On this day in history : 9th January 1806 – The state funeral of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson takes place at St. Paul’s Cathedral….
Nelson had been killed at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st of October 1805 after being shot by a French musket-man…. His body was preserved in spirit and carried back to England onboard HMS Victory…. The usual practice was to bury the dead at sea but Nelson’s second in command, Lord Collingwood, knew the nation would wish to mourn and honour this greatest of naval heroes….
HMS Victory eventually arrived at Greenwich on the 23rd of December…. Lord Nelson’s body was then transferred to the Commissioner’s yacht and arrived at Greenwich Hospital on the 24th – where he lay in state in the Painted Hall for 3 days, from the 5th to 7th of January 1806….
Nelson had been placed inside a coffin made from the main-mast of the L’Orient – a French ship that had been destroyed at the Battle of the Nile…. This had then been placed into a lead coffin which was soldered up – and then this in turn was enclosed in yet another coffin, made from elm…. The first mourner to pay his respects was the Prince of Wales – and over the following days it is thought as many as 100,000 visited….
On the 8th of January Lord Nelson was transported up the River Thames onboard the King’s Barge…. A large canopy, festooned with black ostrich feathers, was placed over the coffin and a two-mile procession of boats followed the barge….
On arriving at Whitehall Steps, near to Westminster, Nelson was taken to the Admiralty in Whitehall…. The following day was dry and bright….30,000 troops and many thousands of public lined the streets to watch the procession from Whitehall to St. Paul’s Cathedral…. Nelson’s ornate funeral carriage had been designed to look like HMS Victory…. It was accompanied by royalty, nobility, ministers, high-ranking military officers and over 10,000 soldiers….
7,000 attended the funeral service, which began at 1pm and ended at 6pm…. The coffin was placed within a marble sarcophagus in the crypt of the cathedral – a resting place which had originally been intended for Cardinal Wolsey…. As the ship’s flag was removed from the coffin it was seized by HMS Victory’s seamen – who ripped it into pieces so they could each keep a personal momento….