The figure of Admiral Nelson upon drum-shaped pedestal were surrounded by a railing expressed as pikes linked by a twisted cable, with, at each corner, an upturned cannon supporting a cluster of pikes and a ship's lantern. The under life-size figure of Nelson is shown in a realistic manner:(1) the pose is casual and he wears naval uniform displaying the empty sleeve of his missing arm, with no symbolic allusions other than the pedestal group described above. Less realistic is the out-of-scale portrayal of his flagship, 'Victory', against which he leans.
Westmacott was paid £2,500 for Birmingham's memorial to Nelson, a sum raised within a few months, mainly in small donations from working class subscribers. The general public interest in the memorial was also demonstrated in the weeks of debate at all levels to decide what form it should take.(3) Indeed, as well as being an example of the typically 19th century concern with improving public taste, the work was a reflection of the increasing force of local aspirations. This helps to explain why the Birmingham monument is without the large scale, the classic grandeur or heroic plinth of those erected elsewhere, such as Flaxman's in St. Paul's or the Liverpool monument by M.C. Wyatt. The statue was unveiled as part of the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of George III. A hand bill was issued by the sculptor describing the figure and the original pedestal with its low-relief depiction of 'the town of Birmingham, murally crowned, in a dejected attitude [is] represented mourning her loss; she is accompanied by Groups of Genii, or children, in allusion to the rising race, who offer her consolation by bringing her the Trident and Rudder'.(4) This was the first publicly-funded statue to be erected in Birmingham and the first memorial to Nelson to be erected in Britain. It was moved in 1961 during the development of the Bull Ring area and then re-sited in its present location, with a new plain pedestal and without lamps. As a consequence, the particular association with the City of Birmingham has been lost to today's viewer.(5)
Admiral Horation Nelson (1758-1805) became an officer of the British Navy in 1777, only six years after first going to sea. He fought in the American Revolutionary War and soon earned popular acclaim as well as service honours at the battles of Cape St. Vincent in 1797 and the Nile in 1798. His scandalous private life with Lady Hamilton had little effect on his popularity, and he made a visit to Birmingham in 1802, diverting from Worcester to the acclamation of a large crowd.(2) He sailed against the fleets of Napolean in 1803, meeting his end triumphantly at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st September 1805. He was given a state funeral and burial in St. Paul's Cathedral.
PMSA recording information