Oil on canvas; held in a period ornamental gilt frame; entire 16 ½ by 13 inches; 42 x 33 cm
Provenance: Private collection, England and U.S.A.
Edward Elers was born in rural Oxfrodshire and joined the navy in the 1790s becoming a lieutenant in February 1801. On 6 July 1805 he joined HMS Orion, captained by Admiral Edward Codrington which was attached to Admiral Nelson’s fleet off Cadiz. Elers and Orion were engaged at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, where Orion was stationed to the rear of the northern division. Coming to the Battle whilst it raged Codrington ignored all other ships and focused entirely on closing with a hitherto unengaged French ship, the ‘Swiftsure’, forcing her to surrender. He then attacked but failed to capture the Spanish flagship before moving on to the ‘Intrepide’ and along with other ships, dismasted and sailed round her, firing continually until she surrendered.
An account of Elers time at Trafalgar is vividly brought to life by his brother George in a book published in 1903 “Memoirs of George Elers, captain in the 12th regiment of foot (1777-1842)”:
“My dear brother Edward…at Trafalgar, was third lieutenant of the Orion, 74, under Captain (now Admiral) Sir Edward Codrington. I think he commanded on the main-deck, and towards the latter part of the action a 74 lay helpless with her bow-sprit across the broadside of the Orion. The men were about to pour a broadside into her from the guns of this deck, thinking she was a Frenchman, when my brother sang out that it was one of our own ships. My dear brother had fought a very gallant action about a year before in the Arrow, of 18 guns, against two frigates somewhere between Lisbon and Gibraltar. The Arrow was protecting a very large convoy. She was sunk alongside the frigates, and her officers and crew were sent prisoners to Alexandria. My brother was a prisoner six months, when he came home in a cartel and was appointed to the Orion a short time before Lord Nelson’s last and celebrated action. He was unfortunately only Second-Lieutenant of the Arrow, or he would have been promoted, but Lloyd’s voted him a sword. When the Arrow went down, he swam with his writing-desk, the only thing he saved, on board the Frenchman; and I heard him say that just before the action, seeing he must be taken, he went to his cabin and rigged himself out in his best clothes. There was a clergyman’s wife on board going to join her husband, a Mrs. Miller, whom he was very kind and attentive to in her distress. My brother was also in Lord St. Vincent’s action, February 14, 1797, as a mid on board the Prince George”.
He married Elizabeth Younghusband, daughter of a fellow naval officer and sister to Capt. George Younghusband, in January 1806. His last command was of the ship Hector in 1814 afterwhich he was on half-pay living in Emsworth, not far from Portsmouth. He died in January 1815.
His mother, Frances Elizabeth, daughter of Lieutenant George Younghusband, R.N., married in 1815—after her first husband’s death—Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir) Charles Napier. His wife, later married Captain Charles Napier, who went on to become an illustrious Admiral and Knight, and adopted her four children, the latter taking the name of Napier in addition to that of Elers.
This portrait shows Elers probably after the time of his success at Trafalgar and before his marriage; characterful and spirited he is shown in uniform with a vista of the sea behind. The original frame in which it is held is decorated with canon balls in the four corners and acanthus leaves crossed in the middle at the sides