Horatio Nelson (29 September 1758 - 21 October 1805) was a British flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.
He won several victories, including the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during which he was killed.
Nelson was born into a moderately prosperous Norfolk family, and joined the navy through the influence of his uncle, Maurice Suckling.
He rose rapidly through the ranks and served with leading naval commanders of the period before obtaining his own command in 1778.
He developed a reputation in the service through his personal valour and firm grasp of tactics, but suffered periods of illness and unemployment after the end of the American War of Independence.
The outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars allowed Nelson to return to service, where he was particularly active in the Mediterranean. He fought in several minor engagements off Toulon, and was important in the capture of Corsica and subsequent diplomatic duties with the Italian states.
In 1797 he distinguished himself while in commanded of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.
Shortly after the battle, Nelson took part in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where he was badly wounded and forced to return to England to recuperate.
The following year he won a decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile and remained in the Mediterranean to support the Kingdom of Naples against a French invasion.
In 1801 he was despatched to the Baltic and won another victory, this time over the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen. He subsequently commanded the blockade of the French and Spanish fleets at Toulon, and after their escape chased them to the West Indies and back but failed to bring them to battle.
After a brief return to England, he took over the Cádiz blockade in 1805. On 21 October 1805 the Franco-Spanish fleet came out of port and Nelson's fleet engaged them at the Battle of Trafalgar. The battle was Britain's greatest naval victory, but Nelson was hit by a French sniper and mortally wounded.
His body was brought back to England where he was accorded a state funeral.
Nelson was noted for his ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men: the 'Nelson touch'.
His grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics produced a number of decisive victories.
Some aspects of his behaviour were controversial during his lifetime and after: he began a notorious affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton while both were married, which lasted until his death.
Also, his actions during the Neapolitan campaign resulted in allegations of excessive brutality. Nelson could at times be vain, insecure and overly anxious for recognition, but he was also zealous, patriotic and dutiful, as well as courageous.
He was wounded several times in combat, losing most of one arm and the sight in one eye. His death at Trafalgar secured his position as one of England's most heroic figures.
Numerous monuments, including Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London, have been created in his memory and his legacy remains highly influential.
Nelson attended Paston Grammar School, North Walsham, until he was 13 years old; also attending King Edward VI’s Grammar School in Norwich. His naval career began on 1 January 1771, when he reported to the third-rate HMS Raisonnable as an Ordinary Seaman and coxswain under his maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, who commanded the vessel. Shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training.
HMS Raisonnable had been commissioned during a period of tension with Spain, but when this passed Suckling was transferred to the Nore guardship HMS Triumph and Nelson was dispatched to serve aboard the West Indiamen of the merchant shipping firm of Hibbert, Purrier and Horton, in order to gain experience of life at sea. In this capacity he twice crossed the Atlantic, before returning to serve under his uncle as the commander of Suckling's longboat, which carried men and dispatches to and from the shore. Nelson then learned of a planned expedition under the command of Constantine Phipps, intended to survey a passage in the Arctic by which it was hoped that India could be reached: the fabled Northwest Passage. At his nephew's request, Suckling arranged for Nelson to join the expedition and serve as a midshipman aboard the converted bomb vessel HMS Carcass. The expedition reached within ten degrees of the North Pole, but unable to find a way through the dense ice floes, was forced to turn back. Nelson briefly returned to the Triumph after the expedition's return to Britain in September 1773. Suckling then arranged for his transfer to HMS Seahorse, one of two ships about to sail to the East Indies.
Nelson sailed for the East Indies on 19 November 1773 and arrived at the British outpost at Madras on 25 May 1774. Nelson and the Seahorse spent the rest of the year cruising off the coast and escorting merchantmen. With the outbreak of the First Anglo-Maratha War, the British fleet operated in support of the East India Company and in early 1775 the Seahorse was dispatched to carry a cargo of the company's money to Bombay. On 19 February two of Hyder Ali's ketches attacked the Seahorse, which drove them off after a brief exchange of fire. This was Nelson's first experience of battle. The rest of the year he spent escorting convoys, during which he continued to develop his navigation and ship handling skills. In early 1776 Nelson contracted malaria and, seriously ill, was discharged from the Seahorse on 14 March and returned to England aboard HMS Dolphin. He spent the six month voyage recuperating and had almost recovered by the time he arrived in Britain in September 1776. His patron, Suckling, had risen to the post of Comptroller of the Navy in 1775, and used his influence to help Nelson gain further promotion. Nelson was appointed acting lieutenant aboard HMS Worcester, which was about to sail to Gibraltar. The Worcester, under the command of Captain Mark Robinson, sailed as a convoy escort on 3 December and returned with another convoy in April 1777. Nelson then travelled to London to take his lieutenant's examination on 9 April; his examining board consisted of Captains John Campbell, Abraham North, and his uncle, Maurice Suckling. Nelson passed, and the next day received his commission and an appointment to HMS Lowestoffe, which was preparing to sail to Jamaica under Captain William Locker. She sailed on 16 May, arrived on 19 July, and after reprovisioning, carried out several cruises in Caribbean waters. After the outbreak of the American War of Independence the Worcester took several prizes, one of which was taken into Navy service as the tender Little Lucy. Nelson asked for and was given command of her, and took her on two cruises of his own. As well as giving him his first taste of command, it gave Nelson the opportunity to explore his fledgling interest in science. During his first cruise, Nelson led an expeditionary party to the Caicos islands, where he made detailed notes of the wildlife and in particular a bird now believed to be the White-necked Jacobin. Locker, impressed by Nelson's abilities, recommended him to the new commander-in-chief at Jamaica, Sir Peter Parker. Parker duly took