The following extract was taken from Naval Medals 1793-1856, by Captain K.J. Douglas-Morris, R.N.:
'It took fifty years to fulfil the intention of a few words uttered in Parliament during a sitting in 1818 - words which espoused the idea that a national monument should be erected to honour Lord Nelson in suitable surroundings. Twenty years were to pass before any action at all was taken to meet the concept enshrined in that original visionary speech. Even then it was public clamour rather than a grateful Parliament which forced the creation of the Great Monument which so many millions the world over know today. In fact the genesis of a Square dedicated eventually to Lord Nelson stems from an unexpected source - the Charing Cross Act of Parliament - an Act passed in 1826 empowering the site clearance and re-routing of certain horse traffic highways in the metropolis.
By the year 1830, the Charing Cross area had been completely cleared for redevelopment, which included the building of the National Gallery - completed eight years later with its columns and capitals, saved from the earlier demolition of Carlton House. This Gallery, which was immediately to house the superb collection of paintings belonging to John Julius Angerstein, stood before a large waste site. Circa 1835 this bleak undeveloped area seems to have earned the sobriquet from local inhabitants of 'Trafalgar Square', well before the idea had germinated elsewhere that this was to be the site whereon the immortal Admiral would be commemorated for all his famous victories ...
... The completed figure of the great naval commander - whilst it lay locally behind hoardings - was thrown open to public view on 27 October 1843 for two days, prior to its immediate dismantlement and subsequent reconstruction high upon the plinth. The statue was made of several pieces of Craiglith stone, standing 17 feet high and in total which weighed 18 tons.
The separate sections of the statue were finally lifted into place without any form of ceremony on the 1st and 2nd November 1843. The English weather once more triumphed and thwarted the laudable plans of the St. Martin's parishioners [who had planned a special ceremony with a number of Greenwich Pensioners], since on both days 'it was far too cold to bring the old tars from their comfortable Head Quarters'. Despite this immediate loss of celebrating a national 'occasion', one writer was to cheer his readership with the quip - 'By jove, Nelson has been mast-headed'. Others may have witnessed a humourous prank said to have taken place a while earlier, when the plinth was bare and used by fourteen persons who had partaken of dinner up there! The bronze bas-reliefs for Nelson's four famous victories had yet to be cast from guns captured at those battles, the Bude lights erected, and then finally in 1867 Sir Edwin Landseer's '... lions superb in their scale, which represent dignity and strength ...' were finally unveiled.
Meanwhile, the parishioners of St. Martins's - undaunted by the failure of the first attempt to honour the completion of what is now called 'Nelson's Column', but which at the time was named 'Nelson's Testimonial' - planned a more ambitious scheme for the hopefully more clement weather in the spring of 1844, coinciding with the Queen's birthday on the 24th of May. The main essence of this festivity was to be a dinner at 2 p.m. for at least 250 'gallant veterans' in Trafalgar Square, attended also by many noblemen, Admirals and other naval officers as well as local people.
Two bands from the Coldstream Guards and Royal Marines were to attend the elegantly dressed up arena, where contemporary character to the scene was to include some 'flag hoists' flown during Nelson's famous victories - placed in various parts of the Square. The Greenwich Pensioners were to be brought from their haven by a steam-boat to Hungerford Stairs, and conducted from there to Trafalgar Square.
Permission for this naval banquet had been accorded by the Lords of the Admiralty, and the Commissioner of Woods and Lands had approved the site being used for the celebration of the festival. A hitch to these plans developed just two days prior to the event, due to '... the earnest solicitation by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, who stated that if it [the celebration] took place in such a central situation it would be the means of severe loss to them in their respective trades ...' Faced by such unsympathetic opposition, the Parishioners were forced to abandon their second attempt at a public ceremony.
With the money subscribed and still unspent on the event, and in particular as yet of no benefit to the survivors of Nelson's battles, the Testimonial Committee opted for yet another method of achieving their original purpose. The decision was made to strike a commemorative medal which was to be presented to every eligible Greenwich Pensioner, along with a pecuniary gratuity of ten shillings. Admiral Stopford enthusiastically sponsored this new concept, and in so doing also made arrangements for the presentation ceremony to take place within the precincts of Greenwich Hospital - amidst a vast assembly of senior and humble naval persons, both young and old.
This time there was no cancellation or hitch. As planned, the award of these medals and bounties duly took place on the 2nd of April 1845. The impressive ceremony took place in the beautiful Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital, wherein at the upper end of this fine apartment were placed a table and seats for the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, officers and their friends, together with a Testimonial Committee and their friends - the union-jack and Admiralty flags being right and left of the table.
The doors were opened at half past ten o'clock, at which hour the veterans due to receive their rewards began to assemble, ranging themselves right and left in alphabetical order. The number of eligible 'In Pensioners' who had fought with Nelson had swollen in the past two years to 357 men. At 11 o'clock the Governor, Admiral Sir Robert Stopford, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., and Lieutenant-Governor, Sir James Gordon, K.C.B., accompanied by other officers and dignitaries entered the hall as the band of the Naval School played the National Anthem. After taking their seats, the boys of the Naval School were marched in to take their positions forming an aisle of youth in the main hall as far as the steps below the presentation area. Through this phalanx the veteran tars proudly walked with measured gait to the dais - reportedly with weather beaten countenances from 'battle and breeze' - and there at the top table received their 'Testimonial' medal and two crown pieces from the hands of the Governor of Greenwich Hospital. The date 21 October 1844 in exergue on the medal's 'Reverse' remains an enigma, since no relevance to it has yet been found.
At half past 12 the boys were marched off to their dinner, with the distribution continuing until about three o'clock by which time every one of the 357 'In Pensioners' had received their medals and gifts. They had served in the following numbers at Nelson's four great actions - 39 at St. Vincent, 35 at the Battle of the Nile, 45 at Copenhagen in 1801 and 238 at the Battle of the Combined Fleets off Cape Trafalgar. Not all of these recipients were to live long enough to receive - additionally in 1849 - the retrospective award of the recently instituted 'Naval War Medal' with clasps for these Battles and other Actions.
Somewhat surprisingly only one Testimonial Medal is so far known to have survived with an N.G.S. medal commemorating Nelson's great victories. This pair with other awards earned by George Aunger form part of this collection. Less than ten Testimonial Medals as singletons are known to the Author.
All Greenwich 'In Pensioners' who had served at any of the aforementioned Actions with a Greenwich Hospital identification number of 8,639 or less, would have been an eligible recipient of this un-named Testimonial Medal. Since it looks so much like a commercial and publicly purchasable Medallion, it has possibly been treated as an almost worthless trinket by the seafarer's (sailor or marine) antecedents. However, as this story has shewn, each of these apparently humble medallions - personally presented - can henceforth take its rightful place as a piece of Nelson Memorabilia. Almost but not quite reaching the even more illustrious title of 'Nelsoniana'.'