Thursday, October 18, 2007



LL.D., F.R.S.,
Many Lives of Nelson have been written; one is yet wanting, clear and
concise enough to become a manual for the young sailor, which he may
carry about with him till he has treasured it up for example in his
memory and in his heart. In attempting such a work I shall write the
eulogy of our great national hero, for the best eulogy of NELSON is
the faithful history of his actions, and the best history must be
that which shall relate them most perspicuously.
1758 - 1783
Nelson's Birth and Boyhood--He is entered on Board the RAISONABLE--
Goes to the West Indies in a Merchant-ship; then serves in the TRIUMPH
--He sails in Captain Phipps' Voyage of Discovery--Goes to the East
Indies in the SEAHORSE, and returns in ill Health--Serves as acting
Lieutenant in the WORCESTER, and is made Lieutenant into the LOWESTOFFE,
Commander into the BADGER Brig, and Post into the HINCHINBROKE--
Expedition against the Spanish Main--Sent to the North Seas in the
ALBERMARLE--Services during the American War.
HORATIO, son of Edmund and Catherine Nelson, was born September 29,
1758, in the parsonage-house of Burnham Thorpe, a village in the county
of Norfolk, of which his father was rector. His mother was a daughter of
Dr. Suckling, prebendary of Westminster, whose grandmother was sister of
Sir Robert Walpole, and this child was named after his godfather, the
first Lord Walpole. Mrs. Nelson died in 1767, leaving eight out of eleven
children. Her brother, Captain Maurice Suckling, of the navy visited the
widower upon this event, and promised to take care of one of the boys.
Three years afterwards, when HORATIO was only twelve years of age, being
at home during the Christmas holidays, he read in the county newspaper
that his uncle was appointed to the RAISONNABLE, of sixty-four guns."Do,
William," said he to a brother who was a year and a half older than himself,
"write to my father, and tell him that I should like to go to sea
with uncle Maurice." Mr.Nelson was then at Bath, whither he had gone for
the recovery of his health: his circumstances were straitened, and he
had no prospect of ever seeing them bettered: he knew that it was the
wish of providing for himself by which Horatio was chiefly actuated, and
did not oppose his resolution; he understood also the boy's character,
and had always said, that in whatever station he might be placed, he
would climb if possible to the very top of the tree. Captain Suckling
was written to. "What," said he in his answer,"has poor Horatio done,
who is so weak, that he, above all the rest, should be sent to rough it
out at sea?--But let him come; and the first time we go into action, a
cannon-ball may knock off his head, and provide for him at once."
It is manifest from these words that Horatio was not the boy whom his
uncle would have chosen to bring up in his own profession. He was never
of a strong body; and the ague, which at that time was one of the most
common diseases in England, had greatly reduced his strength; yet he had
already given proofs of that resolute heart and nobleness of mind which,
during his whole career of labour and of glory, so eminently
distinguished him. When a mere child, he strayed a-birds'-nesting from
his grandmother's house in company with a cowboy: the dinner-hour
elapsed; he was absent, and could not be found; and the alarm of the
family became very great, for they apprehended that he might have been
carried off by gipsies. At length, after search had been made for him in
various directions, he was discovered alone, sitting composedly by the
side of a brook which he could not get over. "I wonder, child," said the
old lady when she saw him,"that hunger and fear did not drive you home."
"Fear! grandmama:" replied the future hero,"I never saw fear:--What is
it?" Once, after the winter holidays, when he and his brother William
had set off on horseback to return to school, they came back, because
there had been a fall of snow; and William, who did not much like the
journey, said it was too deep for them to venture on. "If that be the
case," said the father, "you certainly shall not go; but make another
attempt, and I will leave it to your honour. If the road is dangerous
you may return: but remember, boys, I leave it to your honour!" The snow
was deep enough to have afforded them a reasonable excuse; but Horatio
was not to be prevailed upon to turn back. "We must go on," said he:
"remember, brother, it was left to our honour!"--There were some fine
pears growing in the schoolmaster's garden, which the boys regarded as
lawful booty, and in the highest degree tempting; but the boldest among
them were afraid to venture for the prize. Horatio volunteered upon this
service: he was lowered down at night from the bedroom window by some
sheets, plundered the tree, was drawn up with the pears, and then
distributed them among his school-fellows without reserving any for
himself. "He only took them," he said, "because every other boy was
Early on a cold and dark spring morning Mr. Nelson's servant arrived
at this school, at North Walsham, with the expected summons for Horatio
to join his ship. The parting from his brother William, who had been for
so many years his playmate and bed-fellow, was a painful effort, and was
the beginning of those privations which are the sailor's lot through
life. He accompanied his father to London. The RAISONNABLE was lying in
the Medway. He was put into the Chatham stage, and on its arrival was
set down with the rest of the passengers, and left to find his way on
board as he could. After wandering about in the cold, without being able
to reach the ship, an officer observed the forlorn appearance of the
boy, questioned him; and happening to be acquainted with his uncle, took
him home and gave him some refreshments. When he got on board, Captain
Suckling was not in the ship, nor had any person been apprised of the
boy's coming. He paced the deck the whole remainder of the day without
being noticed by any one; and it was not till the second day that
somebody, as he expressed it, "took compassion on him." The pain which
is felt when we are first transplanted from our native soil--when the
living branch is cut from the parent tree is one of the most poignant
which we have to endure through life. There are after-griefs which wound
more deeply, which leave behind them scars never to be effaced, which
bruise the spirit, and sometimes break the heart; but never do we feel
so keenly the want of love, the necessity of being loved, and the sense
of utter desertion, as when we first leave the haven of home, and are,
as it were, pushed off upon the stream of life. Added to these feelings,
the sea-boy has to endure physical hardships, and the privation of every
comfort, even of sleep. Nelson had a feeble body and an affectionate
heart, and he remembered through life his first days of wretchedness in
the service.
The RAISONNABLE having been commissioned on account of the dispute
respecting the Falkland Islands, was paid off as soon as the difference
with the court of Spain was accommodated, and Captain Suckling was
removed to the TRIUMPH, seventy-four, then stationed as a guard-ship in
the Thames. This was considered as too inactive a life for a boy, and
Nelson was therefore sent a voyage to the West Indies in a merchantship,
commanded by Mr. John Rathbone, an excellent seaman, who had
served as master's mate under Captain Suckling in the Dreadnought. He
returned a practical seaman, but with a hatred of the king's service,
and a saying then common among the sailors--"Aft the most honour;
forward the better man." Rathbone had probably been disappointed and
disgusted in the navy; and, with no unfriendly intentions, warned Nelson
against a profession which he himself had found hopeless. His uncle
received him on board the TRIUMPH on his return, and discovering his
dislike to the navy, took the best means of reconciling him to it. He
held it out as a reward that, if he attended well to his navigation, he
should go in the cutter and decked long-boat, which was attached to the
commanding-officer's ship at Chatham. Thus he became a good pilot for
vessels of that description from Chatham to the Tower, and down the Swin
Channel to the North Foreland, and acquired a confidence among rocks and
sands of which he often felt the value.
Nelson had not been many months on board the TRIUMPH, when his love
of enterprise was excited by hearing that two ships were fitting out for
a voyage of discovery towards the North Pole. In consequence of the
difficulties which were expected on such a service, these vessels were
to take out effective men instead of the usual number of boys. This,
however, did not deter him from soliciting to be received, and, by his
uncle's interest, he was admitted as coxswain under Captain Lutwidge,
second in command. The voyage was undertaken in compliance with an
application from the Royal Society. The Hon. Captain Constantine John
Phipps, eldest son of Lord Mulgrave, volunteered his services. The
RACEHORSE and CARCASS bombs were selected as the strongest ships, and,
therefore, best adapted for such a voyage; and they were taken into dock
and strengthened, to render them as secure as possible against the ice.
Two masters of Greenlandmen were employed as pilots for each ship. No
expedition was ever more carefully fitted out; and the First Lord of the
Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, with a laudable solicitude, went on board
himself, before their departure, to see that everything had been
completed to the wish of the officers. The ships were provided with a
simple and excellent apparatus for distilling fresh from salt water, the
invention of Dr. Irving, who accompanied the expedition. It consisted
merely in fitting a tube to the ship's kettle, and applying a wet mop to
the surface as the vapour was passing. By these means, from thirty-four
to forty gallons were produced every day.
They sailed from the Nore on the 4th of June. On the 6th of July they
were in latitude 79d 56m 39s; longitude 9d 43m 30s E. The next day,
about the place where most of the old discoverers had been stopped, the
RACEHORSE was beset with ice; but they hove her through with iceanchors.
Captain Phipps continued ranging along the ice, northward and
westward, till the 24th; he then tried to the eastward. On the 30th he
was in latitude 80d 13m; longitude 18d 48m E. among the islands and in
the ice, with no appearance of an opening for the ships. The weather was
exceedingly fine, mild, and unusually clear. Here they were becalmed in
a large bay, with three apparent openings between the islands which
formed it; but everywhere, as far as they could see, surrounded with
ice. There was not a breath of air, the water was perfectly smooth, the
ice covered with snow, low and even, except a few broken pieces near the
edge; and the pools of water in the middle of the ice-fields just
crusted over with young ice. On the next day the ice closed upon them,
and no opening was to be seen anywhere, except a hole, or lake as it
might be called, of about a mile and a half in circumference, where the
ships lay fast to the ice with their ice-anchors. From these ice-fields
they filled their casks with water, which was very pure and soft. The
men were playing on the ice all day; but the Greenland pilots, who were
further than they had ever been before, and considered that the season
was far advancing, were alarmed at being thus beset.
The next day there was not the smallest opening; the ships were
within less than two lengths of each other, separated by ice, and
neither having room to turn. The ice, which the day before had been flat
and almost level with the water's edge, was now in many places forced
higher than the mainyard by the pieces squeezing together. A day of
thick fog followed: it was succeeded by clear weather; but the passage
by which the ships had entered from the westward was closed, and no open
water was in sight, either in that or any other quarter. By the pilots'
advice the men were set to cut a passage, and warp through the small
openings to the westward. They sawed through pieces of ice twelve feet
thick; and this labour continued the whole day, during which their
utmost efforts did not move the ships above three hundred yards; while
they were driven, together with the ice, far to the N.E. and E. by the
current. Sometimes a field of several acres square would be lifted up
between two larger islands, and incorporated with them; and thus these
larger pieces continued to grow by aggregation. Another day passed, and
there seemed no probability of getting the ships out without a strong
E. or N.E. wind. The season was far advanced, and every hour lessened
the chance of extricating themselves. Young as he was, Nelson was
appointed to command one of the boats which were sent out to explore a
passage into the open water. It was the means of saving a boat belonging
to the RACEHORSE from a singular but imminent danger. Some of the
officers had fired at and wounded a walrus. As no other animal has so
human-like an expression in its countenance, so also is there none that
seems to possess more of the passions of humanity. The wounded animal
dived immediately, and brought up a number of its companions; and they
all joined in an attack upon the boat. They wrested an oar from one of
the men; and it was with the utmost difficulty that the crew could
prevent them from staving or upsetting her, till the CARCASS's boat came
up; and the walruses, finding their enemies thus reinforced, dispersed.
Young Nelson exposed himself in a more daring manner. One night, during
the mid-watch, he stole from the ship with one of his comrades, taking
advantage of a rising fog, and set off over the ice in pursuit of a
bear. It was not long before they were missed. The fog thickened, and
Captain Lutwidge and his officers became exceedingly alarmed for their
safety. Between three and four in the morning the weather cleared, and
the two adventurers were seen, at a considerable distance from the ship,
attacking a huge bear. The signal for them to return was immediately
made; Nelson's comrade called upon him to obey it, but in vain; his
musket had flashed in the pan; their ammunition was expended; and a
chasm in the ice, which divided him from the bear, probably preserved
his life. "Never mind," he cried; "do but let me get a blow at this
devil with the butt-end of my musket, and we shall have him." Captain
Lutwidge, however, seeing his danger, fired a gun, which had the desired
effect of frightening the beast; and the boy then returned, somewhat
afraid of the consequences of his trespass. The captain reprimanded him
sternly for conduct so unworthy of the office which he filled, and
desired to know what motive he could have for hunting a bear. "Sir,"
said he, pouting his lip, as he was wont to do when agitated, "I wished
to kill the bear, that I might carry the skin to my father."
A party were now sent to an island, about twelve miles off (named
Walden's Island in the charts, from the midshipman who was intrusted
with this service), to see where the open water lay. They came back with
information that the ice, though close all about them, was open to the
westward, round the point by which they came in. They said also, that
upon the island they had had a fresh east wind. This intelligence
considerably abated the hopes of the crew; for where they lay it had
been almost calm, and their main dependence had been upon the effect of
an easterly wind in clearing the bay. There was but one alternative:
either to wait the event of the weather upon the ships, or to betake
themselves to the boats. The likelihood that it might be necessary to
sacrifice the ships had been foreseen. The boats accordingly were
adapted, both in number and size, to transport, in case of emergency,
the whole crew; and there were Dutch whalers upon the coast, in which
they could all be conveyed to Europe. As for wintering where they were,
that dreadful experiment had been already tried too often. No time was
to be lost; the ships had driven into shoal water, having but fourteen
fathoms. Should they, or the ice to which they were fast, take the
ground, they must inevitably be lost; and at this time they were
driving fast toward some rocks on the N.E. Captain Phipps sent for the
officers of both ships, and told them his intention of preparing the
boats for going away. They were immediately hoisted out, and the fitting
begun. Canvas bread-bags were made, in case it should be necessary
suddenly to desert the vessels; and men were sent with the lead and line
to N. and E., to sound wherever they found cracks in the ice, that they
might have notice before the ice took the ground; for in that case the
ships must instantly have been crushed or overset.
On the 7th of August they began to haul the boats over the ice,
Nelson having command of a four-oared cutter. The men behaved
excellently well, like true British seamen: they seemed reconciled to
the thought of leaving the ships, and had full confidence in their
officers. About noon, the ice appeared rather more open near the
vessels; and as the wind was easterly, though there was but little of
it, the sails were set, and they got about a mile to the westward. They
moved very slowly, and were not now nearly so far to the westward as
when they were first beset. However, all sail was kept upon them, to
force them through whenever the ice slacked the least. Whatever
exertions were made, it could not be possible to get the boats to the
water's edge before the 14th; and if the situation of the ships should
not alter by that time, it would not be justifiable to stay longer by
them. The commander therefore resolved to carry on both attempts
together, moving the boats constantly, and taking every opportunity of
getting the ships through. A party was sent out next day to the westward
to examine the state of the ice: they returned with tidings that it was
very heavy and close, consisting chiefly of large fields. The ships,
however, moved something, and the ice itself was drifting westward.
There was a thick fog, so that it was impossible to ascertain what
advantage had been gained. It continued on the 9th; but the ships were
moved a little through some very small openings: the mist cleared off in
the afternoon, and it was then perceived that they had driven much more
than could have been expected to the westward, and that the ice itself
had driven still further. In the course of the day they got past the
boats, and took them on board again. On the morrow the wind sprang up to
the N.N.E. All sail was set, and the ships forced their way through a
great deal of very heavy ice. They frequently struck, and with such
force that one stroke broke the shank of the RACEHORSE's best boweranchor,
but the vessels made way; and by noon they had cleared the ice,
and were out at sea. The next day they anchored in Smeerenberg Harbour,
close to that island of which the westernmost point is called Hakluyt's
Headland, in honour of the great promoter and compiler of our English
voyages of discovery.
Here they remained a few days, that the men might rest after their
fatigue. No insect was to be seen in this dreary country, nor any
species of reptile--not even the common earth-worm. Large bodies of ice,
called icebergs, filled up the valleys between high mountains, so dark
as, when contrasted with the snow, to appear black. The colour of the
ice was a lively light green. Opposite to the place where they fixed
their observatory was one of these icebergs, above three hundred feet
high; its side toward the sea was nearly perpendicular, and a stream of
water issued from it. Large pieces frequently broke off and rolled down
into the sea. There was no thunder nor lightning during the whole time
they were in these latitudes. The sky was generally loaded with hard
white clouds, from which it was never entirely free even in the clearest
weather. They always knew when they were approaching the ice long before
they saw it, by a bright appearance near the horizon, which the
Greenlandmen called the blink of the ice. The season was now so far
advanced that nothing more could have been attempted, if indeed anything
had been left untried; but the summer had been unusually favourable, and
they had carefully surveyed the wall of ice, extending for more than
twenty degrees between the latitudes of 80d and 81d, without the
smallest appearance of any opening.
The ships were paid off shortly after their return to England; and
Nelson was then placed by his uncle with Captain Farmer, in the SEAHORSE,
of twenty guns, then going out to the East Indies in the squadron under
Sir Edward Hughes. He was stationed in the foretop at watch and watch.
His good conduct attracted the attention of the master (afterwards
Captain Surridge), in whose watch he was; and upon his recommendation
the captain rated him as midshipman. At this time his countenance was
florid, and his appearance rather stout and athletic; but when he had
been about eighteen months in India, he felt the effects of that
climate, so perilous to European constitutions. The disease baffled all
power of medicine; he was reduced almost to a skeleton; the use of his
limbs was for some time entirely lost; and the only hope that remained
was from a voyage home. Accordingly he was brought home by Captain
Pigot, in the DOLPHIN; and had it not been for the attentive and careful
kindness of that officer on the way, Nelson would never have lived to
reach his native shores. He had formed an acquaintance with Sir Charles
Pole, Sir Thomas Troubridge, and other distinguished officers, then,
like himself, beginning their career: he had left them pursuing that
career in full enjoyment of health and hope, and was returning, from a
country in which all things were to him new and interesting, with a body
broken down by sickness, and spirits which had sunk with his strength.
Long afterwards, when the name of Nelson was known as widely as that of
England itself, he spoke of the feelings which he at this time endured.
"I felt impressed," said he, "with a feeling that I should never rise in
my profession. My mind was staggered with a view of the difficulties I
had to surmount and the little interest I possessed. I could discover no
means of reaching the object of my ambition. After a long and gloomy
reverie, in which I almost wished myself overboard, a sudden glow of
patriotism was kindled within me, and presented my king and country as
my patron. 'Well then,' I exclaimed, 'I will be a hero! and, confiding
in Providence, I will brave every danger!'"
Long afterwards Nelson loved to speak of the feelings of that moment;
and from that time, he often said, a radiant orb was suspended in his
mind's eye, which urged him onward to renown. The state of mind in which
these feelings began, is what the mystics mean by their season of
darkness and desertion. If the animal spirits fail, they represent it as
an actual temptation. The enthusiasm of Nelson's nature had taken a
different direction, but its essence was the same. He knew to what the
previous state of dejection was to be attributed; that an enfeebled
body, and a mind depressed, had cast this shade over his soul; but he
always seemed willing to believe that the sunshine which succeeded bore
with it a prophetic glory, and that the light which led him on was
"light from heaven."
His interest, however, was far better than he imagined, During his
absence, Captain Suckling had been made Comptroller of the Navy; his
health had materially improved upon the voyage; and as soon as the
DOLPHIN was paid off, he was appointed acting lieutenant in the
WORCESTER, sixty-four, Captain Mark Robinson, then going out with convoy
to Gibraltar. Soon after his return, on the 8th of April 1777, he passed
his examination for a lieutenancy. Captain Suckling sat at the head of
the board; and when the examination had ended, in a manner highly
honourable to Nelson, rose from his seat, and introduced him to the
examining captains as his nephew. They expressed their wonder that he
had not informed them of this relationship before; he replied that he
did not wish the younker to be favoured; he knew his nephew would pass a
good examination, and he had not been deceived. The next day Nelson
received his commission as second lieutenant of the LOWESTOFFE frigate,
Captain William Locker, then fitting out for Jamaica.
American and French privateers, under American colours, were at that
time harassing our trade in the West Indies: even a frigate was not
sufficiently active for Nelson, and he repeatedly got appointed to the
command of one of the LOWESTOFFE's tenders. During one of their cruises
the LOWESTOFFE captured an American letter-of-marque: it was blowing a
gale, and a heavy sea running. The first lieutenant being ordered to
board the prize, went below to put on his hanger. It happened to be
mislaid; and while he was seeking it, Captain Locker came on deck.
Perceiving the boat still alongside, and in danger every moment of being
swamped, and being extremely anxious that the privateer should be
instantly taken in charge, because he feared that It would otherwise
founder, he exclaimed, "Have I no officer in the ship who can board the
prize?" Nelson did not offer himself immediately, waiting, with his
usual sense of propriety, for the first lieutenant's return; but hearing
the master volunteer, he jumped into the boat, saying, "It is my turn
now; and if I come back, it is yours." The American, who had carried a
heavy press of sail in hope of escaping, was so completely water-logged
that the LOWESTOFFE's boat went in on deck and out again with the sea
About this time he lost his uncle. Captain Locker, however, who had
perceived the excellent qualities of Nelson, and formed a friendship for
him which continued during his life, recommended him warmly to Sir Peter
Parker, then commander-in-chief upon that station. In consequence of
this recommendation he was removed into the BRISTOL flag-ship, and Lieutenant
Cuthbert Collingwood succeeded him in the LOWESTOFFE. Sir Peter
Parker was the friend of both, and thus it happened that whenever Nelson
got a step in rank, Collingwood succeeded him. The former soon became
first lieutenant, and on the 8th of December 1778 was appointed
commander of the BADGER brig; Collingwood taking his place in the
BRISTOL. While the BADGER was lying in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the GLASGOW
of twenty guns came in and anchored there, and in two hours was in
flames, the steward having set fire to her while stealing rum out of the
after-hold. Her crew were leaping into the water, when Nelson came up in
his boats, made them throw their powder overboard and point their guns
upward; and by his presence of mind and personal exertions prevented the
loss of life which would otherwise have ensued. On the 11th of June 1779
he was made post into the HINCHINBROOK, of twenty-eight guns, an enemy's
merchantman, sheathed with wood, which had been taken into the service.
Collingwood was then made commander into the BADGER. A short time after
he left the LOWESTOFFE, that ship, with a small squadron, stormed the
fort of St. Fernando de Omoa, on the south side of the Bay of Honduras,
and captured some register ships which were lying under its guns. Two
hundred and fifty quintals of quicksilver and three millions of piastres
were the reward of this enterprise; and it is characteristic of Nelson
that the chance by which he missed a share in such a prize is never
mentioned in any of his letters; nor is it likely that it ever excited
even a momentary feeling of vexation.
Nelson was fortunate in possessing good interest at the time when it
could be most serviceable to him: his promotion had been almost as rapid
as it could be; and before he had attained the age of twenty-one he had
gained that rank which brought all the honours of the service within his
reach. No opportunity, indeed, had yet been given him of distinguishing
himself; but he was thoroughly master of his profession, and his zeal
and ability were acknowledged wherever he was known. Count d'Estaing,
with a fleet of one hundred and twenty-five sail, men of war and
transports, and a reputed force of five-and twenty thousand men,
threatened Jamaica from St. Domingo. Nelson offered his services to the
Admiral and to Governor-General Dalling, and was appointed to command
the batteries of Fort Charles, at Port Royal. Not more than seven
thousand men could be mustered for the defence of the island,--a number
wholly inadequate to resist the force which threatened them. Of this
Nelson was so well aware, that when he wrote to his friends in England,
he told them they must not be surprised to hear of his learning to speak
French. D'Estaing, however, was either not aware of his own superiority,
or not equal to the command with which he was intrusted: he attempted
nothing with his formidable armament; and General Dalling was thus left
to execute a project which he had formed against the Spanish colonies.
This project was, to take Fort San Juan on the river of that name,
which flows from Lake Nicaragua into the Atlantic; make himself master
of the lake itself, and of the cities of Granada and Leon; and thus cut
off the communication of the Spaniards between their northern and
southern possessions in America. Here it is that a canal between the two
seas may most easily be formed--a work more important in its
consequences than any which has ever yet been effected by human power.
Lord George Germaine, at that time secretary of state for the American
Department, approved the plan; and as discontents at that time were
known to prevail in the Nuevo Reyno, in Popayan, and in Peru, the more
sanguine part of the English began to dream of acquiring an empire in
one part of America, more extensive than that which they were on the
point of losing in another. General Dalling's plans were well formed;
but the history and the nature of the country had not been studied as
accurately as its geography: the difficulties which occurred in fitting
out the expedition delayed it till the season was too far advanced; and
the men were thus sent to adventure themselves, not so much against an
enemy, whom they would have beaten, as against a climate which would do
the enemy's work.
