Admiral Nelson’s snuff box, stolen as he lay dying, is put up for auction

June 11, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A silver snuff box stolen by a sneaky sailor from Lord Admiral Nelson’s chamber as he lay dying on the deck of HMS Victory is to be sold at auction.

The 8cm horn-shaped snuff ‘mull’ was taken from Horatio’s private quarters by a coxswain called ‘Sims’ on October 21, 1805.

It was taken the day Nelson was shot and killed during the Battle of Trafalgar and issued his famous words, ‘Kiss Me, Hardy’.

But while he lay dying in the arms of his men Sims – a lowly sailor on the famous ship – walked into his private quarters.

He helped himself to several of Nelson private things including a snuff box and later gave it to his uncle, another sailor called Sims.

On his death bed the uncle bequeathed it to another sailor who worked at Brighton College where he gave it to the principal, Dr John Griffith.

A letter, written by Dr Griffith on May 5, 1891, says the box was taken from Nelson’s private quarters on HMS Victory.

It reads: ”Sims who was coxswain aboard the Victory on 21st of October 1805 obtained for himself from Nelson’s cabin, as was then the habit some of the admiral’s things & among them this horn silver mounted snuff box.

”Coxswain Sims gave it to his Uncle Sims commander of the revenue cutter on guard between Weymouth & New Haven.

”This Sims on his death bed sent for a comande (sic) of his on board the revenue cutter & gave him Nelson’s snuff box. he leaving the service became porter of Brighton College while I was principal.

”After his death his widow gave me this memento of himself & of Lord Nelson, they having no children, as she gave her husband’s medal to my son Arthur for his boy.

”John Griffith May 5, 1891 Hasrock Sussex”.

The mounted snuff box has been passed down through a family and will now to be sold at Bearnes auctioneers in Exeter, Devon.

It has minimum price of £1,600 but it is expected to fetch considerably more and attract international interest during the sale on June 16

Brian Goodison-Blanks, maritime specialist at Bearnes, said records showed seaman Sims was onboard HMS Victory at the time and that Dr Griffith was principle of Brighton College.

He said: ”Nelson is probably the most famous admiral of the Royal Navy. In this case the documentary evidence does corroborate it being Nelson’s snuff box.

”It seems Sims stole into Nelson’s chamber on the day he died, probably as attention was turned to him as he lay dying, and helped himself to something.

”If he had been caught he would have been in deep trouble and probably executed for treason.

”This sort of period, from the late 18th to 19th century, was one of the golden ages of the British Navy, and it tends to prove popular with collectors.”

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought between the Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars.

Nelson’s body was placed in a cask of brandy and returned home.

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