On the summit of Blackdown Hill, near Portesham is the Hardy Monument. Standing 22m (72ft) high, this tower, that resembles an upright cannon, is a memorial to Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, not the novelist as most people assume. Erected in 1844 on the highest point of Blackdown, the foundation stone was laid by Hardy’s daughters on the 39th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. During the Napoleonic war, this spot was the site of a beacon to give warning of French invasion.
Thomas was born at Kingston Russell House, Long Bredy in the heart of the beautiful Bride Valley in April, 1769. The family moved to Portesham in 1778 and this village in West Dorset was to remain close to his heart until he died. After schooling in Crewkerne he joined the navy as captain’s servant to Captain Francis Roberts on the brig Helena. His career was successful from the start and included a close friendship with Lord Nelson which lasted until the latter died on the Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar of 1805. At Trafalgar, the combined French and Spanish fleets were beaten by the smaller British fleet, but Nelson was mortally wounded. As Nelson lay dying he said the famous words ‘Kiss me Hardy’. At this, Hardy bent and kissed his dying friend on the forehead.
Thomas was Captain of H.M.S Victory at the time and he went on to become a full admiral, First Sea Lord and Governor of Greenwich Hospital. He died on 20th September 1839 at 70 and was laid to rest in the mausoleum of the old cemetery belonging to the hospital. His home in Portesham is still a private dwelling.
Below are extracts taken from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Volume 42, 1921 xxxv-xxxvii’ of an excursion to Thomas Masterman Hardy’s House at Portesham on 16th September, 1920.
“The last of the summer meetings, which was held at Portesham on Thursday, September 16th, proved most interesting, and was attended by about 80 members. By the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. W. Hardy Manfield, who now occupy Portesham House. The ancient home of Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy was thrown open for the inspection of the members, who were thus enabled to see the remarkable collection of relics of Nelson’s trusty and favourite flag captain.
In the garden is a picturesque sundial, dated 1767 and bearing the name of Joseph Hardy. A considerable amount of interest, too, was shown in the collection of fossils. With respect to these the President said that the fossil tree stumps came from beds corresponding to the Portland beds, nearly all being portions of fossilised coniferous trees. Up in the quarry at Portesham was what the men called a “fossil elephant.” In reality it was only a large tree coated with a deposit. The so called “fossil bird’s nest” was a cicad such as could be seen at Portland growing out of dirt beds.
The attendance was so large that the members of the Club had to be conducted in parties over the house, which for many years was the home of the great seaman who was flag captain to Nelson on board the Victory at the crowning battle of Trafalgar. It was immediately after the battle of the Nile that Hardy was invited by Nelson temporarily to fill the place, on the flagship Vanguard, of his flag captain who had been sent home with despatches. It was then that the long and intimate association of these two bosom friends began. Hardy served his idolised chief on no fewer than six or seven ships. He afterwards became Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, and ended his life as Governor of Greenwich Hospital. Some number of the articles comprised in this unique and priceless collection of Nelson and Hardy relics are usually deposited for security in the strong room at the Bank, but they had been brought out in readiness for the visit of the Club, and were set on tables, or hung on the walls of the house, for convenience of inspection.
Perhaps earliest in date was the will of Thomas Masterman of Kingston Russell (1763). It was from him that Hardy got his two Christian names; and it was in the fine old manor house of the Bedford family at Kingston Russell that he was born in the year 1769; and not, as is so often wrongly stated, at Portesham, though his family removed there afterwards. Amongst the pictures on the walls were contemporary engravings of some of the famous engagements in which Captain Hardy took part, including three of the battle of the Nile. Amongst the most interesting objects exhibited might be noted miniature portraits of Hardy; his Nile medal; his shirts and ruffles; his buckskin breeches; his Prayer Book; pieces of old cabin furniture; printed playing cards; a ship’s lantern from the victory; some number of his letters, in one of which, dated August 18th, 1805, a little more than a month after the battle of Trafalgar, he writes “We fancy ourselves very unfortunate, after so many anxious moments, to have missed the combined squadrons.”