Early in the year 1780, five hundred men destined for this service
were convoyed by Nelson from Port Royal to Cape Gracias a Dios, in
Honduras. Not a native was to be seen when they landed: they had been
taught that the English came with no other intent than that of enslaving
them, and sending them to Jamaica. After a while, however, one of them
ventured down, confiding in his knowledge of one of the party; and by
his means the neighbouring tribes were conciliated with presents, and
brought in. The troops were encamped on a swampy and unwholesome plain,
where they were joined by a party of the 79th regiment from Black River,
who were already in a deplorable state of sickness. Having remained here
a month, they proceeded, anchoring frequently, along the Mosquito shore,
to collect their Indian allies, who were to furnish proper boats for the
river, and to accompany them. They reached the river San Juan, March
24th; and here, according to his orders, Nelson's services were to
terminate; but not a man in the expedition had ever been up the river,
or knew the distance of any fortification from its mouth; and he not
being one who would turn back when so much was to be done, resolved to
carry the soldiers up. About two hundred, therefore, were embarked in
the Mosquito shore craft and in two of the HINCHINBROOK's boats, and
they began their voyage. It was the latter end of the dry season, the
worst time for such an expedition; the river was consequently low.
Indians were sent forward through narrow channels between shoals and
sandbanks, and the men were frequently obliged to quit the boats and
exert their utmost strength to drag or thrust them along. This labour
continued for several days; when they came into deeper water, they had
then currents and rapids to contend with, which would have been insurmountable
but for the skill of the Indians in such difficulties. The
brunt of the labour was borne by them and by the sailors--men never
accustomed to stand aloof when any exertion of strength or hardihood is
required. The soldiers, less accustomed to rely upon themselves, were of
little use. But all equally endured the violent heat of the sun,
rendered more intense by being reflected from the white shoals; while
the high woods, on both sides of the river, were frequently so close as
to prevent any refreshing circulation of air; and during the night all
were equally exposed to the heavy and unwholesome dews.
On the 9th of April they reached an island in the river, called San
Bartolomeo, which the Spaniards had fortified, as an outpost, with a
small semicircular battery, mounting nine or ten swivels, and manned
with sixteen or eighteen men. It commanded the river in a rapid and
difficult part of the navigation. Nelson, at the head of a few of his
seamen, leaped upon the beach. The ground upon which he sprung was so
muddy that he had some difficulty in extricating himself, and lost his
shoes: bare-footed, however, he advanced, and, in his own phrase,
BOARDED THE BATTERY. In this resolute attempt he was bravely supported
by Despard, at that time a captain in the army, afterward unhappily
executed for his schemes of revolutionary treason. The castle of San
Tuan is situated about 16 miles higher up; the stores and ammunition,
however, were landed a few miles below the castle, and the men had to
march through woods almost impassable. One of the men was bitten under
the eye by a snake which darted upon him from the bough of a tree. He
was unable to proceed from the violence of the pain; and when, after a
short while, some of his comrades were sent back to assist him, he was
dead, and the body already putrid. Nelson himself narrowly escaped a
similar fate. He had ordered his hammock to be slung under some trees,
being excessively fatigued, and was sleeping, when a monitory lizard
passed across his face. The Indians happily observed the reptile; and
knowing what it indicated, awoke him. He started up, and found one of
the deadliest serpents of the country coiled up at his feet. He suffered
from poison of another kind; for drinking at a spring in which some
boughs of the manchineel had been thrown, the effects were so severe as,
in the opinion of some of his friends, to inflict a lasting injury upon
his constitution.
The castle of San Juan is 32 miles below the point where the river
issues from the Lake of Nicaragua, and 69 from its mouth. Boats reach
the sea from thence in a day and a-half; but their navigation back, even
when unladen, is the labour of nine days. The English appeared before it
on the 11th, two days after they had taken San Bartolomeo. Nelson's
advice was, that it should instantly be carried by assault; but Nelson
was not the commander; and it was thought proper to observe all the
formalities of a siege. Ten days were wasted before this could be
commenced. It was a work more of fatigue than of danger; but fatigue was
more to be dreaded than the enemy; the rains set in; and could the
garrison have held out a little longer, diseases would have rid them of
their invaders. Even the Indians sunk under it, the victims of unusual
exertion, and of their own excesses. The place surrendered on the 24th.
But victory procured to the conquerors none of that relief which had
been expected; the castle was worse than a prison; and it contained
nothing which could contribute to the recovery of the sick, or the
preservation of those who were yet unaffected. The huts which served for
hospitals were surrounded with filth, and with the putrefying hides of
slaughtered cattle--almost sufficient of themselves to have engendered
pestilence; and when at last orders were given to erect a convenient
hospital, the contagion had become so general that there were none who
could work at it; for besides the few who were able to perform garrison
duty, there were not orderly men enough to assist the sick. Added to
these evils, there was the want of all needful remedies; for though the
expedition had been amply provided with hospital stores, river craft
enough had not been procured for transporting the requisite baggage; and
when much was to be left behind, provision for sickness was that which
of all things men in health would be most ready to leave. Now, when
these medicines were required, the river was swollen, and so turbulent
that its upward navigation was almost impracticable. At length even the
task of burying the dead was more than the living could perform, and the
bodies were tossed into the stream, or left for beasts of prey, and for
the gallinazos--those dreadful carrion birds, which do not always wait
for death before they begin their work. Five months the English
persisted in what may be called this war against nature; they then left
a few men, who seemed proof against the climate, to retain the castle
till the Spaniards should choose to retake it and make them prisoners.
The rest abandoned their baleful conquest. Eighteen hundred men were
sent to different posts upon this wretched expedition: not more than
three hundred and eighty ever returned. The HINCHINBROOK's complement
consisted of two hundred men; eighty-seven took to their beds in one
night, and of the whole crew not more than ten survived.
The transports' men all died, and some of the ships, having none left
to take care of them, sunk in the harbour: but transport ships were not
wanted, for the troops which they had brought were no more: they had
fallen, not by the hand of an enemy, but by the deadly influence of the
Nelson himself was saved by a timely removal. In a few days after the
commencement of the siege he was seized with the prevailing dysentery;
meantime Captain Glover (son of the author of LEONIDAS) died, and Nelson
was appointed to succeed him in the Janus, of forty-four guns; Collingwood
being then made post into the HINCHINBROOK. He returned to the harbour
the day before San Juan surrendered, and immediately sailed for
Jamaica in the sloop which brought the news of his appointment. He was,
however, so greatly reduced by the disorder, that when they reached Port
Royal he was carried ashore in his cot; and finding himself, after a
partial amendment, unable to retain the command of his new ship, he was
compelled to ask leave to return to England, as the only means of
recovery. Captain (afterwards Admiral) Cornwallis took him home in the
LION; and to his fare and kindness Nelson believed himself indebted for
his life. He went immediately to Bath, in a miserable state; so helpless
that he was carried to and from his bed; and the act of moving him
produced the most violent pain. In three months he recovered, and
immediately hastened to London, and applied for employment. After an
interval of about four months he was appointed to the ALBEMARLE, of
twenty-eight guns, a French merchantman which had been purchased from
the captors for the king's service.
His health was not yet thoroughly re-established; and while he was
employed in getting his ship ready, he again became so ill. as hardly to
be able to keep out of bed. Yet in this state, still suffering from the
fatal effect of a West Indian climate, as if it might almost be
supposed, he said, to try his constitution, he was sent to the North
Seas, and kept there the whole winter. The asperity with which he
mentioned this so many years afterwards evinces how deeply he resented a
mode of conduct equally cruel to the individual and detrimental to the
service. It was during the armed neutrality; and when they anchored off
Elsinore, the Danish Admiral sent on board, desiring to be informed what
ships had arrived, and to have their force written down. "The
ALBEMARLE," said Nelson to the messenger, "is one of his Britannic
Majesty's ships: you are at liberty, sir, to count the guns as you go
down the side; and you may assure the Danish Admiral that, if necessary,
they shall all be well served." During this voyage he gained a
considerable knowledge of the Danish coast and its soundings, greatly to
the advantage of his country in after-times. The ALBEMARLE was not a
good ship, and was several times nearly overset in consequence of the
masts having been made much too long for her. On her return to England
they were shortened, and some other improvements made at Nelson's
suggestion. Still he always insisted that her first owners, the French,
had taught her to run away, as she was never a good sailer except when
going directly before the wind.
On their return to the Downs, while he was ashore visiting the senior
officer, there came on so heavy a gale that almost all the vessels
drove, and a store-ship came athwart-hawse of the ALBEMARLE. Nelson
feared she would drive on the Goodwin Sands; he ran to the beach; but
even the Deal boatmen thought it impossible to get on board, such was
the violence of the storm. At length some of the most intrepid offered
to make the attempt for fifteen guineas; and to the astonishment and
fear of all the beholders, he embarked during the height of the tempest.
With great difficulty and imminent danger he succeeded in reaching her.
She lost her bowsprit and foremast, but escaped further injury. He was
now ordered to Quebec, where his surgeon told him he would certainly be
laid up by the climate. Many of his friends urged him to represent this
to Admiral Keppel; but having received his orders from Lord Sandwich,
there appeared to him an indelicacy in applying to his successor to have
them altered.
Accordingly he sailed for Canada. During her first cruise on that
station the ALBEMARLE captured a fishing schooner which contained in her
cargo nearly all the property that her master possessed, and the poor
fellow had a large family at home, anxiously expecting him. Nelson
employed him as a pilot in Boston Bay, then restored him the schooner
and cargo, and gave him a certificate to secure him against being
captured by any other vessel. The man came off afterwards to the
ALBEMARLE, at the hazard of his life, with a present of sheep, poultry,
and fresh provisions. A most valuable supply it proved, for the scurvy
was raging on board: this was in the middle of August, and the ship's
company had not had a fresh meal since the beginning of April. The
certificate was preserved at Boston in memory of an act of unusual
generosity; and now that the fame of Nelson has given interest to
everything connected with his name, it is regarded as a relic. The
ALBEMARLE had a narrow escape upon this cruise. Four French sail of the
line and a frigate, which had come out of Boston harbour, gave chase to
her; and Nelson, perceiving that they beat him in sailing, boldly ran
among the numerous shoals of St. George's Bank, confiding in his own
skill in pilotage. Captain Salter, in the STA. MARGARETTA, had escaped
the French fleet by a similar manoeuvre not long before. The frigate
alone continued warily to pursue him; but as soon as he perceived that
this enemy was unsupported, he shortened sail and hove to; upon which
the Frenchman thought it advisable to give over the pursuit, and sail in
quest of his consorts.
At Quebec Nelson became acquainted with Alexander Davison, by whose
interference he was prevented from making what would have been called an
imprudent marriage. The ALBEMARLE was about to leave the station, her
captain had taken leave of his friends, and was gone down the river to
the place of anchorage; when the next morning, as Davison was walking
on the beach, to his surprise he saw Nelson coming back in his boat.
Upon inquiring the cause of this reappearance, Nelson took his arm to
walk towards the town, and told him that he found it utterly impossible
to leave Quebec without again seeing the woman whose society had
contributed so much to his happiness there, and offering her his hand.
"If you do," said his friend, "your ruin must inevitably follow." "Then
let it follow," cried Nelson, "for I am resolved to do it" "And I,"
replied Davison, "am resolved you shall not." Nelson, however, upon this
occasion, was less resolute than his friend, and suffered himself to be
led back to the boat.
The ALBEMARLE was under orders to convoy a fleet of transports to New
York. "A very pretty job" said her captain, "at this late season of the
year" (October was far advanced), "for our sails are at this moment
frozen to the yards." On his arrival at Sandy Hook, he waited on the
commander-in-chief, Admiral Digby, who told him he was come on a fine
station for making prize-money. "Yes, sir," Nelson made answer, "but the
West Indies is the station for honour." Lord Hood, with a detachment of
Rodney's victorious fleet, was at that time at Sandy Hook: he had been
intimate with Captain Suckling; and Nelson, who was desirous of nothing
but honour, requested him to ask for the ALBEMARLE, that he might go to
that station where it was most likely to be obtained. Admiral Digby
reluctantly parted with him. His professional merit was already well
known; and Lord Hood, on introducing him to Prince William Henry, as the
Duke of Clarence was then called, told the prince, if he wished to ask
any questions respecting naval tactics, Captain Nelson could give him as
much information as any officer in the fleet. The Duke--who, to his own
honour, became from that time the firm friend of Nelson--describes him
as appearing the merest boy of a captain he had ever seen, dressed in a
full laced uniform, an old-fashioned waistcoat with long flaps, and his
lank unpowdered hair tied in a stiff Hessian tail of extraordinary
length; making altogether so remarkable a figure, that, says the duke, "I
had never seen anything like it before, nor could I imagine who he was,
nor what he came about. But his address and conversation were
irresistibly pleasing; and when he spoke on professional subjects, it
was with an enthusiasm that showed he was no common being."
It was expected that the French would attempt some of the passages
between the Bahamas; and Lord Hood, thinking of this, said to Nelson, "I
suppose, sir, from the length of time you were cruising among the Bahama
Keys, you must be a good pilot there." He replied, with that constant
readiness to render justice to every man which was so conspicuous in
all his conduct through life, that he was well acquainted with them
himself, but that in that respect his second lieutenant was far his
superior. The French got into Puerto Cabello, on the coast of Venezuela.
Nelson was cruising between that port and La Guapra, under French
colours, for the purpose of obtaining information; when a king's launch,
belonging to the Spaniards, passed near, and being hailed in French,
came alongside without suspicion, and answered all questions that were
asked concerning the number and force of the enemy's ships. The crew,
however, were not a little surprised when they were taken on board and
found themselves prisoners. One of the party went by the name of the
Count de Deux-Ponts. He was, however, a prince of the German empire, and
brother to the heir of the Electorate of Bavaria: his companions were
French officers of distinction, and men of science, who had been
collecting specimens in the various branches of natural history. Nelson,
having entertained them with the best his table could afford, told them
they were at liberty to depart with their boat, and all that it
contained: he only required them to promise that they would consider
themselves as prisoners if the commander-in-chief should refuse to
acquiesce in their being thus liberated: a circumstance which was not
likely to happen. Tidings soon arrived that the preliminaries of peace
had been signed; and the ALBEMARLE returned to England and was paid off.
Nelson's first business, after he got to London, even before he went to
see his relations, was to attempt to get the wages due to his men for
the various ships in which they had served during the war. "The disgust
of seamen to the navy," he said, "was all owing to the infernal plan of
turning them over from ship to ship; so that men could not be attached
to their officers, nor the officers care the least about the men." Yet
he himself was so beloved by his men that his whole ship's company
offered, if he could get a ship, to enter for her immediately. He was
now, for the first time, presented at court. After going through this
ceremony, he dined with his friend Davison at Lincoln's Inn. As soon as
he entered the chambers, he threw off what he called his iron-bound
coat; and, putting himself at ease in a dressing gown, passed the
remainder of the day in talking over all that had befallen them since
they parted on the shore of the River St. Lawrence.
1784 - 1793
Nelson goes to France-- Reappointed to the BOREAS at the Leeward Islands
in the BOREAS--His firm conduct concerning the American Interlopers and
the Contractors--Marries and returns to England--Is on the point of
quitting the Service in Disgust--Manner of Life while unemployed--
Appointed to the AGAMEMNON on the breaking out of the War of the French
"I HAVE closed the war," said Nelson in one of his letters, "without
a fortune; but there is not a speck in my character. True honour, I
hope, predominates in my mind far above riches." He did not apply
for a ship, because he was not wealthy enough to live on board in the
manner which was then become customary. Finding it, therefore,
prudent to economise on his half-pay during the peace, he went to
France, in company with Captain Macnamara of the navy, and took
lodgings at St. Omer's. The death of his favourite sister, Anne, who
died in consequence of going out of the ball-room at Bath when
heated with dancing, affected his father so much that it had nearly
occasioned him to return in a few weeks. Time, however, and reason
and religion, overcame this grief in the old man; and Nelson continued
at St. Omer's long enough to fall in love with the daughter of an English
clergyman. This second attachment appears to have been less ardent
than the first, for upon weighing the evils of a straitened income
to a married man, he thought it better to leave France, assigning to
his friends something in his accounts as the cause. This prevented
him from accepting an invitation from the Count of Deux-Ponts to
visit him at Paris, couched in the handsomest terms of acknowledgment
for the treatment which he had received on board the ALBEMARLE.
The self-constraint which Nelson exerted in subduing this attachment
made him naturally desire to be at sea; and when, upon visiting
Lord Howe at the Admiralty, he was asked if he wished to be
employed, he made answer that he did. Accordingly in March, he
was appointed to the BOREAS, twenty-eight guns, going to the Leeward
Islands as a cruiser on the peace establishment. Lady Hughes and her
family went out with him to Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, who
commanded on that station. His ship was full of young midshipmen,
of whom there were not less than thirty on board; and happy were
they whose lot it was to be placed with such a captain. If he
perceived that a boy was afraid at first going aloft, he would say to him
in a friendly manner, "Well, sir, I am going a race to the mast-head,
and beg that I may meet you there." The poor little fellow instantly
began to climb, and got up how he could,--Nelson never noticed in
what manner, but when they met in the top, spoke cheerfully to him,
and would say how much any person was to be pitied who fancied
that getting up was either dangerous or difficult. Every day he went
into the school-room to see that they were pursuing their nautical
studies; and at noon he was always the first on deck with his quadrant.
Whenever he paid a visit of ceremony, some of these youths
accompanied him; and when he went to dine with the governor at
Barbadoes, he took one of them in his hand, and presented him, saying,
"Your Excellency must excuse me for bringing one of my midshipmen.
I make it a rule to introduce them to all the good company I can, as
they have few to look up to, besides myself, during the time they are
at sea."
When Nelson arrived in the West Indies, he found himself senior
captain, and consequently second in command on that station.
Satisfactory as this was, it soon involved him in a dispute with the
admiral, which a man less zealous for the service might have
avoided. He found the LATONA in English Harbour, Antigua, with a
broad pendant hoisted; and upon inquiring the reason, was presented
with a written order from Sir R. Hughes, requiring and directing him
to obey the orders of Resident Commissioner Moutray during the time
he might have occasion to remain there; the said resident
commissioner being in consequence, authorised to hoist a broad pendant
on board any of his Majesty's ships in that port that he might think
proper. Nelson was never at a loss how to act in any emergency.
"I know of no superior officers," said he, "besides the Lords
Commissioners of the Admiralty, and my seniors on the post list."
Concluding, therefore, that it was not consistent with the service for a
resident commissioner, who held only a civil situation, to hoist a broad
pendant, the moment that he had anchored he sent an order to the
captain of the LATONA to strike it, and return it to the dock-yard. He
went on shore the same day, dined with the commissioner, to show
him that he was actuated by no other motive than a sense of duty,
and gave him the first intelligence that his pendant had been struck.
Sir Richard sent an account of this to the Admiralty; but the case
could admit of no doubt, and Captain Nelson's conduct was approved.
He displayed the same promptitude on another occasion. While
the BOREAS, after the hurricane months were over, was riding at
anchor in Nevis Roads, a French frigate passed to leeward, close
along shore. Nelson had obtained information that this ship was
sent from Martinico, with two general officers and some engineers on
board, to make a survey of our sugar islands. This purpose he was
determined to prevent them from executing, and therefore he gave
orders to follow them. The next day he came up with them at
anchor in the roads of St. Eustatia, and anchored at about two cables'
length on the frigate's quarter. Being afterwards invited by the
Dutch governor to meet the French officers at dinner, he seized that
occasion of assuring the French captain that, understanding it was
his intention to honour the British possessions with a visit, he had
taken the earliest opportunity in his power to accompany him, in his
Majesty's ship the BOREAS, in order that such attention might be paid
to the officers of his Most Christian Majesty as every Englishman in
the islands would be proud to show. The French, with equal courtesy,
protested against giving him this trouble; especially, they said, as
they intended merely to cruise round the islands without landing on
any. But Nelson, with the utmost politeness, insisted upon paying
them this compliment, followed them close in spite of all their
attempts to elude his vigilance, and never lost sight of them; till,
finding it impossible either to deceive or escape him, they gave up
their treacherous purpose in despair, and beat up for Martinico.
A business of more serious import soon engaged his attention.
The Americans were at this time trading with our islands, taking
advantage of the register of their ships, which had been issued while
they were British subjects. Nelson knew that, by the Navigation
Act, no foreigners, directly or indirectly, are permitted to carry on
any trade with these possessions. He knew, also, that the Americans
had made themselves foreigners with regard to England; they had
disregarded the ties of blood and language when they acquired the
independence which they had been led on to claim, unhappily for
themselves before they were fit for it; and he was resolved that they
should derive no profit from those ties now. Foreigners they had
made themselves, and as foreigners they were to be treated. "If
once," said he, "they are admitted to any kind of intercourse with our
islands, the views of the loyalists, in settling at Nova Scotia, are
entirely done away; and when we are again embroiled in a French
war, the Americans will first become the carriers of these colonies,
and then have possession of them. Here they come, sell their cargoes
for ready money, go to Martinico, buy molasses, and so round and
round. The loyalist cannot do this, and consequently must sell a
little dearer. The residents here are Americans by connection and
by interest, and are inimical to Great Britain. They are as great
rebels as ever were in America, had they the power to show it." In
November, when the squadron, having arrived at Barbadoes, was to
separate, with no other orders than those for examining anchorages,
and the usual inquiries concerning wood and water, Nelson asked his
friend Collingwood, then captain of the MEDIATOR, whose opinions he
knew upon the subject, to accompany him to the commander-in-chief,
whom he then respectfully asked, whether they were not to attend to
the commerce of the country, and see that the Navigation Act was
respected--that appearing to him to be the intent of keeping men-of-war
upon this station in time of peace? Sir Richard Hughes replied,
he had no particular orders, neither had the Admiralty sent him any
Acts of Parliament. But Nelson made answer, that the Navigation
Act was included in the statutes of the Admiralty, with which every
captain was furnished, and that Act was directed to admirals, captains,
&c., to see it carried into execution. Sir Richard said he had never
seen the book. Upon this Nelson produced the statutes, read the
words of the Act, and apparently convinced the commander-in-chief,
that men-of-war, as he said, "were sent abroad for some other purpose
than to be made a show of." Accordingly orders were given to enforce
the Navigation Act.
Major-General Sir Thomas Shirley was at this time governor of the
Leeward Islands; and when Nelson waited on him, to inform him
how he intended to act, and upon what grounds, he replied, that "old
generals were not in the habit of taking advice from young gentlemen."
"Sir," said the young officer, with that confidence in himself which
never carried him too far, and always was equal to the occasion,"I
am as old as the prime minister of England, and I think myself as
capable of commanding one of his Majesty's ships as that minister is
of governing the state." He was resolved to do his duty, whatever
might be the opinion or conduct of others; and when he arrived upon
his station at St. Kitt's, he sent away all the Americans, not choosing
to seize them before they had been well apprised that the Act would
be carried into effect, lest it might seem as if a trap had been laid for
them. The Americans, though they prudently decamped from St.
Kitt's, were emboldened by the support they met with, and resolved
to resist his orders, alleging that king's ships had no legal power to
seize them without having deputations from the customs. The planters
were to a man against him; the governors and the presidents of the
different islands, with only a single exception, gave him no support;
and the admiral, afraid to act on either side, yet wishing to oblige the
planters, sent him a note, advising him to be guided by the wishes of
the president of the council. There was no danger in disregarding
this, as it came unofficially, and in the form of advice. But scarcely
a month after he had shown Sir Richard Hughes the law, and, as he
supposed, satisfied him concerning it, he received an order from him,
stating that he had now obtained good advice upon the point, and the
Americans were not to be hindered from coming, and having free
egress and regress, if the governor chose to permit them. An order
to the same purport had been sent round to the different governors
and presidents; and General Shirley and others informed him, in an
authoritative manner, that they chose to admit American ships, as the
commander-in-chief had left the decision to them. These persons,
in his own words, he soon "trimmed up, and silenced;" but it was a
more delicate business to deal with the admiral: "I must either," said
he, "disobey my orders, or disobey Acts of Parliament. I determined
upon the former, trusting to the uprightness of my intentions, and
believing that my country would not let me be ruined for protecting
her commerce." With this determination he wrote to Sir Richard;
appealed again to the plain, literal, unequivocal sense of the Navigation
Act; and in respectful language told him, he felt it his duty to
decline obeying these orders till he had an opportunity of seeing and
conversing with him. Sir Richard's first feeling was that of anger,
and he was about to supersede Nelson; but having mentioned the
affair to his captain, that officer told him he believed all the squadron
thought the orders illegal, and therefore did not know how far they
were bound to obey them. It was impossible, therefore, to bring
Nelson to a court-martial, composed of men who agreed with him in
opinion upon the point in dispute; and luckily, though the admiral
wanted vigour of mind to decide upon what was right, he was not
obstinate in wrong, and had even generosity enough in his nature to
thank Nelson afterwards for having shown him his error.
Collingwood in the MEDIATOR, and his brother, Wilfred Collingwood,
in the RATTLER, actively co-operated with Nelson. The custom-houses
were informed that after a certain day all foreign vessels
found in the ports would be seized; and many were, in consequence,
seized, and condemned in the Admiralty Court. When the BOREAS
arrived at Nevis, she found four American vessels deeply laden, and
what are called the island colours flying--white, with a red cross.
They were ordered to hoist their proper flag, and depart within 48
hours; but they refused to obey, denying that they were Americans.
