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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson


Horatio Nelson was born on September 29, 1758 in a rectory in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England, the sixth of eleven children of the Reverend Edmund Nelson and his wife Catherine Suckling.

His father Edmund Nelson was a simple country parson. The Nelsons were genteel, scholarly, and poor.

His mother, Catherine, was a grandniece of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, the de facto first Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Horatio lost his adored mother when he was 9. He remembered her with fondness, recalling a line from Shakespeare's Henry V when he did so and said that his love for her could be seen in the tears in his eyes.

He attended Paston Grammar School, North Walsham, until he was 12 years old, and also attended King Edward VI’s Grammar School in Norwich as a boarding pupil from 1768 to 1769.

Horatio learnt to sail on Barton Broad on the Norfolk Broads,

After the death of Horatio's mother, Horatio's father begun to call in favors with relatives to ensure that educations and positions could be found for his sons. Maurice Suckling, Edmund's brother-in-law, promised to do what he could for Horatio, using the patronage available to him as a naval captain.This saw the start of Horatio's successful career in the Royal Navy.

A weak, sickly child, when he was sent to sea at the age of 12 as a midshipman on the Raisonnable Horatio was so lonely and homesick, he was nicknamed "Poor Horace Captain."


Nelson's naval career began on January 1, 1771, when he reported to the third-rate Raisonnable 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 1773 Nelson was a midshipman on Constantine Phipps naval expedition to Arctic Canada.

Still only 20-years-old, Nelson took command of the 28-gun frigate HMS Hinchinbrook, newly captured from the French on September 1, 1779.

Nelson took part in Major-General John Dalling's attempt to capture the Spanish colonies in Central America. In 1780 he engaged in an assault on the Castillo Viejo, on the San Juan River in Nicaragua.
Nelson, with some one thousand men and four small cannon, obtained the surrender of Castillo Viejo and its 160 Spanish defenders after a two-week siege. He was praised for his efforts - it was considered his most notable achievement to date.

Captain Horatio Nelson, painted by John Francis Rigaud in 1781, with Fort San Juan in the background

In 1784 Nelson received command of the frigate HMS Boreas with the assignment to enforce the Navigation Acts in the vicinity of Antigua.

In 18 months commanding the HMS Boreas Nelson flogged 54 of his 122 seamen and 12 of his 20 marines.

During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Nelson spent five years at home on half pay as there was no war to fight.

The Admiralty recalled Nelson to service and gave him command of the 64-gun HMS Agamemnon in January 1793. France declared war the following month. The Agamemnon was said to be his favorite of all the ships he commanded.

Whilst on active service in the Mediterranean in 1794, Horatio Nelson lost the sight of his right eye at Calvi.

Nelson distinguished himself while in command of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, which was fought on February 14, 1797. One of the opening battles of the Anglo-Spanish War, 15 British ships were fighting. 22 Spanish, when Nelson in his ship Captain sighted a gap in the Spanish line. Without orders he moved in to prevent it closing and captured two ships, San Josef of 112 guns and San Nicholas, 80 guns. The victory ensured British influence again in Mediterranean. The then Commodore Nelson's share in the victory made him a national hero.

Nelson receives the surrender of the San Nicholas, an 1806 portrait by Richard Westall

On February 20, 1797, Nelson was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue. It was a standard promotion according to his seniority and unrelated to the Battle of Cape St Vincent.


In 1798 Near Admiral Lord Nelson totally crushed the French General Napoleon's French fleet at the Battle of the Nile thus preventing his conquest of the East. He became known as the Hero of the Nile and ladies honored him with bonnets embroidered with "the hero of the Nile" in sequins.

The Battle of the Nile, depicted in an 1801 painting by Thomas Luny

After his victory over the French fleet at the Nile, Nelson was given by the Sultan of Turkey a huge diamond-encrusted cockade. It contained a clockwork mechanism that made it spin and sparkle like a Catherine wheel.

Between 1798-99, Nelson helped crush a democratic uprising in Naples. In 1799 Nelson violated a treaty ensuring safe conduct for the defeated Neapolitan Republicans. As a result vast numbers were tortured then executed by the merciless King Ferdinand. Afterwards the royalists played ball with the decapitated heads of these unfortunates.

