form of the name hence Nelson’s fore names.
~
At the end of the Minerve cruise Nelson rejoined HMS Captain and in the immediately following action, the Battle of Cape St Vincent, earned a place in the ranks with Drake, Blake, Anson, Cook, Howe, Jervis and others of the most renowned British sea men.
Horatio Nelson was destined to eclipse them all.
~
About Gordon Frickers:

Uniquely in the history of HMS Victory, Gordon Frickers was commissioned (1994 to 1998) to work for HMS
One of the very few artists and the first and only marine artist to be invited to exhibit at the European Parliament, Brussels (May 2011).
Victory.
A featured artist on the Winsor and Newton website.
The only artist member of the British Marine Federation, SuperyachtUK and the Marine Trade Federation.
For a résumée and more information see http://frickers.co.uk/about.html

This fine painting is available, Contact Us

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Gordon Frickers© June 2012, updated 13.11.2017

 

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