Some of their crews were then examined in Nelson's cabin, where
the Judge of Admiralty happened to be present. The case was plain;
they confessed that they were Americans, and that the ships, hull
and cargo, were wholly American property; upon which he seized
them. This raised a storm: the planters, the custom-house, and
the governor, were all against him. Subscriptions were opened, and
presently filled, for the purpose of carrying on the cause in behalf of
the American captains; and the admiral, whose flag was at that
time in the roads, stood neutral. But the Americans and their
abettors were not content with defensive law. The marines, whom
he had sent to secure the ships, had prevented some of the masters
from going ashore; and those persons, by whose depositions it
appeared that the vessels and cargoes were American property,
declared that they had given their testimony under bodily fear, for
that a man with a drawn sword in his hand had stood over them
the whole time. A rascally lawyer, whom the party employed,
suggested this story; and as the sentry at the cabin door was a man
with a drawn sword, the Americans made no scruple of swearing
to this ridiculous falsehood, and commencing prosecutions against
him accordingly. They laid their damages at the enormous amount
of L40,000; and Nelson was obliged to keep close on board his own
ship, lest he should be arrested for a sum for which it would have
been impossible to find bail. The marshal frequently came on board
to arrest him, but was always prevented by the address of the first
lieutenant, Mr. Wallis. Had he been taken, such was the temper of
the people that it was certain he would have been cast for the whole
sum. One of his officers, one day, in speaking of the restraint which
he was thus compelled to suffer, happened to use the word PITY!
"Pity!" exclaimed Nelson: "Pity! did you say? I shall live, sir,
to be envied! and to that point I shall always direct my course."
Eight weeks remained in this state of duresse. During that time
the trial respecting the detained ships came on in the court of
Admiralty. He went on shore under a protection for the day from
the judge; but, notwithstanding this, the marshal was called upon
to take that opportunity of arresting him, and the merchants
promised to indemnify him for so doing. The judge, however, did his
duty, and threatened to send the marshal to prison if he attempted
to violate the protection of the court. Mr. Herbert, the president
of Nevis, behaved with singular generosity upon this occasion.
Though no man was a greater sufferer by the measures which
Nelson had pursued, he offered in court to become his bail for
L10,000 if he chose to suffer the arrest. The lawyer whom he had
chosen proved to be an able as well as an honest man; and
notwithstanding the opinions and pleadings of most of the counsel of
the different islands, who maintained that ships of war were not
justified in seizing American vessels without a deputation from the
customs, the law was so explicit, the case so clear, and Nelson
pleaded his own cause so well, that the four ships were condemned.
During the progress of this business he sent a memorial home to
the king, in consequence of which orders were issued that he should
be defended at the expense of the crown. And upon the representation
which he made at the same time to the Secretary of State, and
the suggestions with which he accompanied it, the Register Act was
framed. The sanction of Government, and the approbation of his
conduct which it implied, were highly gratifying to him; but he was
offended, and not without just cause, that the Treasury should have
transmitted thanks to the commander-in-chief for his activity and
zeal in protecting the commerce of Great Britain. "Had they
known all," said he, "I do not think they would have bestowed thanks
in that quarter, and neglected me. I feel much hurt that, after the
loss of health and risk of fortune, another should be thanked for
what I did against his orders. I either deserved to be sent out of
the service, or at least to have had some little notice taken of what
I had done. They have thought it worthy of notice, and yet have
neglected me. If this is the reward for a faithful discharge of my
duty, I shall be careful, and never stand forward again. But I have
done my duty, and have nothing to accuse myself of."
The anxiety which he had suffered from the harassing uncertainties
of law is apparent from these expressions. He had, however,
something to console him, for he was at this time wooing the niece of
his friend the president, then in her eighteenth year, the widow of Dr.
Nisbet, a physician. She had one child, a son, by name Josiah, who
was three years old. One day Mr. Herbert, who had hastened
half-dressed to receive Nelson, exclaimed, on returning to his
dressing-room, "Good God! if I did not find that great little man, of
whom everybody is so afraid, playing in the next room, under the diningtable,
with Mrs. Nisbet's child!" A few days afterwards Mrs.
Nisbet herself was first introduced to him, and thanked him for the
partiality which he had shown to her little boy. Her manners were
mild and winning; and the captain, whose heart was easily susceptible
of attachment, found no such imperious necessity for subduing his
inclinations as had twice before withheld him from marrying. They were
married on March 11, 1787: Prince William Henry, who had come
out to the West Indies the preceding winter, being present, by his
own desire, to give away the bride. Mr. Herbert, her uncle, was at
this time so much displeased with his only daughter, that he had
resolved to disinherit her, and leave his whole fortune, which was
very great, to his niece. But Nelson, whose nature was too noble to
let him profit by an act of injustice, interfered, and succeeded in
reconciling the president to his child.
"Yesterday," said one of his naval friends the day after the wedding,
"the navy lost one of its greatest ornaments by Nelson's marriage.
It is a national loss that such an officer should marry: had
it not been for this, Nelson would have become the greatest man
in the service." The man was rightly estimated; but he who
delivered this opinion did not understand the effect of domestic love
and duty upon a mind of the true heroic stamp.
"We are often separate," said Nelson, in a letter to Mrs. Nisbet a
few months before their marriage; "but our affections are not by any
means on that account diminished. Our country has the first
demand for our services; and private convenience or happiness must
ever give way to the public good. Duty is the great business of a
sea officer: all private considerations must give way to it, however
painful." "Have you not often heard," says he in another letter,
"that salt water and absence always wash away love ? Now I am
such a heretic as not to believe that article, for, behold, every
morning I have had six pails of salt water poured upon my head, and
instead of finding what seamen say to be true, it goes on so contrary
to the prescription, that you may, perhaps, see me before the fixed
time." More frequently his correspondence breathed a deeper strain.
"To write letters to you," says he,"is the next greatest pleasure I
feel to receiving them from you. What I experience when I read
such as I am sure are the pure sentiments of your heart, my poor
pen cannot express; nor, indeed, would I give much for any pen
or head which could express feelings of that kind. Absent from
you, I feel no pleasure: it is you who are everything to me. Without
you, I care not for this world; for I have found, lately, nothing
in it but vexation and trouble. These are my present sentiments.
God Almighty grant they may never change! Nor do I think they
will. Indeed there is, as far as human knowledge can judge, a
moral certainty that they cannot; for it must be real affection that
brings us together, not interest or compulsion." Such were the
feelings, and such the sense of duty, with which Nelson became a
During his stay upon this station he had ample opportunity of
observing the scandalous practices of the contractors, prize-agents,
and other persons in the West Indies connected with the naval service.
When he was first left with the command, and bills were brought him
to sign for money which was owing for goods purchased for the navy,
he required the original voucher, that he might examine whether
those goods had been really purchased at the market price; but to
produce vouchers would not have been convenient, and therefore was
not the custom. Upon this Nelson wrote to Sir Charles Middleton,
then Comptroller of the Navy, representing the abuses which were
likely to be practised in this manner. The answer which he received
seemed to imply that the old forms were thought sufficient; and
thus, having no alternative, he was compelled, with his eyes open, to
submit to a practice originating in fraudulent intentions. Soon
afterwards two Antigua merchants informed him that they were privy
to great frauds which had been committed upon government in
various departments; at Antigua, to the amount of nearly L500,000;
at Lucie, L300,000; at Barbadoes, L250,000; at Jamaica, upwards of
a million. The informers were both shrewd sensible men of business;
they did not affect to be actuated by a sense of justice, but required
a per-centage upon so much as government should actually recover
through their means. Nelson examined the books and papers which
they produced, and was convinced that government had been most
infamously plundered. Vouchers, he found, in that country, were no
check whatever: the principle was, that "a thing was always worth
what it would bring;" and the merchants were in the habit of signing
vouchers for each other, without even the appearance of looking at
the articles. These accounts he sent home to the different
departments which had been defrauded; but the peculators were too
powerful, and they succeeded not merely in impeding inquiry, but
even in raising prejudices against Nelson at the Board of Admiralty,
which it was many years before he could subdue.
Owing probably, to these prejudices, and the influence of the
peculators, he was treated, on his return to England, in a manner which
had nearly driven him from the service. During the three years that
the BOREAS had remained upon a station which is usually so fatal, not
a single officer or man of her whole complement had died. This
almost unexampled instance of good health, though mostly, no doubt,
imputable to a healthy season, must in some measure, also, be ascribed
to the wise conduct of the captain. He never suffered the ships to
remain more than three or four weeks at a time at any of the islands;
and when the hurricane months confined him to English Harbour, he
encouraged all kinds of useful amusements--music, dancing, and
cudgelling among the men; theatricals among the officers; anything
which could employ their attention, and keep their spirits cheerful.
The BOREAS arrived in England in June. Nelson, who had many
times been supposed to be consumptive when in the West Indies,
and perhaps was saved from consumption by that climate, was still
in a precarious state of health; and the raw wet weather of one of
our ungenial summers brought on cold, and sore throat, and fever;
yet his vessel was kept at the Nore from the end of June till the end
of November, serving as a slop and receiving ship. This unworthy
treatment, which more probably proceeded from inattention than
from neglect, excited in Nelson the strongest indignation. During
the whole five months he seldom or never quitted the ship, but carried
on the duty with strict and sullen attention. On the morning when
orders were received to prepare the BOREAS for being paid off, he
expressed his joy to the senior officer in the Medway, saying, "It will
release me for ever from an ungrateful service; for it is my firm and
unalterable determination never again to set my foot on board a
king's ship. Immediately after my arrival in town I shall wait on
the First Lord of the Admiralty, and resign my commission." The
officer to whom he thus communicated his intentions behaved in the
wisest and most friendly manner; for finding it in vain to dissuade him
in his present state of feeling, he secretly interfered with the First Lord
to save him from a step so injurious to himself, little foreseeing how
deeply the welfare and honour of England were at that moment at
stake. This interference produced a letter from Lord Howe the day
before the ship was paid off, intimating a wish to see Captain Nelson
as soon as he arrived in town; when, being pleased with his conversation,
and perfectly convinced, by what was then explained to him,
of the propriety of his conduct, he desired that he might present him
to the king on the first levee-day; and the gracious manner in which
Nelson was then received effectually removed his resentment.
Prejudices had been, in like manner, excited against his friend,
Prince William Henry. "Nothing is wanting, sir," said Nelson, in
one of his letters, "to make you the darling of the English nation but
truth. Sorry am I to say, much to the contrary has been dispersed."
This was not flattery, for Nelson was no flatterer. The letter in
which this passage occurs shows in how wise and noble a manner he
dealt with the prince. One of his royal highness's officers had
applied for a court-martial upon a point in which he was unquestionably
wrong. His royal highness, however, while he supported his own
character and authority, prevented the trial, which must have been
injurious to a brave and deserving man. "Now that you are parted,"
said Nelson, "pardon me, my prince, when I presume to recommend
that he may stand in your royal favour as if he had never sailed with
you, and that at some future day you will serve him. There only
wants this to place your conduct in the highest point of view. None
of us are without failings--his was being rather too hasty; but that,
put in competition with his being a good officer, will not, I am bold
to say, be taken in the scale against him. More able friends than
myself your royal highness may easily find, and of more consequence
in the state; but one more attached and affectionate is not so easily
met with: Princes seldom, very seldom, find a disinterested person
to communicate their thoughts to: I do not pretend to be that person;
but of this be assured, by a man who, I trust, never did a dishonourable
act, that I am interested only that your royal highness should be the
greatest and best man this country ever produced."
Encouraged by the conduct of Lord Howe, and by his reception at
court, Nelson renewed his attack upon the peculators with fresh spirit.
He had interviews with Mr. Rose, Mr. Pitt, and Sir Charles Middleton,
to all of whom he satisfactorily proved his charges. In consequence,
if is said, these very extensive public frauds were at length put
in a proper train to be provided against in future; his representations
were attended to; and every step which he recommended was adopted; the
investigation was put into a proper course, which ended in the
detection and punishment of some of the culprits; an immense
saving was made to government, and thus its attention was directed to
similar peculations in other arts of the colonies. But it is said also
that no mark of commendation seems to have been bestowed upon
Nelson for his exertion. It has been justly remarked that the spirit
of the navy cannot be preserved so effectually by the liberal honours
bestowed on officers when they are worn out in the service, as by an
attention to those who, like Nelson at this part of his life, have only
their integrity and zeal to bring them into notice. A junior officer,
who had been left with the command at Jamaica, received an additional
allowance, for which Nelson had applied in vain. Double pay
was allowed to every artificer and seaman employed in the naval
yard: Nelson had superintended the whole business of that yard with
the most rigid exactness, and he complained that he was neglected.
"It was most true," he said, "that the trouble which he took to detect
the fraudulent practices then carried on was no more than his duty;
but he little thought that the expenses attending his frequent journeys
to St. John's upon that duty (a distance of twelve miles) would have
fallen upon his pay as captain of the BOREAS." Nevertheless, the sense
of what he thought unworthy usage did not diminish his zeal. "I,"
said he,"must buffet the waves in search of--What? Alas! that
they called honour is thought of no more. My fortune, God knows,
has grown worse for the service; so much for serving my country!
But the devil, ever willing to tempt the virtuous, has made me offer, if
any ships should be sent to destroy his Majesty of Morocco's ports, to
be there; and I have some reason to think that, should any more
come of it, my humble services will be accepted. I have invariably
laid down, and followed close, a plan of what ought to be uppermost
in the breast of an officer,--that it is much better to serve an
ungrateful country than to give up his own fame. Posterity will do him
justice. A uniform course of honour and integrity seldom fails of
bringing a man to the goal of fame at last."
The design against the Barbary pirates, like all other designs
against them, was laid aside; and Nelson took his wife to his father's
parsonage, meaning only to pay him a visit before they went to France;
a project which he had formed for the sake of acquiring a competent
knowledge of the French language. But his father could not bear to
lose him thus unnecessarily. Mr. Nelson had long been an invalid,
suffering under paralytic and asthmatic affections, which, for several
hours after he rose in the morning, scarcely permitted him to speak.
He had been given over by his physicians for this complaint nearly
forty years before his death; and was, for many of his latter years,
obliged to spend all his winters at Bath. The sight of his son, he
declared, had given him new life. "But, Horatio," said he, "it would
have been better that I had not been thus cheered, if I am so soon to
be bereaved of you again. Let me, my good son, see you whilst I
can. My age and infirmities increase, and I shall not last long." To
such an appeal there could be no reply. Nelson took up his abode at
the parsonage, and amused himself with the sports and occupations of
the country. Sometimes he busied himself with farming the glebe;
sometimes spent the greater part of the day in the garden, where he
would dig as if for the mere pleasure of wearying himself. Sometimes
he went a birds'-nesting, like a boy; and in these expeditions
Mrs. Nelson always, by his expressed desire, accompanied him.
Coursing was his favourite amusement. Shooting, as he practised it,
was far too dangerous for his companions; for he carried his gun
upon the full cock, as if he were going to board an enemy; and the
moment a bird rose, he let fly without ever putting the fowling-piece
to his shoulder. It is not, therefore, extraordinary that his having
once shot a partridge should be remembered by his family among the
remarkable events of his life.
But his time did not pass away thus without some vexatious cares to
ruffle it. The affair of the American ships was not yet over, and he
was again pestered with threats of prosecution. "I have written them
word," said he, "that I will have nothing to do with them, and they
must act as they think proper. Government, I suppose, will do what
is right, and not leave me in the lurch. We have heard enough
lately of the consequences of the Navigation Act to this country.
They may take my person; but if sixpence would save me from a
prosecution, I would not give it." It was his great ambition at this
time to possess a pony; and having resolved to purchase one, he went
to a fair for that purpose. During his absence two men abruptly
entered the parsonage and inquired for him: they then asked for
Mrs. Nelson; and after they had made her repeatedly declare that
she was really and truly the captain's wife, presented her with a writ,
or notification, on the part of the American captains, who now laid
their damages at L20,000, and they charged her to give it to her
husband on his return. Nelson, having bought his pony, came home
with it in high spirits. He called out his wife to admire the purchase
and listen to all its excellences: nor was it till his glee had in some
measure subsided that the paper could be presented to him. His
indignation was excessive; and in the apprehension that he should
be exposed to the anxieties of the suit and the ruinous consequences
which might ensue, he exclaimed, "This affront I did not deserve!
But I'll be trifled with no longer. I will write immediately to the
Treasury, and if government will not support me, I am resolved to
leave the country." Accordingly, he informed the Treasury that, if
a satisfactory answer were not sent him by return of post, he should
take refuge in France. To this he expected he should be driven, and
for this he arranged everything with his characteristic rapidity of
decision. It was settled that he should depart immediately, and Mrs.
Nelson follow, under the care of his elder brother Maurice, ten days
after him. But the answer which he received from government
quieted his fears: it stated that Captain Nelson was a very good
officer, and needed to be under no apprehension, for he would
assuredly be supported.
Here his disquietude upon this subject seems to have ended. Still
he was not at ease; he wanted employment, and was mortified that
his applications for it produced no effect. "Not being a man of
fortune," he said, "was a crime which he was unable to get over, and
therefore none of the great cared about him." Repeatedly he
requested the Admiralty that they would not leave him to rust in
indolence. During the armament which was made upon occasion
of the dispute concerning Nootka Sound, he renewed his application;
and his steady friend, Prince William, who had then been
created Duke of Clarence, recommended him to Lord Chatham.
The failure of this recommendation wounded him so keenly that
he again thought of retiring from the service in disgust; a resolution
from which nothing but the urgent remonstrances of Lord
Hood induced him to desist. Hearing that the RAISONNABLE, in which
he had commenced his career, was to be commissioned, he asked
for her. This also was in vain; and a coolness ensued, on his part,
toward Lord Hood, because that excellent officer did not use his
influence with Lord Chatham upon this occasion. Lord Hood,
however, had certainly sufficient reasons for not interfering; for he
ever continued his steady friend. In the winter of 1792, when we were
on the eve of the revolutionary war, Nelson once more offered his
services, earnestly requested a ship, and added, that if their
lordships should be pleased to appoint him to a cockle-boat he should
feel satisfied. He was answered in the usual official form: "Sir, I
have received your letter of the 5th instant, expressing your readiness
to serve, and have read the same to my Lords Commissioners
of the Admiralty." On the 12th of December he received this dry
acknowledgment. The fresh mortification did not, however, affect
him long; for, by the joint interest of the Duke and Lord Hood, he
was appointed, on the 30th of January following, to the AGAMEMNON,
of sixty-four guns.
1793 - 1795
The AGAMEMNON sent to the Mediteranean--Commencement of Nelson's
Aquaintance with Sir W. Hamilton--He is sent to Corsica, to cooperate
with Paoli--State of Affairs in that Island--Nelson
undertakes the Siege of Bastia, and reduces it--Takes a distinguished
Part in the Siege of Calvi, where he loses an Eye--Admiral Hotham's
Action--The AGAMEMNON ordered to Genoa, to co-operate with the Austrian
and Sardinian Forces--Gross Misconduct of the Austrian General.
"THERE are three things, young gentleman," said Nelson to one of his
midshipmen, "which you are constantly to bear in mind. First, you must
always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of
your own respecting their propriety; secondly, you must consider every man
your enemy who speaks ill of your king; and, thirdly, you must hate a
Frenchman as you do the devil." With these feelings he engaged in the war.
Josiah, his son-in-law, went with him as a midshipman.
The AGAMEMNON was ordered to the Mediterranean under Lord Hood. The
fleet arrived in those seas at a time when the south of France would
willingly have formed itself into a separate republic, under the
protection of England. But good principles had been at that time
perilously abused by ignorant and profligate men; and, in its fear and
hatred of democracy, the English Government abhorred whatever was
republican. Lord Hood could not take advantage of the fair occasion
which presented itself; and which, if it had been seized with vigour,
might have ended in dividing France:--but he negotiated with the people
of Toulon, to take possession provisionally of their port and city; which,
fatally for themselves, was done. Before the British fleet entered, Nelson
was sent with despatches to Sir William Hamilton, our envoy at the Court
of Naples. Sir William, after his first interview with him, told
Lady Hamilton he was about to introduce a little man to her, who could
not boast of being very handsome; but such a man as, he believed, would
one day astonish the world. "I have never before," he continued,
"entertained an officer at my house; but I am determined to bring him
here. Let him be put in the room prepared for Prince Augustus." Thus
that acquaintance began which ended in the destruction of Nelson's
domestic happiness. It seemed to threaten no such consequences at its
commencement. He spoke of Lady Hamilton, in a letter to his wife, as a
young woman of amiable manners, who did honour to the station to which
she had been raised; and he remarked, that she had been exceedingly kind
to Josiah. The activity with which the envoy exerted himself in
procuring troops from Naples, to assist in garrisoning Toulon, so
delighted him, that he is said to have exclaimed, "Sir William, you are
a man after my own heart!--you do business in my own way:" and then to
have added, "I am now only a captain; but I will, if I live, be at the
top of the tree." Here, also, that acquaintance with the Neapolitan
court commenced, which led to the only blot upon Nelson's public
character. The king, who was sincere at that time in his enmity to the
French, called the English the saviours of Italy, and of his dominions
in particular. He paid the most flattering attentions to Nelson, made
him dine with him, and seated him at his right hand.
Having accomplished this mission, Nelson received orders to join
Commodore Linzee at Tunis. On the way, five sail of the enemy were
discovered off the coast of Sardinia, and he chased them. They proved to
be three forty-four gun frigates, with a corvette of twenty-four and a
brig of twelve. The AGAMEMNON had only 345 men at quarters, having
landed part of her crew at Toulon, and others being absent in prizes.
He came near enough one of the frigates to engage her, but at great
disadvantage, the Frenchman manoeuvring well and sailing greatly better.
A running fight of three hours ensued, during which the other ships,
which were at some distance, made all speed to come up. By this time
the enemy was almost silenced, when a favourable change of wind enabled
her to get out of reach of the AGAMEMNON's guns; and that ship had
received so much damage in the rigging that she could not follow her.
Nelson, conceiving that this was but the forerunner of a far more
serious engagement, called his officers together, and asked them if the
ship was fit to go into action against such a superior force without
some small refit and refreshment for the men. Their answer was, that she
certainly was not. He then gave these orders,--"Veer the ship, and lay
her head to the westward: let some of the best men be employed in refitting
the rigging, and the carpenter in getting crows and capstan-bars to
prevent our wounded spars from coming down: and get the wine up for the
people, with some bread, for it may be half an hour good before we are
again in action." But when the French came up, their comrade made
signals of distress, and they all hoisted out their boats to go to her
assistance, leaving the AGAMEMNON unmolested.
Nelson found Commodore Linzee at Tunis, where he had been sent to
expostulate with the dey upon the impolicy of his supporting the
revolutionary government of France. Nelson represented to him the
atrocity of that government. Such arguments were of little avail in
Barbary; and when the Dey was told that the French had put their
sovereign to death, he drily replied, that "Nothing could be more
heinous; and yet, if historians told the truth, the English had once
done the same." This answer had doubtless been suggested by the French
about him: they had completely gained the ascendancy, and all
negotiation on our part proved fruitless. Shortly afterward, Nelson was
detached with a small squadron, to co-operate with General Paoli and the
Anti-Gallican party in Corsica.
Some thirty years before this time the heroic patriotism of the
Corsicans, and of their leader Paoli, had been the admiration of
England. The history of these brave people is but a melancholy tale. The
island which they inhabit has been abundantly blessed by nature; it has
many excellent harbours; and though the MALARIA, or pestilential
atmosphere, which is so deadly in many parts of Italy and of the Italian
islands, prevails on the eastern coast, the greater part of the country
is mountainous and healthy. It is about 150 miles long, and from 40 to
50 broad; in circumference, some 320; a country large enough, and
sufficiently distant from the nearest shores, to have subsisted as an
independent state, if the welfare and happiness of the human race had
ever been considered as the end and aim of policy. The Moors, the
Pisans, the kings of Aragon, and the Genoese, successively attempted,
and each for a time effected its conquest. The yoke of the Genoese
continued longest, and was the heaviest. These petty tyrants ruled with
an iron rod; and when at any time a patriot rose to resist their
oppressions, if they failed to subdue him by force they resorted to
assassination. At the commencement of the last century they quelled one
revolt by the aid of German auxiliaries, whom the Emperor Charles VI.
sent against a people who had never offended him, and who were fighting
for whatever is most dear to man. In 1734 the war was renewed; and
Theodore, a Westphalian baron, then appeared upon the stage. In that age
men were not accustomed to see adventurers play for kingdoms, and
Theodore became the common talk of Europe. He had served in the French
armies; and having afterwards been noticed both by Ripperda and
Alberoni, their example, perhaps, inflamed a spirit as ambitious and as
unprincipled as their own. He employed the whole of his means in raising
money and procuring arms; then wrote to the leaders of the Corsican
patriots, to offer them considerable assistance, if they would erect
Corsica into an independent kingdom, and elect him king. When he landed
among them, they were struck with his stately person, his dignified
manners, and imposing talents. They believed the magnificent promises of
foreign assistance which he held out, and elected him king accordingly.
