“Trafalgar Dawn” – Extra Info

"Trafalgar Dawn"Of the veteran’s ghosts – A Trafalgar Project Background Make what you will of this, for sure it has never happened before or since to Gordon; several times during the painting’s creation, the Artist had the distinct impression his studio was visited by some of the veteran’s ghosts, come to see the progress & discuss with each other.

Read on to find out why.

When Gordon Frickers began to work on his series of paintings about Nelson & Trafalgar in 1995 he realised as he read more deeply, that the direct evidence of the enemy, much ignored & dismissed by British sources, was important.
This unfashionable view he discovered was surprisingly shared by the Admiralty appointed Committee of 1913 who were set up especially to investigate what actually happened as opposed to the widely pedalled myths.

The more he read, the more Gordon Frickers came to realise there was a significant & valuable difference between the popular version of the battle & what actually occurred.
The truth, depicted as accurately as the artist was able, is offered in Nelsonian spirit, “to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general” & turned out to be even more fascinating than the myth.

Gordon Frickers at his own expense travelled to Brest, Paris, London, Liverpool, Madrid, San Sebastian Naval base & Cadiz and visited Cape Trafalgar to study source material for his series of paintings.

Frickers at Cape Trafalgar with French companions

Frickers at Cape Trafalgar with French companions

These prints

The smaller size is eminently collectible and very affordable.
The larger size is simply stunning.

Printed to your individual order, should a misfortune befall the artist or his master printer, the full edition will not be published, thus increasing their rarity. This strictly numbered limited edition is offered in a choice of 2 sizes.
Two sizes does not mean 2 sets of limited editions, for example there will only be one print number “72” regardless of the size ordered.

We can only offer this choice because we are very fortunate to have found a dedicated and enthusiastic printer with the most modern equipment available.
He and Gordon Frickers work closely, the proofing entails numerous visits by the artist to the printer and in this case the original was kindly loaned, just as well as a reshoot proved necessary.

Very soon after this moment, according to the log of the Victory, as soon as the light permitted flags to be distinguished, Nelson made his first signal of the day.
This signal, No 72 – general, (to all his fleet), was for the order of sailing in two columns; the British attack began.

The basic scene

The basic scene is from studies made on-board the Victory. Gordon Frickers took full advantage of the privilege of unrestricted access to the ship, the full cooperation of her curator Peter Goodwin and her then Commander. At his own expense, with a letter of introduction from Victory’s commander, Gordon Frickers travelled to Brest, Paris, London, Liverpool, Madrid, San Sebastian Naval base, Cadiz and visited Cape Trafalgar to study source material.

The principal sources studied by the artist were the logs, journals, official letters, ships plans and maps known to have been compiled at the time by those present and the reports written after battle by the survivors, officers & men from both fleets. The evidence of the British logs and journals are indirectly confirmed by the diagrams drawn and reports written by the French & Spanish officers present at the battle.

The order of the combined fleet was also described in detail by the Franco – Spanish officers and is reflected in our painting.
It is possible to identify all the ships in the fleet including the signal frigates & corvettes. The artist retains copies of many of these documents and others related for example the report of the 1913 Admiralty Committee.

A typical Quote from diaries & journals

“I was awakened by the cheers of the crew & their rushing on deck …” Lt. Barclay.
This excitement was repeated on most of the other British ships.
The officers were expecting this dawn spectacle, the men were not, hence the reaction.

“I was awoken by the crew rushing on deck by their cheering”
“A brightening sky had revealed to the East, the French & Spanish fleets” A/S Brown HMS Victory
“like a great wood on our lee bow” (from NNE to SSW)
“the eastern horizon was beautifully adorned with French and Spanish ensigns” (9/10 miles leeward) Lt. Barclay, Britannia
“like a forest of masts rising from the ocean, and as the morning got light we were satisfied it was the enemy” – a seaman on Revenge
“I was awakened by the cheers of the crew & by their rushing up the hatchways to get a glimpse” – officer on Belleisle

The Painting

The original painting, sold in 1996 into a private collection for £4,000.00 was valued in October 2004 at £12,000.00

The dawn appears as if to a crew member standing on the ship’s belfry.
The scene is based on eye witness accounts from both fleets and sketches made by Gordon Frickers whilst on-board HMS Victory, which were later developed in his studio.