Nelson onto his flagship, HMS Bristol. The entry of the French into the war, in support of the Americans, meant further targets for Parker's fleet and it took a large number of prizes towards the end of 1778, which brought Nelson an estimated £400 in prize money. Parker subsequently appointed him as Master and Commander of the brig HMS Badger on 8 December. Nelson and the Badger spent most of 1779 cruising off the Central American coast, ranging as far as the British settlements at Honduras and Nicaragua, but without much success at interception of enemy prizes. On his return to Port Royal he learned that Parker had promoted him to post-captain on 11 June, and intended to give him another command. Nelson handed over the Badger to Cuthbert Collingwood while he awaited the arrival of his new ship, the 28-gun frigate HMS Hinchinbrook. While Nelson waited, news reached Parker that a French fleet under the command of Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing was approaching Jamaica. Parker hastily organized his defences and placed Nelson in command of Fort Charles, which covered the approaches to Kingston. D'Estaing instead headed north, and the anticipated invasion attempt never materialised. Nelson duly took command of the Hinchinbrook on 1 September. The Hinchinbrook sailed from Port Royal on 5 October 1779 and, in company with other British ships, proceeded to capture a number of American prizes. On his return to Jamaica in December, Nelson began to be troubled by a recurrent attack of malaria, but remained in the West Indies in order to be able to take part in Major-General John Dalling's attempt to capture the Spanish colonies in Central America, including an assault on the fortress of San Juan in Nicaragua. The Hinchinbrook sailed from Jamaica in February 1780, as an escort for Dalling's invasion force. After sailing up the mouth of the Colorado River, Nelson led a successful assault on a Spanish look-out post. Despite this quick success, the main force's attack on Fort San Juan was long and drawn out, though Nelson was praised for his efforts. Parker recalled Nelson and gave him command of the 44-gun frigate HMS Janus. Nelson had however fallen seriously ill in the jungles of Costa Rica, probably a recurrence of malaria, and was unable to take command. He was discharged in August and returned to Britain aboard HMS Lion. He arrived in late November, and spent several months recuperating. He gradually recovered his health and soon began agitating for a command. He was appointed to the frigate HMS Albemarle on 15 August 1781.
Nelson received orders on 23 October to take the newly refitted Albemarle to sea. He was instructed to collect an inbound convoy of the Russia Company at Elsinore, and escort them back to Britain. For this operation, the Admiralty placed the frigates HMS Argo and HMS Enterprize under his command. Nelson successfully organised the convoy and escorted it into British waters. He then he left the convoy to return to port, but severe storms hampered him. Gales almost wrecked Albemarle as she was a poorly designed ship and an earlier accident had left her damaged, but Nelson eventually brought her into Portsmouth in February 1782. There the Admiralty ordered him to fit the Albemarle for sea and join the escort for a convoy collecting at Cork to sail for Quebec. Nelson arrived off Newfoundland with the convoy in late May, then detached on a cruise to hunt American privateers. Nelson was generally unsuccessful; he succeeded only in retaking several captured British merchant ships and capturing a number of small fishing boats and assorted craft. In August he had a narrow escape from a far superior French force under Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil, only evading them after a prolonged chase. Nelson arrived at Quebec on 18 September. He sailed again as part of the escort for a convoy to New York. He arrived in mid-November and reported to Admiral Samuel Hood, commander of the New York station. At Nelson's request, Hood transferred him to his fleet and Albemarle sailed in company with Hood, bound for the West Indies. On their arrival, the British fleet took up position off Jamaica to await the arrival of de Vaudreuil's force. Nelson and the Albemarle were ordered to scout the numerous passages for signs of the enemy, but it became clear by early 1783 that the French had eluded Hood. During his scouting operations, Nelson had developed a plan to assault the French garrison of the Turks Islands. Commanding a small flotilla of frigates and smaller vessels, he landed a force of 167 seamen and marines early on the morning of 8 March under a supporting bombardment. The French were found to be heavily entrenched and after several hours Nelson called off the assault. Several of the officers involved criticised Nelson, but Hood does not appear to have reprimanded him. Nelson spent the rest of the war cruising in the West Indies, where he captured a number of French and Spanish prizes. After news of the peace reached Hood, Nelson returned to Britain in late June 1783.
Nelson visited France in late 1783, stayed with acquaintances at Saint-Omer and briefly attempted to learn French. He returned to England in January 1784, and attended court as part of Lord Hood's entourage. Influenced by the factional politics of the time, he contemplated standing for Parliament as a supporter of William Pitt, but was unable to find a seat. In 1784 he received command of the frigate HMS Boreas with the assignment to enforce the Navigation Act in the vicinity of Antigua. The acts were unpopular with both the Americans and the colonies. Nelson served on the station under Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, but often came into conflict with his superior officer over their differing interpretation of the Navigation Acts. The captains of the American vessels Nelson seized sued him for illegal seizure. As the merchants of Nevis supported the American claim, Nelson was in peril of imprisonment; he therefore remained sequestered on Boreas for eight months before the courts ruled in his favour. In the interim, Nelson met Frances "Fanny" Nisbet, a widow native to Nevis. Nelson and Fanny married on 11 March 1787, shortly before the end of his tour of duty in the Caribbean. Nelson returned to England in July, with Fanny following later.
Nelson remained with Boreas until she was paid off in November that year. He and Fanny then divided their time between Bath and London, occasionally visiting Nelson's relations in Norfolk. In 1788, they eventually settled at Nelson's childhood home at Burnham Thorpe. Now in reserve on half pay, he attempted to persuade the Admiralty and other senior figures he was acquainted with, such as Hood, to provide him with a command. He was unsuccessful as there were too few ships in the peacetime navy and Hood did not intercede on his behalf. Nelson spent his time acting on behalf of former crew members, attending to family affairs, and cajoling contacts in the navy for employment. In 1792 the French revolutionary government annexed the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium), which were traditionally preserved as a buffer state. The Admiralty recalled Nelson to service and gave him command of the 64-gun HMS Agamemnon in January 1793. On 1 February France declared war.