Had his means been as he represented them, they could not have acted
more wisely than in thus at once fixing the government of their country,
and putting an end to those rivalries among the leading families, which
had so often proved pernicious to the public weal. He struck money,
conferred titles, blocked up the fortified towns which were held by the
Genoese, and amused the people with promises of assistance for about
eight months: then, perceiving that they cooled in their affections
towards him in proportion as their expectations were disappointed, he
left the island, under the plea of expediting himself the succours which
he had so long awaited. Such was his address, that he prevailed upon
several rich merchants in Holland, particularly the Jews, to trust him
with cannon and warlike stores to a great amount. They shipped these
under the charge of a supercargo. Theodore returned with this supercargo
to Corsica, and put him to death on his arrival, as the shortest way of
settling the account. The remainder of his life was a series of deserved
afflictions. He threw in the stores which he had thus fraudulently
obtained; but he did not dare to land, for Genoa had now called in the
French to their assistance, and a price had been set upon his head. His
dreams of royalty were now at an end; he took refuge in London,
contracted debts, and was thrown into the King's Bench. After lingering
there many years, he was released under an act of insolvency, in
consequence of which he made over the kingdom of Corsica for the use of
his creditors, and died shortly after his deliverance.
The French, who have never acted a generous part in the history of
the world, readily entered into the views of the Genoese, which accorded
with their own policy: for such was their ascendancy at Genoa, that in
subduing Corsica for these allies, they were in fact subduing it for
themselves. They entered into the contest, therefore, with their usual
vigour, and their usual cruelty. It was in vain that the Corsicans
addressed a most affecting memorial to the court of Versailles; that
remorseless government persisted in its flagitious project. They poured
in troops; dressed a part of them like the people of the country, by
which means they deceived and destroyed many of the patriots; cut down
the standing corn, the vines, and the olives; set fire to the villages,
and hung all the most able and active men who fell into their hands. A
war of this kind may be carried on with success against a country so
small and so thinly peopled as Corsica. Having reduced the island to
perfect servitude, which they called peace, the French withdrew their
forces. As soon as they were gone, men, women, and boys rose at once
against their oppressors. The circumstances of the times were now
favourable to them; and some British ships, acting as allies of
Sardinia, bombarded Bastia and San Fiorenzo, and delivered them into the
hands of the patriots. This service was long remembered with gratitude:
the impression made upon our own countrymen was less favourable. They
had witnessed the heartburnings of rival chiefs, and the dissensions
among the patriots; and perceiving the state of barbarism to which
continual oppression, and habits of lawless turbulence, had reduced the
nation, did not recollect that the vices of the people were owing to
their unhappy circumstances, but that the virtues which they displayed
arose from their own nature. This feeling, perhaps, influenced the
British court, when, in 1746, Corsica offered to put herself under the
protection of Great Britain: an answer was returned, expressing
satisfaction at such a communication, hoping that the Corsicans would
preserve the same sentiments, but signifying also that the present was
not the time for such a measure.
These brave islanders then formed a government for themselves, under
two leaders, Gaffori and Matra, who had the title of protectors. The
latter is represented as a partisan of Genoa, favouring the views of the
oppressors of his country by the most treasonable means. Gaffori was a
hero worthy of old times. His eloquence was long remembered with
admiration. A band of assassins was once advancing against him; he heard
of their approach, went out to meet them; and, with a serene dignity
which overawed them, requested them to hear him. He then spake to them
so forcibly of the distresses of their country, her intolerable wrongs,
and the hopes and views of their brethren in arms, that the very men who
had been hired to murder him, fell at his feet, implored his
forgiveness, and joined his banner. While he was besieging the Genoese
in Corte, a part of the garrison perceiving the nurse with his eldest
son, then an infant in arms, straying at a little distance from the
camp, suddenly sallied out and seized them. The use they made of their
persons was in conformity to their usual execrable conduct. When Gaffori
advanced to batter the walls, they held up the child directly over that
part of the wall at which the guns were pointed. The Corsicans stopped:
but Gaffori stood at their head, and ordered them to continue the fire.
Providentially the child escaped, and lived to relate, with becoming
feeling, a fact so honourable to his father. That father conducted the
affairs of the island till 1753, when he was assassinated by some
wretches, set on, it is believed, by Genoa, but certainly pensioned by
that abominable government after the deed. He left the country in such a
state that it was enabled to continue the war two years after his death
without a leader: the Corsicans then found one worthy of their cause in
Pasquale de Paoli.
Paoli's father was one of the patriots who effected their escape from
Corsica when the French reduced it to obedience. He retired to Naples,
and brought up his youngest son in the Neapolitan service. The Corsicans
heard of young Paoli's abilities, and solicited him to come over to his
native country, and take the command. He did not hesitate long: his
father, who was too far advanced in years to take an active part
himself, encouraged him to go; and when they separated, the old man fell
on his neck, and kissed him, and gave him his blessing. "My son," said
he, "perhaps I may never see you more; but in my mind I shall ever be
present with you. Your design is great and noble; and I doubt not but
God will bless you in it. I shall devote to your cause the little
remainder of my life in offering up my prayers for your success." When
Paoli assumed the command, he found all things in confusion: he formed a
democratical government, of which he was chosen chief: restored the
authority of the laws; established a university; and took such measures,
both for repressing abuses and moulding the rising generation, that, if
France had not interfered, upon its wicked and detestable principle of
usurpation, Corsica might at this day have been as free, and flourishing
and happy a commonwealth as any of the Grecian states in the days of
their prosperity. The Genoese were at this time driven out of their
fortified towns, and must in a short time have been expelled. France was
indebted some millions of livres to Genoa: it was not convenient to pay
this money; so the French minister proposed to the Genoese, that she
should discharge the debt by sending six battalions to serve in Corsica
for four years. The indignation which this conduct excited in all
generous hearts was forcibly expressed by Rousseau, who, with all his
errors, was seldom deficient in feeling for the wrongs of humanity. "You
Frenchmen" said he, writing to one of that people, "are a thoroughly
servile nation, thoroughly sold to tyranny, thoroughly cruel and
relentless in persecuting the unhappy. If you knew of a freeman at the
other end of the world, I believe you would go thither for the mere
pleasure of extirpating him."
The immediate object of the French happened to be purely mercenary:
they wanted to clear off their debt to Genoa; and as the presence of
their troops in the island effected this, they aimed at doing the people
no farther mischief. Would that the conduct of England had been at this
time free from reproach! but a proclamation was issued by the English
government, after the peace of Paris, prohibiting any intercourse with
the rebels of Corsica. Paoli said, he did not expect this from Great
Britain. This great man was deservedly proud of his country. "I defy
Rome, Sparta, or Thebes," he would say, "to show me thirty years of such
patriotism as Corsica can boast!" Availing himself of the respite which
the inactivity of the French and the weakness of the Genoese allowed, he
prosecuted his plans of civilising the people. He used to say, that
though he had an unspeakable pride in the prospect of the fame to which
he aspired; yet if he could but render his countrymen happy, he could be
content to be forgotten. His own importance he never affected to
undervalue. "We are now to our country," said he, "like the prophet
Elisha stretched over the dead child of the Shunamite,--eye to eye, nose
to nose, mouth to mouth. It begins to recover warmth, and to revive: I
hope it will yet regain full health and vigour."
But when the four years were expired, France purchased the
sovereignty of Corsica from the Genoese for forty millions of livres; as
if the Genoese had been entitled to sell it; as if any bargain and sale
could justify one country in taking possession of another against the
will of the inhabitants, and butchering all who oppose the usurpation!
Among the enormities which France has committed, this action seems but
as a speck; yet the foulest murderer that ever suffered by the hand of
the executioner has infinitely less guilt upon his soul than the
statesman who concluded this treaty, and the monarch who sanctioned and
confirmed it. A desperate and glorious resistance was made, but it was
in vain; no power interposed in behalf of these injured islanders, and
the French poured in as many troops as were required. They offered to
confirm Paoli in the supreme authority, only on condition that he would
hold it under their government. His answer was, that "the rocks which
surrounded him should melt away before he would betray a cause which he
held in common with the poorest Corsican." This people then set a price
upon his head. During two campaigns he kept them at bay: they
overpowered him at length; he was driven to the shore, and having
escaped on shipboard, took refuge in England. It is said that Lord
Shelburne resigned his seat in the cabinet because the ministry looked
on without attempting to prevent France from succeeding in this
abominable and important act of aggrandizement. In one respect, however,
our country acted as became her. Paoli was welcomed with the honours
which he deserved, a pension of L1200 was immediately granted him, and
provision was liberally made for his elder brother and his nephew.
About twenty years Paoli remained in England, enjoying the friendship
of the wise and the admiration of the good. But when the French
Revolution began, it seemed as if the restoration of Corsica was at
hand. The whole country, as if animated by one spirit, rose and demanded
liberty; and the National Assembly passed a decree recognising the
island as a department of France, and therefore entitled to all the
privileges of the new French constitution. This satisfied the Corsicans,
which it ought not to have done; and Paoli, in whom the ardour of youth
was passed, seeing that his countrymen were contented, and believing
that they were about to enjoy a state of freedom, naturally wished to
return to his native country. He resigned his pension in the year 1790,
and appeared at the bar of the Assembly with the Corsican deputies, when
they took the oath of fidelity to France. But the course of events in
France soon dispelled those hopes of a new and better order of things,
which Paoli, in common with so many of the friends of human-kind, had
indulged; and perceiving, after the execution of the king, that a civil
war was about to ensue, of which no man could foresee the issue, he
prepared to break the connection between Corsica and the French
Republic. The convention suspecting such a design, and perhaps
occasioning it by their suspicions, ordered him to their bar. That way
he well knew led to the guillotine; and returning a respectful answer,
he declared that he would never be found wanting in his duty, but
pleaded age and infirmity as a reason for disobeying the summons. Their
second order was more summary; and the French troops, who were in
Corsica, aided by those of the natives, who were either influenced by
hereditary party feelings, or who were sincere in Jacobinism, took the
field against him. But the people were with him. He repaired to Corte,
the capital of the island, and was again invested with the authority
which he had held in the noonday of his fame. The convention upon this
denounced him as a rebel, and set a price upon his head. It was not the
first time that France had proscribed Paoli.
Paoli now opened a correspondence with Lord Hood, promising, if the
English would make an attack upon St. Fiorenzo from the sea, he would at
the same time attack it by land. This promise he was unable to perform;
and Commodore Linzee, who, in reliance upon it, was sent upon this
service, was repulsed with some loss. Lord Hood, who had now been
compelled to evacuate Toulon, suspected Paoli of intentionally deceiving
him. This was an injurious suspicion. Shortly afterwards he dispatched
Lieutenant-Colonel (afterward Sir John) Moore and Major Koehler to
confer with him upon a plan of operations. Sir Gilbert Elliot
accompanied them; and it was agreed that, in consideration of the
succours, both military and naval, which his Britannic Majesty should
afford for the purpose of expelling the French, the island of Corsica
should be delivered into the immediate possession of his Majesty, and
bind itself to acquiesce in any settlement he might approve of concerning
its government, and its future relation with Great Britain. While
this negotiation was going on, Nelson cruised off the island with a
small squadron, to prevent the enemy from throwing in supplies. Close to
St. Fiorenzo the French had a storehouse of flour near their only mill:
he watched an opportunity, and landed 120 men, who threw the flour into
the sea, burnt the mill, and re-embarked before 1000 men, who were sent
against him, could occasion them the loss of a single man. While be
exerted himself thus, keeping out all supplies, intercepting despatches,
attacking their outposts and forts, and cutting out vessels from the
bay,--a species of warfare which depresses the spirit of an enemy even
more than it injures them, because of the sense of individual
superiority which it indicates in the assailants--troops were landed,
and St. Fiorenzo was besieged. The French finding themselves unable to
maintain their post sunk one of their frigates, burnt another, and
retreated to Bastia. Lord Hood submitted to General Dundas, who
commanded the land forces, a plan for the reduction of this place: the
general declined co-operating, thinking the attempt impracticable without
a reinforcement of 2000 men, which he expected from Gibraltar. Upon
this Lord Hood determined to reduce it with the naval force under his
command; and leaving part of his fleet off Toulon, he came with the rest
to Bastia.
He showed a proper sense of respect for Nelson's services, and of
confidence in his talents, by taking care not to bring with him any
older captain. A few days before their arrival, Nelson had had what he
called a brush with the enemy. "If I had had with me 500 troops," he
said, "to a certainty I should have stormed the town; and I believe it
might have been carried. Armies go so slow that seamen think they never
mean to get forward; but I daresay they act on a surer principle,
although we seldom fail." During this partial action our army appeared
upon the heights; and having reconnoitered the place, returned to St.
Fiorenzo. "What the general could have seen to make a retreat necessary,"
said Nelson, "I cannot comprehend. A thousand men would certainly
take Bastia: with five hundred and the AGAMEMNON I would attempt it. My
seamen are now what British seamen ought to be--almost invincible. They
really mind shot no more than peas." General Dundas had not the same
confidence. "After mature consideration," he said in a letter to Lord
Hood,"and a personal inspection for several days of all circumstances,
local as well as others, I consider the siege of Bastia, with our
present means and force, to be a most visionary and rash attempt; such
as no officer would be justified in undertaking." Lord Hood replied that
nothing would be more gratifying to his feelings than to have the whole
responsibility upon himself; and that he was ready and willing to
undertake the reduction of the place at his own risk with the force and
means at present there. General D'Aubant, who succeeded at this time to
the command of the army, coincided in opinion with his predecessor, and
did not think it right to furnish his lordship with a single soldier,
cannon, or any stores. Lord Hood could only obtain a few artillerymen;
and ordering on board that part of the troops who, having been embarked
as marines, "were borne on the ships" books as part of their respective
complements, he began the siege with 1183 soldiers, artillerymen, and
marines, and 250 sailors. "We are but few," said Nelson,"but of the
right sort; our general at St. Fiorenzo not giving us one of the five
regiments he has there lying idle."
These men were landed on the 4th of April, under Lieutenant-Colonel
Villettes and Nelson, who had now acquired from the army the title of
brigadier. Guns were dragged by the sailors up heights where it appeared
almost impossible to convey them--a work of the greatest difficulty, and
which Nelson said could never, in his opinion, have been accomplished by
any but British seamen. The soldiers, though less dexterous in such
service, because not accustomed, like sailors, to habitual dexterity.
behaved with equal spirit. "Their zeal," said the brigadier, "is almost
unexampled. There is not a man but considers himself as personally
interested in the event, and deserted by the general. It has, I am
persuaded, made them equal to double their numbers." This is one proof,
of many, that for our soldiers to equal our seamen, it is only necessary
for them to be equally well commanded. They have the same heart and
soul, as well as the same flesh and blood. Too much may, indeed, be
exacted from them in a retreat; but set their face toward a foe, and
there is nothing within the reach of human achievement which they cannot
perform. The French had improved the leisure which our military
commander had allowed them; and before Lord Hood commenced his
operations, he had the mortification of seeing that the enemy were every
day erecting new works, strengthening old ones, and rendering the
attempt more difficult. La Combe St. Michel, the commissioner from the
national convention, who was in the city, replied in these terms to the
summons of the British admiral--"I have hot shot for your ships, and
bayonets for your troops. When two-thirds of our men are killed, I will
then trust to the generosity of the English." The siege, however, was
not sustained with the firmness which such a reply seemed to augur. On
the 19th of May a treaty of capitulation was begun; that same evening
the troops from St. Fiorenzo made their appearance on the hills; and, on
the following morning, General d'Aubant arrived with the whole army to
take possession of Bastia.
The event of the siege had justified the confidence of the sailors;
but they themselves excused the opinion of the generals when they saw
what they had done. "I am all astonishment," said Nelson, "when I
reflect on what we have achieved; 1000 regulars, 1500 national guards,
and a large party of Corsican troops, 4000 in all, laying down their
arms to 1200 soldiers, marines, and seamen! I always was of opinion,
have ever acted up to it, and never had any reason to repent it, that
one Englishman was equal to three Frenchmen. Had this been an English
town, I am sure it would not have been taken by them." When it had been
resolved to attack the place, the enemy were supposed to be far inferior
in number; and it was not till the whole had been arranged, and the
siege publicly undertaken, that Nelson received certain information of
the great superiority of the garrison. This intelligence he kept secret,
fearing lest, if so fair a pretext were afforded, the attempt would be
abandoned. "My own honour," said he to his wife, "Lord Hood's honour,
and the honour of our country, must have been sacrificed had I mentioned
what I knew; therefore you will believe what must have been my feelings
during the whole siege, when I had often proposals made to me to write
to Lord Hood to raise it." Those very persons who thus advised him, were
rewarded for their conduct at the siege of Bastia: Nelson, by whom it
may truly be affirmed that Bastia was taken, received no reward. Lord
Hood's thanks to him, both public and private, were, as he himself said,
the handsomest which man could give; but his signal merits were not so
mentioned in the despatches as to make them sufficiently known to the
nation, nor to obtain for him from government those honours to which
they so amply entitled him. This could only have arisen from the haste
in which the despatches were written; certainly not from any deliberate
purpose, for Lord Hood was uniformly his steady and sincere friend.
One of the cartel's ships, which carried the garrison of Bastia to
Toulon, brought back intelligence that the French were about to sail
from that port;-such exertions had they made to repair the damage done
at the evacuation, and to fit out a fleet. The intelligence was speedily
verified. Lord Hood sailed in quest of them toward the islands of
Hieres. The AGAMEMNON was with him. "I pray God," said Nelson, writing
to his wife, "that we may meet their fleet. If any accident should
happen to me, I am sure my conduct will be such as will entitle you to
the royal favour; not that I have the least idea but I shall return to
you, and full of honour: if not, the Lord's will be done. My name shall
never be a disgrace to those who may belong to me. The little I have, I
have given to you, except a small annuity--I wish it was more; but I
have never got a farthing dishonestly: it descends from clean hands.
Whatever fate awaits me, I pray God to bless you, and preserve you, for
your son's sake." With a mind thus prepared, and thus confident, his
hopes and wishes seemed on the point of being gratified, when the enemy
were discovered close under the land, near St. Tropez. The wind fell,
and prevented Lord Hood from getting between them and the shore, as he
designed: boats came out from Antibes and other places to their
assistance, and towed them within the shoals in Gourjean Roads, where
they were protected by the batteries on isles St. Honore and St.
Marguerite, and on Cape Garousse. Here the English admiral planned a new
mode of attack, meaning to double on five of the nearest ships; but the
wind again died away, and it was found that they had anchored in compact
order, guarding the only passage for large ships. There was no way of
effecting this passage, except by towing or warping the vessels; and
this rendered the attempt impracticable. For this time the enemy
escaped; but Nelson bore in mind the admirable plan of attack which Lord
Hood had devised, and there came a day when they felt its tremendous
The AGAMEMNON was now despatched to co-operate at the siege of Calvi
with General Sir Charles Stuart; an officer who, unfortunately for his
country, never had an adequate field allotted him far the display of
those eminent talents which were, to all who knew him, so conspicuous.
Nelson had less responsibility here than at Bastia; and was acting with
a man after his own heart, who was never sparing of himself, and slept
every night in the advanced battery. But the service was not less hard
than that of the former siege. "We will fag ourselves to death," said he
to Lord Hood, "before any blame shall lie at our doors. I trust it will
not be forgotten, that twenty-five pieces of heavy ordnance have been
dragged to the different batteries, mounted, and, all but three, fought
by seamen, except one artilleryman to point the guns." The climate
proved more destructive than the service; for this was during the lion
sun, as they call our season of the dog-days. Of 2000 men, above half
were sick, and the rest like so many phantoms. Nelson described himself
as the reed among the oaks, bowing before the storm when they were laid
low by it. "All the prevailing disorders have attacked me," said he, "but
I have not strength enough for them to fasten on." The loss from the
enemy was not great; but Nelson received a serious injury: a shot
struck the ground near him, and drove the sand and small gravel into one
of his eyes. He spoke of it slightly at the time: writing the same day
to Lord Hood, he only said that he bad got a little hurt that morning,
not much; and the next day, he said, he should be able to attend his
duty in the evening. In fact, he suffered it to confine him only one
day; but the sight was lost.
After the fall of Calvi, his services were, by a strange omission,
altogether overlooked; and his name was not even mentioned in the list
of wounded. This was no ways imputable to the admiral, for he sent home
to government Nelson's journal of the siege, that they might fully
understand the nature of his indefatigable and unequalled exertions. If
those exertions were not rewarded in the conspicuous manner which they
deserved, the fault was in the administration of the day, not in Lord
Hood. Nelson felt himself neglected. "One hundred and ten days," said
he, "I have been actually engaged at sea and on shore against the enemy;
three actions against ships, two against Bastia in my ship, four boat
actions, and two villages taken, and twelve sail of vessels burnt. I do
not know that any one has done more. I have had the comfort to be always
applauded by my Commander-in-Chief, but never to be rewarded; and, what
is more mortifying, for services in which I have been wounded, others
have been praised, who, at the same time, were actually in bed, far from
the scene of action. They have not done me justice. But never mind, I'll
have a GAZETTE of my own." How amply was this second-sight of glory
The health of his ship's company had now, in his own words, been
miserably torn to pieces by as hard service as a ship's crew ever
performed: 150 were in their beds when he left Calvi; of them he lost 54
and believed that the constitutions of the rest were entirely destroyed.
He was now sent with despatches to Mr. Drake, at Genoa, and had his
first interview with the Doge. The French had, at this time, taken
possession of Vado Bay, in the Genoese territory; and Nelson foresaw
that, if their thoughts were bent on the invasion of Italy, they would
accomplish it the ensuing spring. "The allied powers," he said, "were
jealous of each other; and none but England was hearty in the cause."
His wish was for peace on fair terms, because England he thought was
draining herself to maintain allies who would not fight for themselves.
Lord Hood had now returned to England, and the command devolved on
Admiral Hotham. The affairs of the Mediterranean wore at this time a
gloomy aspect. The arts, as well as the arms of the enemy, were gaining
the ascendancy there. Tuscany concluded peace relying upon the faith of
France, which was, in fact, placing itself at her mercy. Corsica was in
danger. We had taken that island for ourselves, annexed it formally to
the crown of Great Britain, and given it a constitution as free as our
own. This was done with the consent of the majority of the inhabitants;
and no transaction between two countries was ever more fairly or
legitimately conducted: yet our conduct was unwise;--the island is large
enough to form an independent state, and such we should have made it,
under our protection, as long as protection might be needed; the
Corsicans would then have felt as a nation; but when one party had given
up the country to England, the natural consequence was that the other
looked to France. The question proposed to the people was, to which
would they belong? Our language and our religion were against us; our
unaccommodating manners, it is to be feared, still more so. The French
were better politicians. In intrigue they have ever been unrivalled; and
it now became apparent that, in spite of old wrongs, which ought never
to have been forgotten nor forgiven, their partisans were daily
acquiring strength. It is part of the policy of France, and a wise
policy it is, to impress upon other powers the opinion of its strength,
by lofty language: and by threatening before it strikes; a system which,
while it keeps up the spirit of its allies, and perpetually stimulates
their hopes, tends also to dismay its enemies. Corsica was now loudly
threatened. "The French, who had not yet been taught to feel their own
inferiority upon the seas, braved us in contempt upon that element."
They had a superior fleet in the Mediterranean, and they sent it out
with express orders to seek the English and engage them. Accordingly,
the Toulon fleet, consisting of seventeen ships of the line and five
smaller vessels, put to sea. Admiral Hotham received this information at
Leghorn, and sailed immediately in search of them. He had with him
fourteen sail of the line, and one Neapolitan seventy-four; but his
ships were only half-manned, containing but 7650 men, whereas the enemy
had 16,900. He soon came in sight of them: a general action was
expected; and Nelson, as was his custom on such occasions, wrote a hasty
letter to his wife, as that which might possibly contain his last
farewell. "The lives of all," said he, "are in the hand of Him who knows
best whether to preserve mine or not; my character and good name are in
my own keeping."