The Battle of Copenhagen was fought on April 2, 1801 during the War of the Second Coalition. A British naval fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker engaged in battle with a Danish fleet anchored just off Copenhagen. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson led the main attack. After three hours bombardment which Nelson described as, " warm work, but mark you, I would not be elsewhere for thousands!" Nelson's commander, Sir Hyde Parker sent him the signal "to disengage" and again "to discontinue action". Clapping his telescope to his blind eye, Nelson said that he didn't see the signal despite his officers seeing it clearly. He went onto a splendid victory, obtaining the surrender of the entire Danish fleet. This victory enabled the British to break the Northern League of Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Prussia which had attempted to keep British shipping out of the Baltic.

Nicholas Pocock's Battle of Copenhagen

As a reward for the victory, he was created Viscount Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, on May 19, 1801.

In the summer of 1803, Nelson was appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and given the HMS Victory as his flagship. The HMS Victory first launched in 1765 and carried a crew of 850.

By the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson's annual salary was approx. £600pa.

Despite being a war hero, Lord Nelson's inability to shoot was a family joke.

Nelson claimed the secret of his success was due to constantly being a quarter of an hour ahead of his time.


As a Norfolk Parson's son, Nelson was in the practice of putting up a notice in the churches to interest the prayers of all good people before embarking on a voyage.

After years of naval successes, Lord Nelson assumed he was God's instrument. Before the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805, he prayed the following: "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 endeavors for serving my country faithfully and to him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen, amen, amen."


Nelson was a small man, just 5' 5.5" (1.66 m) tall, of slight build. He had an expressive, pasty face, huge blue eyes, lightly colored hair and was hollow cheeked with a stern stare.

A lock of Lord Nelson's hair sold at an auction for a record $8,096 in 1997.

Nelson cared deeply about medals and honors and made himself a nuisance pleading for them. During his lifetime he drew crowds to see him in his medalled finery.

Nelson vainly wore all his medals all the time, including some suspect ones, which led to a great deal of mockery.

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott

Nelson was noted for his bravery, he often took up his position on the quarter deck making him the most exposed man in the action. He was adored by his fleet as his men knew their leader would be in the hottest place of the fire.

Nelson talked to his crew in a friendly and not haughty manner in a high Norfolk accent. On the other hand he was self-regarding, petulant, humorless, taciturn, intense and vain. He was nicknamed the "Magnet".

Earl St Vincent, Nelson's commanding officer wrote after his death: “Animal courage was the sole merit of Lord Nelson, his private character most disgraceful in every sense of the word.”


During his time serving in Antigua, Nelson met Frances "Fanny" Nisbet, a young widow from a plantation family on the nearby island of Nevis. They were married at Nevis' Montpelier Estate on March 11, 1787, shortly before the end of his tour of duty in the Caribbean.

Lady Nelson, Nelson's wife, circa 1800

Their wedding certificate is displayed in St Johns Figtree, Anglican Church on the island. Nelson returned to England in July, with Fanny following later.

Fanny established a household and cared for her husband's elderly father while he was at sea. She was a devoted wife, but in time Horatio met Lady Emma Hamilton while serving in the Mediterranean and the two embarked in a highly public affair. Heartbroken, Fanny often wrote letters begging her husband to end his relationship with Lady Hamilton and return to her. Nelson, however, returned them unopened. Nelson continued to refuse all contact with Fanny through to his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Lady Hamilton gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia, on January 29, 1801 at her husband Sir William's rented home in Clarges Street, 23 Piccadilly, London.

Horatia Nelson kneeling before her father's tomb, by William Owen.

Nelson had no legitimate children; his illegitimate daughter, Horatia, subsequently married the Rev. Philip Ward and died in 1881.

After Lord Nelson made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, Lady Hamilton fainted.

Nelson wrote three letters a day to Lady Hamilton; in total he wrote up to 20 letters a day. When at sea there was often nothing else to do.

Emma Hamilton, in a 1782–84 portrait by George Romney


Nelson once lived at 3 Savile Row, London which later was the Apple Corporation building where the Beatles played their sign off rooftop concert in January 1969.