In May, Nelson sailed as part of a division under the command of Vice-Admiral William Hotham, joined later in the month by the rest of Lord Hood's fleet. The force initially sailed to Gibraltar and, with the intention of establishing naval superiority in the Mediterranean, made their way to Toulon, anchoring off the port in July. Toulon was largely under the control of moderate republicans and royalists, but was threatened by the forces of the National Convention, which were marching on the city. Short of supplies and doubting their ability to defend themselves, the city authorities requested that Hood take the city under his protection. Hood readily acquiesced and sent Nelson to carry dispatches to Sardinia and Naples requesting reinforcements. After delivering the dispatches to Sardinia, Agamemnon arrived at Naples in early September. There Nelson met Ferdinand VI, King of Naples, followed by the British ambassador to the kingdom, William Hamilton. At some point during the negotiations for Neapolitan reinforcements, Nelson was introduced to Hamilton's new wife, Emma Hamilton. The negotiations were successful, and 2,000 men and several ships were mustered by mid-September. Nelson put to sea in pursuit of a French frigate, but on failing to catch her, sailed for Leghorn, and then to Corsica. He arrived at Toulon on 5 October, where he found that a large French army had occupied the hills surrounding the city and was bombarding it. Hood still hoped the city could be held if more reinforcements arrived and sent Nelson to join a squadron operating off Cagliari.
Early on the morning of 22 October 1793, the Agamemnon sighted five sails. Nelson closed with them, eventually revealing a French squadron. Nelson promptly gave chase, firing on the 40-gun Melpomene. He inflicted considerable damage but the remaining French ships turned to join the battle and, realising he was outnumbered, Nelson withdrew and continued to Cagliari, arriving on 24 October. After making repairs Nelson and the Agamemnon sailed again on 26 October, bound for Tunis with a squadron under Commodore Robert Linzee. On arrival, Nelson was given command of a small squadron consisting of the Agamemnon, three frigates and a sloop, and ordered to blockade the French garrison on Corsica. At the end of December 1793, the fall of Toulon severely damaged British fortunes in the Mediterranean. Hood had failed to make adequate provision for a withdrawal and 18 French ships-of-the-line fell into republican hands. Nelson's mission to Corsica took on added significance, as it could provide the British a naval base close to the French coast. Hood therefore reinforced Nelson with extra ships during January 1794. A British assault force landed on the island on 7 February, after which Nelson moved to intensify the blockade off Bastia. For the rest of the month he carried out raids along the coast and intercepted enemy shipping. By late February St Fiorenzo had fallen and British troops under Lieutenant-General David Dundas entered the outskirts of Bastia. However Dundas merely assessed the enemy positions and then withdrew, arguing the French were too well entrenched to risk an assault. Nelson convinced Hood otherwise, but a protracted debate between the army and naval commanders meant that Nelson did not receive permission to proceed until late March. Nelson began to land guns from his ships, and emplace them in the hills surrounding the town. On 11 April the British squadron entered the harbour and opened fire, whilst Nelson took command of the land forces and commenced bombardment. After 45 days, the town surrendered. Nelson subsequently prepared for an assault on Calvi, working in company with Lieutenant-General Charles Stuart. British forces landed at Calvi on 19 June, and immediately began moving guns ashore to occupy the heights surrounding the town. While Nelson directed a continuous bombardment of the enemy positions, Stuart's men began to advance. On 12 July Nelson was at one of the forward batteries early in the morning, when a shot struck one of the sandbags protecting the position, spraying Nelson and the position with stones and sand. Nelson was struck by debris in his right eye and was forced to retire from the position, although his wound was soon bandaged and he returned to action. By 18 July most of the enemy positions had been disabled, and that night Stuart, supported by Nelson, stormed the main defensive position and captured it. Repositioning their guns, the British brought Calvi under constant bombardment, and the town surrendered on 10 August. However, Nelson's right eye had been irreparably damaged and he eventually lost sight in it.