Then there was a beautifully executed painting in profile of Nelson as Duke of Bronte with the corresponding portrait of the King of Naples. Hardy’s portrait by R. Evans was accompanied by a richly-illuminated vellum conferring upon him the freedom of the City of London, on January 30th, 1806, and a sword of honour for which 100 guineas had been voted. This was dedicated “as a testimony to the high sense which this court entertains of his excellent behaviour on Lord Nelson’s flagship Victory on the 21st October, 1805, at the memorable defeat and capture of the combined fleets of France and Spain off Trafalgar.” On one of the tables was laid a copy of the special edition of the Times, of Friday, January 10th, 1806, which contained a full descriptive report of the funeral of Lord Nelson, in which solemn pageant Hardy bore a very prominent part. Perhaps the most touching of the exhibits was the thin lock of Nelson’s hair placed under a glass, given by Lady Hamilton to the Prince of Wales. There was also on view the patent conferring the Baronetcy upon Hardy.
Like the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy once fought a duel. It is thus recorded in Bells Weekly Messenger of June 18th, 1816:- “Affair of Honour. – Yesterday afternoon, in consequence of a dispute at the Opera House on Saturday night, a meeting took place between the Marquis of Buckingham and Sir Thomas Hardy. After an exchange of shots the seconds declared that enough had been done to satisfy the honour of both parties, and the affair concluded.”
When the members had reassembled on the lawn the PRESIDENT expressed the warm thanks of the Club to Mr. and Mrs. Hardy Manfield for their great kindness in allowing the members to visit their interesting home and to view their rare collection of Hardy and Nelson relics. For himself it had been a revelation, as no doubt it had been to others. He had no idea that there was such a wealth of these objects in their possession, and he heartily congratulated them upon being the possessors of such treasures.
Below are extracts taken from the Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Volume 45, 1924 p5-11 of Notes on Exhibits in the Dorset County Museum relating to the Napoleonic era, A.D. 1793 – 1815 by Captain J. E. ACLAND, M.A., F.S.A. (Read December 13th, 1923).
“The Dorset County Museum during its life of nearly 80 years has acquired from time to time many exhibits connected with the Wars of Napoleon, and the expected invasion of England. They have been noted in the Annual Reports as they were received, but their value and interest will be more easily realized by treating them as one collection related to the same historical period.
The Naval and Military events to which they refer left a deep impression on the people of the South of England, and perhaps especially on the districts of Dorset near the coast, which, as Mr. Hardy says, “had echoed with rumours of invasion in their intensest form while the descent threatened, and was animated by memories and traditions of the desperate military preparations for that contingency”
War was declared between England and France in 1793, and in the following year a Regiment of Yeomanry was raised with the name “Volunteer Corps of Dorset Rangers” to “provide for the security of the country against any attem which might be made on the part of the enemy”
The Museum has been entrusted recently with the care a large number of original documents dealing with the formation of this Regiment, which owed its existence to the ability of Lord Milton (Earl of Dorchester). It is interesting to note that the first appointment of Officers to their respective ranks was made by ballot, the Captains being W. Churchill of Henbury; Lionel Darner, of Came; T. Weld, Lulworth Castle; J. Frampton, Moreton; R. Erie Drax Grosvenor, of Charborough; F. J. Browne, of Frampton; Richard Traver of Up-Loders.
There is a case in the Museum containing four Yeomanry helmets showing how the uniform changed from time to time the earliest being one of the original “Dorset Rangers,” date 1794. Two swords which belonged to members of the Regiment hang close by. One belonged to Sir Henry Oglander Bart., of Parnham, Dorset, dating probably about 1835, and the other, recently given by Col. E. G. Troyte Bullock, C.M.G. was the property of Mr. E. Roberts, of Silton, Dorset.
In the Library, in addition to the three volumes Record of the Dorset Yeomanry, are some interesting MS. maps of the County dated 1801 and 1803, by W. Jennings of Evershot showing in detail the preparations for defence, and for removing to places of security all stores and live-stock which might be of use to an invading force.
A system, or chain, of Signal Beacons was also arranged, by which news of the anticipated invasion could be speedily made known throughout the whole county, and as far east as Winchester. Readers of Mr. Thomas Hardy’s works will remember the characteristic description, both in prose and poetry, of the Beacon Watchers on “Egdon Heath.” The position of the Beacons, eleven in all, is shown on the map, besides what are called “Signal Posts.” The Beacons, taking them in order from the west of the county, were on Pilsdon, Orchard Hill (near Chideock), Shipton Gorge (east of Bridport), Blackdown, Puddletown Heath (Rain Barrow), Milton Abbey, Woolland Hill, Woodbury, Melbury Hill (near Shaftesbury), Lytchett Heath and Badbury. The Signal Posts were on Golden Cap, Abbotsbury Castle, Portland North and The Bill, White Nose, St. Aldhelm’s Head, Swanage, and Ballard Down.
