Many of these Victorian souvenirs, which are only decorated on the front so they can sit on a mantelpiece were on display at Hove Museum this year.
They were usually of famous and sometimes infamous people in the Victoria era who we would now call stars or celebrities. The hearth, the centre of the home, provided an ideal space for the flatback as a conversation piece inspiring discussion and fascination among family and visitors alike.
The tragic death of Nelson
Staffordshire flatbacks were also created and enjoyed as souvenirs of historic national events. The death of Nelson provided a subject for a dramatic figure group created in c1850, reflecting his heroism and ultimate sacrifice. The piece recreates the moment, albeit with some artistic licence, that Nelson falls to the deck of HMS Victory, struck with a bullet fired from the French ship ‘Redoubtable’ during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1815.
Dr William Beatty who attended Nelson as he lay dying recounted the event as followed:
‘About fifteen minutes past one o’clock, which was in the heat of the engagement, he (Nelson) was walking the middle of the quarter-deck with Captain Hardy, and was in the act of turning near the hatchway….when the fatal ball was fired from the enemy’s mizzen-top…The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder and penetrated his chest. He fell…Captain Hardy, on turning round, saw the Sergeant Major of Marines with two seamen raising him from the deck; where he’d fallen…Captain Hardy expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which the gallant Chief replied: ‘They have done for me at last, Hardy.’ – ‘ I hope not’ answered Captain Hardy. ‘Yes,’ replied his lordship; ‘my backbone is shot through.’’
Follow our Cultural Icons series as we explore some of these fascinating flatbacks and discover of these early celebrities.
Cecilia Kendall, Curator, Collections Projects