But however confident the French government might be of their naval
superiority, the officers had no such feeling; and after manoeuvring for
a day in sight of the English fleet, they suffered themselves to be
chased. One of their ships, the CA IRA, of eighty-four guns, carried
away her main and fore top-masts. The INCONSTANT frigate fired at the
disabled ship, but received so many shot that she was obliged to leave
her. Soon afterwards a French frigate took the CA IRA in tow; and the
SANS-CULOTTES, one hundred and twenty, and the JEAN BARRAS, seventyfour,
kept about gunshot distance on her weather bow. The AGAMEMNON
stood towards her, having no ship of the line to support her within
several miles. As she drew near, the CA IRA fired her stern guns so
truly, that not a shot missed some part of the ship; and latterly, the
masts were struck by every shot. It had been Nelson's intention not to
fire before he touched her stern; but seeing how impossible it was that
he should be supported, and how certainly the AGAMEMNON must be severely
cut up if her masts were disabled, he altered his plan according to the
occasion. As soon, therefore, as he was within a hundred yards of her
stern, he ordered the helm to be put a-starboard, and the driver and
after-sails to be brailed up and shivered; and, as the ship fell off,
gave the enemy her whole broadside. They instantly braced up the afteryards,
put the helm a-port, and stood after her again. This manoeuvre he
practised for two hours and a quarter, never allowing the CA IRA to get
a single gun from either side to bear on him; and when the French fired
their after-guns now, it was no longer with coolness and precision, for
every shot went far ahead. By this time her sails were hanging in
tatters, her mizen-top-mast, mizen-top-sail, and cross-jack-yards shot
away. But the frigate which had her in tow hove in stays, and got her
round. Both these French ships now brought their guns to bear, and
opened their fire. The AGAMEMNON passed them within half-pistol shot;
almost every shot passed over her, for the French had elevated their
guns for the rigging, and for distant firing, and did not think of
altering the elevation. As soon as the AGAMEMNON's after-guns ceased to
bear, she hove in stays, keeping a constant fire as she came round; and
being worked, said Nelson, with as much exactness as if she had been
turning into Spithead. On getting round, he saw that the Sans-Culottes,
which had wore, with many of the enemy's ships, was under his lee bow,
and standing to leeward. The admiral, at the same time, made the signal
for the van ships to join him. Upon this Nelson bore away, and prepared
to set all sail; and the enemy, having saved their ship, hauled close to
the wind, and opened upon him a distant and ineffectual fire. Only seven
of the AGAMEMNON's men were hurt--a thing which Nelson himself remarked
as wonderful: her sails and rigging were very much cut, and she had many
shots in her hull, and some between wind and water. The CA IRA lost 110
men that day, and was so cut up that she could not get a top-mast aloft
during the night.
At daylight on the following morning, the English ships were taken
aback with a fine breeze at N.W., while the enemy's fleet kept the
southerly wind. The body of their fleet was about five miles distant;
the CA IRA and the CENSEUR, seventy-four, which had her in tow, about
three and a half. All sail was made to cut these ships off; and as the
French attempted to save them, a partial action was brought on. The
AGAMEMNON was again engaged with her yesterday's antagonist; but she had
to fight on both sides the ship at the same time. The CA IRA and the
CENSEUR fought most gallantly: the first lost nearly 300 men, in
addition to her former loss; the last, 350. Both at length struck; and
Lieutenant Andrews, of the AGAMEMNON, brother to the lady to whom Nelson
had become attached in France, and, in Nelson's own words, "as gallant
an officer as ever stepped a quarter-deck," hoisted English colours on
board them both. The rest of the enemy's ships' behaved very ill. As
soon as these vessels had struck, Nelson went to Admiral Hotham and
proposed that the two prizes should be left with the ILLUSTRIOUS and
COURAGEUX, which had been crippled in the action, and with four
frigates, and that the rest of the fleet should pursue the enemy, and
follow up the advantage to the utmost. But his reply was--"We must be
contented: we have done very well."--"Now," said Nelson," had we taken
ten sail, and allowed the eleventh to escape, when it had been possible
to have got at her, I could never have called it well done. Goodall
backed me; I got him to write to the admiral; but it would not do. We
should have had such a day as, I believe, the annals of England never
produced." In this letter the character of Nelson fully manifests
itself. "I wish" said he, "to be an admiral, and in the command of the
English fleet: I should very soon either do much, or be ruined: my
disposition cannot bear tame and slow measures. Sure I am, had I
commanded on the 14th, that either the whole French fleet would have
graced my triumph, or I should have been in a confounded scrape." What
the event would have been, he knew from his prophetic feelings and his
own consciousness of power; and we also know it now, for Aboukir and
Trafalgar have told it.
The CA IRA and CENSEUR probably defended themselves with more
obstinacy in this action, from a persuasion that, if they struck, no
quarter would be given; because they had fired red-hot shot, and had
also a preparation sent, as they said, by the convention from Paris,
which seems to have been of the nature of the Greek fire; for it became
liquid when it was discharged, and water would not extinguish its
flames. This combustible was concealed with great care in the captured
ships; like the red-hot shot, it had been found useless in battle.
Admiral Hotham's action saved Corsica for the time; but the victory had
been incomplete, and the arrival at Toulon of six sail of the line, two
frigates, and two cutters from Brest, gave the French a superiority
which, had they known how to use it, would materially have endangered
the British Mediterranean fleet. That fleet had been greatly neglected
at the Admiralty during Lord Chatham's administration: and it did not,
for some time, feel the beneficial effect of his removal. Lord Hood had
gone home to represent the real state of affairs, and solicit
reinforcements adequate to the exigencies of the time, and the
importance of the scene of action. But that fatal error of underproportioning
the force to the service; that ruinous economy, which, by
sparing a little, renders all that is spent useless, infected the
British councils; and Lord Hood, not being able to obtain such reinforcements
as he knew were necessary, resigned the command. "Surely,"
said Nelson, "the people at home have forgotten us." Another Neapolitan
seventy-four joined Admiral Hotham, and Nelson observed with sorrow
that this was matter of exultation to an English fleet. When the storeships
and victuallers from Gibraltar arrived, their escape from the
enemy was thought wonderful; and yet, had they not escaped, "the game,"
said Nelson, "was up here. At this moment our operations are at a stand
for want of ships to support the Austrians in getting possession of the
sea-coast of the king of Sardinia; and behold our admiral does not feel
himself equal to show himself, much less to give assistance in their
operations." It was reported that the French were again out with 18 or
20 sail. The combined British and Neapolitan were but sixteen; should
the enemy be only eighteen, Nelson made no doubt of a complete victory;
but if they were twenty, he said, it was not to be expected; and a
battle, without complete victory, would have been destruction, because
another mast was not to be got on that side Gibraltar. At length Admiral
Man arrived with a squadron from England. "What they can mean by sending
him with only five sail of the line," said Nelson, "is truly astonishing;
but all men are alike, and we in this country do not find any
amendment or alteration from the old Board of Admiralty. They should
know that half the ships in the fleet require to go to England; and that
long ago they ought to have reinforced us."
About this time Nelson was made colonel of marines; a mark of
approbation which he had long wished for rather than expected. It came
in good season, for his spirits were oppressed by the thought that his
services had not been acknowledged as they deserved; and it abated the
resentful feeling which would else have been excited by the answer to an
application to the War-office. During his four months' land service in
Corsica, he had lost all his ship furniture, owing to the movements of a
camp. Upon this he wrote to the Secretary at War, briefly stating what
his services on shore had been, and saying, he trusted it was not asking
an improper thing to request that the same allowance might be made to
him which would be made to a land officer of his rank, which, situated
as he was, would be that of a brigadier-general: if this could not be
accorded, he hoped that his additional expenses would be paid him. The
answer which he received was, that "no pay had ever been issued under
the direction of the War-office to officers of the navy serving with the
army on shore."
He now entered upon a new line of service. The Austrian and Sardinian
armies, under General de Vins, required a British squadron to co-operate
with them in driving the French from the Riviera di Genoa; and as Nelson
had been so much in the habit of soldiering, it was immediately fixed
that the brigadier should go. He sailed from St. Fiorenzo on this
destination; but fell in, off Cape del Mele, with the enemy's fleet, who
immediately gave his squadron chase. The chase lasted four-and-twenty
hours; and, owing to the fickleness of the wind, the British ships were
sometimes hard pressed; but the want of skill on the part of the French
gave Nelson many advantages. Nelson bent his way back to St. Fiorenzo,
where the fleet, which was in the midst of watering and refitting, had,
for seven hours, the mortification of seeing him almost in possession of
the enemy, before the wind would allow them to put out to his assistance.
The French, however, at evening, went off, not choosing to
approach nearer the shore. During the night, Admiral Hotham, by great
exertions, got under weigh; and, having sought the enemy four days, came
in sight of them on the fifth. Baffling winds and vexatious calms, so
common in the Mediterranean, rendered it impossible to close with them;
only a partial action could be brought on; and then the firing made a
perfect calm. The French being to windward, drew inshore; and the
English fleet was becalmed six or seven miles to the westward. L'ALCIDE,
of seventy-four guns, struck; but before she could be taken possession
of, a box of combustibles in her fore-top took fire, and the unhappy
crew experienced how far more perilous their inventions were to themselves
than to their enemies. So rapid was the conflagration, that the
French in their official account say, the hull, the masts, and sails,
all seemed to take fire at the same moment; and though the English boats
were put out to the assistance of the poor wretches on board, not more
than 200 could be saved. The AGAMEMNON, and Captain Rowley in the
CUMBERLAND, were just getting into close action a second time, when the
admiral called them off, the wind now blowing directly into the Gulf of
Frejus, where the enemy anchored after the evening closed.
Nelson now proceeded to his station with eight sail of frigates under
his command. Arriving at Genoa, he had a conference with Mr. Drake, the
British envoy to that state; the result of which was, that the object of
the British must be to put an entire stop to all trade between Genoa,
France, and the places occupied by the French troops; for unless this
trade were stopped, it would be scarcely possible for the allied armies
to hold their situation, and impossible for them to make any progress in
driving the enemy out of the Riviera di Genoa. Mr. Drake was of opinion
that even Nice might fall for want of supplies, if the trade with Genoa
were cut off. This sort of blockade Nelson could not carry on without
great risk to himself. A captain in the navy, as he represented to the
envoy, is liable to prosecution for detention and damages. This danger
was increased by an order which had then lately been issued; by which,
when a neutral ship was detained, a complete specification of her cargo
was directed to be sent to the secretary of the Admiralty, and no legal
process instituted against her till the pleasure of that board should be
communicated. This was requiring an impossibility. The cargoes of ships
detained upon this station, consisting chiefly of corn, would be spoiled
long before the orders of the Admiralty could be known; and then, if
they should happen to release the vessel, the owners would look to the
captain for damages. Even the only precaution which could be taken
against this danger, involved another danger not less to be apprehended:
for if the captain should direct the cargo to be taken out, the freight
paid for, and the vessel released, the agent employed might prove
fraudulent, and become bankrupt; and in that case the captain became
responsible. Such things had happened: Nelson therefore required, as the
only means for carrying on that service, which was judged essential to
the common cause, without exposing the officers to ruin, that the
British envoy should appoint agents to pay the freight, release the
vessels, sell the cargo, and hold the amount till process was had upon
it: government thus securing its officers. "I am acting," said
Nelson. "not only without the orders of my commander-in-chief, but, in
some measure, contrary to him. However, I have not only the support of
his Majesty's ministers, both at Turin and Genoa, but a consciousness
that I am doing what is right and proper for the service of our king and
country. Political courage, in an officer abroad, is as highly necessary
as military courage."
This quality, which is as much rarer than military courage as it is
more valuable, and without which the soldier's bravery is often of
little avail, Nelson possessed in an eminent degree. His representations
were attended to as they deserved. Admiral Hotham commended him for
what he had done; and the attention of government was awakened to the
injury which the cause of the allies continually suffered from the
frauds of neutral vessels. "What changes in my life of activity!" said
the indefatigable man. "Here I am, having commenced a co-operation with
an old Austrian general, almost fancying myself charging at the head of
a troop of horse! I do not write less than from ten to twenty letters
every day; which, with the Austrian general and aides-de-camp, and my
own little squadron, fully employ my time. This I like; active service
or none." It was Nelson's mind which supported his feeble body through
these exertions. He was at this time almost blind, and wrote with very
great pain. "Poor AGAMEMNON" he sometimes said, "was as nearly worn out
as her captain; and both must soon be laid up to repair."
When Nelson first saw General de Vins, he thought him an able man,
who was willing to act with vigour. The general charged his inactivity
upon the Piedmontese and Neapolitans, whom, he said, nothing could
induce to act; and he concerted a plan with Nelson for embarking a part
of the Austrian army, and landing it in the rear of the French. But the
English commodore soon began to suspect that the Austrian general was
little disposed to any active operations. In the hope of spurring him
on, he wrote to him, telling him that he had surveyed the coast to the
W. as far as Nice, and would undertake to embark 4000 or 5000 men, with
their arms and a few days' provisions, on board the squadron, and land
them within two miles of St. Remo, with their field-pieces. Respecting
further provisions for the Austrian army, he would provide convoys, that
they should arrive in safety; and if a re-embarkation should be found
necessary, he would cover it with the squadron. The possession of St.
Remo, as headquarters for magazines of every kind, would enable the
Austrian general to turn his army to the eastward or westward. The enemy
at Oneglia would be cut off from provisions, and men could be landed to
attack that place whenever it was judged necessary. St. Remo was the
only place between Vado and Ville Franche where the squadron could lie
in safety, and anchor in almost all winds. The bay was not so good as
Vado for large ships; but it had a mole, which Vado had not, where all
small vessels could lie, and load and unload their cargoes. This bay
being in possession of the allies, Nice could be completely blockaded by
sea. General de Vins affecting, in his reply, to consider that Nelson's
proposal had no other end than that of obtaining the bay of St. Remo as
a station for the ships, told him, what he well knew, and had expressed
before, that Vado Bay was a better anchorage; nevertheless, if
MONSIEUR LE COMMANDANT NELSON was well assured that part of the fleet
could winter there, there was no risk to which he would not expose
himself with pleasure, for the sake of procuring a safe station for the
vessels of his Britannic Majesty. Nelson soon assured the Austrian
commander that this was not the object of his memorial. He now began to
suspect that both the Austrian Court and their general had other ends in
view than the cause of the allies. "This army," said he, "is slow beyond
all description; and I begin to think that the Emperor is anxious to
touch another L4,000,000 of English money. As for the German generals,
war is their trade, and peace is ruin to them; therefore we cannot
expect that they should have any wish to finish the war. The politics of
courts are so mean, that private people would be ashamed to act in the
same way; all is trick and finesse, to which the common cause is
sacrificed. The general wants a loop-hole; it has for some time
appeared to me that he means to go no further than his present position,
and to lay the miscarriage of the enterprise against Nice, which has
always been held out as the great object of his army, to the non-cooperation
of the British fleet and of the Sardinians."
To prevent this plea, Nelson again addressed De Vins, requesting only
to know the time, and the number of troops ready to embark; then he
would, he said, dispatch a ship to Admiral Hotham, requesting
transports, having no doubt of obtaining them, and trusting that the
plan would be successful to its fullest extent. Nelson thought at the
time that, if the whole fleet were offered him for transports, he would
find some other excuse; and Mr. Drake, who was now appointed to reside
at the Austrian headquarters, entertained the same idea of the general's
sincerity. It was not, however, put so clearly to the proof as it ought
to have been. He replied that, as soon as Nelson could declare himself
ready with the vessels necessary for conveying 10,000 men, with their
artillery and baggage, he would put the army in motion. But Nelson was
not enabled to do this: Admiral Hotham, who was highly meritorious in
leaving such a man so much at his own discretion, pursued a cautious
system, ill according with the bold and comprehensive views of Nelson,
who continually regretted Lord Hood, saying that the nation had suffered
much by his resignation of the Mediterranean command. The plan which had
been concerted, he said, would astonish the French, and perhaps the
There was no unity in the views of the allied powers, no cordiality
in their co-operation, no energy in their councils. The neutral powers
assisted France more effectually than the allies assisted each other.
The Genoese ports were at this time filled with French privateers,
which swarmed out every night, and covered the gulf; and French vessels
were allowed to tow out of the port of Genoa itself, board vessels which
were coming in, and then return into the mole. This was allowed without
a remonstrance; while, though Nelson abstained most carefully from
offering any offence to the Genoese territory or flag, complaints were
so repeatedly made against his squadron, that, he says, it seemed a
trial who should be tired first; they of complaining, or he of answering
their complaints. But the question of neutrality was soon at an end. An
Austrian commissary was travelling from Genoa towards Vado; it was known
that he was to sleep at Voltri, and that he had L10,000 with him--a
booty which the French minister in that city, and the captain of a
French frigate in that port, considered as far more important than the
word of honour of the one, the duties of the other, and the laws of
neutrality. The boats of the frigate went out with some privateers,
landed, robbed the commissary, and brought back the money to Genoa. The
next day men were publicly enlisted in that city for the French army:
700 men were embarked, with 7000 stand of arms, on board the frigates
and other vessels, who were to land between Voltri and Savona. There a
detachment from the French army was to join them, and the Genoese
peasantry were to be invited to insurrection--a measure for which
everything had been prepared. The night of the 13th was fixed for the
sailing of this expedition; the Austrians called loudly for Nelson to
prevent it; and he, on the evening of the 13th, arrived at Genoa. His
presence checked the plan: the frigate, knowing her deserts, got within
the merchant-ships, in the inner mole; and the Genoese government did
not now even demand of Nelson respect to the neutral port, knowing that
they had allowed, if not connived at, a flagrant breach of neutrality,
and expecting the answer which he was prepared to return, that it was
useless and impossible for him to respect it longer.
But though this movement produced the immediate effect which was
designed, it led to ill consequences, which Nelson foresaw, but for want
of sufficient force was unable to prevent. His squadron was too small
for the service which it had to perform. He required two seventy-fours
and eight or ten frigates and sloops; but when he demanded this
reinforcement, Admiral Hotham had left the command. Sir Hyde Parker had
succeeded till the new commander should arrive; and he immediately
reduced it to almost nothing, leaving him only one frigate and a brig.
This was a fatal error. While the Austrian and Sardinian troops, whether
from the imbecility or the treachery of their leaders, remained
inactive, the French were preparing for the invasion of Italy. Not many
days before Nelson was thus summoned to Genoa, he chased a large convoy
into Alassio. Twelve vessels he had formerly destroyed in that port,
though 2000 French troops occupied the town. This former attack had made
them take new measures of defence; and there were now above 100 sail of
victuallers, gun-boats, and ships of war. Nelson represented to the
Admiral how important it was to destroy these vessels; and offered, with
his squadron of frigates, and the CULLODEN and COURAGEUX, to lead
himself in the AGAMEMNON, and take or destroy the whole. The attempt was
not permitted; but it was Nelson's belief that, if it had been made, it
would have prevented the attack upon the Austrian army, which took place
almost immediately afterwards.
General de Vins demanded satisfaction of the Genoese government for
the seizure of his commissary; and then, without waiting for their
reply, took possession of some empty magazines of the French, and pushed
his sentinels to the very gates of Genoa. Had he done so at first, he
would have found the magazines full; but, timed as the measure was, and
useless as it was to the cause of the allies, it was in character with
the whole of the Austrian general's conduct; and it is no small proof of
the dexterity with which he served the enemy, that in such circumstances
he could so act with Genoa as to contrive to put himself in the wrong.
Nelson was at this time, according to his own expression, placed in a
cleft stick. Mr. Drake, the Austrian minister, and the Austrian general,
all joined in requiring him not to leave Genoa; if he left that port
unguarded, they said, not only the imperial troops at St. Pier d'Arena
and Voltri would be lost, but the French plan for taking post between
Voltri and Savona would certainly succeed; if the Austrians should be
worsted in the advanced posts, the retreat of the Bocchetta would be cut
off; and if this happened, the loss of the army would be imputed to
him, for having left Genoa. On the other hand, he knew that if he were
not at Pietra, the enemy's gun-boats would harass the left flank of the
Austrians, who, if they were defeated, as was to be expected, from the
spirit of all their operations, would, very probably, lay their defeat
to the want of assistance from the AGAMEMNON. Had the force for which
Nelson applied been given him, he could have attended to both objects;
and had he been permitted to attack the convoy in Alassio, he would have
disconcerted the plans of the French, in spite of the Austrian general.
He had foreseen the danger, and pointed out how it might be prevented;
but the means of preventing it were withheld. The attack was made as
he foresaw; and the gun-boats brought their fire to bear upon the
Austrians. It so happened, however, that the left flank, which was
exposed to them, was the only part of the army that behaved well: this
division stood its ground till the centre and the right wing fled, and
then retreated in a soldierlike manner. General de Vins gave up the
command in the middle of the battle, pleading ill health. "From that
moment," says Nelson, "not a soldier stayed at his post: it was the
devil take the hindmost. Many thousands ran away who had never seen the
enemy; some of them thirty miles from the advanced posts. Had I not,
though I own, against my inclination, been kept at Genoa, from 8000 to
10,000 men would have been taken prisoners, and, amongst the number,
General de Vins himself; but by this means the pass of the Bocchetta was
kept open. The purser of the ship, who was at Vado, ran with the
Austrians eighteen miles without stopping; the men without arms,
officers without soldiers, women without assistance. The oldest officers
say they never heard of so complete a defeat, and certainly without any
reason. Thus has ended my campaign. We have established the French
republic: which but for us, I verily believe, would never have been
settled by such a volatile, changeable people. I hate a Frenchman: they
are equally objects of my detestation whether royalists or republicans:
in some points, I believe, the latter are the best." Nelson had a
lieutenant and two midshipmen taken at Vado: they told him, in their
letter, that few of the French soldiers were more than three or four and
twenty years old, a great many not more than fourteen, and all were
nearly naked; they were sure, they said, his barge's crew could have
beat a hundred of them; and that, had he himself seen them, he would not
have thought, if the world had been covered with such people, that they
could have beaten the Austrian army.
The defeat of General de Vins gave the enemy possession of the
Genoese coast from Savona to Voltri, and it deprived the Austrians of
their direct communication with the English fleet. The AGAMEMNON,
therefore, could no longer be useful on this station, and Nelson sailed
for Leghorn to refit. When his ship went into dock, there was not a
mast, yard, sail, or any part of the rigging, but what stood in need of
repair, having been cut to pieces with shot. The hull was so damaged
that it had for some time been secured by cables, which were served or
thrapped round it.
1796 - 1797
Sir J. Jervis takes the Command--Genoa joins the French--Bounaparte
begins his Career--Evacuation of Corsica--Nelson hoists his broad
Pennant in the MINERVE--Action with the SABINA--Battle off Cape St.
Vincent--Nelson commands the inner Squadron at the Blockade of Cadiz
Boat Action in the Bay of Cadiz--Expedition against Teneriffe--Nelson
loses an Arm--His Sufferings in England, and Recovery.
SIR JOHN JERVIS had now arrived to take the command of the
Mediterranean fleet. The AGAMEMNON having, as her captain said, been
made as fit for sea as a rotten ship could be, Nelson sailed from
Leghorn, and joined the admiral in Fiorenzo Bay. "I found him," said
he, "anxious to know many things which I was a good deal surprised to
find had not been communicated to him by others in the fleet; and it
would appear that he was so well satisfied with my opinion of what is
likely to happen, and the means of prevention to be taken, that he had
no reserve with me respecting his information and ideas of what is
likely to be done." The manner in which Nelson was received is said to
have excited some envy. One captain observed to him: "You did just as
you pleased in Lord Hood's time, the same in Admiral Hotham's, and now
again with Sir John Jervis: it makes no difference to you who is
commander-in-chief." A higher compliment could not have been paid to any
commander-in-chief than to say of him that he understood the merits of
Nelson, and left him, as far as possible, to act upon his own judgment.
Sir John Jervis offered him the ST.GEORGE, ninety, or the ZEALOUS,
seventy-four, and asked if he should have any objection to serve under
him with his flag. He replied, that if the AGAMEMNON were ordered home,
and his flag were not arrived, he should, on many accounts, wish to
return to England; still, if the war continued, he should be very proud
of hoisting his flag under Sir John's command, "We cannot spare you,"
said Sir John, "either as captain or admiral." Accordingly, he resumed
his station in the Gulf of Genoa. The French had not followed up their
successes in that quarter with their usual celerity. Scherer, who
commanded there, owed his advancement to any other cause than his merit:
he was a favourite of the directory; but for the present, through the
influence of Barras, he was removed from a command for which his
incapacity was afterwards clearly proved, and Buonaparte was appointed
to succeed him. Buonaparte had given indications of his military
talents at Toulon, and of his remorseless nature at Paris; but the
extent either of his ability or his wickedness was at this time known to
none, and perhaps not even suspected by himself.
Nelson supposed, from the information which he had obtained, that one
column of the French army would take possession of Port Especia; either
penetrating through the Genoese territory, or proceeding coast-ways in
light vessels; our ships of war not being able to approach the coast,
because of the shallowness of the water. To prevent this, he said; two
things were necessary: the possession of Vado Bay, and the taking of
Port Especia; if either of these points were secured, Italy would be
safe from any attack of the French by sea. General Beaulieu, who had now
superseded De Vins in the command of the allied Austrian and Sardinian
army, sent his nephew and aide-de-camp to communicate with Nelson, and
inquire whether he could anchor in any other place than Vado Bay. Nelson
replied, that Vado was the only place where the British fleet could lie
in safety, but all places would suit his squadron; and wherever the
general came to the sea-coast, there he should find it. The Austrian
repeatedly asked, if there was not a risk of losing the squadron? and
was constantly answered, that if these ships should be lost, the admiral
would find others. But all plans of co-operation with the Austrians were
soon frustrated by the battle of Montenotte. Beaulieu ordered an attack
to be made upon the post of Voltri. It was made twelve hours before the
time which he had fixed, and before he arrived to direct it. In
consequence, the French were enabled to effect their retreat, and fall
back to Montenotte, thus giving the troops there a decisive superiority
in number over the division which attacked them. This drew on the defeat
of the Austrians. Buonaparte, with a celerity which had never before
been witnessed in modern war, pursued his advantages; and, in the course
of a fortnight, dictated to the court of Turin terms of peace, or rather
of submission; by which all the strongest places of Piedmont were put
into his bands.
