Letter: Nelson's victory

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Reading David Keys' excellent piece (29 June) on the French archaeological exploration of Nelson's victory at the Nile, I was left with a sense of deja vu.

In August 1984 I travelled to Paris to interview Jacques Dumas, director of the Societe Francaise d'Archeologie Sous-marine, who had just completed his first season's dive on the wrecks of the flagship l'Orient and the frigate Artemise. He gave me a full and exciting description of his finds and spoke of his hopes of raising l'Orient and bringing her ashore as a French Mary Rose. This made a handsome spread in The Times of 1 December 1984. Unfortunately Dumas suffered an embolism while diving on the bed of the Nile and died.

I can only assume that his society did not long survive him, but what surprised me in David Keys' article was that the excavation did not appear to have moved on after an interval of 15 years. The "discoveries" of the stern, the way the ship had been blown apart, the personal belongings in the sand were as Dumas described them to me.

What was new was the revelation of the two separate explosions. I can appreciate that, to a new set of excavators in a field like marine archaeology, much may seem excitingly new that has in fact been recorded.

Keys is quite right, of course, in raising the Nile to pre-eminence among Nelson's battles. It was certainly his most brilliant victory. Let us hope that Dumas' dream of bringing "the burning decks" back to the surface will be realised.


London NW3