The Trafalgar Urn is a relic of the remarkable relationship between Nelson and his agent, and closest civilian friend, Alexander Davison (1750-1829). The two men had met in 1782, and as Nelson's fame grew, Davison increasingly took charge of his friend's business and domestic affairs. Davison was appointed Nelson's prize agent after the battle of the Nile in 1798 and again after the battle of Copenhagen three years later. This profitable appointment gave Davison the funds to fashion a spectacular art collection comprised of works from leading artists of the day. A highlight of the collection was John Singleton Copley’s masterpiece The Death of the Earl of Chatham, now in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London. Following Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar, Davison erected an obelisk on his estate in Northumberland: 'to the memory of private friendship'. A similar sentiment prompted the ordering of an urn - a replica of the celebrated Warwick Vase -adorned with three panels depicting a relief carving of HMS Victory; a cartouche of laurel wreaths; and a seated figure of Britannia with a lion. The fourth panel is dedicated to 'the immortal memory of his friend', the inscription reading:
'HORATIO / VISCOUNT NELSON KB / Commander in Chief in the / Mediterranean / Fell in the discharging of his Duty / Off Trafalgar in the moment of Victory. / 21 October 1805 / ALEXANDER DAVISON consecrates / this Urn as a tribute of respect to the Immortal Memory of / His Friend'
The urn remained in Davison’s townhouse until he was imprisoned for fraud in 1809. On his release, with most of his fortune consumed in the fight for his release, Davison was forced to sell much of his art collection. 'The Entire Property of Alexander Davison, Esq.' comprised almost a thousand lots and took fourteen days to sell at St. James's Square in April-May 1817 and the present urn was listed as lot 714:
'A SUPERB STATUARY TWO-HANDLED URN (to the Memory of the late LORD NELSON) on a pedestal 7 feet high, richly ornamented in EMBLEMATIC DEVICES, and surmounted by the figures of NEPTUNE, AMPHITRITE'
Following the 1817 sale, the vase subsequently disappeared from sight for almost two hundred years before it was rediscovered in 2005.