On one occasion, and only on one, Nelson was able to impede the
progress of this new conqueror. Six vessels, laden with cannon and
ordnance-stores for the siege of Mantua, sailed from Toulon for St. Pier
d'Arena. Assisted by Captain Cockburn, in the MELEAGER, he drove them
under a battery; pursued them, silenced the batteries, and captured the
whole. Military books, plans and maps of Italy, with the different
points marked upon them where former battles had been fought, sent by
the directory for Buonaparte's use, were found in the convoy. The loss
of this artillery was one of the chief causes which compelled the French
to raise the siege of Mantua; but there was too much treachery, and too
much imbecility, both in the councils and armies of the allied powers,
for Austria to improve this momentary success. Buonaparte perceived
that the conquest of Italy was within his reach; treaties, and the
rights of neutral or of friendly powers, were as little regarded by him
as by the government for which he acted. In open contempt of both he
entered Tuscany, and took possession of Leghorn. In consequence of this
movement, Nelson blockaded that port, and landed a British force in the
Isle of Elba, to secure Porto Ferrajo. Soon afterwards he took the
Island of Capraja, which had formerly belonged to Corsica, being less
than forty miles distant from it; a distance, however, short as it was,
which enabled the Genoese to retain it, after their infamous sale of
Corsica to France. Genoa had now taken part with France: its government
had long covertly assisted the French, and now willingly yielded to the
first compulsory menace which required them to exclude the English from
their ports. Capraja was seized in consequence; but this act of vigour
was not followed up as it ought to have been. England at that time
depended too much upon the feeble governments of the Continent, and too
little upon itself. It was determined by the British cabinet to evacuate
Corsica, as soon as Spain should form an offensive alliance with France.
This event, which, from the moment that Spain had been compelled to make
peace, was clearly foreseen, had now taken place; and orders for the
evacuation of the island were immediately sent out. It was impolitic to
annex this island to the British dominions; but having done so, it was
disgraceful thus to abandon it. The disgrace would have been spared, and
every advantage which could have been derived from the possession of
the island secured, if the people had at first been left to form a
government for themselves, and protected by us in the enjoyment of
their independence.
The viceroy, Sir Gilbert Elliott, deeply felt the impolicy and
ignominy of this evacuation. The fleet also was ordered to leave the
Mediterranean. This resolution was so contrary to the last instructions
which had been received, that Nelson exclaimed, "Do his majesty's
ministers know their own minds? They at home," said he, "do not know
what this fleet is capable of performing--anything and everything. Much
as I shall rejoice to see England, I lament our present orders in sackcloth
and ashes, so dishonourable to the dignity of England, whose
fleets are equal to meet the world in arms; and of all the fleets I ever
saw, I never beheld one, in point of officers and men, equal to Sir John
Jervis's, who is a commander-in-chief able to lead them to glory." Sir
Gilbert Elliott believed that the great body of the Corsicans were
perfectly satisfied, as they had good reason to be, with the British
Government, sensible of its advantages, and attached to it. However this
may have been, when they found that the English intended to evacuate the
island, they naturally and necessarily sent to make their peace with
the French. The partisans of France found none to oppose them. A
committee of thirty took upon them the government of Bastia, and
sequestrated all the British property; armed Corsicans mounted guard at
every place, and a plan was laid for seizing the viceroy. Nelson, who
was appointed to superintend the evacuation, frustrated these projects.
At a time when every one else despaired of saving stores, cannon,
provisions, or property of any kind, and a privateer was moored across
the mole-head to prevent all boats from passing, he sent word to the
committee, that if the slightest opposition were made to the embarkment
and removal of British property, he would batter the town down. The
privateer pointed her guns at the officer who carried this message, and
muskets were levelled against his boats from the mole-head. Upon this
Captain Sutton, of the EGMONT, pulling out his watch, gave them a
quarter of an hour to deliberate upon their answer. In five minutes
after the expiration of that time, the ships, he said, would open their
fire. Upon this the very sentinels scampered off, and every vessel came
out of the mole. A shipowner complained to the commodore that the
municipality refused to let him take his goods out of the custom-house.
Nelson directed him to say, that unless they were instantly delivered,
he would open his fire. The committee turned pale, and, without
answering a word, gave him the keys. Their last attempt was to levy a
duty upon the things that were re-embarked. He sent them word, that he
would pay them a disagreeable visit, if there were any more complaints.
The committee then finding that they had to deal with a man who knew his
own power, and was determined to make the British name respected,
desisted from the insolent conduct which they had assumed; and it was
acknowledged that Bastia never had been so quiet and orderly since the
English were in possession of it. This was on the 14th of October;
during the five following days the work of embarkation was carried on,
the private property was saved, and public stores to the amount of
L200,000. The French, favoured by the Spanish fleet, which was at that
time within twelve leagues of Bastia, pushed over troops from Leghorn,
who landed near Cape Corse on the 18th; and on the 20th, at one in the
morning, entered the citadel, an hour only after the British had spiked
the guns and evacuated it. Nelson embarked at daybreak, being the last
person who left the shore; having thus, as he said, seen the first and
the last of Corsica. Provoked at the conduct of the municipality, and
the disposition which the populace had shown to profit by the confusion,
he turned towards the shore, as he stepped into his boat, and exclaimed:
"Now, John Corse, follow the natural bent of your detestable character
--plunder and revenge." This, however, was not Nelson's deliberate
opinion of the people of Corsica; he knew that their vices were the
natural consequences of internal anarchy and foreign oppression, such as
the same causes would produce in any people; and when he saw, that of
all those who took leave of the viceroy there was not one who parted
from him without tears, he acknowledged that they manifestly acted not
from dislike of the English, but from fear of the French. England then
might, with more reason, reproach her own rulers for pusillanimity than
the Corsicans for ingratitude.
Having thus ably effected this humiliating service, Nelson was
ordered to hoist his broad pendant on board the MINERVE frigate,
Captain George Cockburn, and with the BLANCHE under his command, proceed
to Porto Ferrajo, and superintend the evacuation of that place also. On
his way, he fell in with two Spanish frigates, the SABINA and the CERES.
The MINERVE engaged the former, which was commanded by D. Jacobo Stuart,
a descendent of the Duke of Berwick. After an action of three hours,
during which the Spaniards lost 164 men, the SABINA struck. The Spanish
captain, who was the only surviving officer, had hardly been conveyed
on board the MINERVE, when another enemy's frigate came up, compelled
her to cast off the prize, and brought her a second time into action.
After half an hour's trial of strength, this new antagonist wore and
hauled off; but a Spanish squadron of two ships of the line and two
frigates came in sight. The BLANCHE, from which the CERES had got off,
was far to windward, and the MINERVE escaped only by the anxiety of the
enemy to recover their own ship. As soon as Nelson reached Porto Ferrajo
he sent his prisoner in a flag of truce to Carthagena, having returned
him his sword; this he did in honour of the gallantry which D. Jacobo
had displayed, and not without some feeling of respect for his ancestry.
"I felt it," said he, "consonant to the dignity of my country and I
always act as I feel right, without regard to custom; he was reputed the
best officer in Spain, and his men were worthy of such a commander." By
the same flag of truce he sent back all the Spanish prisoners at Porto
Ferrajo; in exchange for whom he received his own men who had been taken
in the prize.
General de Burgh, who commanded at the Isle of Elba, did not think
himself authorised to abandon the place till he had received specific
instructions from England to that effect; professing that he was unable
to decide between the contradictory orders of government, or to guess
at what their present intentions might be; but he said, his only motive
for urging delay in this measure arose from a desire that his own
conduct might be properly sanctioned, not from any opinion that Porto
Ferrajo ought to be retained. But Naples having made peace, Sir John
Jervis considered his business with Italy as concluded; and the
protection of Portugal was the point to which he was now instructed to
attend. Nelson, therefore, whose orders were perfectly clear and
explicit, withdrew the whole naval establishment from that station,
leaving the transports victualled, and so arranged that all the troops
and stores could be embarked in three days. He was now about to leave
the Mediterranean. Mr. Drake, who had been our minister at Genoa,
expressed to him, on this occasion, the very high opinion which the
allies entertained of his conspicuous merit; adding, that it was
impossible for any one, who had the honour of co-operating with him, not
to admire the activity, talents, and zeal which he had so eminently and
constantly displayed. In fact, during this long course of services in
the Mediterranean, the whole of his conduct had exhibited the same zeal,
the same indefatigable energy, the same intuitive judgment, the same
prompt and unerring decision which characterised his after-career of
glory. His name was as yet hardly known to the English public; but it
was feared and respected throughout Italy. A letter came to him,
directed "Horatio Nelson, Genoa;" and the writer, when he was asked how
he could direct it so vaguely, replied, "Sir, there is but one Horatio
Nelson in the world." At Genoa, in particular, where he had so long been
stationed, and where the nature of his duty first led him to continual
disputes with the government, and afterwards compelled him to stop the
trade of the port, he was equally respected by the doge and by the
people; for, while he maintained the rights and interests of Great
Britain with becoming firmness, he tempered the exercise of power with
courtesy and humanity wherever duty would permit. "Had all my actions,"
said he, writing at this time to his wife, "been gazetted, not one
fortnight would have passed, during the whole war, without a letter from
me. One day or other I will have a long GAZETTE to myself. I feel that
such an opportunity will be given me. I cannot, if I am in the field of
glory, be kept out of sight; wherever there is anything to be done,
there Providence is sure to direct my steps."
These hopes and anticipations were soon to be fulfilled. Nelson's
mind had long been irritated and depressed by the fear that a general
action would take place before he could join the fleet. At length he
sailed from Porto Ferrajo with a convoy for Gibraltar; and having
reached that place, proceeded to the westward in search of the admiral.
Off the mouth of the Straits he fell in with the Spanish fleet; and on
the 13th of February reaching the station off Cape St. Vincent,
communicated this intelligence to Sir John Jervis. He was now directed
to shift his broad pendant on board the CAPTAIN, seventy-four, Captain
R.W. Miller; and before sunset the signal was made to prepare for
action, and to keep, during the night, in close order. At daybreak the
enemy were in sight. The British force consisted of two ships of one
hundred guns, two of ninety-eight, two of ninety, eight of seventyfour,
and one sixty-four;-fifteen of the line in all; with four
frigates, a sloop, and a cutter. The Spaniards had one four-decker, of
one hundred and thirty-six guns; six three-deckers, of one hundred and
twelve; two eighty-four, eighteen seventy-four--in all, twenty-seven
ships of the line, with ten frigates and a brig. Their admiral, D.
Joseph de Cordova, had learnt from an American on the 5th, that the
English had only nine ships, which was indeed the case when his informer
had seen them; for a reinforcement of five ships from England, under
Admiral Parker, had not then joined, and the CULLODEN had parted
company. Upon this information the Spanish commander, instead of going
into Cadiz, as was his intention when he sailed from Carthagena, determined
to seek an enemy so inferior in force; and relying, with fatal
confidence, upon the American account, he suffered his ships to remain
too far dispersed, and in some disorder. When the morning of the 14th
broke, and discovered the English fleet, a fog for some time concealed
their number. That fleet had heard their signal-guns during the night,
the weather being fine though thick and hazy; soon after daylight they
were seen very much scattered, while the British ships were in a compact
little body. The look-out ship of the Spaniards, fancying that her
signal was disregarded because so little notice seemed to be taken of
it, made another signal, that the English force consisted of forty sail
of the line. The captain afterwards said he did this to rouse the
admiral; it had the effect of perplexing him and alarming the whole
fleet. The absurdity of such an act shows what was the state of the
Spanish navy under that miserable government by which Spain was so long
oppressed and degraded, and finally betrayed. In reality, the general
incapacity of the naval officers was so well known, that in a pasquinade,
which about this time appeared at Madrid, wherein the different
orders of the state were advertised for sale, the greater part of the
sea-officers, with all their equipments, were offered as a gift; and it
was added, that any person who would please to take them, should receive
a handsome gratuity. When the probability that Spain would take part in
the war, as an ally of France, was first contemplated, Nelson said that
their fleet, if it were no better than when it acted in alliance with
us, would "soon be done for."
Before the enemy could form a regular order of battle, Sir J. Jervis,
by carrying a press of sail, came up with them, passed through their
fleet, then tacked, and thus cut off nine of their ships from the main
body. These ships attempted to form on the larboard tack, either with a
design of passing through the British line, or to leeward of it, and
thus rejoining their friends. Only one of them succeeded in this
attempt; and that only because she was so covered with smoke that her
intention was not discovered till she had reached the rear: the others
were so warmly received, that they put about, took to flight, and did
not appear again in the action to its close. The admiral was now able to
direct his attention to the enemy's main body, which was still superior
in number to his whole fleet, and greatly so in weight of metal. He made
signal to tack in succession. Nelson, whose station was in the rear of
the British line, perceived that the Spaniards were bearing up before
the wind, with an intention of forming their line, going large, and
joining their separated ships, or else of getting off without an
engagement. To prevent either of these schemes, he disobeyed the signal
without a moment's hesitation: and ordered his ship to be wore. This at
once brought him into action with the SANTISSIMA TRINIDAD, one hundred
and thirty-six; the SAN JOSEPH, one hundred and twelve; the SALVADOR
DEL MUNDO, one hundred and twelve; the SAN NICOLAS, eighty; the SAN
ISIDRO, seventy-four, another seventy-four, and another first-rate.
Troubridge, in the CULLODEN, immediately joined, and most nobly
supported him; and for nearly an hour did the CULLODEN and CAPTAIN
maintain what Nelson called "this apparently, but not really unequal
contest;"--such was the advantage of skill and discipline, and the
confidence which brave men derive from them. The BLENHEIM then passing
between them and the enemy, gave them a respite, and poured in her fire
upon the Spaniards. The SALVADOR DEL MUNDO and SAN ISIDRO dropped
astern, and were fired into in a masterly style by the EXCELLENT,
Captain Collingwood. The SAN ISIDRO struck; and Nelson thought that the
SALVADOR struck also. "But Collingwood," says he, "disdaining the parade
of taking possession of beaten enemies, most gallantly pushed up, with
every sail set, to save his old friend and messmate, who was to
appearance in a critical situation;" for the CAPTAIN was at this time
actually fired upon by three first-rates--by the SAN NICOLAS, and by a
seventy-four, within about pistol-shot of that vessel. The BLENHEIM was
ahead, the CULLODEN crippled and astern. Collingwood ranged up, and
hauling up his mainsail just astern, passed within ten feet of the SAN
NICOLAS, giving her a most tremendous fire, then passed on for the
board her, and Nelson resumed his station abreast of them, and close
alongside. The CAPTAIN was now incapable of further service, either in
the line or in chase: she had lost her foretop-mast; not a sail, shroud,
or rope was left, and her wheel was shot away. Nelson therefore directed
Captain Miller to put the helm a-starboard, and calling for the
boarders, ordered them to board.
Captain Berry, who had lately been Nelson's first lieutenant, was the
first man who leaped into the enemy's mizen chains. Miller, when in the
very act of going, was ordered by Nelson to remain. Berry was supported
from the spritsail-yard, which locked in the SAN NICOLAS's main rigging.
A soldier of the 69th broke the upper quarter-gallery window, and jumped
in, followed by the commodore himself and by the others as fast as
possible. The cabin doors were fastened, and the Spanish officers fired
their pistols at them through the window; the doors were soon forced,
and the Spanish brigadier fell while retreating to the quarter-deck.
Nelson pushed on, and found Berry in possession of the poop, and the
Spanish ensign hauling down. He passed on to the forecastle, where he
met two or three Spanish officers, and received their swords. The
English were now in full possession of every part of the ship, when a
fire of pistols and musketry opened upon them from the admiral's sterngallery
of the SAN JOSEPH. Nelson having placed sentinels at the
different ladders, and ordered Captain Miller to send more men into the
prize, gave orders for boarding that ship from the SAN NICOLAS. It was
done in an instant, he himself leading the way. and exclaiming,
"Westminster Abbey or victory!" Berry assisted him into the main chains;
and at that moment a Spanish officer looked over the quarter-deck rail,
and said they surrendered. It was not long before he was on the quarterdeck,
where the Spanish captain presented to him his sword, and told him
the admiral was below dying of his wounds. There, on the quarter-deck of
an enemy's first-rate, he received the swords of the officers, giving
them, as they were delivered, one by one to William Fearney, one of his
old AGAMEMNONs, who, with the utmost coolness, put them under his arm,
"bundling them up," in the lively expression of Collingwood, "with as
much composure as he would have made a faggot, though twenty-two sail of
their line were still within gunshot." One of his sailors came up, and
with an Englishman's feeling took him by the hand, saying he might not
soon have such another place to do it in, and he was heartily glad to
see him there. Twenty-four of the CAPTAIN's men were killed, and fiftysix
wounded; a fourth part of the loss sustained by the whole squadron
falling upon this ship. Nelson received only a few bruises.
The Spaniards had still eighteen or nineteen ships which had suffered
little or no injury: that part of the fleet which had been separated
from the main body in the morning was now coming up, and Sir John Jervis
made signal to bring to. His ships could not have formed without
abandoning those which they had captured, and running to leeward: the
CAPTAIN was lying a perfect wreck on board her two prizes; and many of
the other vessels were so shattered in their masts and rigging as to be
wholly unmanageable. The Spanish admiral meantime, according to his
official account, being altogether undecided in his own opinion
respecting the state of the fleet, inquired of his captains whether it
was proper to renew the action; nine of them answered explicitly that it
was not; others replied that it was expedient to delay the business. The
PELAYO and the PRINCE CONQUISTADOR were the only ships that were for
As soon as the action was discontinued, Nelson went on board the
admiral's ship. Sir John Jervis received him on the quarter-deck, took
him in his arms, and said he could not sufficiently thank him. For this
victory the commander-in-chief was rewarded with the title of Earl St.
Vincent. Nelson, who before the action was known in England had been
advanced to the rank of rear-admiral, had the Order of the Bath given
him. The sword of the Spanish rear-admiral, which Sir John Jervis
insisted upon his keeping, he presented to the Mayor and Corporation of
Norwich, saying that he knew no place where it could give him or his
family more pleasure to have it kept than in the capital city of the
county where he was born. The freedom of that city was voted him on this
occasion. But of all the numerous congratulations which he received,
none could have affected him with deeper delight than that which came
from his venerable father. "I thank my God," said this excellent man,
"with all the power of a grateful soul, for the mercies he has most
graciously bestowed on me in preserving you. Not only my few
acquaintance here, but the people in general, met me at every corner
with such handsome words, that I was obliged to retire from the public
eye. The height of glory to which your professional judgment, united
with a proper degree of bravery, guarded by Providence, has raised you,
few sons, my dear child, attain to, and fewer fathers live to see. Tears
of joy have involuntarily trickled down my furrowed cheeks: who could
stand the force of such general congratulation? The name and services of
Nelson have sounded through this city of Bath--from the common balladsinger
to the public theatre." The good old man concluded by telling him
that the field of glory, in which he had so long been conspicuous, was
still open, and by giving him his blessing.
Sir Horatio, who had now hoisted his flag as rear-admiral of the
blue, was sent to bring away the troops from Porto Ferrajo; having
performed this, he shifted his flag to the THESEUS. That ship, had taken
part in the mutiny in England, and being just arrived from home, some
danger was apprehended from the temper of the men. This was one reason
why Nelson was removed to her. He had not been on board many weeks
before a paper, signed in the name of all the ship's company, was
dropped on the quarter-deck, containing these words: "Success attend
Admiral Nelson! God bless Captain Miller! We thank them for the officers
they have placed over us. We are happy and comfortable, and will shed
every drop of blood in our veins to support them; and the name of the
THESEUS shall be immortalised as high as her captain's." Wherever Nelson
commanded, the men soon became attached to him; in ten days' time he
would have restored the most mutinous ship in the navy to order.
Whenever an officer fails to win the affections of those who are under
his command, he may be assured that the fault is chiefly in himself.
While Sir Horatio was in the THESEUS, he was employed in the command
of the inner squadron at the blockade of Cadiz. During this service, the
most perilous action occurred in which he was ever engaged. Making a
night attack upon the Spanish gun-boats, his barge was attacked by an
armed launch, under their commander, D. Miguel Tregoyen, carrying 26
men. Nelson had with him only his ten bargemen, Captain Freemantle, and
his coxswain, John Sykes, an old and faithful follower, who twice saved
the life of his admiral by parrying the blows that were aimed at him,
and at last actually interposed his own head to receive the blow of a
Spanish sabre, which he could not by any other means avert; thus dearly
was Nelson beloved. This was a desperate service--hand to hand with
swords; and Nelson always considered that his personal courage was more
conspicuous on this occasion than on any other during his whole life.
Notwithstanding the great disproportion of numbers, 18 of the enemy
were killed, all the rest wounded, and their launch taken. Nelson would
have asked for a lieutenancy for Sykes, if he had served long enough;
his manner and conduct, he observed, were so entirely above his
situation, that Nature certainly intended him for a gentleman; but
though he recovered from the dangerous wound which he received in this
act of heroic attachment, he did not live to profit by the gratitude
and friendship of his commander.
Twelve days after this rencontre, Nelson sailed at the head of an
expedition against Teneriffe. A report had prevailed a few months
before, that the viceroy of Mexico, With the treasure ships, had put
into that island. This had led Nelson to meditate the plan of an attack
upon it, which he communicated to Earl St. Vincent. He was perfectly
aware of the difficulties of the attempt. "I do not," said he, "reckon
myself equal to Blake; but, if I recollect right, he was more obliged to
the wind coming off the land than to any exertions of his own. The
approach by sea to the anchoring-place is under very high land, passing
three valleys; therefore the wind is either in from the sea, or squally
with calms from the mountains:" and he perceived that if the Spanish
ships were won, the object would still be frustrated if the wind did not
come off shore. The land force, he thought, would render success
certain; and there were the troops from Elba, with all necessary stores
and artillery, already embarked. "But here," said he, "soldiers must be
consulted; and I know, from experience, they have not the same boldness
in undertaking a political measure that we have: we look to the benefit
of our country, and risk our own fame every day to serve her; a soldier
obeys his orders, and no more." Nelson's experience at Corsica justified
him in this harsh opinion: he did not live to see the glorious days of
the British army under Wellington. The army from Elba, consisting of
3700 men, would do the business, he said, in three days, probably in
much less time; and he would undertake, with a very small squadron, to
perform the naval part; for though the shore was not easy of access, the
transports might run in and land the troops in one day.
The report concerning the viceroy was unfounded: but a homewardbound
Manilla ship put into Santa Cruz at this time, and the expedition
was determined upon. It was not fitted out upon the scale which Nelson
had proposed. Four ships of the line, three frigates, and the FOX
cutter, formed the squadron; and he was allowed to choose such ships and
officers as he thought proper. No troops were embarked; the seamen and
marines of the squadron being thought sufficient. His orders were, to
make a vigorous attack; but on no account to land in person, unless his
presence should be absolutely necessary. The plan was, that the boats
should land in the night, between the fort on the N.E. side of Santa
Cruz bay and the town, make themselves masters of that fort, and then
send a summons to the governor. By midnight, the three frigates, having
the force on board which was intended for this debarkation, approached
within three miles of the place; but owing to a strong gale of wind in
the offing, and a strong current against them in-shore, they were not
able to get within a mile of the landing-place before daybreak; and
then they were seen, and their intention discovered. Troubridge and
Bowen, with Captain Oldfield, of the marines, went upon this to consult
with the admiral what was to be done; and it was resolved that they
should attempt to get possession of the heights above the fort. The
frigates accordingly landed their men; and Nelson stood in with the
line-of-battle ships, meaning to batter the fort for the purpose of
distracting the attention of the garrison. A calm and contrary current
hindered him from getting within a league of the shore; and the heights
were by this time so secured, and manned with such a force, as to be
judged impracticable. Thus foiled in his plans by circumstances of
wind and tide, he still considered it a point of honour that some
attempt should be made. This was on the 22nd of July: he re-embarked
his men that night, got the ships on the 24th to anchor about two miles
north of the town, and made show as if he intended to attack the
heights. At six in the evening signal was made for the boats to prepare
to proceed on the service as previously ordered.
When this was done, Nelson addressed a letter to the commander-inchief--
the last which was ever written with his right hand. "I shall
not," said he,"enter on the subject, why we are not in possession of
Santa Cruz. Your partiality will give credit, that all has hitherto been
done which was possible, but without effect. This night I, humble as I
am, command the whole destined to land under the batteries of the town;
and to-morrow my head will probably be crowned either with laurel or
cypress. I have only to recommend Josiah Nisbet to you and my country.