After the occupation of Corsica, Hood ordered Nelson to open diplomatic relations with the city state of Genoa, a strategically important potential ally. Soon afterwards, Hood returned to England and was succeeded by Admiral William Hotham as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. Nelson put into Leghorn, and while the Agamemnon underwent repairs, met with other naval officers at the port and entertained a brief affair with a local woman, Adelaide Correglia. Hotham arrived with the rest of the fleet in December; Nelson and the Agamemnon sailed on a number of cruises with them in late 1794 and early 1795. On 8 March, news reached Hotham that the French fleet was at sea and heading for Corsica. He immediately put to sea to intercept them; Nelson eagerly anticipating his first fleet action. The French however were reluctant to engage and the two fleets shadowed each other throughout 12 March. The following day two of the French ships collided, allowing Nelson to engage the much larger 84-gun Ça Ira for two and a half hours until the arrival of another two French ships forced Nelson to veer away, having inflicted heavy casualties and considerable damage. The two fleets then continued to shadow each other before making contact again, on 14 March, in the Battle of Genoa. Nelson joined the other British ships in attacking the battered Ça Ira, now under tow from the Censeur. Heavily damaged, the two French ships were eventually forced to surrender and Nelson took possession of the Censeur. Defeated at sea, the French abandoned their plan to invade Corsica and returned to port. Skirmishes and the retreat from Italy Nelson and the fleet remained in the Mediterranean throughout the summer and on 4 July the Agamemnon sailed from St Fiorenzo with a small force of frigates and sloops, bound for Genoa. On 6 July however he ran into the French fleet and found himself pursued by several much larger ships of the line. He retreated to St Fiorenzo, arriving just ahead of the pursuing French, who broke off as Nelson's signal guns alerted the British fleet in harbour. Hotham pursued the French to the Hyères Islands, but failed to bring them to a decisive action. A number of small engagements were fought but to Nelson's dismay, he saw little action. Nelson returned to operate out of Genoa, intercepting and inspecting merchants and cutting-out suspicious vessels in both enemy and neutral harbours. He formulated ambitious plans for amphibious landings and naval assaults to frustrate the progress of the French Army of Italy that was now advancing on Genoa, but could excite little interest in Hotham. In November Hotham was replaced by Sir Hyde Parker but the situation in Italy was rapidly deteriorating: the French raiding around Genoa and strong Jacobin sentiment rife within the city itself. A large French assault at the end of November broke the allied lines, and despite Nelson's attempts to cover the subsequent retreat he had too few ships and the British were forced to withdraw from the Italian ports. Nelson returned to Corsica on 30 November, angry and depressed at the British failure and questioning his future career in the navy. In January 1796 the position of commander-in-chief of the fleet in the Mediterranean passed to Sir John Jervis, who appointed Nelson to exercise independent command over the ships blockading the French coast as a commodore. Nelson spent the first half of the year conducting operations to frustrate French advances and bolster Britain's Italian allies. Despite some minor successes in intercepting small French warships, Nelson began to feel the British presence on the Italian peninsula was rapidly becoming useless. In June the Agamemnon was sent back to Britain for repairs, and Nelson appointed to the 74-gun HMS Captain. In the same month, the French thrust towards Leghorn and were certain to capture the city. Nelson hurried there to oversee the evacuation of British nationals and transport them to Corsica, after which Jervis ordered him to blockade the newly captured French port. In July he oversaw the occupation of Elba, but by September the Genoese had broken their neutrality to declare in favour of the French. By October, the Genoese position and the continued French advances led the British to decide that the Mediterranean fleet could no longer be supplied and ordered it to be evacuated to Gibraltar. Nelson helped oversee the withdrawal from Corsica, and by December 1796 was aboard the frigate HMS Minerve, covering the evacuation of the garrison at Elba. He then sailed to Gibraltar. During the passage, Nelson captured the Spanish frigate Santa Sabina, placed Lieutenant Hardy in charge of the captured vessel, and took on board the captain of the Spanish frigate. The following morning, two Spanish ships of the line and a frigate appeared. Nelson initially determined to fight but Hardy, in order to save his commodore, sacrificed his own ship by drawing the Spanish fire, giving Nelson the opportunity to escape. The Spanish recovered Santa Sabina, capturing Hardy. Nelson then rendezvoused with the British fleet. Later, in Gibraltar, the British exchanged the Spanish captain of Santa Sabina for Hardy.
Nelson joined Sir John Jervis's fleet off Cape St Vincent, and reported the presence of a Spanish fleet that had sailed from Cartagena. Jervis decided to give battle and the two fleets met on 14 February. Nelson found himself towards the rear of the British line and realised that it would be a long time before he could bring Captain into action. Instead of continuing to follow the line, Nelson disobeyed orders and wore ship, breaking from the line and heading to engage the Spanish van, consisting of the 112-gun San Josef, the 80-gun San Nicolas and the 130-gun Santísima Trinidad. She engaged all three, assisted by HMS Culloden which had come to Nelson's aid. After an hour of exchanging broadsides had left both Captain and Culloden heavily damaged, Nelson found himself alongside the San Nicolas. He led a boarding party across, crying 'Westminster Abbey! or, glorious victory!' and forced her surrender. San Josef attempted to come to the San Nicolas’s aid, but became entangled with compatriot and was left immobile. Nelson led his party from the deck of the San Nicolas onto the San Josef and captured her as well. As night fell the Spanish fleet broke off and sailed for Cadiz. Four ships had surrendered to the British and two of them were Nelson's captures. Nelson was victorious, but had disobeyed direct orders. Jervis liked Nelson and so did not officially reprimand him, but in his official report of the battle he did not mention Nelson's actions. He did write a private letter to George Spencer in which he said that Nelson 'contributed very much to the fortune of the day'. Nelson also wrote several letters about his victory, reporting that his action was being referred to amongst the fleet as 'Nelson's Patent Bridge for boarding first rates'. Nelson's account was later challenged by Rear-Admiral William Parker, who had been aboard HMS Prince George. He claimed that Nelson had been supported by several more ships than he had acknowledged in his attack on the Spanish van, and that by the time he had boarded the San Josef, she had already struck her colours. It was Nelson's account of his role that prevailed and the victory was well received in Britain: Jervis was made Earl St Vincent and Nelson was made a Knight of the Bath. On 20 February, in a standard promotion according to his seniority unrelated to the battle, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue.
In the aftermath of the battle, Nelson was given command of HMS Theseus and on 27 May 1797 was ordered to lie off Cadiz, monitoring the Spanish fleet and awaiting the arrival of Spanish treasure ships from the American colonies. He soon pressed an attack on the city, carrying out a bombardment and an amphibious assault on 3 July. Personally leading the action, his barge collided with that of the Spanish commander, and a hand to hand struggle ensued between the two crews. Twice Nelson was nearly cut down and both times his life was saved by a seaman named John Sykes who took the blows and was badly wounded. The British raiding force captured the Spanish boat and towed it back to the Theseus. During this period he developed a scheme to capture Santa Cruz de Tenerife, aiming to seize a large quantity of specie from the treasure ship Principe de Asturias, which was reported to have recently arrived.
