In 1758 a small sickly baby boy was born; son of the Rector of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk.
No one could have envisaged that this child would, in his lifetime, become one of England's greatest heroes, and that his name, Horatio Nelson would be known and revered by the English people down the centuries.
Sent to sea aged 12, he soon found that although he loved the ships and the sea, he would always suffer from terrible seasickness all his life.
Nelson was a small man, 5ft 4in tall, of slight build, and never had a robust constitution. He was frequently very ill with recurrent bouts of malaria and dysentery, relics of his time in tropical countries, Madras, Calcutta and Ceylon.
In 1780 he was again very ill, this time with scurvy, and his life, and the lives of his shipboard companions hung in the balance. But once again this small, apparently frail man survived!
In spite of his frail health, in 1784 he was given the command of the Boreas, and was on duty in the West Indies where he met and married Frances Nisbet, a widow.
After an idle period at home in Norfolk he was recalled and given the command of the Agamemnon in 1793.
From 1793 until his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he was involved in battle after battle. and he did not escape serious injury during these years. He lost the sight of his right eye at the Battle of Calvi in Corsica, and his right arm at Santa Cruz in Tenerife.
Nelson was a brilliant tactician, and was always able to surprise his enemies by audacious tactics. At the Battle of the Nile in 1798 his daring and courage completely overwhelmed the French when he sailed his ships between the shore and the French Fleet. The French guns that faced the shore were not ready for action, as it was believed that Nelson could not possibly attack from that position! Nelson was created Baron Nelson of the Nile by a grateful country after this stunning victory.
While Nelson was in Naples in 1793 he met the lady who was to become the great love of his life, Emma, Lady Hamilton. She was a great beauty with a voluptuous figure, and a rather 'shady' past. Eventually in 1801 Nelson abandoned his wife and lived with his 'dearest Emma'. A daughter was born in 1801 and christened Horatia, a child who Nelson doted on, though she was never aware who her mother was.
1801 was also the year in which Nelson destroyed the Danish Navy at the Battle of Copenhagen. During the battle he was sent a signal to break off action by the Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and said to his Flag Lieutenant "You know Foley I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal".
Nelson had great courage and was a brave man as he endured intense pain when his arm was amputated without an anaesthetic. The surgeon wrote in his diary "Nelson bore the pain without complaint, but was given opium afterwards". After the operation Nelson suggested that the surgeon heated his knives first as the cold knives were more painful!
War broke out again with France in 1803, and Nelson was for many months on watch in the Mediterranean. On October 20th 1805 the French and Spanish fleets put to sea, and off the southern coast of Spain the Battle of Trafalgar took place. This was to be Nelson's last and most famous victory.
Before the battle Nelson sent his famous signal to the Fleet "England expects that every man will do his duty". It was at the height of the battle that Nelson was shot as he paced the deck of his ship Victory. He was easily recognisable by the marksmen on the French ships as he was wearing his full dress uniform and all his medals, and seemed impervious to the danger he was in.
He died shortly after he was taken below decks and his body was taken ashore at Rosia Bay in Gibraltar . His body was sent back to England in a barrel full of brandy which acted as a preservative during the long journey home. The injured from the battle were cared for and those who did not survive were buried in the Trafalgar Cemetery, Gibraltar, their graves remain carefully tended to this day.
Nelson's funeral in London was a tremendous occasion, the streets lined with weeping people. The funeral procession was so long that the Scots Greys who led the procession reached the doors of St. Paul's Cathedral before the mourners at the rear had left the Admiralty. He was buried in the crypt of St. Paul's.
In London's Trafalgar Square can be seen the country's memorial to the most inspiring leader the British Navy ever had. Nelson's column, erected in 1840, stands 170ft high and is crowned with a statue of Nelson on the top.
Lord Nelson (1758-1805)
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like...
|Trafalgar Day - Celebrated on October 21st, Trafalgar Day marks the day on which Britain triumphed in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This historic marine conflict was fought off the Cape of Trafalgar, offshore from Cadiz, Spain, with ...|
|Emma Lady Hamilton - Lord Nelson's great love was Emma, a lady with ...||French Cannons as Street Bollards - Determined to find a way to flaunt their victory ...|
|Thomas Cochrane - Master and Commander - The list of British Naval heroes is a long and illustrious one, including the likes of Drake, Nelson, Rodney, Hood and of course Thomas Cochrane. Thomas who, you may ask?|