The Duke of Clarence, should I fall, will, I am confident, take a lively
interest for my son-in-law, on his name being mentioned." Perfectly
aware how desperate a service this was likely to prove, before he left
the THESEUS he called Lieutenant Nisbet, who had the watch on deck,
into the cabin, that he might assist in arranging and burning his
mother's letters. Perceiving that the young man was armed, he earnestly
begged him to remain behind. "Should we both fall, Josiah," said he,
"what will become of your poor mother! The care of the THESEUS falls to
you: stay, therefore, and take charge of her." Nisbet replied: "Sir, the
ship must take care of herself: I will go with you to-night, if I never
go again."
He met his captains at supper on board the SEAHORSE, Captain
Freemantle, whose wife, whom he had lately married in the
Mediterranean, presided at table. At eleven o'clock the boats,
containing between 600 and 700 men, with 180 on board the FOX cutter,
and from 70 to 80 in a boat which had been taken the day before,
proceeded in six divisions toward the town, conducted by all the
captains of the squadron, except Freemantle and Bowen, who attended with
Nelson to regulate and lead the way to the attack. They were to land on
the mole, and thence hasten as fast as possible into the great square;
then form and proceed as should be found expedient. They were not
discovered till about half-past one o'clock, when, being within half
gun-shot of the landing-place, Nelson directed the boats to cast off
from each other, give a huzza, and push for the shore. But the Spaniards
were exceedingly well prepared; the alarm-bells answered the huzza, and
a fire of thirty or forty pieces of cannon, with musketry from one end
of the town to the other, opened upon the invaders. Nothing, however,
could check the intrepidity with which they advanced. The night was
exceedingly dark: most of the boats missed the mole and went on shore
through a raging surf, which stove all to the left of it. The Admiral,
Freemantle, Thompson, Bowen, and four or five other boats, found the
mole: they stormed it instantly, and carried it, though it was defended,
as they imagined, by 400 or 500 men. Its guns, which were six-and-twenty
pounders, were spiked; but such a heavy fire of musketry and grape was
kept up from the citadel and the houses at the head of the mole, that
the assailants could not advance, and nearly all of them were killed or
In the act of stepping out of the boat, Nelson received a shot
through the right elbow, and fell; but as he fell he caught the sword,
which he had just drawn, in his left hand, determined never to part with
it while he lived, for it had belonged to his uncle, Captain Suckling,
and he valued it like a relic. Nisbet, who was close to him, placed him
at the bottom of the boat, and laid his hat over the shattered arm, lest
the sight of the blood, which gushed out in great abundance, should
increase his faintness. He then examined the wound, and taking some silk
handkerchiefs from his neck, bound them round tight above the lacerated
vessels. Had it not been for this presence of mind in his son-in-law,
Nelson must have perished. One of his bargemen, by name Level, tore his
shirt into shreds, and made a sling with them for the broken limb. They
then collected five other seamen, by whose assistance they succeeded at
length in getting the boat afloat; for it had grounded with the falling
tide. Nisbet took one of the oars and ordered the steersman to go close
under the guns of the battery, that they might be safe from its
tremendous fire. Hearing his voice, Nelson roused himself, and desired
to be lifted up in the boat that he might look about him. Nisbet raised
him up; but nothing could be seen except the firing of the guns on
shore, and what could be discerned by their flashes upon a stormy sea.
In a few minutes a general shriek was heard from the crew of the FOX,
which had received a shot under water, and went down. Ninety-seven men
were lost in her: 83 were saved, many by Nelson himself, whose exertions
on this occasion greatly increased the pain and danger of his wound. The
first ship which the boat could reach happened to be the SEAHORSE; but
nothing could induce him to go on board, though he was assured that if
they attempted to row to another ship it might be at the risk of his
life. "I had rather suffer death," he replied, "than alarm Mrs.
Freemantle, by letting her see me in this state, when I can give her no
tidings whatever of her husband." They pushed on for the THESEUS. When
they came alongside he peremptorily refused all assistance in getting on
board, so impatient was he that the boat should return, in hopes that it
might save a few more from the FOX. He desired to have only a single
rope thrown over the side, which he twisted round his left hand, saying
"Let me alone; I have yet my legs left and one arm. Tell the surgeon to
make haste and get his instruments. I know I must lose my right arm, so
the sooner it is off the better." The spirit which he displayed in
jumping up the ship's side astonished everybody.
Freemantle had been severely wounded in the right arm soon after the
admiral. He was fortunate enough to find a boat on the beach, and got
instantly to his ship. Thompson was wounded: Bowen killed, to the great
regret of Nelson: as was also one of his own officers, Lieutenant
Weatherhead, who had followed him from the AGAMEMNON, and whom he
greatly and deservedly esteemed. Troubridge, meantime, fortunately for
his party, missed the mole in the darkness, but pushed on shore under
the batteries, close to the south end of the citadel. Captain Waller, of
the EMERALD, and two or three other boats, landed at the same time. The
surf was so high that many others put back. The boats were instantly
filled with water and stove against the rocks; and most of the
ammunition in the men's pouches was wetted. Having collected a few men
they pushed on to the great square, hoping there to find the admiral and
the rest of the force. The ladders were all lost, so that they could
make no immediate attempt on the citadel; but they sent a sergeant with
two of the town's-people to summon it: this messenger never returned;
and Troubridge having waited about an hour in painful expectation of his
friends, marched to join Captains Hood and Miller, who had effected
their landing to the south-west. They then endeavoured to procure some
intelligence of the admiral and the rest of the officers, but without
success. By daybreak they had gathered together about eighty marines,
eighty pikemen, and one hundred and eighty small-arm seamen; all the
survivors of those who had made good their landing. They obtained some
ammunition from the prisoners whom they had taken, and marched on to try
what could be done at the citadel without ladders. They found all the
streets commanded by field-pieces, and several thousand Spaniards, with
about a hundred French, under arms, approaching by every avenue. Finding
himself without provisions, the powder wet, and no possibility of
obtaining either stores or reinforcements from the ships, the boats
being lost, Troubridge with great presence of mind, sent Captain Samuel
Hood with a flag of truce to the governor to say he was prepared to burn
the town, and would instantly set fire to it if the Spaniards approached
one inch nearer. This, however, if he were compelled to do it, he should
do with regret, for he had no wish to injure the inhabitants;and he was
ready to treat upon these terms--that the British troops should reembark,
with all their arms of every kind, and take their own boats, if
they were saved, or be provided with such others as might be wanting;
they, on their part, engaging that the squadron should not molest the
town, or any of the Canary Islands: all prisoners on both sides to be
given up. When these terms were proposed the governor made answer, that
the English ought to surrender as prisoners of war; but Captain Hood
replied, he was instructed to say, that if the terms were not accepted
in five minutes, Captain Troubridge would set the town on fire and
attack the Spaniards at the point of the bayonet. Satisfied with his
success, which was indeed sufficiently complete, and respecting, like a
brave and honourable man, the gallantry of his enemy, the Spaniard
acceded to the proposal, found boats to re-embark them, their own
having all been dashed to pieces in landing, and before they parted gave
every man a loaf and a pint of wine.
"And here," says Nelson in his journal, "it is right we should notice
the noble and generous conduct of Don Juan Antonio Gutierrez, the Spanish
governor. The moment the terms were agreed to, he directed our wounded men
to be received into the hospitals, and all our people to be supplied with
the best provisions that could be procured; and made it known that
the ships were at liberty to send on shore and purchase whatever
refreshments they were in want of during the time they might be off the
island." A youth, by name Don Bernardo Collagon, stripped himself of his
shirt to make bandages for one of those Englishmen against whom, not an
hour before, he had been engaged in battle. Nelson wrote to thank the
governor for the humanity which he had displayed. Presents were
interchanged between them. Sir Horatio offered to take charge of his
despatches for the Spanish Government, and thus actually became the first
messenger to Spain of his own defeat.
The total loss of the English in killed, wounded, and drowned,
amounted to 250. Nelson made no mention of his own wound in his official
despatches; but in a private letter to Lord St. Vincent--the first which
he wrote with his left hand--he shows himself to have been deeply
affected by the failure of this enterprise. "I am become," he said, "a
burthen to my friends, and useless to my country; but by my last letter
you will perceive my anxiety for the promotion of my son-in-law, Josiah
Nisbet. When I leave your command I become dead to the world--"I go
hence, and am no more seen." If from poor Bowen's loss, you think it
proper to oblige me, I rest confident you will do it. The boy is under
obligations to me, but he repaid me by bringing me from the mole of
Santa Cruz. I hope you will be able to give me a frigate to convey the
remains of my carcass to England." "A left-handed admiral," he said
in a subsequent letter, "will never again be considered as useful;
therefore the sooner I get to a very humble cottage the better, and make
room for a sounder man to serve the state." His first letter to Lady
Nelson was written under the same opinion, but in a more cheerful
strain. "It was the chance of war," said he, "and I have great reason to
be thankful: and I know it will add much to your pleasure to find that
Josiah, under God's providence, was principally instrumental in saving
my life. I shall not be surprised if I am neglected and forgotten:
probably I shall no longer be considered as useful; however, I shall
feel rich if I continue to enjoy your affection. I beg neither you nor
my father will think much of this mishap; my mind has long been made up
to such an event."
His son-in-law, according to his wish, was immediately promoted; and
honours enough to heal his wounded spirit awaited him in England.
Letters were addressed to him by the first lord of the Admiralty, and by
his steady friend the Duke of Clarence, to congratulate him on his
return, covered as he was with glory. He assured the Duke, in his reply,
that not a scrap of that ardour with which he had hitherto served his
king had been shot away. The freedom of the cities of Bristol and London
were transmitted to him; he was invested with the Order of the Bath, and
received a pension of L1000 a-year. The memorial which, as a matter of
form, he was called upon to present on this occasion, exhibited an
extraordinary catalogue of services performed during the war. It stated
that he had been in four actions with the fleets of the enemy, and in
three actions with boats employed in cutting out of harbour, in
destroying vessels, and in taking three towns. He had served on shore
with the army four months, and commanded the batteries at the sieges of
Basti and Calvi: he had assisted at the capture of seven sail of the
line, six frigates, four corvettes, and eleven privateers: taken and
destroyed near fifty sail of merchant vessels, and actually been engaged
against the enemy upwards of a hundred and twenty times, in which
service he had lost his right eye and right arm, and been severely
wounded and bruised in his body.
His sufferings from the lost limb were long and painful. A nerve had
been taken up in one of the ligatures at the time of the operation; and
the ligature, according to the practice of the French surgeons, was of
silk instead of waxed thread; this produced a constant irritation and
discharge; and the ends of the ligature being pulled every day, in hopes
of bringing it away, occasioned fresh agony. He had scarcely any
intermission of pain, day or night, for three months after his return to
England. Lady Nelson, at his earnest request, attended the dressing of
his arm, till she had acquired sufficient resolution and skill to dress
it herself. One night, during this state of suffering, after a day of
constant pain, Nelson retired early to bed, in hope of enloymg some
respite by means of laudanum. He was at that time lodging in Bond
Street, and the family were soon disturbed by a mob knocking loudly and
violently at the door. The news of Duncan's victory had been made
public, and the house was not illuminated. But when the mob were told
that Admiral Nelson lay there in bed, badly wounded, the foremost of
them made answer: "You shall hear no more from us to-night:" and in
fact, the feeling of respect and sympathy was communicated from one to
another with such effect that, under the confusion of such a night, the
house was not molested again.
About the end of November, after a night of sound sleep, he found the
arm nearly free from pain. The surgeon was immediately sent for to
examine it; and the ligature came away with the slightest touch. From
that time it began to heal. As soon as he thought his health
established, he sent the following form of thanksgiving to the minister
of St. George's, Hanover Square:--"An officer desires to return thanks
to Almighty God for his perfect recovery from a severe wound, and also
for the many mercies bestowed on him."
Not having been in England till now, since he lost his eye, he went
to receive a year's pay as smart money; but could not obtain payment,
because he had neglected to bring a certificate from a surgeon that the
sight was actually destroyed. A little irritated that this form should
be insisted upon, because, though the fact was not apparent, he thought
it was sufficiently notorious, he procured a certificate at the same
time for the loss of his arm; saying, they might just as well doubt one
as the other. This put him in good humour with himself, and with the
clerk who had offended him. On his return to the office, the clerk,
finding it was only the annual pay of a captain, observed, he thought it
had been more. "Oh!" replied Nelson,"this is only for an eye. In a few
days I shall come for an arm; and in a little time longer, God knows,
most probably for a leg." Accordingly he soon afterwards went, and with
perfect good humour exhibited the certificate of the loss of his arm.
Nelson rejoins Earl St. Vincent in the VANGUARD--Sails in Pursuit of
the French in Egypt--Returns to Sicily, and sails again to Egypt--
Battle of the Nile.
EARLY in the year 1798, Sir Horatio Nelson hoisted his flag in the
VANGUARD, and was ordered to rejoin Earl St. Vincent. Upon his
departure, his father addressed him with that affectionate solemnity by
which all his letters were distinguished. "I trust in the Lord," said
he, "that He will prosper your going out and your coming in. I earnestly
desired once more to see you, and that wish has been heard. If I should
presume to say, I hope to see you again, the question would be readily
asked, How old art thou? VALE! VALE! DOMINE, VALE!" It is said that a
gloomy foreboding hung on the spirits of Lady Nelson at their parting.
This could have arisen only from the dread of losing him by the chance
of war. Any apprehension of losing his affections could hardly have
existed, for all his correspondence to this time shows that he thought
himself happy in his marriage; and his private character had hitherto
been as spotless as his public conduct. One of the last things he said
to her was, that his own ambition was satisfied, but that he went to
raise her to that rank in which he had long wished to see her.
Immediately on his rejoining the fleet, he was despatched to the
Mediterranean with a small squadron, in order to ascertain, if possible,
the object of the great expedition which at that time was fitting out
under Buonaparte at Toulon. The defeat of this armament, whatever might
be its destination, was deemed by the British government an object
paramount to every other; and Earl St. Vincent was directed, if he
thought it necessary, to take his whole force into the Mediterranean, to
relinquish, for that purpose, the blockade of the Spanish fleet, as a
thing of inferior moment; but if he should deem a detachment sufficient,
"I think it almost necessary," said the first lord of the Admiralty in
his secret instructions, "to suggest to you the propriety of putting it
under Sir Horatio Nelson." It is to the honour of Earl St. Vincent that
he had already made the same choice. This appointment to a service in
which so much honour might be acquired, gave great offence to the senior
admirals of the fleet. Sir William Parker, who was a very excellent
naval officer, and as gallant a man as any in the navy, and Sir John
Orde, who on all occasions of service had acquitted himself with great
honour, each wrote to Lord Spencer, complaining that so marked a
preference should have been given to a junior of the same fleet. This
resentment is what most men in a like case would feel; and if the
preference thus given to Nelson had not originated in a clear perception
that (as his friend Collingwood said of him a little while before) his
spirit was equal to all undertakings, and his resources fitted to all
occasions, an injustice would have been done to them by his appointment.
But if the service were conducted with undeviating respect to seniority,
the naval and military character would soon be brought down to the dead
level of mediocrity.
The armament at Toulon consisted of thirteen ships of the line, seven
forty-gun frigates, with twenty-four smaller vessels of war, and nearly
200 transports. Mr. Udney, our consul at Leghorn, was the first person
who procured certain intelligence of the enemy's design against Malta;
and, from his own sagacity, foresaw that Egypt must be their after
object. Nelson sailed from Gibraltar on the 9th of May, with the
EMERALD, and TERPSICHORE, frigates; and the BONNE CITOYENNE, sloop of
war, to watch this formidable armament. On the 19th, when they were in
the Gulf of Lyons, a gale came on from the N.W. It moderated so much on
the 20th as to enable them to get their top-gallant masts and yards
aloft. After dark it again began to blow strong, but the ships had been
prepared for a gale, and therefore Nelson's mind was easy. Shortly after
midnight, however, his main-topmast went over the side, and the mizentopmast
soon afterward. The night was so tempestuous that it was
impossible for any signal either to be seen or heard; and Nelson
determined, as soon as it should be daybreak, to wear, and scud before
the gale; but at half-past three the fore-mast went in three pieces, and
the bowsprit was found to be sprung in three places.
When day broke they succeeded in wearing the ship with a remnant of
the spritsail. This was hardly to have been expected. The VANGUARD was
at that time twenty-five leagues south of the island of Hieres; with her
head lying to the N.E., and if she had not wore, the ship must have
drifted to Corsica. Captain Ball, in the ALEXANDER, took her in tow, to
carry her into the Sardinian harbour of St. Pietro. Nelson, apprehensive
that this attempt might endanger both vessels, ordered him to cast off;
but that excellent officer, with a spirit like his commanders, replied,
he was confident he could save the VANGUARD, and, by God's help, he
would do it. There had been a previous coolness between these great men;
but from this time Nelson became fully sensible of the extraordinary
talents of Captain Ball, and a sincere friendship subsisted between them
during the remainder of their lives. "I ought not," said the admiral,
writing to his wife--"I ought not to call what has happened to the
VANGUARD by the cold name of accident: I believe firmly it was the
Almighty's goodness, to check my consummate vanity. I hope it has made
me a better officer, as I feel confident it has made me a better man.
Figure to yourself, on Sunday evening at sunset, a vain man walking in
his cabin, with a squadron around him, who looked up to their chief to
lead them to glory, and in whom their chief placed the firmest reliance
that the proudest ships of equal numbers belonging to France would have
lowered their flags; figure to yourself, on Monday morning, when the sun
rose, this proud man, his ship dismasted, his fleet dispersed, and
himself in such distress that the meanest frigate out of France would
have been an unwelcome guest." Nelson had, indeed, more reason to refuse
the cold name of accident to this tempest than he was then aware of, for
on that very day the French fleet sailed from Toulon, and must have
passed within a few leagues of his little squadron, which was thus
preserved by the thick weather that came on.
The British Government at this time, with a becoming spirit, gave
orders that any port in the Mediterranean should be considered as
hostile where the governor or chief magistrate should refuse to let our
ships of war procure supplies of provisions, or of any article which
they might require.
In these orders the ports of Sardinia were excepted. The continental
possessions of the King of Sardinia were at this time completely at the
mercy of the French, and that prince was now discovering, when too late,
that the terms to which he had consented, for the purpose of escaping
immediate danger, necessarily involved the loss of the dominions which
they were intended to preserve. The citadel of Turin was now occupied by
French troops; and his wretched court feared to afford the common rights
of humanity to British ships, lest it should give the French occasion to
seize on the remainder of his dominions--a measure for which it was
certain they would soon make a pretext, if they did not find one. Nelson
was informed that he could not be permitted to enter the port of St
Pietro. Regardless of this interdict, which, under his circumstances, it
would have been an act of suicidal folly to have regarded, he anchored
in the harbour; and, by the exertions of Sir James Saumarez, Captain
Ball, and Captain Berry, the VANGUARD was refitted in four days; months
would have been employed in refitting her in England. Nelson, with that
proper sense of merit, wherever it was found, which proved at once the
goodness and the greatness of his character, especially recommended to
Earl St. Vincent the carpenter of the ALEXANDER, under whose directions
the ship had been repaired; stating, that he was an old and faithful
servant of the Crown, who had been nearly thirty years a warrant
carpenter, and begging most earnestly that the Commander-in-Chief would
recommend him to the particular notice of the Board of Admiralty. He did
not leave the harbour without expressing his sense of the treatment
which he had received there, in a letter to the Viceroy of Sardinia.
"Sir," it said, "having, by a gale of wind, sustained some trifling
damages, I anchored a small part of his Majesty's fleet under my orders
off this island, and was surprised to hear, by an officer sent by the
governor, that admittance was to be refused to the flag of his Britannic
Majesty into this port. When I reflect, that my most gracious sovereign
is the oldest, I believe, and certainly the most faithful ally which the
King of Sardinia ever had, I could feel the sorrow which it must have
been to his majesty to have given such an order; and also for your
excellency, who had to direct its execution. I cannot but look at the
African shore, where the followers of Mahomet are performing the part of
the good Samaritan, which I look for in vain at St. Peter's, where it is
said the Christian religion is professed."
The delay which was thus occasioned was useful to him in many
respects; it enabled him to complete his supply of water, and to receive
a reinforcement which Earl St. Vincent, being himself reinforced from
England, was enabled to send him. It consisted of the best ships of his
fleet; the CULLODEN, seventy-four, Captain T.Troubridge; GOLIATH,
seventy-four, Captain T.Foley; MINOTAUR, seventy-four, Captain T. Louis;
DEFENCE, seventy-four, Captain John Peyton; BELLEROPHON, seventy-four,
Captain H.D.E.Darby; MAJESTIC, seventy-four, Captain G. B. Westcott;
ZEALOUS, seventy-four, Captain S. Hood; SWIFTSURE, seventy-four, Captain
B. Hallowell; THESEUS, seventy-four, Captain R. W. Miller; AUDACIOUS,
seventy-four, Captain Davidge Gould. The LEANDER, fifty, Captain T. E.
Thompson, was afterwards added. These ships were made ready for the
service as soon as Earl St. Vincent received advice from England that
he was to be reinforced. As soon as the reinforcement was seen from the
mast-head of the admiral's ship, off Cadiz Bay, signal was immediately
made to Captain Troubridge to put to sea; and he was out of sight before
the ships from home cast anchor in the British station. Troubridge took
with him no instructions to Nelson as to the course he was to steer,
nor any certain account of the enemy's destination; everything was left
to his own judgment. Unfortunately, the frigates had been separated from
him in the tempest and had not been able to rejoin: they sought him
unsuccessfully in the Bay of Naples, where they obtained no tidings of
his course: and he sailed without them.
The first news of the enemy's armament was that it had surprised
Malta, Nelson formed a plan for attacking it while at anchor at Gozo;
but on the 22nd of June intelligence reached him that the French had
left that island on the 16th, the day after their arrival. It was clear
that their destination was eastward--he thought for Egypt--and for
Egypt, therefore, he made all sail. Had the frigates been with him, he
could scarcely have failed to gain information of the enemy; for want of
them, he only spoke three vessels on the way: two came from Alexandria,
one from the Archipelago, and neither of them had seen anything of the
French. He arrived off Alexandria on the 28th, and the enemy were not
there, neither was there any account of them; but the governor was
endeavouring to put the city in a state of defence, having received
advice from Leghorn that the French expedition was intended against
Egypt, after it had taken Malta. Nelson then shaped his course to the
northward for Caramania, and steered from thence along the southern side
of Candia, carrying a press of sail both night and day, with a contrary
wind. It would have been his delight, he said, to have tried Bonaparte
on a wind. It would have been the delight of Europe, too, and the
blessing of the world, if that fleet had been overtaken with its general
on board. But of the myriads and millions of human beings who would have
been preserved by that day's victory, there is not one to whom such
essential benefit would have resulted as to Bonaparte himself. It would
have spared him his defeat at Acre--his only disgrace; for to have been
defeated by Nelson upon the seas would not have been disgraceful; it
would have spared him all his after enormities. Hitherto his career had
been glorious; the baneful principles of his heart had never yet passed
his lips; history would have represented him as a soldier of fortune,
who had faithfully served the cause in which he engaged; and whose
career had been distinguished by a series of successes unexampled in
modern times. A romantic obscurity would have hung over the expedition
to Egypt, and he would have escaped the perpetration of those crimes
which have incarnadined his soul with a deeper dye than that of the
purple for which he committed them--those acts of perfidy, midnight
murder, usurpation, and remorseless tyranny, which have consigned his
name to universal execration, now and for ever.
Conceiving that when an officer is not successful in his plans it is
absolutely necessary that he should explain the motives upon which they
were founded, Nelson wrote at this time an account and vindication of
his conduct for having carried the fleet to Egypt. The objection which
he anticipated was that he ought not to have made so long a voyage
without more certain information. "My answer," said he, "is ready. Who
was I to get it from? The governments of Naples and Sicily either knew
not, or chose to keep me in ignorance. Was I to wait patiently until I
heard certain accounts? If Egypt were their object, before I could hear
of them they would have been in India. To do nothing was disgraceful;
therefore I made use of my understanding. I am before your lordships'
judgment; and if, under all circumstances, it is decided that I am
wrong, I ought, for the sake of our country, to be superseded; for at
this moment, when I know the French are not in Alexandria, I hold the
same opinion as off Cape Passaro--that, under all circumstances, I was
right in steering for Alexandria; and by that opinion I must stand or
fall." Captain Ball, to whom he showed this paper, told him he should
recommend a friend never to begin a defence of his conduct before he was
accused of error: he might give the fullest reasons for what he had
done, expressed in such terms as would evince that he had acted from the
strongest conviction of being right; and of course he must expect that
the public would view it in the same light. Captain Ball judged rightly
of the public, whose first impulses, though, from want of sufficient
information, they must frequently be erroneous, are generally founded
upon just feelings. But the public are easily misled, and there are
always persons ready to mislead them. Nelson had not yet attained that
fame which compels envy to be silent; and when it was known in England
that he had returned after an unsuccessful pursuit, it was said that he
deserved impeachment; and Earl St. Vincent was severely censured for
having sent so young an officer upon so important a service.
