This commemorative chair is one of two made from timbers of the Dutch Fleet, captured at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797. This chair may well have been commissioned by Admiral Duncan himself, commander at the Battle of Camperdown. The second, almost identical chair, is in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. In sentiment, they pre-empt the set of Waterloo elm chairs executed by Thomas Chippendale the Younger, now at Windsor Castle and Apsley House, illustrated and discussed in C. Graham, Ceremonial and Comemorative Chairs, Greenwich, 1995, p. 95.
THE BATTLE OF CAMPERDOWN
By 1794, Adam Duncan (1731-1804) had risen to vice-admiral of the white and in 1795 was appointed commander-in-chief of the North Sea. Since January 1795 Britain had imposed an embargo on Dutch shipping and when the Netherlands were allied to France in May of the same year, tensions and the threat to Britain increased. He hoisted his flag on the Venerable and on 1 June was promoted to admiral of the blue. For two years, Duncan's squadron of a rather motley assortment of vessels in the Channel Fleet, successfully blockaded the Dutch Fleet, with the assistance of a Russian squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral Hanickoff. By 1797, however, the British fleet were afflicted by mutiny: as a result of this action, Duncan's squadron was seriously depleted and he continued his blockade with only two ships. Fortunately for him, the Dutch were unprepared and did not take advantage of the British setback. Within time Duncan's squadron was reinforced. On 6 October, the Dutch fleet finally emerged from the Texel, whilst Duncan was revictualling at Yarmouth. The news reached him by 9 October and he engaged the enemy on 11 October, without forming a regular line of battle. He wrote 'I made the signal to bear up, break the enemy's line, and engage them to leeward, each ship her opponent, by which I got between them and the land, whither they were fast approaching'. Two irregular groups were formed and the ensuing battle was long and bloody. The Venerable engaged the Dutch flagship, Vrijheid and such was the ferocity of the fighting, that Duncan later declared that the pilot and himself were the only two left alive on his quarterdeck; while on the Vrijheid, only Admiral de Winter remained unhurt.
Following the battle, Admiral Duncan became a national hero. Created Baron Duncan of Lundie and Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, he was granted a pension of £2,000 per annum and presented with numerous gifts of swords and valuable plate commemorating his famous victory. A week following his victory, he wrote to his father-in-law, Robert Dundas of Arniston, 'Honours seem to flow on me. I hope my head will keep right, tho' if I at all know myself, neither riches or titles will have no other affect in me than to be able to do more good'. His goodness of character earned him the friendship of Admiral de Winter, retaining it when he arranged for his repatriation when he learned of the Dutch admiral's wife's illness. He inspired great affection amongst his men: 'They can't make too much of him' wrote one after the battle 'He is heart of oak; he is a seaman every inch of him, and as to a bit of broadside it only makes the old cock young again' (P. K. Crimmin, 'Duncan, Adam, Viscount Duncan (1731-1804)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004.
An heroic bust of Admiral Duncan, paired up with Admiral Nelson and attributed to the Clerkenwell sculptor Giovanni Domenico Giannelli (d.c. 1841) features on a bookcase in the Victoria & Albert Museum and whose pattern derives from an 1806 engraving in Thomas Sheraton's, Cabinet-maker's, Upholsterer and General Artist' Encyclopaedia (D. Fitz-Gerald, A Sheraton designed bookcase and the Giannellis, Victoria & Albert Museum Bulletin, January 1968 pp.9-16).