Nelson and the Bear
by Richard Westall
In 1773 Horatio Nelson served as a midshipman in the ‘Carcass’, which sailed under Captain Constantine Phipps on a Polar expedition to try to find a north-east passage to the Pacific. These two strongly built bomb-vessels were both obliged to return when they found their way impenetrably barred by ice to the north of Spitsbergen. During the attempt, Nelson set off with a friend to stalk a polar bear. His musket misfired and he attacked the bear with the butt-end until saved from harm by a rift in the ice, which separated him from the animal. A gun was fired from the ship to scare the bear off and Nelson justified his action to a furious Captain Lutwidge by stating that he wished to kill the bear to take its skin home to his father.
Date painted: c.1806
Oil on oak panel, 36.8 x 55.8 cm
Collection: National Maritime Museum