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Old 05-12-2019, 07:45 AM
Horatio Hellpop is offline
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Admiral Nelson's Corpse Q

There's a charming song called "A Drop of Nelson's Blood." Supposedly, after Lord Admiral Nelson was killed at Trafalgar, they put his dead body in the last remaining barrel of rum to preserve it. On the arduous journey back to England, some of the sailors took to putting long straws through a tiny hole in the top, to get a mouthful of the only rum left on the ship. By the time they pulled into port, the corpse was bone dry. "A drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm..."

I have my doubts about the story, of course. For one thing, Trafalgar isn't all that far from Portsmouth, 2-3 days tops unless they're fighting headwinds, so this ghoulish drinking frenzy would have had to happen over a matter of hours, not weeks. I couldn't find online how long it actually took them to bring Nelson's body home. Do any history buffs have this info handy? Could any part of this story plausibly have happened?
Old 05-12-2019, 08:03 AM
bonzer is offline
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It's a fairly length story, but the National Archives lays out the dates. He went into the brandy cask on October 22nd and reached Gibraltar in it on the 28th. The body, having undergone various different encasements, then doesn't reach London until December.

Last edited by bonzer; 05-12-2019 at 08:03 AM.
Old 05-12-2019, 08:05 AM
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Telperion is offline
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I've heard this story before, and I agree that it doesn't seem plausible. The details of how the body was preserved are recounted here, and long story short there was a lot of booze involved, but mostly it was brandy.
Old 05-12-2019, 08:24 AM
Horatio Hellpop is offline
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Ah, okay! I'm comparing the sailing time to a transatlantic journey (6-8 weeks under good conditions) and this journey had long storms, a hurricane, and heavily damaged ships towing other heavily damaged ships, in addition to the French navy still trying to recover their captured ships en route.
Old 05-12-2019, 11:06 AM
bibliophage is offline
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A similar tale is told of one of my ancestors. I actually e-mailed the great folklore scholar Jan Brunvand about it many years ago, and he pointed me to his analysis of the legend in The Choking Doberman (1984). He calls the legend "The Corpse in the Cask." The story is told about many different people at many different times and places. In addition to Nelson, Brunvand notes the case of General Edward Pakenham, the British officer who was killed at the Battle of New Orleans (1815). According to this version of the story, the ship carrying his body was diverted to South Carolina, where the locals sampled the wine he was stored in.

Is any version of the story true? Nobody knows for sure, but the fact that it's told with about so many people with minor variations suggests to me that it's a legend with no basis except in the imagination of the original teller.

More information here:
Old 05-12-2019, 05:12 PM
Mk VII is offline
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From Doctor Beattie's statement:-

On the day after the battle, as soon as circumstances permitted the
Surgeon to devote a portion of his attention to the care of Lord
NELSON'S honoured Remains, measures were adopted to preserve them as
effectually as the means then on board the Victory allowed. On the
Surgeon's examining the nature of the wound, and the course of the
ball, a quantity of blood was evacuated from the left side of the
breast: none had escaped before. The ball was traced by a probe to the
spine, but its lodgement could not at that time be discovered. There was
no lead on board to make a coffin: a cask called a leaguer, which is of
the largest size on shipboard, was therefore chosen for the reception of
the Body; which, after the hair had been cut off, was stripped of the
clothes except the shirt, and put into it, and the Cask was then filled
with brandy.*

In the evening after this melancholy task was accomplished, the gale
came on with violence from the south-west, and continued that night and
the succeeding day without any abatement. During this boisterous
weather, Lord NELSON'S Body remained under the charge of a sentinel on
the middle deck. The cask was placed on its end, having a closed
aperture at its top and another below; the object of which was, that as
a frequent renewal of the spirit was thought necessary, the old could
thus be drawn off below and a fresh quantity introduced above, without
moving the cask, or occasioning the least agitation of the Body. On the
24th there was a disengagement of air from the Body to such a degree,
that the sentinel became alarmed on seeing the head of the cask raised:
he therefore applied to the Officers, who were under the necessity of
having the cask spiled to give the air a discharge. After this, no
considerable collection of air took place. The spirit was drawn off
once, and the cask filled again, before the arrival of the Victory at
Gibraltar (on the 28th of October): where spirit of wine was procured;
and the cask, shewing a deficit produced by the Body's absorbing a
considerable quantity of the brandy, was then filled up with it.


At length the Victory arrived at Spithead, after a tedious passage of
nearly five weeks from Gibraltar: and as no instructions respecting His
LORDSHIP'S Remains were received at Portsmouth while the ship remained
there, and orders being transmitted to Captain HARDY for her to proceed
to the Nore, the Surgeon represented to him the necessity of examining
the state of the Body; common report giving reason to believe that it
was intended to lie in state at Greenwich Hospital, and to be literally
exposed to the public. On the 11th of December therefore, the day on
which the Victory sailed from Spithead for the Nore, Lord NELSON'S Body
was taken from the cask in which it had been kept since the day after
his death. On inspecting it externally, it exhibited a state of perfect
preservation, without being in the smallest degree offensive. There
were, however, some appearances that induced the Surgeon to examine the
condition of the bowels; which were found to be much decayed, and likely
in a short time to communicate the process of putrefaction to the rest
of the Body: the parts already injured were therefore removed. It was at
this time that the fatal ball was discovered: it had passed through the
spine, and lodged in the muscles of the back, towards the right side,
and a little below the shoulder-blade. A very considerable portion of
the gold-lace, pad, and lining of the epaulette, with a piece of the
coat, was found attached to the ball: the lace of the epaulette was as
firmly so, as if it had been inserted into the metal while in a state of

*Brandy was recommended by the Surgeon in preference to rum, of which
spirit also there was plenty on board. This circumstance is here noticed,
because a very general but erroneous opinion was found to prevail on the
Victory's arrival in England, that rum preserves the dead body from decay
much longer and more perfectly than any other spirit, and ought therefore
to have been used: but the fact is quite the reverse, for there are several
kinds of spirit much better for that purpose than rum; and as their
appropriateness in this respect arises from their degree of strength, on
which alone their antiseptic quality depends, brandy is superior. Spirit of
wine, however, is certainly by far the best, when it can be procured.
Old 05-15-2019, 09:08 AM
Elendil's Heir is online now
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Dr. Stephen Maturin, a naturalist as well as a surgeon in Patrick O'Brian's terrific series of Napoleonic naval adventure novels, several times notes the usefulness of spirit of wine for preserving specimens, including in The Fortune of War, which I just finished.
Old 05-15-2019, 09:24 AM
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When I first read the thread title, my first thought was "But Richard Basehart died a long time ago. What are they doing with his corpse?"
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