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Well kiss me Hardy, the cabinet of Lord Nelson's surgeon is up for sale

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Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques with the cabinet formerly belonging to Lord Nelson's surgeon
Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques with the cabinet formerly belonging to Lord Nelson's surgeon

A MEDICINE cabinet which belonged to the surgeon who attended Lord Nelson as he died at the Battle of Trafalgar has been offered for sale by a Lymington antique dealer.

Dated to 1803, two years before Nelson was fatally shot on board his flagship HMS Victory, the 10in-high wooden apothecary case belonged to Sir William Beatty.

It is being marketed with a starting price of £16,500 by Charles Wallrock, of Wick Antiques, who speculated it may have been on board HMS Victory at Trafalgar.

“This is a wonderful survivor from the Napoleonic wars,” he said. “It is a fascinating glimpse into the past, not only of naval history but medical history.”

The case is portable with a handle on top and it carries his details: “William Beatty, warranted surgeon. RN. 1803.”

It would have contained a variety of tinctures from laudanum to cures for venereal disease.

It opens to reveal drawers and shelves and has two original glass jars.

Beatty, an Irish surgeon, had been appointed to Victory in December 1804 having previously served on a number of ships.

After Nelson’s death Beatty wrote a detailed account insisting his final words were: “Thank God I have done my duty” – before asking his friend, Royal Navy officer Sir Thomas Hardy, to kiss him.

Mr Wallrock added: “Before he died, Nelson was brought the news that the battle was won and he was able to hear the cheers from the crew whenever an enemy ship surrendered.

“Nelson asked Hardy not to throw him overboard after he died, as was the practice, and it was Beatty who arranged for Nelson’s body to be placed in a barrel of brandy.

“On his return to England, Beatty performed the autopsy on board Victory and subsequently bequeathed the musket ball which killed the admiral to Queen Victoria.

“During the battle Beatty carried out a number of amputations, mainly of legs that had been shattered. His skills and those of his assistants saved many lives.”

Beatty went on to become physician of the Channel Fleet and was active in promoting the new vaccine against smallpox. He was appointed Physician at Greenwich Hospital and also Physician Extraordinary in Scotland to King George IV.

He served on the committee which organised the building of Nelson’s column and remained an important member of London’s business and scientific community until his death in 1842 aged 68.

Mr Wallrock added: “His medicine chest will appeal to all collectors of Napoleonic-era artefacts, Nelsonia and those with an interest in the history of medicine. There might also be institutions which would like to have it.”

The sale of the cabinet is being offered over the 2Covet online platform. Visit 2covet.com

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