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William Beatty: Surgeon to Admiral Nelson


The Battle of Trafalgar is and always has been one of the most popular events of British History. Much more so, even than the Battle of Waterloo - the battle that had actually defeated Napoleon. Trafalgar is a battle that has a lot to do with national pride, and of course, with its star - Admiral Horatio Nelson. Naturally, Nelson wasn't the only one at the Battle and it's time to meet others present at this astonishing naval victory.


You've visited HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, you've seen Nelson's death jacket at the National Maritime Museum, now it's time to learn more about the surgeon aboard the famous ship, the one who treated the famous Admiral as he lay dying.


The exhibition lets you meet Beatty and immerses you into the ways of Georgian naval medicine of the day. Surprisingly for the times, Beatty had a good record of his on-site amputations - very few resulted in death.


The death of Lord Nelson of course features heavily in the exhibition. The musket ball that struck the Admiral is given particular focus. It's curious to note that the account of this tragic death was brought to the populace by Beatty himself - who penned the memoirs of the battle and the journey home shortly afterwards. Another fact I did not know was that the alcohol which was used to preserve the heroic Admiral's body had to be changed several times on the way to Britain - and it took a whole two months...hence a decision for a closed casket is very understandable. It's impossible not to recall that the lying-in-state happened in the Painted Hall - a few hundred feet from where this exhibition is housed.


The exhibition also follows Beatty's life after Trafalgar - and the way his life circled back to Greenwich, when he took up the post with the Hospital for Retired Seamen, i.e. where the Old Royal Naval College is now.



The most important room of the exhibition is the recreated cockpit of HMS Victory, as it would have appeared at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, including the bloody tools, the noises and even the scent.


I heartily recommend you pay another visit to the Old Royal Naval College and pop into the Visitor Centre for this informative and entertaining exhibition. It's on until 25th March 2023. Book here.


Kiss me, Hardy? Kiss me, Beatty!


Painted Hall, where Nelson's body was brought for lying-in-state
Painted Hall, where Nelson's body was brought for lying-in-state

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