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Prisoner sculpture from the monument to Lord Nelson

27 May to September 2005

Please note that this sculpture is no longer on display at the museum

detail of the sculpture of a prisoner in chains before conservation

Conservation of the Nelson monument

In preparation for the 2005 bicentenary of Nelson's death following his famous victory at the Battle of Trafalger, the Conservation Centre at National Museums Liverpool had a very special commission.

Our expert sculpture conservation staff painstakingly conserved the Nelson monument in Exchange Flags Square, Liverpool.

During the summer visitors to the Merseyside Maritime Museum had the opportunity to have a sneak preview of the finished monument. The museum exhibited one of the newly conserved statues of a prisoner, which usually sits at the base of the monument, from 27 May until 4 September 2005.

Everyone can now see the prisoner statue back where he belongs, as the fully conserved monument was unveiled at Exchange Flags on the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, on Friday 21 October 2005.

The back of the prisoner sculpture after conservation (left) and the conserved monument in Exchange Flags (right)

The Nelson monument

The bronze monument was unveiled at Exchange Flags Square, behind Liverpool Town Hall, in October 1813. It was designed by Matthew Coates Wyatt (1777-1862) and sculpted by (Sir) Richard Westmacott (1775-1856).

Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) was killed while leading the English navy to victory against French Napoleonic forces at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The monument was Liverpool’s first major public sculpture and commemorates Nelson as a great English hero.

To Liverpool merchants the defeat of the French meant that they could once again trade internationally in peace.

The prisoner

This sculpture is the west prisoner taken from the monument, one of four prisoners that represent captured sailors in torment from Nelson’s four greatest triumphs. About 4000 French prisoners of war were held in Liverpool during the Napoleonic Wars.

The sculpture was funded by public subscription. William Roscoe (1753-1831) donated a large amount of money to the fund and influenced the choice of designer. As Roscoe was an anti-slavery campaigner, there are debates around the sculpture having a dual role in symbolising both prisoners of war and the suffering produced by slavery.

The prisoner has been conserved using a laser cleaning process at the sculpture conservation department at the Conservation Centre. On the right you can see the sculpture half way through the process and compare the clean side on the left to the untreated surface on the right.

A conservator laser cleaning another part of the monument (left) and the prisoner sculptre half cleaned (right)

The conservation work was funded by the Walton Group, which owns the Exchange Flags site.

Further information

You can read more about the Nelson Monument in the following books:

  • Cavanagh, T (1997) 'Public Sculpture of Liverpool', Liverpool
  • Yarrington, A ‘Public sculpture and civic pride 1800-1830’, in P Curtis (ed.) (1989) 'Patronage and practice: Sculpture on Merseyside', Liverpool

Trafalgar Festival

Two other special displays were held at National Museums Liverpool to celebrate the Trafalgar Festival in 2005. You can see highlights in this online feature: