QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2004-10 > 1098361021
Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2004 08:17:01 EDT
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, KB (September 29, 1758 – October 21,
1805) was a British admiral who won fame as a leading naval commander. He is
famous for his participation in the Napoleonic Wars, most notably in the Battle
of Trafalgar, where he lost his life. He became a naval hero in the United
Kingdom, eclipsing Admiral Robert Blake in fame. His biography by the poet
Robert Southby appeared in 1813, while the wars were still being fought. His
love affair with Emma Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador to Naples is
also well known, and he is honoured by the London landmark of Nelson's
Column, which stands in Trafalgar Square.
Lord Nelson's full title, at the time of his death, was Vice Admiral of the
White The Right Honourable Horatio, Viscount Nelson, Knight of the Most
Honourable Order of the Bath. In addition, he was Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of
Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of
Hillborough in the County of Norfolk, Duke of Bronte in the nobility of the
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of St
Ferdinand and of Merit and a Knight of the Ottoman Empire's Order of the Crescent.
Horatio Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England to the Reverend
Edmund Nelson and Catherine Nelson. (His mother was a grandniece of Robert
Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford.) His mother died when Nelson was nine. He learnt to
sail on Barton Broad on the Norfolk Broads, and by the time he was twelve,
he had enrolled in the Royal Navy. His naval career began on January 1, 1771,
when he reported to the warship Raissonable as an ordinary seaman and
coxswain. The vessel was commanded by Nelson's maternal uncle and, shortly after
reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training.
In 1777 he was a lieutenant, assigned to the West Indies, during which time
he saw action on the British side of the American Revolutionary War. By the
time he was 20, in June 1779, he made captain; the frigate Hitchenbroke was
his first command.
In 1781 he was involved in an action against the Spanish fortress of San Juan
in Nicaragua. A success, the efforts involved still damaged Nelson's health
to the extent that he returned to England for more than a year. He eventually
returned to active duty and was assigned to the Albemarle, in which he
continued his efforts against the American rebels until the official end of the
war in 1783.
In 1784, Nelson was given command of the 28-gun Boreas, and assigned to
enforce the Navigation Act in the vicinity of Antigua. This was during the
denouement of the American Revolutionary War, and enforcement of the act was
problematic—now-foreign American vessels were no longer allowed to trade with
British colonies in the Caribbean Sea, an unpopular rule with both the colonies
and the Americans. After seizing four American vessels off Nevis, Nelson was
sued by the captains of the ships for illegal seizure. As they were supported by
the merchants of Nevis, Nelson was in peril of imprisonment and had to
remain sequestered on Boreas for eight months. It took that long for the courts
to deny the captains their claims, but in the interim Nelson met Fanny Nesbit,
a widow native to Nevis, whom he would marry on March 11, 1787 at the end of
his tour of duty in the Caribbean.
Nelson lacked a commission starting in 1789, and lived on half pay for
several years. But as the French Revolution began to export itself outside of
France's borders, he was recalled to service. Given the 64-gun Agamemnon in 1793,
he soon started a long series of battles and engagements that would seal his
place in history.
He was first assigned to the Mediterranean, based out of the Kingdom of
Naples. In 1794 he was shot in the face during a joint operation at Calvi,
Corsica, which cost him the sight in his right eye—his left eye suffered from the
additional burden, and Nelson was slowly going blind up until his death; he
would often wear a patch over his good eye to protect it.
In 1796, the command-in-chief of the fleet in the Mediterranean passed to Sir
John Jervis, who tapped Nelson to be his commodore—the captain of Jervis'
flagship, HMS Captain.
The year 1797 was a full year for Nelson. On February 14, he was largely
responsible for the British victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. In the
aftermath, Nelson was knighted a member of the Order of the Bath (hence the
postnominal initials "K.B."). In April of the same year he was promoted to Rear
Admiral of the Blue, the ninth highest rank in the Royal Navy. Later in the
year, during an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he
was shot in the right elbow with a musketball. This success was his unique
defeat. He lost the lower half of his arm, and was unfit for duty until
The next year, Nelson was once again responsible for a great victory over the
French. The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Abukir Bay) took
place on August 1, 1798, and as a result, Napoleon's ambition to take the
war to the British in India came to an end. The forces Napoleon had brought to
Egypt were stranded, and Napoleon himself had to be smuggled back to France.
For this spectacular victory, Nelson was granted the title of Baron Nelson
(Nelson felt cheated that he was not awarded a greater title; Sir John Jervis
had been made Earl St Vincent for his part in that battle, but the British
Government insisted that an officer not commander-in-chief could not be raised
to any peerage higher than a barony).
Not content to rest on his laurels, he then rescued the Neapolitan royal
family from a French invasion in December. During this time, he fell in love
with Emma Hamilton—the young wife of the elderly British ambassador to Naples.
She became his mistress, returning to England to live openly with him, and
eventually they had a daughter, Horatia. Some have suggested that a head wound
he received at Abukir Bay was partially responsible for that conduct, and for
the way he conducted the Neapolitan campaign—due simultaneously to his English
hatred of Jacobins and his status as a Neapolitan royalist (he had been made
Duke of Bronte in Sicily by the King of Naples in 1799)—now considered
something of a disgrace to his name.
In 1799, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red, the seventh highest rank
in the Royal Navy. He was then assigned to the Foudroyant. In July, he
aided with the reconquest of Naples, and was made Duke of Bronte by the
Neapolitan king. His personal problems, and upper-level disappointment at his
professional conduct caused him to be rotated back to England, but public knowledge
of his affection for Lady Hamilton eventually induced the Admiralty to send
him back to sea if only to get him away from her.
On January 1, 1801, he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue (the sixth
highest rank). Within a few months he was involved in the Battle of Copenhagen
(April 2, 1801), which nullified the fleet of the Danes, in order to break up
the armed neutrality of Denmark, Sweden and Russia. The action was
considered somewhat underhanded by some, and in fact Nelson had been ordered to cease
the battle by his commander Sir Hyde Parker. In a famous incident, however,
he claimed he could not see the signal flags conveying the order, pointedly
raising his telescope to his blind eye. His action was approved in retrospect,
and in May he became commander-in-chief in the Baltic Sea, and was awarded
the title of Viscount Nelson by the British crown.
Napoleon was amassing forces to invade England, however, and Nelson was soon
placed in charge of defending the English Channel to prevent this. However,
on October 22 an armistice was signed between the British and the French, and
Nelson—in poor health again—retired to England where he stayed with his
friends, Sir William and Lady Hamilton.
The Peace of Amiens was not to last long though, and Nelson soon returned to
duty. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean, and assigned
to the HMS Victory in May 1803. He joined the blockade of Toulon, France,
and would not again set foot on dry land for more than two years. Nelson was
promoted to Vice Admiral of the White (the fifth highest rank) while he was
still at sea, on 23 April 1804. The French fleet slipped out of Toulon in early
1805 and headed for the West Indies. A stern chase failed to turn them up and
Nelson's health forced him to retire to Merton in England.
Within two months his ease ended. On September 13, 1805 he was called upon to
oppose the French and Spanish fleets, which had managed to join up and take
refuge in the harbour of Cádiz, Spain.
On October 21, 1805, Nelson engaged in his final battle, the Battle of
Trafalgar. Napoleon Bonaparte had been massing forces once again for the invasion
of the British Isles. On the 19th, the French and Spanish fleet left Cádiz,
intent on clearing the Channel for this purpose. Nelson, with twenty-seven
ships, engaged the thirty-three opposing ships.
His last dispatch, written on the 21st, read:
At daylight saw the Enemy's Combined Fleet from East to E.S.E.; bore away;
made the signal for Order of Sailing, and to Prepare for Battle; the Enemy
with their heads to the Southward: at seven the Enemy wearing in succession. May
the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my Country, and for the benefit of
Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any
one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in
the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made
me, and may his blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country
faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me
to defend. Amen. Amen.
As the two fleets moved towards engagement, he then ran up a thirty-one flag
signal to the rest of the fleet which spelled out the famous phrase "England
expects that every man will do his duty".
After crippling the French flagship Beaucentaure, the Victory moved on to
the Redoutable. The two ships entangled each other, at which point snipers in
the rigging of the Redoutable were able to pour fire down onto the deck of the
Victory. Nelson was one of those hit: a bullet entered his shoulder, pierced
his lung, and came to rest at the base of his spine. Nelson retained
consciousness for some time, but died soon after the battle was concluded with a
British victory. The Victory was then towed to Gibraltar, with Nelson's body on
board preserved in a barrel of brandy. Upon his body's arrival in London,
Nelson was given a state funeral and entombment in St. Paul's Cathedral.
According to urban legend, the rum used to preserve his body was illicitly half
drunk by the time it reached London. This may be related to the nickname given to
Naval rum rations later, "Nelson's Blood", a possibly deliberate echo of the
Nelson was noted for his considerable ability to inspire and bring out the
best in his men, to the point that it gained a name: "The Nelson Touch". Famous
even while alive, after his death he was lionized like almost no other
military figure in British history (his only peers are the Duke of Marlborough and
Nelson's contemporary, the Duke of Wellington). The monumental Nelson's
Column and the surrounding Trafalgar Square are notable locations in London to
this day, and Nelson was buried in St. Pauls Cathedral. In Scotland, Nelson's
monument was constructed atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh. However the monument
to Nelson in Dublin was destroyed by an IRA bomb (see Nelson's Pillar). The
Victory is in existence, and is in fact still kept on active commission in
honour of Nelson—it is the flagship of the Second Sea Lord; she can be found in
Number 2 Dry Dock of the Portsmouth Naval Base, in Portsmouth England.
Nelson is included in the top 10 of the 100 Greatest Britons poll sponsored
by the BBC and voted for by the public.
Nelson had no legitimate children; his illegitimate daughter by Lady
Hamilton, Horatia, subsequently married the Rev. Philip Ward and died in 1881. The
Viscountcy and Barony of Nelson became extinct upon his death. However, he had
been granted a second barony (the Barony of Nelson of the Nile and of
Hillborough) in 1801. By a special remainder, Lord Nelson's brother William
inherited the latter barony. William was also created Earl Nelson in recognition of
his brother's services.
A lock of Nelson's hair was given to Imperial Japanese Navy from Royal Navy
after Russo-Japanese war commemorating the victory at Battle of Tsushima. It
is still on display at Kyouiku Sankoukan, a public museum maintained by Japan
Nelson's exploits provided inspiration for those of the fictional characters
Jack Aubrey, Horatio Hornblower and Honor Harrington.