The battle plan called for a combination of naval bombardments and an amphibious landing. The initial attempt was called off after adverse currents hampered the assault and the element of surprise was lost. Nelson immediately ordered another assault but this was beaten back. He prepared for third attempt, to take place during the night. Although he personally led one of the battalions, the operation ended in failure: the Spanish were better prepared than had been expected and had secured strong defensive positions. Several of the boats failed to land at the correct positions in the confusion, while those that did were swept by gunfire and grapeshot. Nelson's boat reached its intended landing point but as he stepped ashore he was hit in the right arm by a musketball, fracturing his humerus bone in multiple places. He was rowed back to the Theseus to be attended to by the surgeon. Most of the right arm was amputated and within half an hour Nelson had returned to issuing orders to his captains. Years later he would still excuse himself to Commodore John Thomas Duckworth for not writing longer letters due to being left-handed. Meanwhile a force under Sir Thomas Troubridge had fought their way to the main square but could go no further. Unable to return to the fleet because their boats had been sunk, Troubridge was forced to enter into negotiations with the Spanish commander, and the British were subsequently allowed to withdraw. The expedition had failed to achieve any of its objectives and had left a quarter of the landing force dead or wounded. The squadron remained off Tenerife for a further three days and by 16 August had rejoined Jervis's fleet off Cadiz. He returned to England aboard HMS Seahorse, arriving at Spithead on 1 September. He was met with a hero's welcome: the British public had lionised Nelson after Cape St. Vincent and his wound earned him sympathy. They refused to attribute the defeat at Tenerife to him, preferring instead to blame poor planning on the part of St. Vincent, the Secretary at War or even William Pitt.
Nelson returned to Bath with Fanny, before moving to London in October to seek medical expertise concerning his amputated arm. Whilst in London news reached him that Admiral Duncan had defeated the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown. Nelson exclaimed that he would have given his other arm to have been present. He spent the last months of 1797 recuperating in London, during which he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London and an annual pension of £1,000 a year. He used the money to buy Round Wood Farm near Ipswich, and intended to retire there with Fanny. Despite his plans, Nelson was never to live there. Although surgeons had been unable to remove the central ligature in his amputated arm, which had caused considerable inflammation and poisoning, in early December it came out of its own accord and Nelson rapidly began to recover. Eager to return to sea, he began agitating the Admiralty for a command and was promised the 80-gun HMS Foudroyant. As she was not yet ready for sea, Nelson was instead given command of the 74-gun HMS Vanguard, to which he appointed Edward Berry as his flag captain. French activities in the Mediterranean theatre were concerning the Admiralty: Napoleon was gathering forces in Southern France but the destination of his army, the invasion of Egypt, was unknown to the Admiralty. Nelson and the Vanguard were to be dispatched to Cadiz to reinforce the fleet. On 28 March 1798, Nelson hoisted his flag and sailed to join Earl St. Vincent. St. Vincent sent him on to Gibraltar with a small force to reconnoitre French activities.
While Nelson was sailing to Gibraltar through a fierce storm, Napoleon had sailed with his invasion fleet under the command of Vice-admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers. When news of the French departure reached St. Vincent, Nelson was reinforced with a number of 74s and ordered to intercept the French. Nelson immediately began searching the Italian coast for Napoleon's fleet, but was hampered by a lack of frigates that could operate as fast scouts. Napoleon had already arrived at Malta and after a show of force, secured the island's surrender. Nelson followed him there, but had again missed the French who had already left for Egypt. After a conference with his captains, he decided that Egypt was Napoleon's most likely destination and headed for Alexandria. On his arrival on 28 June though he found no sign of the French and, dismayed, he withdrew and began searching to the east of the port. While he was absent, Napoleon's fleet arrived on 1 July and landed their forces unopposed. Brueys then anchored his fleet in Abu Qir Bay, ready to support Napoleon if required. Nelson meanwhile had recrossed the Mediterranean again in a fruitless attempt to locate the French and had returned to Naples to re-provision. He sailed again, intending to search the seas off Cyprus, but decided to pass Alexandria again for a final check. In doing so his force captured a French merchant, which provided the first news of the French fleet: that they had passed south-east of Crete a month before heading to Alexandria. Nelson hurried to the port but again found it empty of the French. Searching along the coast, he finally discovered the French fleet in Abu Qir Bay on 1 August 1798.
Nelson immediately prepared for battle. It was late by the time the British arrived and the French, anchored in a strong position with a combined fire power greater than that of Nelson's fleet, did not expect them to attack. Nelson however immediately ordered his ships to advance. The French line was anchored close to a line of shoals, in the belief that this would secure their port side from attack; Brueys had assumed the British would follow convention and attack his centre from the starboard side However, Captain Thomas Foley aboard HMS Goliath discovered a gap between the shoals and the French ships wide enough for a British ship to pass, and took Goliath into the channel. The unprepared French found themselves attacked on both sides, the British fleet splitting, with some following Foley and others passing down the starboard side of the French line.
The British fleet was soon heavily engaged, passing down the French line and engaging their ships one by one. Nelson on Vanguard personally engaged Spartiate, also coming under fire from Aquilon. At about eight o'clock, he was with Berry on the quarter-deck when a piece of French shot struck him in his forehead. He fell to the deck, a flap of torn skin obscuring his good eye. Blinded and half stunned, he felt sure he would die. He was taken below to be seen by the surgeon. After examining Nelson, the surgeon pronounced the wound non-threatening and applied a temporary bandage. The French van, pounded by British fire from both sides, had begun to surrender, the victorious British ships continuing to move down the line, bringing Brueys's 118-gun flagship Orient under constant heavy fire. Orient caught fire under this bombardment, and later exploded. Nelson briefly came up on deck to direct the battle, but returned to the surgeon after watching the destruction of Orient. The Battle of the Nile was a major blow to Napoleon's ambitions in the east. The fleet had been destroyed; Orient, another ship and two frigates had been burnt, seven 74s and two 80s had been captured and only two ships of the line and two frigates escaped, while the forces Napoleon had brought to Egypt were stranded. Napoleon attacked north along the Mediterranean coast, but Turkish defenders supported by Captain Sir Sidney Smith defeated his army at the Siege of Acre. Napoleon then left his army and sailed back to France, evading detection by British ships. Given its strategic importance, some historians regard Nelson's achievement at the Nile as the most significant of his career, even greater than that at Trafalgar seven years later.
Nelson wrote dispatches to the Admiralty and oversaw temporary repairs to the Vanguard, before sailing to Naples where he was met with enthusiastic celebrations. The King of Naples, in company with the Hamiltons, greeted him in person when he arrived at the port and William Hamilton invited Nelson to stay at their house. Celebrations were held in honour of Nelson's birthday that September, and he attended a banquet at the Hamilton's, where other officers had begun to notice his attention to Emma. Jervis himself had begun to grow concerned at the reports he received of Nelson's behaviour but in early October, the news of Nelson's victory had reached London. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, fainted on hearing the news. Scenes of celebration erupted across the country, balls and victory feasts were held and church bells were rung. The City of London awarded Nelson and his captains with swords, whilst the King ordered them to be presented with special medals. Tsar of Russia sent him a gift, and the Selim III, the Sultan of Turkey, awarded Nelson the Order of the Turkish Crescent for his role in restoring Ottoman rule in Egypt. Lord Hood, after a conversation with the Prime Minister, told Fanny that Nelson would likely be given a Viscountcy, similar to Jervis's earldom after Cape St Vincent, and Duncan's viscountcy after Camperdown. Earl Spencer however demurred, arguing that as Nelson had only been detached in command of a squadron, rather than being the commander in chief of the fleet, such an award would create an unwelcome precedent. Instead, Nelson received the title, Baron Nelson of the Nile.
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Nelson was dismayed by Spencer's decision, and declared that he would rather have received no title than that of a mere barony. He was however cheered by the attention showered on him by the citizens of Naples, the prestige accorded him by the kingdom's elite, and the comforts he received at the Hamiltons' residence. He made frequent visits to attend functions in his honour, or to tour nearby attractions with Emma, with whom he had by now fallen deeply in love, almost constantly at his side. Orders arrived from the Admiralty to blockade the French forces in Alexandria and Malta, a task Nelson delegated to his captains, Samuel Hood and Alexander Ball. Despite enjoying his lifestyle in Naples Nelson began to think of returning to England, but after a long period of pressure from his wife Maria Carolina of Austria and Sir William Hamilton, King Ferdinand of Naples finally agreed to declare war on France. The Neapolitan army, led by the Austrian General Mack and supported by Nelson's fleet, retook Rome from the French in late November but the French regrouped outside the city and, after being reinforced, routed the Neapolitans. In disarray, the Neapolitan army fled back to Naples, with the pursuing French close behind. Nelson hastily organised the evacuation of the Royal Family, several nobles and the British nationals, including the Hamiltons. The evacuation got underway on 23 December and sailed through heavy gales before reaching the safety of Palermo on 26 December. With the departure of the Royal Family, Naples descended into anarchy and news reached Palermo in January that the French had entered the city under General Championnet and proclaimed the Parthenopaean Republic. Nelson was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red on 14 February 1799, and was occupied for the several months in blockading Naples, while a force under Cardinal Ruffo marched to retake the city. In late June Ruffo's army entered Naples, forcing the French and their supporters to withdraw to the city's fortifications as rioting and looting broke out amongst the ill-disciplined Neapolitan troops. Dismayed by the bloodshed, Ruffo agreed a general amnesty with the Jacobin forces that allowed them safe conduct to France. Nelson, now aboard the Foudroyant, was outraged, and backed by King Ferdinand, insisted that the rebels must surrender unconditionally. He took those who had surrendered under the amnesty under armed guard, including the former Admiral Francesco Caracciolo, who had commanded the Neapolitan navy under King Ferdinand but had changed sides during the brief Jacobin rule. Nelson ordered his trial by court-martial and refused Caracciolo's request that it be held by British officers. Caracciolo was tried by royalist Neapolitan officers and sentenced to death. He asked to be shot rather than hung, but Nelson also refused this request and ignored the court's request to allow 24 hours for Caracciolo to prepare himself. Caracciolo was hanged aboard the Neapolitan frigate Minerva at 5 p.m. the same afternoon. Nelson kept the Jacobins imprisoned and approved of a wave of further executions, refusing to intervene despite pleas for clemency from the Hamiltons and the Queen of Naples. When transports were finally allowed to carry the Jacobins to France, less than a third were still alive. For his support for the monarchy Nelson was made Duke of Bronte by King Ferdinand. Nelson returned to Palermo in August and in September became the senior officer in the Mediterranean after Jervis' successor Lord Keith left to chase the French and Spanish fleets into the Atlantic. Nelson spent the rest of 1799 at the Neapolitan court but put to sea again in February 1800 after Lord Keith's return. On 18 February Généreux, a survivor of the Nile, was sighted and Nelson gave chase, capturing her after a short battle and winning Keith's approval. Nelson had a difficult relationship with his superior officer: he was gaining a reputation for insubordination, having initially refused to send ships when Keith requested him and on occasion returning to Palermo without orders, pleading poor health. Keith's reports, and rumours of Nelson's close relationship with Emma Hamilton were also circulating in London, and Earl Spencer wrote a pointed letter suggesting that he return home as You will be more likely to recover your health and strength in England than in any inactive situation at a foreign Court, however pleasing the respect and gratitude shown to you for your services may be.