An interesting document relative to those stirring times (shown in the Museum) is a facsimile reproduction of a scheme for the concentration of troops, both Cavalry and Infantry, between Weymouth and Dorchester, issued by King George III, in his own handwriting, when residing at Weymouth, in 1804. The original belonged to Mr. A. M. Broadley.
Another reminiscence of those bygone times is brought to our notice by a printed form dated 28th May, 1801, exempting persons serving in the Dorset Volunteer Rangers from the duty on hair-powder certificates. It is signed by James Frampton, commanding the 2nd troop, in favour of George Roberts.
The last exhibit to be referred to here which deals directly with the Yeomanry Cavalry is due to the fact that in 1922 the Regiment was converted into two Yeomanry Artillery Batteries, after 128 years service. It was found necessary to dispose of much of the property of the Officers’ Mess, and we were asked to accept “on loan ” a magnificent cigar-box, possessing much historic interest. It was presented to the Officers in the year 1885 by Captain Montague Guest, M.P., and measures 1ft. 10in. long, by 1ft. 2in. wide, 7½ in. high. Every portion of the box both inside and outside is ornamented with coloured sketches by D. Norie, depicting the places and scenes at different periods of its history where the Regiment had been trained, and also vignettes showing the changes of uniform and details of equipment at various dates which are given by the Artist.
In addition to the Yeomanry Cavalry, large numbers of men were enrolled as Volunteer Infantry. We possess two valuable relics of this branch of the service, which were exhibited at the Field Club Meeting in February, 1911, and presented to the Museum later by Mr. S. R. Baskett of Evershot, viz.: a fine drum, 2ft. 8in. long, with the words “Evershot Volunteers” painted on it, and a green silk flag with Union Jack at the corner, and “First Battalion Dorset Volunteers.” That the patriotic feeling was well maintained throughout the whole county may be realized by the fact that the Infantry were composed mostly of a different class from the Yeomanry, who promised on joining to find their own horses and clothing. Sir William Watts (D.F.C. Proceedings, Vol. XXXII) estimates that in 1803 there were over 3,000 men in the different Dorset Regiments, all locally enrolled; Mr. H. Symonds (Ibid, Vol. XLI) giving a total of nearly 2,000 in the three Dorset Battalions of Infantry. Evershot was appointed as the “Place of Assembly” of the 12th Company, under Captain Jennings. and was a part of the first Battalion, commanded by Earl Digby.
Turning now to exhibits connected with the Royal Navy attention may be directed to the beautiful model of the 64-gun frigate H.M.S. Lion, in which ship Henry Digby is believed to have served as a Lieutenant in the year 1790. It was given to the Museum in the year 1898 by Mrs. Graham, who was then living at Frampton Vicarage, Dorset, with her son-in-law the Rev. F. C. Salkeld, Vicar from 1897—1903. Mrs. Salkeld informed me that the model had belonged to the Graham family for many years, having been made (as she thought) by her great-grandfather, a designer and builder of ships. The model is four feet long, resting on the cradle and slips ready for launching, and was built up from the keel as a full-sized ship would be. The figure-head is a Lion, the stern being finely worked and decorated. By looking through the stern windows, a view is obtained of the lower decks. The frigate was built in 1777, and therefore must have taken part in the early sea-battles of the French war, and probably may have often sailed in company with Thomas Masterman Hardy of Portesham, who entered the Navy in 1781, and to whom our thoughts most naturally turn while dealing with the exhibits .of this period, not only for his own worth, and as a native of Dorset, but as the devoted friend of Lord Nelson.
This friendship and confidence is graphically described in the scene of Nelson’s death in the fifth act of ‘The Dynasts’ — While lying below deck, he exclaims:—
“O, where is Hardy? Will nobody bring Hardy to me? None?
He must be killed too. Surely Hardy’s dead !”
And a little later when Hardy has come to him, he says,
“Ever ’twas your settled fault
So modestly to whittle down your worth.
But I saw stuff in you which Admirals need
When, taking thought, I chose the Victory’s keel
To do my business with these Frenchmen in.
A business finished now for me.”
In connection with this scene may be mentioned four small engravings framed, showing portraits of Lord Nelson, Captain Hardy, a general view of the fleets engaged in battle, and Nelson’s death in the cock-pit of the Victory. There are also two very interesting letters exhibited in the Museum written by Captain Hardy himself to his relative, Mr. Manfield of Possum. The first, dated January, 1801, was written on H.M.S. San Joseph when lying at Plymouth, and refers to Lord Nelson passing through Dorchester, and to a very serious and sudden illness he had in the carriage; the other letter written on board H.M.S. Victory only six days after the battle of Trafalgar. It is a simple, friendly letter announcing the defeat of the enemy, the death of the great Admiral, and sending kind messages to residents at Possum. It is worth quoting in full.
