Saturday, December 31, 2011

One from the vaults... Letters from Lord Nelson

Compiled by: Geoffrey Rawson

Publication Date: 1949

Category: Adult non-fiction, history, letters.

Who'll want to read it? History lovers, romance and intrigue lovers. Anyone who'd like to learn how to write a letter.

I can't remember what I was looking for in our basement stack when I found this book. But I do feel  rather drawn to Lord Nelson, having stayed in his namesake hotel in Sydney several times. And then I couldn't help feeling deeply intrigued when I opened the book and found a facsimile of the first letter Nelson wrote with his left hand - fifteen days after having his right arm amputated in 1797.

It does feel a bit odd reading private letters that weren't meant for my eyes, but it is interesting. I didn't read the book from cover to cover, just flipped through different periods of Nelson's life between 1777 and 1805. Amidst the voyages, the battles, the promotions and the successes I found something I wasn't expecting - the story of Lord Nelson's love life. I didn't know Nelson had a scandalous affair with Lady Hamilton and cut off all contact with his wife.

In 1795 he had written to his wife "It is with inexpressible pleasure I have received within these two days past your letters,... I rejoice that my conduct gives you pleasure, and I trust I shall never do anything which will bring a blush on your face, or on that of any of my friends..." pg 100. And in 1797 "Rest assured of my most perfect love, affection, and esteem for your person and character, which the more I see of the world, the more I must admire.." pg 150.

Obviously Lady Hamilton challenged Lord Nelson's loyalty and allegiance to his wife at some stage. I felt so sorry for Lady Nelson reading this passage written to Alexander Davison in 1801:

"...You will, at a proper time, and before my arrival in England, signify to Lady N. that I expect, and for which I have made such a very liberal allowance to her, to be left to myself, and without any enquiries from her; for sooner than live the unhappy life I did when last I came to England, I would stay abroad forever." pg 322.

Although the whole saga of Nelson, his lover Emma Hamilton and Lady Nelson is fascinating, I found it was Nelson's letters regarding his voyages and battles and history making moments that had my heart pumping. Imagine being the recipient of this letter written on March 10, 1795: "To Mrs Nelson - We are just in sight of the French Fleet, and a signal is out for the general chase. We have but little wind, and unfortunately the enemy are in-shore of us.." And a report from April 1, 1795 "To Mrs Nelson - I am absolutely, my dearest Fanny, at this moment in the horrors, fearing from our idling here, that the active enemy may send out two or three Sail of the Line, and some Frigates, to intercept our convoy... In short, I wish to be an Admiral, and in command of the English Fleet.." pg 103.

The letters also cover Nelson's eventual promotion to Admiral, the Battle of Trafalgar and the leadup to his death in that battle in 1805.

October 10th, 1805 "My dear Blackwood, Keep your five Frigates, Weazle and Pickle, and let me know every movement. I rely on you, that we can't miss getting hold of them, and I will give them such a shaking as they never yet experienced; at least I will lay down my life in the attempt..." pg 453

October 19th, 1805 "To Lady Hamilton, My dearest beloved Emaa, the dear friend of my bosom... May the God of Battles crown my endeavours with success; at all events, I will take care that my name shall ever be most dear to you and Horatia, both of whom I love as much as my own life. And as my last writing before the Battle will be to you, so I hope in God that I shall live to finish my letter after the battle. May Heaven bless you ..." pg 453-4

Although Nelson completed some more diary entries, he was mortally wounded on the 21st October and did not finish the letter to Emma Hamilton. After reading bits of this book I found myself looking at other books and web-sites so that I could dig up more about Lord Nelson, Lady Nelson, Lady Hamilton and Horatia Nelson. That's what I love about books - how one volume can tease and inspire and lead you off in all sorts of directions.

Speaking of detours, below is a photograph I took outside the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel at The Rocks in Sydney a few years ago. It was a lovely day in May, with few clouds in the sky. It certainly wasn't foggy, so is the misty effect some ectoplasmic substance attached to one of the ghosts doing the rounds at The Rocks or is it just a trick of the light?

Publisher: Staples Press

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Love your library!

I know that I'm a little biased about libraries. They are, quite obviously, important to me. However, they are not just my livelihood. Libraries are an integral part of who I am.

My earliest memories of books and libraries are all wrapped up together. We had a library basket, a big cane one, that was always kept in the one place. We trooped to our local library every Saturday morning, as part of a ritual I have continued with my own family. Saturday is library-and-morning-tea-day. Although Newcastle doesn't have anything like the Moons Bakery of my memory (which may now reside in Uralla, and not in Armidale Mall), it certainly doesn't lack for places to buy good food to eat.

Neither does it lack for libraries. My local library is the beautiful Wallsend District Library, and if you haven't yet been, I recommend that you go. It is Newcastle's newest library, and well worth a visit. The exhibition space is always worth checking out, as is the artwork around the library - especially the charcoal drawing in the Young Adult area, and the storyboards for Puttikan hanging in the Children's Section.

But don't neglect the others! They all have their charm, and different selections. My parents continue the family routine at Hamilton Library, and New Lambton Library is wonderfully hectic on a Saturday morning, with the Toy Library (run by volunteers) downstairs. City Library houses not only the lending library on the ground floor, but also the Information and Research Centre on the first floor (with extended stack collection in the basement), and the Lovett Gallery and Local Studies Section on the second floor. Mayfield Library has quite a selection of horror books, and the gardens at Lambton Library are truly spectacular. I could go on about the other branches, but I really think you should go visit them yourself.

To get back to the point of this post...

As a lover of libraries, and everything they represent, I was extremely gratified to come across the following two articles. Although they touch on the same issue, they showcase vastly different perspectives. The first, a story about mysterious paper sculptures apearing in Scottish libraries, highlights how deeply libraries can inspire and influence someone on a very personal level. The second, about a successful campaign against the closure of libraries in Britain, shows that libraries are an essential service, and are there for everyone, no matter what age, race, gender, religion, ability, economic status, etc. For those of you who are legally inclined, you can read the full text of the decision mentioned in the second article here.

In a time when the finances seem to be continually stretched, book shops are disappearing, and everything seems to be online, I find it quite scary that libraries around the world are facing closure. Where will we go to use computers, if we can't afford them, or if our personal computers break down? How will our children learn valuable research skills, to expand their horizons, to explore and question? Where will we go to find a BOOK?

Enjoy your local library!

Alison’s Rocky Road Wreath

One of the recipes submitted at Wallsend District Library's Christmas Trivia.


125g marshmallows, coarsely chopped
½ x 250g pack Arnott’s Choc Ripple Biscuits, coarsely chopped
½ cup unsalted chopped macadamia nuts
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup shredded coconut, toasted
50g unsalted butter, chopped
200g dark chocolate, chopped
200g milk chocolate, chopped
200g white chocolate, chopped
Glace cherries and spearmint leaves to decorate

  • Grease a 20cm ring pan. Line base, sides and centre ring with baking paper.
  • Combine marshmallows, biscuits, nuts, raisins and coconut in a large bowl.
  • In a separate medium heatproof bowl, combine butter, dark and milk chocolate. Sit bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted, and smooth. Pour into marshmallow mixture, stir until combined. Spoon mixture into prepared pan, pressing down firmly.
  • Melt white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Pour over rocky road in prepared pan. Decorate with cherries and spearmint leaves. Refrigerate.
  • Remove rocky road from pan. Wrap in cellophane and tie with ribbon.