The recall of Sir William Hamilton to Britain was a further incentive for Nelson to return, although he and the Hamiltons initially sailed from Naples on a brief cruise around Malta aboard the Foudroyant in April 1800. It was on this voyage that Horatio and Emma's illegitimate daughter Horatia was probably conceived. After the cruise, Nelson conveyed the Queen of Naples and her suite to Leghorn. On his arrival, Nelson shifted his flag to HMS Alexander, but again disobeyed Keith's orders by refusing to join the main fleet. Keith came to Leghorn in person to demand an explanation, and refused to be moved by the Queen's pleas to allow her to be conveyed in a British ship. In the face of Keith's demands, Nelson reluctantly struck his flag and bowed to Emma Hamilton's request to return to England by land. Nelson, the Hamiltons and several other British travellers left Leghorn for Florence on 13 July. They made stops at Trieste and Vienna, spending three weeks in the latter where they were entertained by the local nobility and heard the Missa in Angustiis by Haydn that now bears Nelson's name. By September they were in Prague, and later called at Dresden, Dessau and Hamburg, from where they caught a packet ship to Great Yarmouth, arriving on 6 November. Nelson was given a hero's welcome and after being sworn in as a freeman of the borough and received the massed crowd's applause. He subsequently made his way to London, arriving on 9 November. He attended court and was guest of honour at a number of banquets and balls.
Shortly after his arrival in England Nelson was appointed to be second-in-command of the Channel Fleet under Lord St Vincent. He was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue on 1 January 1801, and travelled to Plymouth, where on 22 January he was granted the freedom of the city, and on 29 January Emma gave birth to their daughter, Horatia. Nelson was delighted, but subsequently disappointed when he was instructed to move his flag from HMS San Josef to HMS St George in preparation for a planned expedition to the Baltic. Tired of British ships imposing a blockade against French trade and stopping and searching their merchants, the Russian, Prussian, Danish and Swedish governments had formed an alliance to break the blockade. Nelson joined Admiral Sir Hyde Parker's fleet at Yarmouth, from where they sailed for the Danish coast in March. On their arrival Parker was inclined to blockade the Danish and control the entrance to the Baltic, but Nelson urged a pre-emptive attack on the Danish fleet at harbour in Copenhagen. He convinced Parker to allow him to make an assault, and was given significant reinforcements. Parker himself would wait in the Kattegat, covering Nelson's fleet in case of the arrival of the Swedish or Russian fleets.
On the morning of 2 April 1801, Nelson began to advance into Copenhagen harbour. The battle began badly for the British, with HMS Agamemnon, HMS Bellona and HMS Russell running aground, and the rest of the fleet encountering heavier fire from the Danish shore batteries than had been anticipated. Parker sent the signal for Nelson to withdraw. Nelson, directing action aboard HMS Elephant, was informed of the signal by the signal lieutenant, Frederick Langford, but ignored it. The battle lasted three hours, leaving both Danish and British fleets heavily damaged. At length Nelson dispatched a letter to the Danish commander, Crown Prince Frederick calling for a truce, which the Prince accepted. Parker approved of Nelson's actions in retrospect, and Nelson was given the honour of going into Copenhagen the next day to open formal negotiations. At a banquet that evening he told Prince Frederick that the battle had been the most severe he had ever been in. The outcome of the battle and several weeks of ensuing negotiations was a 14 week armistice, and on Parker's recall in May, Nelson became commander-in-chief in the Baltic Sea. As a reward for the victory, he was created Viscount Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, on 19 May 1801. In addition, on 4 August 1801, he was created Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Hilborough in the County of Norfolk, this time with a special remainder to his father and sisters. Nelson subsequently sailed to the Russian base at Tallinn in May, and there learned that the pact of armed neutrality was to be disbanded. Satisfied with the outcome of the expedition, he returned to England, arriving on 1 July.
In France, Napoleon was massing forces to invade Great Britain. After a brief spell in London, where he again visited the Hamiltons, Nelson was placed in charge of defending the English Channel to prevent the invasion. He spent the summer reconnoitring the French coast, but apart from a failed attack on Boulogne in August, saw little action. On 22 October 1801 the Peace of Amiens was signed between the British and the French, and Nelson in poor health again retired to Britain where he stayed with Sir William and Lady Hamilton. On 30 October Nelson spoke in support of the Addington government in the House of Lords, and afterwards made regular visits to attend sessions. The three embarked on a tour of England and Wales, visiting Birmingham, Warwick, Gloucester, Swansea, Monmouth and numerous other towns and villages. Nelson often found himself received as a hero and was the centre of celebrations and events held in his honour. In 1802, Nelson bought Merton Place, a country estate in Merton, Surrey (now south-west London) where he lived briefly with the Hamiltons until William's death in April 1803. The following month, war broke out again and Nelson prepared to return to sea.