Five minutes after the informal moment depicted, at 06.10, according to the log of the Victory, as soon as the light permitted flags to be distinguished, Nelson made his first signal of the day, No 72, general, (to all his fleet), for the order of sailing in two columns, the British attack began.

The Admiralty appointed Committee of 1913 wrote; “The sun rose behind the Franco – Spanish fleet which, in the earlier hours of daylight, was in a very favourable position for observing the British.
Several officers whose rank & quarters or station in their own ships gave them exceptional facilities for seeing the British fleet during those hours officially reported their belief that the British fleet was not in regular order when sighted. The evidence of the British logs & the French reports is indirectly confirmed by a great variety of diagrams drawn by the French & Spanish officers present at the battle”. The order of the combined fleet was also described in detail by the Franco – Spanish officers & reflected in our painting in which it is possible to identify all the ships in the fleet including the signal frigates & corvettes.

HMS Victory is to this day still a Royal Navy flagship.
The basic scene is from studies made on-board the “Victory”.
Gordon Frickers was given unrestricted access to the ship by her Captain, and the cooperation of Peter Goodwin, Keeper and curator.
Gordon took full advantage of the privilege, his name often appearing on daily orders.

The research for this work in Europe included visiting Brest, Madrid, Cadiz and the Naval base at San Sebastian where he was the guest of the port Admiral and the curator of the Navel Museum.
This was achieved with the help of representatives of the Plymouth twinning committee and the office des Jumalages de la Ville de Brest, in particular Professor Michel Malgon.
Additionally Gordon Frickers carried a letter of introduction from the Captain of HMS Victory which undoubtedly helped him gain access to some very rare archives.

As with all his Nelson and Trafalgar paintings he has read and studied much first hand material, journals, log books, officer’s sketches and reports, even 2 Spanish books entirely on the subject of the weather in October 1805! At San Sebastian in 1996, the curator in serious vein told Gordon Frickers the British accounts of the battle were wrong, propaganda, a great British secret, the reality being the Spanish destroyed 4 British ships of the line.
This was not entirely surprising as a similar story appeared about 6 weeks after the battle, in Paris in the journal recognised as Napoleon’s mouth piece.

Every last rope on Victory, you can even tell which were shroud laid, was checked by Peter Goodwin, Victory’s Keeper.
The fleet on the horizon is taken from sketches made by officers in both fleets present on the day so is about as accurate as one can get. The movements of the men, their positions, body language, age, the cut and fashions of their cloths & even hair styles result from very extensive research, as is the equipment, appearance & position of Victory & the other ships depicted.
Even down to which way the rigging was laid on Victory.
All is as historically accurate as the most though research could make it at the time.

Consequently this is not only a fine picture but also an historical document – very collectible!


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Gordon Frickers © Updated 19.03.15

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Gordon Frickers © 20.03.15


Typical Minutiae of detail

Some examples of the minutiae of detail included such finer points as:

  • Every 6th ratline passed to the swifter
  • Pike racks approx 7′ long.
    Cleats tied to shrouds about 3rd ratline up
  • Shrouds ½ diameter of mast divided by 3 = 5½ inches thick.
  • Shroud ends turn back, differ port & starboard
  • Sail cloths, 2′, 1½ inch seams.

Typical General working notes

Discussion about focsle, weather boarded or netted with hammocks.
Progress book, 1801 – 1803 refit, Public records Office.
Elderly officer – discussion on how old & how portly!
The heart fitted at the end of the main stay near the fore mast was made of wood, at first it appeared metallic in the painting, and this was adjusted.
Discussed at length the likely guns on the focsle, settled as most likely, carronade.

