The Army and Navy Nelson & Wellington,
A hand coloured engraving By S.W. Reynolds after a painting by John Prescott Knight showing the only meeting between Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, which took place in September, 1805 at the Colonial Office on Downing Street in London.
In his retirement at Walmer Castle on the Kent coast, Wellngton described his chance encounter with Nelson to the noted diarist John Wilson Croker. Wellington, at the time only just returned from service in India and victory at the battle of Assaye. Nelson was attending upon Lord Castelreagh in order to receive the commisson which he would carry a month later at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Wellington recalled the encounter thus:
“It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into a little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secretary of State, a gentleman whom, from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognized as Lord Nelson.”
“He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself, and in really a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman.”
“The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly for the last half or three quarters of an hour I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.”