Nelson possibly acquired his Emery pocket watch No.1104—or was given it by an admirer—following his triumph at the battle of the Nile in 1798. He certainly lacked the means to purchase such a fine timepiece—which would have cost him at least £100—until his first eye-catching action at the battle of St. Vincent in February 1797. It is also said that he gave the watch he had worn at the Nile to Josef Haydn when he met the composer at Eisenstadt in September 1800, indicating he already had a better replacement. Two years later, during a tour of the Midlands, Nelson was seen using his 'stopwatch' to time the steam presses at Matthew Boulton’s factory in Birmingham. Jonathan Bett's in his series of articles on Emery published in Antiqurian Horology comments that 'it is highly likely that this [watch] was Emery 1104'. On his return to sea in 1803, he wrote his thanks to his mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton for sending him a new: ‘Watch string…for the other was very rotten, and as it comes from Ha [Horatia, their daughter], it is of more value to me than if it was covered with diamonds.’
As the action commenced on the morning of 21 October 1805, William Beatty, the surgeon aboard the Victory observed how Nelson: ‘called Lieutenant Pasco, Mr Ogilvie, and some other officers, near him, and desired them to set their watches by the time of that which His Lordship wore.’ (On Nelson’s orders, Pasco, as duty signal officer, had earlier made the famous signal “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Indeed, it is not far fetched to suggest that the tumultuous events of that historic day unfolded to the time kept by Nelson’s watch.
When Nelson was shot he was taken below to the Orlop deck where he was stripped, to prevent cloth infecting his wound, and his belongings—his watch, purse, medals and a miniature of Emma Hamilton he was wearing—removed for safekeeping. On 16 December—days after Victory’s sombre return to London bearing Nelson’s body preserved in a cask of brandy—these relics were inspected by Nelson’s brother and his lawyer in the presence of Lady Hamilton. Nelson’s “gold watch” was the seventh item on the list of nineteen articles they prepared.
The watch formed part of the estate inherited by William, 1st Earl Nelson, on his brother’s death. In 1835 it passed to the Earl’s sole surviving child Charlotte Nelson (1787-1873) who arranged for the watch to be mounted in its current form as a carriage clock, presumably so it could be better admired and treasured as her illustrious uncle’s most precious possession.
After Trafalgar, as titles and money cascaded upon her undeserving father, Charlotte was discreetly removed from Emma’s orbit. As niece to England’s greatest naval hero she was, according to one observer: ‘a piece of goods that is worth anyone’s while to look after’. In 1810 Charlotte completed her rise in Society by marrying the Hon. Samuel Hood, the grandson of Nelson’s former mentor Admiral Lord Hood. On the accession of her husband to his father’s titles, she became Lady Bridport. Her standing was further enhanced when, following the death of her father and by virtue of Italian law, Charlotte inherited, in her own right, her uncle’s dukedom of Bronte.
Her family’s and the Bridport’s illustrious naval past undoubtedly informed Charlotte’s decision to specify, in the inscription she placed beneath the watch in its case, that it be “preserved for any one of her descendants who may enter the Navy.” Her injunction had the happy, though unintended, effect of saving Nelson’s watch from the fate that befell many of his other relics which Charlotte had inherited from her father. These included the admiral’s orders and decorations, the hilts to his presentation swords and two of his freedom boxes. In the late 1880’s Charlotte’s son, General Alexander Nelson Hood, Viscount Bridport, arranged for all these items to be displayed and photographed ahead of their sale at Christie's in July 1895. Although the most precious relics from the Bridport collection were saved for the nation by the government in the first purchase of its kind; many were subsequently lost in a robbery at Greenwich Royal Hospital in 1900. Consequently Nelson’s watch, which was excluded from the sale at Christie’s, is a poignant, and exceptionally rare, survivor from that remarkable photograph and one of only a small handful of the admiral’s most prized possessions known to have survived.
The watch was lent to the Royal United Services Museum in 1930 and, from 1962 to 2005, to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Josiah Emery was born in 1725 in the French speaking part of Switzerland and was most likely originally trained in Geneva. Emery moved to London in the second half of the 1700's, at this time London had a thriving watch and clock making community and was considered to be the centre of Precision Horology throughout the world. It was there that Josiah Emery would have been surrounded by the best of the best of a craft that was literally changing the world. While Emery was in London one of the most important scientific challenges was to secure a reliable way of determining longitude at sea. This was so important that Parliament set up a board of Longitude with a very substantial monetary reward for a solution. Emery involved himself in this challenge for the last 25 years of his life and it is not therefore a surprise that the admiral of the fleet possessed a watch made by him. The watch itself is also extraordinary as it is one of a series of around 38 of which some 23 are known today and, again as Jonathan Betts explains in his series of articles, "this is a very high survival rate and says much about the respect that these watches have always engendered".
This particular watch numbered 1104, is of the smaller size used by Emery for his Lever watch series. The term Lever refers to the escapement which is the part within the watch movement that allows the watch to run consistently and is one of the most important components in a precision timepiece. This watch is made to the highest standards, this is evident even today as it is a piece that we would have difficulty emulating in the present. Every part of this watch will have been finished by hand. Indeed this escapement was so difficult to make that its creator, Thomas Mudge, had little time for it and passed on its secrets to Josiah Emery as a maker who might be able to produce it. Emery was certainly up to the challenge and created this series of watches in conjunction with his struggle to conquer the problem of Longitude. It is a testament of the importance of this series that not only was it used by Lord Nelson, as his personal watch during an historic battle, interestingly it has probably been used by you as well. This is because nearly every mechanical watch produced today uses a form of lever escapement. Josiah Emery died in London on the 2nd of July 1794.
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