Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805) is one of the most celebrated figures in British history, best remembered for his heroic efforts during the Napoleonic wars.
Nelson's career as a naval officer saw him lead the British fleet to several victories, during which he suffered injuries such as the loss of his right arm and the sight in his right eye.
His most famous victory came in October 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the Royal Navy decimated the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies.
Prior to the battle, Nelson sent out the famous message "England expects that every man will do his duty". Tragically, he was shot by a French sharpshooter and died on board his ship the HMS Victory just hours after victory had been assured.
His body was later returned to England where he was granted a state funeral, and numerous monuments were erected in his honour, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.
This tortoiseshell composition snuff box was originally owned by Lord Nelson, and features a miniature watercolour scene of the Amalfi coast on the top.
The box was gifted by Nelson to his personal secretary George Unwin, during a dinner party in Sicily in late 1798 or early 1799 which was also attended by Emma, Lady Hamilton.
Nelson had first met Hamilton in 1793 when he came to gather reinforcements against the French, and the pair were reunited in 1798 following Battle of the Nile.
Having been severely injured, Nelson recuperated in Naples, during which time he was nursed back to health by Lady Emma and her elderly husband Sir William Hamilton.
It was during this period that Nelson and Hamilton began their famous love affair, which lasted until Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar.
It seems highly possible that Nelson gave this gift to Unwin as a show of generosity, in an attempt to impress his future mistress over dinner.
The snuff box is offered along with a manuscript letter by Unwin's son George, which reads in full:
"My Father had either lost his own snuff box on going ashore or in some shop in Palermo and upon mentioning the circumstances at Lady Hamilton’s table where Lord Nelson was one of the party his Lordship handed over to him this identical box and desired him to keep it until he could get a better one."
The box was later passed down to Unwin's own son George, then via his wife Anne Oxenham to her brother Rev. William Oxenham, and by descent through the family for several generations.
A beautiful item from one of Britain’s most famous heroes, and perhaps a small piece of one of history's greatest love affairs.