Every detail was a subject for re-evaluation & detailed discussion between the Artist & many experts, in particular Peter Goodwin.

Special thanks to the Plymouth twinning office and to the Office des Jumalages et Relations Internationales de la ville de Brest and the Naval attaché of the Spanish Embassy in Paris.

This painting has been reproduced in Peter Goodwin’s book, Nelson’s Ships.

Some Sources consulted included

Frequent visits to the ship HMS Victory.
Peter Goodwin, I. Eng AMIMarE. Historical Consultant, keeper of HMS Victory, H.M. Naval Base, Portsmouth.
Royal Naval Museum, Heritage Area, including Dr Colin White
Liverpool Maritime Museum,
The Tate Gallery, Liverpool
Plymouth Library, Naval Reference section
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Naval base Museum, San Sebastian, Cadiz
Museo Naval, Paseo del Prado, 5 – 28071, Madrid,
Town hall, Cadiz
Universidad de Cadiz
Musee de la Marin,
Palais de Chaillot, Paris
Service Historique de Marine, Chateau de Vincennes, Armees.
Musee de la Marine, la Châteaux, Brest
Carpenters Stores Expenses, HMS Victory, October 1805, Museum ref 1064/83, record 2376
Report of the 1913 Committee

Log of George Almy, 2nd Master & Pilot, H.M.S. Pickle
Log of Robert Louthanean, Master, Polyphemus
Log of Joseph Seymour, Master, Conqueror
Log of Conqueror
Journal of Lieut.
John Barclay, Britannia
Journal of Captain J.N. Morris, Colossus
Journal of Captain Henry Digby, Africa
Log of Thomas Webb, Master, Agamemnon
Journal & Log of Captain Thomas F. Freemantle, Neptune
Log of Thomas Atkinson, Master, Victory
Quotes from journals of the day, various sources

The Line of battle, series editor R. Gardiner, Conway Maritime Press 1992 (ISBN 0 85177 561 6)

Sailing ships of War, Dr F. Howard, Conway Maritime Press (ISBN 0 85177 138 6)

Masts & Rigging of English Ships of War, James Lee, Conway Maritime Press (ISBN 0 85177 290 0)

The Wooden World, N A M Rogers, Fontana Press (ISBN 0 00 686152 0)

Manual of Seamanship, Vol 1, 1908, H.M. Stationary Office

The Trafalgar Campaign, The Naval Campaign of 1805, Vol 2, by Edouard Desbriere, Chef D’Escadron de Cavalerie Brevete Chef de la Section Historique de L’Etat – Major de l’Armee, translated by C Eastwick Oxford University Press 1933.

The Anatomy of the 100 gun ship Victory, John McKay, Conway maritime Press 1987 (ISBN 0 85177 444X)

Uniforms of Trafalgar, John Fabb & Jack Cassin-Scott, Batsford, London, 1977 (ISBN 0 7134 0218 0 (hardback), 0 7134 0219 0 (Paperback)).

Sir Home Popham’s telegraphic Code, 1803 version.

The Life of Nelson, The Embodiment of The Sea Power of Great Britain, second edition, Captain A T Mahan, DCL, LLD, United States Navy.

The Trafalgar and Nelson stories are awash with myths, legends and propaganda; rather like BBC reporting on the Middle east today.

~ ~ ~ ~

Frickers guidance note on separating facts from fictions:

Most accounts of the Battle of Trafalgar story vary and they are full of errors, the majority of plans and paintings are equally misleading..

Here are some places to start.

WE must ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Are readers given a plausible explanation?
  2. Who is the source?
  3. Is he really in a position to know what he claims? Has the reporter provided enough background info on the source to help us make our own judgment?
  4. Why can’t he be identified for the story?
  5. What are the source’s possible motives and those of the reporter?
  6. Is they fudging anything?
  7. Could the info have been obtained on the record from somewhere else?

Gordon Frickers © 25.03.15


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