Nelson’s Relics

Nelson’s Relics – published July 1946

Seventy years ago, at the age of two, a little boy came to Whitstable with his parents, who had made their home here. The name of this boy was Charles Edward Etheridge. When he was old enough to attend it, he was sent to the King’s School at Canterbury, going there by train from Whitstable Harbour railway station in the morning and coming home in the evening. Sometimes the return journey was made on a coal train. Passengers had to put up with a lot of discomfort and lack of official consideration in those days.

Whitstable, at that time, had a population of about 6,500 inhabitants. It was a very close and self- contained community and a fairly happy one. Everybody practically depended on the sea and the harvest of the sea for their means of livelihood. The harbour was always busy with the coming and going of ships, most of them colliers, and trade generally was in a flourishing condition.

Few houses, however, were being built to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. The only thoroughfare in the town to possess a pavement was High Street. There was nothing at Tankerton except the Towers, an old house in St. Anne’s Road, the Shepherd’s Cot in Church Street Road, and a few scattered cottages in Church Street.

It was in such surroundings that young Etheridge passed his boyhood. He loved sports – cricket, football, sailing. The annual regatta, showiest and most popular event on the Kent coast for a hundred years and more, attracted great crowds. Six-oared service boats from the coastguard stations at Whitstable, Faversham, Herne Bay, Reculvers and Seasalter, manned by specially picked crews, turned out to compete in the principle rowing contest of the day, a grim dogged race that more often than not was triumphantly won by the Whitstable contingent.

A member of the local cricket club, Charles Edward Etheridge played cricket first on the Belmont ground and in later years on the Manor House field. The sport he loved most of all was yacht sailing and racing. In course of time he became Commodore of the Whitstable Yacht Club, a post of honour he has held for thirty-five years. He is one of four survivors of the original members of the Club.

Entering the medical profession, he studied in London before starting to practice in Whitstable forty-seven years ago. During that long period of time he has been continuously active as the senior physician and surgeon, medical referee to the Admiralty, and divisional surgeon to the St. John Ambulance Brigade. He holds the record for service to the Admiralty – forty-four years – a service which during the two great wars, 1914-18, 1939-45, entailed for him a vast amount of responsibility and hard work.

Hanging on the walls of the study of his home in Tankerton are two framed testimonials expressive of deep appreciation for the services he rendered the community during those anxious and critical years. One is from the Lords of the Admiralty, and the other from the late Queen Alexandra paying warm tribute to his work for the Red Cross.

He has a wife and four daughters – one daughter is at home, living with her father and mother. The other three are married and reside at Whitstable. Dr. Etheridge has a grandson, Sub-lieutenant A.J.B Cowdery, R.N.V.R. who is an officer of the Whitstable Sea Cadets. It will be remembered that when a German raider one day in the early part of the late war dropped a bomb at the back of Dr. Etheridge’s house, young Cowdery was badly injured. He had gifts of a high order as an artist. His skill in this direction is shown by a model he constructed some time ago of the battle of Trafalgar. It contains 67 separate models cut out of wood, of the ships that took part in the great battle. When he was still at school he carved a complete set of models of all types of ships in the English Navy from the galley of King Alfred’s day to the battleship of the present era. These models are kept in one of the rooms where Dr. Etheridge has stored his wonderful collection of Nelson relics – the finest private collection of its kind in the world. All that you see there casts a spell upon you. Rare sketches, pictures, and busts of the immortal sailor, painted and modelled from the life, meet the eye wherever you look.

Here, enshrined in a frame of wood from the “Victory” for Captain Hardy, is an engraving of the original painting, “The Death of Nelson,” by a famous artist who made the preliminary sketches for it on the blood-stained deck of the old ship on its return to Portsmouth bearing the dead body of the saviour of his country.

There, in a cabinet, stands the ditty box which Nelson kept his private papers. Near it is a cigar case that belonged to him, and a case containing a carving knife and fork that were his, while another of the many treasured relics on view is a glass goblet given to every officer who was on board the “Victory” at Trafalgar. On the wall hangs the sword that was surrendered to Nelson by the Commander of the French battleship, “Spartiate,” when that vessel was captured in the Mediterranean by the English fleet. There, fixed to a framed canvas, are three shot-torn pieces – red, white and blue – of the flag of another captured French Battleship, the “Genereux.” And that round, age-discoloured, heavy object you can take in your hand is a French cannon ball that, when the battle of Trafalgar was raging, crashed into the “Victory” and was afterwards prised out of its oaken hull.

                                           The Death of Nelson – by Benjamin West.            

A transfer of a picture of Nelson – the only one in existence – painted on glass, gleams and sparkles in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the open windows. The eyes in that pictured face seem to be alive, to be sending out a message, the very message that Nelson sent out as a signal to his watching sea dogs before the French sharp-shooter pierced his heart and he passed away in dazzling glory that will never fade. “England expects that every man this day will do his duty”. And with that immortal signal throbbing in your brain revitalised by all you have seen, you leave the big room with all wealth of Nelson relics collected together down the years, pass out into summer sunlight, and make your thoughtful way to the shores of the sea made safe at Trafalgar for all mariners going on their lawful occasions by our national hero. 

Written by Ernest Brindle July 1946.

Transcribed by Brian Baker October 2018.