A crowdfunding effort has been launched to try and buy the medicine cabinet that belonged to Lord Nelson’s surgeon Sir William Beatty.
The wooden apothecary case caused quite a splash when it emerged for sale on the antique marketplace 2Covet.
Members of the Royal Medical Service want to raise enough money so they can secure it for the planned visitor centre and museum at the former Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in Gosport, Hampshire.
The site of the hospital was bought by the Admiralty in 1745 and when it was completed a few years later it was the biggest brick building in Europe.
It was where Dr James Lind helped discover a cure for scurvy and where psychiatric treatments were developed.
The hospital developed the first blood bank and treated casualties from all the major wars and conflicts until it was decommissioned in 2007.
It was also the subject of an archaeological dig by TV’s Time Team programme that discovered nearly 8,000 graves.
While much of the site has been developed, it is hoped that the hospital’s memory will continue through a visitor centre and museum dedicated to the Royal Navy medical and dental services.
The dealer who owns the cabinet, Charles Wallrock, has reduced the asking price and reserved it to give fundraisers time to find £15,500.
The cabinet is dated 1803 and would most likely have been at Trafalgar two years later – a battle that saw Nelson’s navy defeat the combined fleets of France and Spain.
The portable cabinet stands just over 10 inches high and opens to reveal drawers and shelves, with two original glass jars remaining.
Beatty was unable to save Nelson who died knowing that his forces had triumphed.
The cabinet would have contained a variety of tinctures from laudanum to cures for venereal disease.
Beatty was appointed to Victory in December 1804 having previously served on a number of ships.
Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Jo Laird is leading the campaign to raise the money.
She said: “When we saw the cabinet it struck us as such an important artefact that we ought to try and buy it for the new museum planned for the Haslar site.
“Beatty is a hugely important figure in the history of naval medicine and surgery and to have something connected with him and Nelson would be wonderful.
“We set up a crowdfunding page and the response has been amazing, but we still need to raise more money to secure it.
“If we manage to raise more than the cost we’ll invest the money in a display case for the cabinet.”
Charles Wallrock, who runs Wick Antiques in Lymington, Hants, said: “I think it would be wonderful if this were put on display in a museum.
“I have reduced the asking price for the crowdfunding target and reserved it to give campaigners the chance of securing it.
“I bought it from a collector who had owned it for many years so its existence came as a surprise to many.
“The case is portable with a handle on top so Beatty was able to carry it around. On it is written his details: ‘William Beatty, warranted surgeon. RN. 1803.’
“It was Beatty who confirmed to the world that Nelson’s final words at Trafalgar were ‘thank God I have done my duty’.
“He also confirmed that Nelson asked his great friend Hardy to kiss him, which he did twice.
“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.
“This cabinet would have been full of tinctures, potions and medicines that were required as a matter of routine on a man o’ war such as Victory.
“It is a fascinating glimpse into the past, not only of naval history but medical history.
“Beatty was an Irish surgeon who rose through the ranks and served on a number of ships before becoming the surgeon on Victory just over a year before Trafalgar.
“He went on to become Physician of the Channel Fleet and was active in promoting the new vaccine against smallpox.
“Later he was appointed Physician at Greenwich Hospital and also Physician Extraordinary to King George IV in Scotland.
“He served on the committee that organised the building of Nelson’s column and remained an important member of London’s business and scientific community. He died in 1842 aged 68.”
To help save the cabinet for the nation the link is: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-a-part-of-royal-navy-medical-history
For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 07788392965
Notes to editors:
2Covet is an online platform for people to ‘shop the exquisite’. Top dealers only are permitted to sell but all are permitted to buy.
Its three directors are dealers Charles Wallrock and Steve Sly and web expert Zara Rowe.
Launched in 2019, the platform experienced steady growth then accelerated during the 2020 Covid lockdown.
It now has dozens of dealers from the UK and abroad and is shaking up the antiques market.
For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 07788392965 or at firstname.lastname@example.org