In the autumn of 1801, Nelson bought Merton Place, a small ramshackle house on the outskirts of modern-day Wimbledon. There he lived openly with Emma, her husband Sir William Hamilton, and Emma's mother, in a ménage à trois that fascinated the public.


Six weeks before the Battle of Trafalgar Nelson spent an exorbitant £308 (about $550) on port as he was planning a monumental party to mark his forthcoming victory.

His favorite tipple was sweet Sicilian Marsala wine.


Nelson had a near encounter with death at the age of 16 when he contacted malaria on a voyage to India and was invalided home.

Five years later, Nelson was invalided home again this time from Nicaragua when he was among 88 members of his crew who went down with yellow fever and less than ten survived.

Nelson also suffered from recurrent malaria, temporary paralysis, depression and he never overcome seasickness.

On July 12, 1794, while engaging in a bombardment at Calvi, Nelson was struck by debris in his right eye. Although his wound was soon bandaged, his eye was irreparably damaged and he eventually lost all sight in it.

Afterwards Nelson wore a green shade attached to his hat over his good eye to protect it.

Nelson lost his right arm on July 25 1797. He was hit by a musket ball after stepping ashore on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. His right arm was amputated without anesthetics on board the Theseus. After his arm had been removed, Nelson was left alone to recover with an opium pill and a shot of rum. He was back in command in 30 minutes after surgeons amputated his arm.

Nelson wounded during the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife; 1806 painting by Richard Westall

The unlucky Nelson score of 111 is named thus as one arm, one eye, one backside.


The Battle of Trafalgar was fought off Cape Trafalgar on October 21, 1805 during which, 27 British ships led by Admiral Nelson defeated 33 French and Spanish ships. The French and Spaniards lost 22 ships in the battle; all the British ships survived.

The "Nelson touch" was to strike at the enemy center and rear before they could turn and engage and to trust each captain to engage closely without orders. Nelson used this phrase before the Battle of Trafalgar, when he said "I am anxious to join the fleet, for it would add to my grief if any other man was to give them the Nelson touch."

Before the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was discussing their chances with Thomas Masterman Hardy, his captain. "I shall not be satisfied with anything less than the capture of 20 ships" said Nelson. He then sent his last signal "England expects every man will do his duty".

As the Victory neared the enemy at Trafalgar, the men were jumping over one anothers’ heads to amuse themselves until they were ready to fire.

The Battle of Trafalgar by William Clarkson Stanfield 

Nelson was in the midst of defeating Napoleon's combined French and Spanish fleets when a musket ball that hit his left shoulder fatally wounded him. As he was carried injured to the surgeon, Nelson spread a handkerchief over his face so his men wouldn't recognize him.

The doctors told him the wound was fatal. Nelson accepted this with resignation and sent an officer to Admiral Collingwood, his second in command with instructions for the continuation of battle.

A little later he sent for Captain Hardy and inquired how many of the enemy's ships had been struck. The captain replied around 15. Nelson thanked God for the encouraging news and whispered to Captain Hardy, "I know I'm dying. I could have wished to survive to breathe my last upon British ground, but the will of God be done." A few moments later he was dead.

Nelson is shot on the quarterdeck, painted by Denis Dighton, c. 1825

The admiral's body was returned home in a barrel of rum which sailors subsequently discovered and consumed.

Nelson's state funeral at St Paul's Cathedral on January 9, 1806 was a male only affair, thus excluding Lady Nelson and Emma Hamilton. 18 of the admirals invited to his funeral refused to attend such was the dislike of him.

After a four-hour service Nelson was interred within a sarcophagus originally carved for Cardinal Wolsey.

Nelson had chosen to be buried at St Paul's rather than Westminster Abbey as he'd heard Westminster was sinking into the Thames.

Nelson's coffin in the crossing of St Paul's during the funeral service

After his triumphant death, Nelson's family were presented with Trafalgar House at Alderbury, Wiltshire.

In the centre of London's Trafalgar Square stands a column topped by a statue of Admiral Nelson. Nelson's Column was built in 1840 cost £46,000. It is a copy of one in the Temple of Mars at Rome with four bronze reliefs depicting the Battle of Cape St Vincent, Battle of Nice, Battle of Copenhagen and his death at Trafalgar.

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