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Sword from battle where Lord Nelson ‘turned a blind eye’ to go on sale

Battle of Copenhagen sword - Sword from battle where Lord Nelson ‘turned a blind eye’ to go on sale
No gold medals were given after the Battle of Copenhagen so this sword is a rarity - Jonathan Gooding

A unique presentation sword given to a hero midshipman for his actions at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 has emerged for sale.

The decorated weapon was made for James Proctor, whose efforts on board the lead ship Edgar impressed his senior officer.

It has a curved blade of German steel that is decorated, and the ivory handle includes a lion’s head. It is engraved with the initials “JP” and “Battle of Copenhagen”.

The sword is 37in long and will be offered at Duke’s of Dorchester in its 200th anniversary sale on Dec 8, with an estimate of £60,000-£80,000.

No gold medals were produced to mark the victory at Copenhagen – unlike other great naval victories – so relics such as this sword are incredibly rare.

Experts said it was probably commissioned by Proctor’s grateful commanding officer, Cpt James Murray, to mark the midshipman’s heroism.

In the battle, Lord Nelson was ordered to retreat but put a telescope up to his blind eye and claimed that he could see no ships. It led to the phrase “to turn a blind eye”.

Lord Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen
The cheeky move by Lord Nelson had several consequences, one of which was the creation of a familiar phrase we all use today - Topham Picturepoint

Britain had feared that the Danes would ally with France during the Revolutionary Wars and defeating the Dano-Norwegian navy at Copenhagen was designed to prevent that.

During the battle, Proctor was on board the Edgar, which was the first to engage the enemy and suffered great losses.
He was injured alongside 141 others during the action that ultimately resulted in a British victory.

Guy Schwinge, art expert and consultant, said: “This sword is a remarkable survivor and comes with its scabbard, box and strap.

“It has come from a client who uncovers some sensational objects and it remains in excellent condition.

“Its recipient, James Proctor, after recovering from his injury, was made a lieutenant and continued to serve for some years.

“The battle in 1801 – just four years before Trafalgar – was prior to the establishment of the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund that would organise official presentations.

“So this sword was made for an unofficial presentation by an officer to one of his crew who performed with great courage and valour. And this makes it extremely collectible.

The sword
The sword was given to James Proctor for 'great courage and valour'

“The Napoleonic wars are like Britain’s own Trojan wars and there is a great deal of romance about them – generation after generation becomes fascinated by them and the people who fought in them.

“To own a sword like this would be the crowning of most collections.”

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