Nelson was appointed commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean and given the first-rate HMS Victory as his flagship. He joined her at Portsmouth, where he received orders to sail to Malta and take command of a squadron there before joining the blockade of Toulon. Nelson arrived off Toulon in July 1803 and spent the next year and a half enforcing the blockade. He was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White while still at sea, on 23 April 1804. In January 1805 the French fleet, under Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, escaped Toulon and eluded the blockading British. Nelson set off in pursuit but after searching the eastern Mediterranean he learned that the French had been blown back into Toulon. Villeneuve managed to break out a second time in April, and this time succeeded in passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic, bound for the West Indies. Nelson gave chase, but after arriving in the Caribbean spent June in a fruitless search for the fleet. Villeneuve had briefly cruised around the islands before heading back to Europe, in contravention of Napoleon's orders. The returning French fleet was intercepted by a British fleet under Sir Robert Calder and engaged in the Battle of Cape Finisterre, but managed to reach Ferrol with only minor losses. Nelson returned to Gibraltar at the end of July, and travelled from there to England, dismayed at his failure to bring the French to battle and expecting to be censured. To his surprise he was given a rapturous reception from crowds who had gathered to view his arrival, while senior British officials congratulated him for sustaining the close pursuit and credited him for saving the West Indies from a French invasion. Nelson briefly stayed in London, where he was cheered wherever he went, before visiting Merton to see Emma, arriving in late August. He entertained a number of his friends and relations there over the coming month, and began plans for a grand engagement with the enemy fleet, one that would surprise his foes by forcing a pell-mell battle on them. Captain Henry Blackwood arrived at Merton early on 2 September, bringing news that the French and Spanish fleets had combined and were currently at anchor in Cádiz. Nelson hurried to London where he met with cabinet ministers and was given command of the fleet blockading Cádiz. Nelson returned briefly to Merton to set his affairs in order and bid farewell to Emma. He then journeyed to Portsmouth and embarked aboard the Victory, with crowds lining the dockside to cheer him. Victory joined the British fleet off Cádiz on 27 September, Nelson taking over from Rear-Admiral Collingwood. He spent the following weeks preparing and refining his tactics for the anticipated battle and dining with his captains to ensure they understood his intentions. Nelson had devised a plan of attack that anticipated the allied fleet would form up in a traditional line of battle. Drawing on his own experience from the Nile and Copenhagen, and the examples of Duncan at Camperdown and Rodney at the Saintes, Nelson decided to split his fleet into squadrons rather than forming it into a similar line parallel to the enemy. These squadrons would then cut the enemy's line in a number of places, allowing a pell-mell battle to develop in which the British ships could overwhelm and destroy parts of their opponents' formation, before the unengaged enemy ships could come to their aid.
The combined French and Spanish fleet under Villeneuve's command numbered 33 ships of the line. Napoleon Bonaparte had intended for Villeneuve to sail into the English Channel and cover the planned invasion of Britain, but the entry of Austria and Russia into the war forced Napoleon to call off the planned invasion and transfer troops to Germany. Villeneuve had been reluctant to risk an engagement with the British, and this reluctance led Napoleon to order Vice-Admiral François Rosily to go to Cádiz and take command of the fleet, sail it into the Mediterranean to land troops at Naples, before making port at Toulon. Villeneuve decided to sail the fleet out before his successor arrived. On 20 October the fleet was sighted making its way out of harbour by patrolling British frigates, and Nelson was informed that they appeared to be headed to the west.
At four o'clock in the morning of 21 October Nelson ordered the Victory to turn towards the approaching enemy fleet, and signalled the rest of his force to battle stations. Despite having 27 ships to Villeneuve's 33, Nelson was confident of success, declaring that he would not be satisfied with taking less than 20 prizes.
Victory came under fire, initially passing wide, but then with greater accuracy as the distances decreased. A cannon ball struck and killed Nelson's secretary, John Scott, nearly cutting him in two. Hardy's clerk took over, but he too was almost immediately killed. Victory’s wheel was shot away, and another cannon ball cut down eight marines. Hardy, standing next to Nelson on the quarterdeck, had his shoe buckle dented by a splinter. The Victory had by now reached the enemy line, and Hardy asked Nelson which ship to engage first. Nelson told him to take his pick, and Hardy moved Victory across the stern of the 80-gun French flagship Bucentaure. Victory then came under fire from the 74-gun Redoutable, lying off the Bucentaure’s stern, and the 130-gun Santísima Trinidad. As snipers from the enemy ships fired onto Victory’s deck from their rigging, Nelson and Hardy continued to walk about, directing and giving orders.
Shortly after one o'clock, Hardy realised that Nelson was not by his side. He turned to see Nelson kneeling on the deck, supporting himself with his hand, before falling onto his side.
He had been hit by a marksman from the Redoutable, firing at a range of 50 feet. The bullet had entered his left shoulder, pierced his lung, and came to rest at the base of his spine. Nelson was carried below by a sergeant-major of marines and two seamen. Scott, who remained by Nelson as he died, recorded his last words as 'God and my country'. Nelson died at half-past four, three hours after he was shot.
Nelson's body was placed in a cask of brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh, which was then lashed to the Victory’s mainmast and placed under guard. Victory was towed to Gibraltar after the battle, and on arrival the body was transferred to a lead-lined coffin filled with spirits of wine. Collingwood's despatches about the battle were carried to England aboard HMS Pickle, and when the news arrived in London, a messenger was sent to Merton Place to bring the news of Nelson's death to Emma Hamilton.
Nelson's coffin was returned to Britain aboard the Victory. Unloaded at the Nore it was taken to Greenwich and placed in a lead coffin, and that in another wooden one, made from the mast of L'Orient which had been salvaged after the Battle of the Nile. He lay in state in the Painted Hall at Greenwich for three days, before being taken up river aboard a barge, accompanied by Lord Hood, Sir Peter Parker, and the Prince of Wales. The coffin was taken into the Admiralty for the night, attended by Nelson's chaplain, Alexander Scott. The next day, 9 January a funeral procession consisting of 32 admirals, over a hundred captains, and escorted by 10,000 troops took the coffin from the Admiralty to St. Paul's Cathedral. After a four hour service, including His body is buried in peace but his name liveth for evermore from Handel's Israel in Egypt, he was laid to rest within a sarcophagus originally carved for Thomas Cardinal Wolsey.
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