Victory, off Cadiz.
Oct. 27th, 1805.
We have on the 21st inst. obtained a most glorious victory over the combined fleets, but it has cost the country a life that, no money can replace, and for whose death I shall for ever mourn, our Dear and ever to be lamented Lord fell in the action, and as it fell to our lot to lead the fleet into action our loss has been rather great—54 killed and 80 wounded. How¬ever I have come off unhurt, the weather ever since the action has been so bad that we have had some difficulty to save our shattered ship, and have had no communication with any of the Fleet. I really cannot say the exact number of ships taken, but twelve we are certain of, tho’ I much fear many of them are since lost, and one or two taken into Cadiz, as the gale for these last five days has not ceased blowing directually on that shore. Thomas Bartlett is well, and has written by this conveyance. It will also be satisfactory for Sam Clark (of Possum) to know that his son is well. The Victory is in so bad a state that she must be ordered to England, at any rate you will soon see me and I am determined to remain on shore some months. You will suppose my mind is not very easy, and I am sure you will excuse this hasty scrall. We are this moment ordered to Gibraltar by Telegraph, and I have only time to say that in hopes of seeing you soon I remain with good wishes for all
Ever yours most affectionately
T. M. HARDY.
The Dorset County Museum also has a copy of The Times, 7th Nov., 1805, containing Collingwood’s despatch relating to the battle.
The other exhibits relating to the Admiral are a copy of the Memorial bust by Behnes, in the Greenwich Hospital (1834), and the original sketch by the late Mr. Arthur Acland, together with all his working plans and drawings, of the Hardy Column erected in 1844 on Blackdown Hill near Dorchester. Sir Thos. Masterman Hardy died in 1839.
A brief notice of two minor exhibits, but both relating to the close of the Napoleonic Era, may fitly conclude these notes. In April, 1814, after many defeats in Spain and France, Napoleon abdicated – and retired to Elba. We may well believe that rejoicings were universal throughout England, and a broad-sheet dated July 11th, 1814, framed and placed on the wall of the Museum describes the events at Broadwindsor (Dorset) “in consequence of the late most glorious peace in this small but patriotic village, with a degree of Loyalty, Patriotism, and at the same time Humanity, as is scarce to be credited, and not to be equalled.”
The celebrations lasted for three days. The first day was spent in consuming the beef, bread, and cyder which had been freely distributed to every house, and in dancing, ringing of bells, and fireworks. On the second day the Curate (on behalf of the Rector) gave the loyal inhabitants of this little hamlet, a hogshead of stout English beer. “Then (says the broad-sheet) might an observant spectator have seen a multitude of happy, happy, mortals at once offering up their pious ejaculations to their all-bounteous Benefactor.” On the third day Buonaparte was publicly executed, which is thus described:—” Buonaparte being dressed in all the insignia of royalty, but with sword inverted, and many other marks of degradation, was placed in an open carriage, and drawn through all the streets of the parish. He was condemned to be hanged in chains till dead, and then to be burnt, for which purpose he was taken to a field adjoining the parish, where the gallows was erected and the funeral pile was reared. Meantime the fatal noose is fixed, and this fiend upon earth, this Apostate to religion, this devil’s vice-regent, was launched into the blackest eternity. Thus ends the career of a Tyrant. The inhabitants now returned to the George Inn to spend a considerable sum of money in joyous festivity, and singing ‘Buonaparte done over’ Tyrants begone,’ and many other loyal and appropriate songs.”
Close to this broad-sheet hangs a facsimile reproduction of a sketch showing Bonaparte’s final departure from the scene of his activities. It is entitled “This sketch of Napoleon was made on board the Northumberland, man-of-war, on her voyage to S. Helena (1815) by Mr. Commissary Ibbetson, who gave it to me in that Island ‘Theodore E. Hook.’”
And there, after six years as a prisoner-of-war, Napoleon died, A.D. 1821.
Sic transit gloria mundi.”
- The National Trust: The Hardy Monument – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardy-monument/
- Dorset Echo: Trafalgar hero’s Portesham house for sale – http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/news/10476070.Trafalgar_hero_s_Portesham_house_for_sale/