Historic medical cabinet used by Nelson's doctor is saved thanks to Royal Navy medics

AN HISTORIC medicine cabinet that belonged to Sir William Beatty – who tended Lord Nelson as he died – has been secured for a museum after a crowdfunding effort.
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Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Jo Laird of the Royal Navy Medical Service launched the campaign after spotting the piece of nautical history on the antique selling portal 2Covet.

Along with colleagues Surg Cdr Kate King and Surg Cdr Iain Wood she began the crowdfunder, asking for £16,000 – a total that has now been reached.

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Antique dealer Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques in Lymington, who was offering the cabinet reduced the price and reserved it to give the fundraising time.

The medicine cabinet that belonged to William Beatty, Nelson's surgeon on HMS Victory. The medicine cabinet that belonged to William Beatty, Nelson's surgeon on HMS Victory.
The medicine cabinet that belonged to William Beatty, Nelson's surgeon on HMS Victory.

It will be put into a display case at the planned museum and visitor centre on the site of the former Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in Gosport.

Reacting to the achievement, Jo, 35, told The News: ‘We have been really blown away by the response of the medical service and the general public. I’m absolutely thrilled.’

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The Admiralty bought the site in 1745 and when it was completed a few years later it was the biggest brick building in Europe.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Jo Laird who led  the campaign to buy William Beatty's medicine cabinetSurgeon Lieutenant Commander Jo Laird who led  the campaign to buy William Beatty's medicine cabinet
Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Jo Laird who led the campaign to buy William Beatty's medicine cabinet
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Casualties from all the major wars and conflicts were treated there until it was decommissioned in 2007.

While much of the site has been developed, the hospital’s memory will continue through a visitor centre and museum dedicated to the Royal Navy medical and dental services.

Sir William Beatty joined Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory in 1804, a year after the date on his apothecary box.

He was with Nelson from he was brought below decks at Trafalgar and knew, as did Nelson, that there was no chance of survival from the musket shot.

Charles Wallrock with the medicine cabinet that belonged to Sir William Beatty, Nelson's surgeon at Trafalgar. Charles Wallrock with the medicine cabinet that belonged to Sir William Beatty, Nelson's surgeon at Trafalgar.
Charles Wallrock with the medicine cabinet that belonged to Sir William Beatty, Nelson's surgeon at Trafalgar.
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During the battle Beatty carried out a number of amputations, mainly of legs that had been shattered. His skills and those of his assistants saved many lives.

The cabinet would have been full of tinctures, potions and medicines that were required as a matter of routine on a man o’ war such as Victory.

Jo, who used to serve on Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, added: ‘I’d like to thank everybody who has donated and managed to secure this artefact.

‘When I saw it on the 2Covet site I realised what a wonderful and important piece of naval and medical history it was.

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‘The visitor centre and museum at Haslar is being planned and this will make a marvellous exhibit.’

Charles Wallrock said: ‘I really wanted this to go to a museum and Haslar is the perfect place for it.

It is a unique item with Beatty’s name on it and it was most likely at Trafalgar where Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets in 1805.

‘The number of those who donated shows how important our naval history is to people.’

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The portable cabinet stands just over 10 inches high and opens to reveal drawers and shelves, with two original glass jars remaining.

It will be placed in St Luke’s Church, Haslar, until the new visitor centre is completed at the former hospital site.

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