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Hand-drawn battle plan discovered of Trafalgar battle

21 October 2019

Battle map of Trafalgar shown inside scrapbook

Battle map of Trafalgar shown inside scrapbook

Just in time for the 214th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar on Monday, The National Museum of the Royal Navy has unveiled its latest exhibit - a plan of the battle, hand-drawn by Admiral Lord Nelson himself, that has been tucked inside the pages of a scrapbook for the last 200 years.

The simple drawing (pictured above) which, admits Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy, looks at first glance little more than a few lines on a small piece of paper, is in fact a hugely exciting discovery that offers an unrivalled insight into Nelson’s plans before Trafalgar.

Watch: Andrew Baines, Deputy Director of Heritage looks at the map and talks about its hidden history.

The map was unearthed by Nelson historian and biographer Martyn Downer, among the pages of a scrapbook dating from the 1830s that was recently sold at auction. The sketch sits alongside an address leaf bearing Nelson’s signature and is dated 5th September 1805, during his last days in England.

Presented to The National Museum, the pencil sketch shows Nelson’s plan to split his fleet into three divisions to break and destroy the enemy line coming out of Cadiz harbour. Lines show the wind direction and Nelson’s plan to attack the enemy line across the wind, sailing faster and therefore having the advantage.

Says Mr Downer, “This fragment of pencil sketch is simultaneously a very intimate and vivid artefact, giving us an exceptional insight into Nelson’s thinking and planning ahead of the battle. Its survival is quite remarkable, having been hidden away between the pages of a young lady’s scrap book for the best part of 200 years.”

Commenting on the addition the collection, Professor Tweddle said: "This is an astounding discovery, it shows that Nelson had thought deeply about how he would defeat the combined French and Spanish fleets long before he ever set foot on HMS Victory. We are immensely excited to add this find to our rich collections."

The map, still in the original scrapbook, will go on display for the day on Monday 21st October to coincide with Trafalgar Day, which will be marked with a ceremony aboard HMS Victory and the annual flying of the famous flag signal "England expects that every man will do his duty" from the masts of the historic ship. The map will be displayed permanently from spring 2020 in the museum’s refurbished Victory Gallery.

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