THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
by Nixon, Strand, London,London silver hallmarks for 1752
by Nixon, Strand, London,London silver hallmarks for 1752
with earlier curved fullered blade double-edged towards the point, stamped with an orb mark and a further mark on each face, silver hilt cast and chased in low relief, including down-turned shell-guard pierced with a symmetrical arrangement of scrolling foliage within a roped frame, knuckle-guard and cap pommel decorated en suite, and fluted horn grip with a chased silver collar at the base, in its original leather-covered wooden scabbard with engraved silver locket incorporating a suspension hook and signed by the cutler on the reverse (the blade with patches of pitting and sharpening wear, the hilt evidently repaired in the 1780s and struck with a contemporary maker’s mark, TS, the scabbard leather with extensive wear and losses, the chape missing, the locket cracked)
Captain Galfridus Walpole (1683-1726).
Captain Maurice Suckling (1726-28).
Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805).
Lieutenant Maurice William Suckling (1761-1820).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Commander W.E.May, R.N. & P.G.W.Annis, The Galfridus Walpole – Suckling sword, in , Swords for Sea Service, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 1970, vol. I, pp.103-105, reproduced, in part, below:
On 26 March 1711, the LION, 60, Captain Galfridus Walpole (1683-1726), fought an action with four French 60-gun ships in Vado Bay, in the Mediterranean. In this action Walpole lost his right arm. He died in 1726, three weeks after the birth of Maurice Suckling (1726-1788), grandson of his sister Mary (1673-1701). This Maurice entered the Royal Navy and the family was particularly proud of his services in command of the DREADNOUGHT, 60, at the action off Cape Francois on 21 October, 1757. He married another Mary Walpole (1726-1764), daughter of Horatio Walpole (1678-1757), elder brother of Galfridus. It was this Maurice Suckling's sister Catherine (1725-1767) who became the mother of Horatio Nelson, and he was responsible for the early training of the future Admiral.
The legend runs that Galfridus left the sword which he had worn at Vado to Maurice Suckling (said to have been his godson), that Suckling in turn either gave the sword to Nelson or bequeathed it to him and that Nelson greatly treasured it. The accounts we have of this were written after the death of Nelson. In the first, in reference to Captain Maurice Suckling we read:
'His sword, which Nelson afterwards so much valued, became the property of his liberal friend, Mr William Suckling, of the Custom house, and was by him presented to the Captain on his return to England. The history of this sword is curious, but very difficult to ascertain. It was the opinion of a person, now dead, who was well acquainted with the Walpole family, that this sword originally belonged to the gallant Galfridus Walpole; who on the 26th of March, 1711, lost his right arm in the Mediterranean, when commanding the LION of 60 guns, in action with four French ships, each mounting 60 guns. On marrying a Walpole, Captain Maurice Suckling is thought to have received this sword. His gallant nephew, from the time he possessed it, wore it constantly when on service, and considered it his old and faithful servant, that could never fail to support him in battle'.
The second account runs:
'There is a remarkable circumstance connected with the loss of Lord Nelson's arm, at the expedition against Santa Cruz. In the an earlier part of his life he received a small sword, as a present from his paternal uncle, Captain Suckling. With the sword the youthful Hero received the strong injunction, never to part with it but with his life. The brave Horatio was not likely to violate such a charge. He constantly wore his uncle's valued present: and, with his sword in his hand, he led the attack against Santa Cruz. With his arm, the sword necessarily fell: stunned by the shock, he was for some moments deprived of sensation, but slightly recovering he remembered the injunction, groped for, and fortunately recovered the sword with his left hand, and again relapsed into a state of insensibility. In this manner he was discovered by Mr. Nesbitt, firmly holding the sword.
There is an unfortunate circumstance about these two accounts. Both stem from the same source, for Clarke and M'Arthur were behind the Naval Chronicle . In addition there is the curious fact that in the second quotation the sword is described as a small -sword. It seems most improbable that Nelson would take a small-sword on a night expedition. A cutting weapon would have been so much more useful.
Other tales have become attached to the legend. The first is that when Nelson moved from the AGAMEMNON to the CAPTAIN in 1796 he gave the sword to Lieutenant Maurice William Suckling, who was going home in the former ship because of the death of his elder brother. This Maurice William Suckling (1761-1820) was the great grandson of Robert Suckling (1673-1734), uncle of Captain Maurice Suckling, and had previously served with Nelson in the BOREAS, 1783-1787. If Nelson had given the sword to Suckling on this occasion it would not have been possible for him to have used it at Teneriffe, so another suggestion has been made, that Nelson gave it to him at Yarmouth when he and the Hamiltons landed there on 6 November, 1800, and Suckling drove over from Wolterton to greet him. A third suggestion that has been made is that Nelson still had the sword with him in the VICTORY at Trafalgar and that it was this sword which he forgot to put on. In this case it has been suggested that the sword was brought home by Benjamin William Suckling (1788-1865) grandson of Maurice Suckling's brother William, who served as Midshipman in the flagship and later became a vice-admiral. The story sounds unlikely, and in any case Suckling was not on board the VICTORY at Trafalgar.
The Suckling family at Roos Hall preserve a silver hilted hunting sword, hall marked 1752, but with a cut down German blade which in the opinion of experts may well date from the 17th Century. This is believed to be the Galfridus Walpole sword. There is no mention of the sword in his will, which he made on 17 May, 1726, exactly a week before Maurice Suckling was born. Since he died in the following month he is unlikely to have passed a sword to the infant. The residue of his estate went to his widow for her life and then to his brother Robert, Ist Earl of Orford, who died in 1745. The estate then passed to Robert, the 2nd Earl, who died in 1751 and then to George, the 3rd Earl, who lived until 1797. It seems to us that the date 1751 is rather significant since, as we have seen, the blade was rehilted in 1752. What more likely than that 2nd Earl should have had the sword modernised soon after he inherited it, for in those days it would not have been considered vandalism. When his cousin Mary married Maurice Suckling in 1764, George may well have thought the old sword to be a suitable present for her naval officer bridegroom.
The sword might then have been given by Maurice Suckling on his death bed to his brother for onward transmission to Nelson, but the message concerning its safe keeping sounds to us like a gloss upon the story. It appears quite possible that Nelson should have thought it appropriate to give the sword to Maurice William Suckling when that officer unexpectedly became the Suckling heir. If this were so it would destroy the legend of the sword having been used at Teneriffe but we fear that the idea of the same sword having fallen from the severed right arms of two officers was too fine a notion for the authors to have let slip the temptation to use it.
William Nixon is recorded Over the Sewer, next the Church of St Clement Danes, Strand circa 1745-78.
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