Nelson's pigtail


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Essential information

Opening times: 
National Maritime Museum, Special exhibitions gallery

Nelson's pigtail (or queue), was cut off after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar 21 October 1805.

Nelson's love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton was undoubtedly one of the great scandals of the age but at the same time Nelson was a national hero and feted wherever he went. It was his dying wish that this lock of hair should be delivered to her and that the British government would see that his lover and child would be looked after in a manner fit for their station in life. Sadly for Emma and Horatia, the government would offer no support and Emma would run up truly huge debts after Nelson's death. Eventually, she ended up in prison for debt and died shortly afterwards.

The pigtail shows his sandy-coloured hair, bound with black ribbon, which is tied in a bow. Surgeon William Beatty records in his 'Narrative of the Death of Lord Nelson' that Nelson asked that Lady Hamilton should have his hair.

The pigtail was cut off after his death and Hardy delivered it to Emma Hamilton after the Victory's arrival in England.

Small locks of hair were given to relations and close friends, and some pieces were mounted in special mourning rings and lockets.

Nelson's pigtail is currently on display in our major exhibition Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity, until mid April. Afterwards it will return to the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery.

Visit the Emma Hamilton exhibition