Baffled in his pursuit, he returned to Sicily. The Neapolitan
ministry had determined to give his squadron no assistance, being
resolved to do nothing which could possibly endanger their peace with
the French Directory; by means, however, of Lady Hamilton's influence at
court, he procured secret orders to the Sicilian governors; and under
those orders obtained everything which he wanted at Syracuse--a timely
supply; without which, he always said, he could not have recommenced his
pursuit with any hope of success. "It is an old saying," said he in his
letter, "that the devil's children have the devil's luck. I cannot to
this moment learn, beyond vague conjecture, where the French fleet have
gone to; and having gone a round of 600 leagues, at this season of the
year, with an expedition incredible, here I am, as ignorant of the
situation of the enemy as I was twenty-seven days ago. Every moment I
have to regret the frigates having left me; had one-half of them been
with me, I could not have wanted information. Should the French be so
strongly secured in port that I cannot get at them, I shall immediately
shift my flag into some other ship, and send the VANGUARD to Naples to
be refitted; for hardly any person but myself would have continued on
service so long in such a wretched state." Vexed, however, and
disappointed as he was, Nelson, with the true spirit of a hero, was
still full of hope. "Thanks to your exertions," said he, writing to Sir.
William and Lady Hamilton, "we have victualled and watered; and surely
watering at the fountain of Arethusa, we must have victory. We shall
sail with the first breeze; and be assured I will return either crowned
with laurel or covered with cypress." Earl St. Vincent he assured, that
if the French were above water he would find them out: he still held his
opinion that they were bound for Egypt: "but," said he to the First Lord
of the Admiralty, "be they bound to the Antipodes, your lordship may
rely that I will not lose a moment in bringing them to action."
On the 25th of July he sailed from Syracuse for the Morea. Anxious
beyond measure, and irritated that the enemy should so long have eluded
him, the tediousness of the nights made him impatient; and the officer
of the watch was repeatedly called on to let him know the hour, and
convince him, who measured time by his own eagerness, that it was not
yet daybreak. The squadron made the Gulf of Coron on the 28th.
Troubridge entered the port, and returned with intelligence that the
French fleet had been seen about four weeks before steering to the S.E.
from Candia. Nelson then determined immediately to return to Alexandria;
and the British fleet accordingly, with every sail set, stood once more
for the coast of Egypt. On the 1st of August, about 10 in the morning,
they came in sight of Alexandria: the port had been vacant and solitary
when they saw it last; it was now crowded with ships; and they perceived
with exultation that the tri-coloured flag was flying upon the walls. At
four in the afternoon, Captain Hood, in the ZEALOUS, made the signal for
the enemy's fleet. For many preceding days Nelson had hardly taken
either sleep or food: he now ordered his dinner to be served, while
preparations were making for battle; and when his officers rose from
table, and went to their separate stations, he said to them, "Before
this time to-morrow I shall have gained a peerage or Westminster Abbey."
The French, steering direct for Candia, had made an angular passage
for Alexandria; whereas Nelson, in pursuit of them, made straight for
that place, and thus materially shortened the distance. The comparative
smallness of his force made it necessary to sail in close order, and it
covered a less space than it would have done if the frigates had been
with him: the weather also was constantly hazy. These circumstances
prevented the English from discovering the enemy on the way to Egypt,
though it appeared, upon examining the journals of the French officers
taken in the action, that the two fleets must actually have crossed on
the night of the 22nd of June. During the return to Syracuse, the
chances of falling in with them were become fewer.
Why Buonaparte, having effected his landing, should not have suffered
the fleet to return, has never yet been explained. This much is certain,
that it was detained by his command, though, with his accustomed
falsehood, he accused Admiral Brueys, after that officer's death, of
having lingered on the coast contrary to orders. The French fleet
arrived at Alexandria on the 1st of July, and Brueys, not being able to
enter the port, which time and neglect had ruined, moored his ships in
Aboukir Bay, in a strong and compact line of battle; the headmost
vessel, according to his own account, being as close as possible to a
shoal on the N.W., and the rest of the fleet forming a kind of curve
along the line of deep water, so as not to be turned by any means in the
S.W. By Buonaparte's desire he had offered a reward of 10,000 livres to
any pilot of the country who would carry the squadron in, but none could
be found who would venture to take charge of a single vessel drawing
more than twenty feet. He had therefore made the best of his situation,
and chosen the strongest position which he could possibly take in an
open road. The commissary of the fleet said they were moored in such a
manner as to bid defiance to a force more than double their own. This
presumption could not then be thought unreasonable. Admiral Barrington,
when moored in a similar manner off St. Lucia, in the year 1778, beat
off the Comte d'Estaign in three several attacks, though his force was
inferior by almost one-third to that which assailed it. Here, the
advantage in numbers, both in ships, guns, and men, was in favour of the
French. They had thirteen ships of the line and four frigates, carrying
1196 guns and 11,230 men. The English had the same number of ships of
the line and one fifty-gun ship, carrying 1012 guns and 8068 men. The
English ships were all seventy-fours; the French had three eighty-gun
ships, and one three-decker of one hundred and twenty.
During the whole pursuit it had been Nelson's practice, whenever
circumstances would permit, to have his captains on board the VANGUARD,
and explain to them his own ideas of the different and best modes of
attack, and such plans as he proposed to execute on falling in with the
enemy, whatever their situation might be. There is no possible position,
it is said, which he did not take into calculation. His officers were
thus fully acquainted with his principles of tactics; and such was his
confidence in their abilities that the only thing determined upon, in
case they should find the French at anchor, was for the ships to form as
most convenient for their mutual support, and to anchor by the stern.
"First gain the victory," he said,"and then make the best use of it you
can." The moment he perceived the position of the French, that intuitive
genius with which Nelson was endowed displayed itself; and it instantly
struck him that where there was room for an enemy's ship to swing, there
was room for one of ours to anchor. The plan which he intended to
pursue, therefore, was to keep entirely on the outer side of the French
line, and station his ships, as far as he was able, one on the outer
bow, and another on the outer quarter, of each of the enemy's. This
plan of doubling on the enemy's ships was projected by Lord Hood, when
he designed to attack the French fleet at their anchorage in Gourjean
Road. Lord Hood found it impossible to make the attempt; but the thought
was not lost upon Nelson, who acknowledged himself, on this occasion,
indebted for it to his old and excellent commander. Captain Berry, when
he comprehended the scope of the design, exclaimed with transport, "If
we succeed, what will the world say ?" "There is no IF in the case,"
replied the admiral: "that we shall succeed is certain; who may live to
tell the story is a very different question."
As the squadron advanced, they were assailed by a shower of shot and
shells from the batteries on the island, and the enemy opened a steady
fire from the starboard side of their whole line, within half gunshot
distance, full into the bows of our van ships. It was received in
silence: the men on board every ship were employed aloft in furling
sails, and below in tending the braces and making ready for anchoring. A
miserable sight for the French; who, with all their skill, and all their
courage, and all their advantages of numbers and situation, were upon
that element on which, when the hour of trial comes, a Frenchman has no
hope. Admiral Brueys was a brave and able man; yet the indelible
character of his country broke out in one of his letters, wherein he
delivered it as his private opinion, that the English had missed him,
because, not being superior in force, they did not think it prudent to
try their strength with him. The moment was now come in which he was to
be undeceived.
A French brig was instructed to decoy the English by manoeuvring so
as to tempt them toward a shoal lying off the island of Bekier; but
Nelson either knew the danger or suspected some deceit; and the lure was
unsuccessful. Captain Foley led the way in the GOLIATH, outsailing the
ZEALOUS, which for some minutes disputed this post of honour with him.
He had long conceived that if the enemy were moored in line of battle in
with the land, the best plan of attack would be to lead between them and
the shore, because the French guns on that side were not likely to be
manned, nor even ready for action. Intending, therefore, to fix himself
on the inner bow of the GUERRIER, he kept as near the edge of the bank
as the depth of water would admit; but his anchor hung, and having
opened his fire he drifted to the second ship, the CONQUERANT, before it
was clear; then anchored by the stern inside of her, and in ten minutes
shot away her mast. Hood, in the ZEALOUS, perceiving this, took the
station which the GOLIATH intended to have occupied, and totally
disabled the GUERRIER in twelve minutes. The third ship which doubled
the enemy's van was the ORION, Sir J. Saumarez; she passed to windward
of the ZEALOUS, and opened her larboard guns as long as they bore on
GUERRIER; then, passing inside the GOLIATH, sunk a frigate which annoyed
her, hauled round toward the French line, and anchoring inside, between
the fifth and sixth ships from the GUERRIER, took her station on the
larboard bow of the FRANKLIN and the quarter of the PEUPLE SOUVERAIN,
receiving and returning the fire of both. The sun was now nearly down.
The AUDACIOUS, Captain Could, pouring a heavy fire into the GUERRIER and
the CONQUERANT, fixed herself on the larboard bow of the latter, and
when that ship struck, passed on to the PEUPLE SOUVERAIN. The THESEUS,
Capt Miller, followed, brought down the GUERRIER's remaining main and
mizzen masts, then anchored inside of the SPARTIATE, the third in the
French line.
While these advanced ships doubled the French line, the VANGUARD was
the first that anchored on the outer side of the enemy, within half
pistol-shot of their third ship, the SPARTIATE. Nelson had six colours
flying in different parts of his rigging, lest they should be shot away;
that they should be struck, no British admiral considers as a
possibility. He veered half a cable, and instantly opened a tremendous
fire; under cover of which the other four ships of his division, the
MINOTAUR, BELLEROPHON, DEFENCE, and MAJESTIC, sailed on ahead of the
admiral. In a few minutes, every man stationed at the first six guns in
the fore part of the VANGUARD's deck was killed or wounded. These guns
were three times cleared. Captain Louis, in the MINOTAUR, anchored just
ahead, and took off the fire of the AQUILON, the fourth in the enemy's
line. The BELLEROPHON, Captain Darby, passed ahead, and dropped her
stern anchor on the starboard bow of the ORIENT, seventh in the line,
Brueys' own ship, of one hundred and twenty guns, whose difference of
force was in proportion of more than seven to three, and whose weight of
ball, from the lower deck alone, exceeded that from the whole broadside
of the BELLEROPHON. Captain Peyton, in the DEFENCE, took his station
ahead of the MINOTAUR, and engaged the FRANKLIN, the sixth in the line,
by which judicious movement the British line remained unbroken. The
MAJESTIC, Captain Westcott, got entangled with the main rigging of one
of the French ships astern of the ORIENT, and suffered dreadfully from
that three-decker's fire; but she swung clear, and closely engaging the
HEUREUX, the ninth ship on the starboard bow, received also the fire of
the TONNANT, which was the eighth in the line. The other four ships of
the British squadron, having been detached previous to the discovery of
the French, were at a considerable distance when the action began. It
commenced at half after six; about seven night closed, and there was no
other light than that from the fire of the contending fleets.
Troubridge, in the CULLODEN, then foremost of the remaining ships,
was two leagues astern. He came on sounding, as the others had done: as
he advanced, the increasing darkness increased the difficulty of the
navigation; and suddenly, after having found eleven fathoms water,
before the lead could be hove again he was fast aground; nor could all
his own exertions, joined with those of the LEANDER and the MUTINE brig,
which came to his assistance, get him off in time to bear a part in the
action. His ship, however, served as a beacon to the ALEXANDER and
SWIFTSURE, which would else, from the course which they were holding,
have gone considerably further on the reef, and must inevitably have
been lost. These ships entered the bay, and took their stations in the
darkness, in a manner still spoken of with admiration by all who
remember it. Captain Hallowell, in the SWIFTSURE, as he was bearing
down, fell in with what seemed to be a strange sail. Nelson had directed
his ships to hoist four lights horizontally at the mizzen peak as soon
as it became dark; and this vessel had no such distinction. Hallowell,
however, with great judgment, ordered his men not to fire: if she was an
enemy, he said, she was in too disabled a state to escape; but from her
sails being loose, and the way in which her head was, it was probable
she might be an English ship. It was the BELLEROPHON, overpowered by the
huge ORIENT: her lights had gone overboard, nearly 200 of her crew were
killed or wounded, all her masts and cables had been shot away; and she
was drifting out of the line toward the leeside of the bay. Her station,
at this important time, was occupied by the SWIFTSURE, which opened a
steady fire on the quarter of the FRANKLIN and the bows of the French
admiral. At the same instant, Captain Ball, with the ALEXANDER, passed
under his stern, and anchored within-side on his larboard quarter,
raking; him, and keeping up a severe fire of musketry upon his decks.
The last ship which arrived to complete the destruction of the enemy was
the LEANDER. Captain Thompson, finding that nothing could be done that
night to get off the CULLODEN, advanced with the intention of anchoring
athwart-hawse of the ORIENT. The FRANKLIN was so near her ahead that
there was not room for him to pass clear of the two; he therefore took
his station athwart-hawse of the latter in such a position as to rake
The two first ships of the French line had been dismasted within a
quarter of an hour after the commencement of the action; and the others
had in that time suffered so severely that victory was already certain.
The third, fourth, and fifth were taken possession of at half-past
Meantime Nelson received a severe wound on the head from a piece of
langridge shot. Captain Berry caught him in his arms as he was falling.
The great effusion of blood occasioned an apprehension that the wound
was mortal: Nelson himself thought so; a large flap of the skin of the
forehead, cut from the bone, had fallen over one eye; and the other
being blind, he was in total darkness. When he was carried down, the
surgeon--in the midst of a scene scarcely to be conceived by those who
have never seen a cockpit in time of action, and the heroism which is
displayed amid its horrors,--with a natural and pardonable eagerness,
quitted the poor fellow then under his hands, that he might instantly
attend the admiral. "No!" said Nelson, "I will take my turn with my
brave fellows." Nor would he suffer his own wound to be examined till
every man who had been previously wounded was properly attended to.
Fully believing that the wound was mortal, and that he was about to die,
as he had ever desired, in battle, and in victory, he called the
chaplain, and desired him to deliver what he supposed to be his dying
remembrance to lady Nelson; he then sent for Captain Louis on board
from the MINOTAUR, that he might thank him personally for the great
assistance which he had rendered to the VANGUARD; and ever mindful of
those who deserved to be his friends, appointed Captain Hardy from the
brig to the command of his own ship, Captain Berry having to go home
with the news of the victory. When the surgeon came in due time to examine
his wound (for it was in vain to entreat him to let it be examined
sooner), the most anxious silence prevailed; and the joy of the wounded
men, and of the whole crew, when they heard that the hurt was merely
superficial, gave Nelson deeper pleasure than the unexpected assurance
that his life was in no danger. The surgeon requested, and as far as he
could, ordered him to remain quiet; but Nelson could not rest. He called
for his secretary, Mr. Campbell, to write the despatches. Campbell had
himself been wounded, and was so affected at the blind and suffering
state of the admiral that he was unable to write. The chaplain was then
sent for; but before he came, Nelson with his characteristic eagerness
took the pen, and contrived to trace a few words, marking his devout
sense of the success which had already been obtained. He was now left
alone; when suddenly a cry was heard on the deck that the ORIENT was on
fire. In the confusion he found his way up, unassisted and unnoticed;
and, to the astonishment of every one, appeared on the quarter-decks
where he immediately gave order that the boats should be sent to the
relief of the enemy.
It was soon after nine that the fire on, board the ORIENT broke out.
Brueys was dead; he had received three wounds, yet would not leave his
post: a fourth cut him almost in two. He desired not to be carried
below, but to be left to die upon deck. The flames soon mastered his
ship. Her sides had just been painted; and the oil-jars and paint
buckets were lying on the poop. By the prodigious light of this
conflagration, the situation of the two fleets could now be perceived,
the colours of both being clearly distinguishable. About ten o'clock the
ship blew up, with a shock which was felt to the very bottom of every
vessel. Many of her officers and men jumped overboard, some clinging to
the spars and pieces of wreck with which the sea was strewn, others
swimming to escape from the destruction which they momently dreaded.
Some were picked up by our boats; and some even in the heat and fury of
the action were dragged into the lower ports of the nearest British
ships by the British sailors. The greater part of her crew, however,
stood the danger till the last, and continued to fire from the lower
deck. This tremendous explosion was followed by a silence not less
awful: the firing immediately ceased on both sides; and the first sound
which broke the silence, was the dash of her shattered masts and yards,
falling into the water from the vast height to which they had been
exploded. It is upon record that a battle between two armies was once
broken off by an earthquake. Such an event would be felt like a miracle;
but no incident in war, produced by human means, has ever equalled the
sublimity of this co-instantaneous pause, and all its circumstances.
About seventy of the ORIENT's crew were saved by the English boats.
Among the many hundreds who perished were the commodore, Casa-Bianca,
and his son, a brave boy, only ten years old. They were seen floating on
a shattered mast when the ship blew up. She had money on board (the
plunder of Malta) to the amount of L600,000 sterling. The masses of
burning wreck, which were scattered by the explosion, excited for some
moments apprehensions in the English which they had never felt from any
other danger. Two large pieces fell into the main and fore tops of the
SWIFTSURE without injuring any person. A port-fire also fell into the
main-royal of the ALEXANDER; the fire which it occasioned was speedily
extinguished. Captain Ball had provided, as far as human foresight could
provide, against any such danger. All the shrouds and sails of his ship,
not absolutely necessary for its immediate management, were thoroughly
wetted, and so rolled up that they were as hard and as little
inflammable as so many solid cylinders.
The firing recommenced with the ships to leeward of the centre, and
continued till about three. At daybreak, the GUILLAUME TELL and the
GENEREUX, the two rear ships of the enemy, were the only French ships of
the line which had their colours flying; they cut their cables in the
forenoon, not having been engaged, and stood out to sea, and two
frigates with them. The ZEALOUS pursued; but as there was no other ship
in a condition to support Captain Hood, he was recalled. It was
generally believed by the officers that if Nelson had not been wounded,
not one of these ships could have escaped. The four certainly could not
if the CULLODEN had got into action; and if the frigates belonging to
the squadron had been present, not one of the enemy's fleet would have
left Aboukir Bay. These four vessels, however, were all that escaped;
and the victory was the most complete and glorious in the annals of
naval history. "Victory," said Nelson, "is not a name strong enough for
such a scene:" he called it a conquest. Of thirteen sail of the line,
nine were taken and two burned. Of the four frigates, one was sunk,
another, the ARTEMISE, was burned in a villanous manner by her captain,
M. Estandlet, who, having fired a broadside at the THESEUS, struck his
colours, then set fire to the ship and escaped with most of his crew to
shore. The British loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to 895 Westcott
was the only captain who fell; 3105 of the French, including the
wounded, were sent on shore by cartel, and 5225 perished.
As soon as the conquest was completed, Nelson sent orders through the
fleet to return thanksgiving in every ship for the victory with which
Almighty God had blessed his majesty's arms. The French at Rosetta, who
with miserable fear beheld the engagement, were at a loss to understand
the stillness of the fleet during the performance of this solemn duty;
but it seemed to affect many of the prisoners, officers as well as men;
and graceless and godless as the officers were, some of them remarked
that it was no wonder such order was Preserved in the British navy, when
the minds of our men could be Impressed with such sentiments after so
great a victory, and at a moment of such confusion. The French at
Rosetta, seeing their four ships sail out of the bay unmolested,
endeavoured to persuade themselves that they were in possession of the
place of battle. But it was in vain thus to attempt, against their own
secret and certain conviction, to deceive themselves; and even if they
could have succeeded in this, the bonfires which the Arabs kindled along
the whole coast, and over the country, for the three following nights,
would soon have undeceived them. Thousands of Arabs and Egyptians lined
the shore, and covered the house tops during the action, rejoicing in
the destruction which had overtaken their invaders. Long after the
battle, innumerable bodies were seen floating about the bay, in spite of
all the exertions which were made to sink them, as well from fear of
pestilence as from the loathing and horror which the sight occasioned.
Great numbers were cast up upon the Isle of Bekier (Nelson's Island, as
it has since been called), and our sailors raised mounds of sand over
them. Even after an interval of nearly three years Dr. Clarke saw them,
and assisted in interring heaps of human bodies, which, having been
thrown up by the sea where there were no jackals to devour them,
presented a sight loathsome to humanity. The shore, for an extent of
four leagues, was covered with wreck; and the Arabs found employment for
many days in burning on the beach the fragments which were cast up, for
the sake of the iron. Part of the ORIENT's main-mast was picked up by
the SWIFTSURE. Captain Hallowell ordered his carpenter to make a coffin
of it; the iron, as well as the wood, was taken from the wreck of the
same ship; it was finished as well and handsomely as the workman's skill
and materials would permit; and Hallowell then sent it to the admiral
with the following letter:--"Sir, I have taken the liberty of presenting
you a coffin made from the main mast of L'ORIENT, that when you have
finished your military career in this world you may be buried in one of
your trophies. But that that period may be far distant is the earnest
wish of your sincere friend, Benjamin Hallowell."--An offering so
strange, and yet so suited to the occasion, was received by Nelson in
the spirit with which it was sent. As if he felt it good for him, now
that he was at the summit of his wishes, to have death before his eyes,
he ordered the coffin to be placed upright in his cabin. Such a piece of
furniture, however, was more suitable to his own feelings than to those
of his guests and attendants; and an old favourite servant entreated him
so earnestly to let it be removed, that at length he consented to have
the coffin carried below; but he gave strict orders that it should be
safely stowed, and reserved for the purpose for which its brave and
worthy donor had designed it.
The victory was complete; but Nelson could not pursue it as he would
have done for want of means. Had he been provided with small craft,
nothing could have prevented the destruction of the store-ships and
transports in the port of Alexandria: four bomb-vessels would at that
time have burned the whole in a few hours. "Were I to die this moment."
said he in his despatches to the Admiralty, "WANT OF FRIGATES would be
found stamped on my heart! No words of mine can express what I have
suffered, and am suffering, for want of them." He had also to bear up
against great bodily suffering: the blow had so shaken his head, that
from its constant and violent aching, and the perpetual sickness which
accompanied the pain, he could scarcely persuade himself that the skull
was not fractured. Had it not been for Troubridge, Ball, Hood, and
Hallowell, he declared that he should have sunk under the fatigue of
refitting the squadron. "All," he said, "had done well; but these
officers were his supporters." But, amidst his sufferings and exertions,
Nelson could yet think of all the consequences of his victory; and that
no advantage from it might be lost, he despatched an officer overland
to India, with letters to the governor of Bombay, informing him of the
arrival of the French in Egypt, the total destruction of their fleet,
and the consequent preservation of India from any attempt against it on
the part of this formidable armament. "He knew that Bombay," he said,
"was their first object, if they could get there; but he trusted that
Almighty God would overthrow in Egypt these pests of the human race.
Buonaparte had never yet had to contend with an English officer, and he
would endeavour to make him respect us." This despatch he sent upon his
own responsibility, with letters of credit upon the East India Company,
addressed to the British consuls, vice-consuls, and merchants on his
route; Nelson saying, "that if he had done wrong, he hoped the bills
would be paid, and he would repay the Company; for, as an Englishman, he
should be proud that it had been in his power to put our settlements on
their guard." The information which by this means reached India was of
great importance. Orders had just been received for defensive
preparations, upon a scale proportionate to the apprehended danger; and
the extraordinary expenses which would otherwise have been incurred were
thus prevented.
Nelson was now at the summit of glory; congratulations, rewards, and
honours were showered upon him by all the states, and princes, and
powers to whom his victory gave a respite. The first communication of
this nature which he received was from the Turkish sultan, who, as soon
as the invasion of Egypt was known, had called upon "all true believers
to take arms against those swinish infidels the French, that they might
deliver these blessed habitations from their accursed hands;" and who
had ordered his "pashas to turn night into day in their efforts to take
vengeance." The present of "his imperial majesty, the powerful,
formidable, and most magnificent Grand Seignior," was a pelisse of
sables, with broad sleeves, valued at 5000 dols.; and a diamond aigrette,
valued at 18,000 dols., the most honourable badge among the Turks; and in
this instance more especially honourable, because it was taken from one
of the royal turbans. "If it were worth a million," said Nelson to his
wife, "my pleasure would be to see it in your possession." The sultan
also sent, in a spirit worthy of imitation, a purse of 2000 sequins, to
be distributed among the wounded. The mother of the sultan sent him a
box, set with diamonds, valued at L1000. The Czar Paul, in whom the
better part of his strangely compounded nature at this time
predominated, presented him with his portrait, set in diamonds, in a
gold box, accompanied with a letter of congratulation, written by his
own hand. The king of Sardinia also wrote to him, and sent a gold box
set with diamonds. Honours in profusion were awaiting him at Naples. In
his own country the king granted these honourable augmentations to his
armorial ensign: a chief undulated, ARGENT: thereon waves of the sea;
from which a palm tree issuant, between a disabled ship on the dexter,
and a ruinous battery on the sinister all proper; and for his crest, on
a naval crown, OR, the chelengk, or plume, presented to him by the Turk,
with the motto, PALMAM QUI MERUIT FERAT. And to his supporters, being a
sailor on the dexter, and a lion on the sinister, were given these
honourable augmentations: a palm branch in the sailor's hand, and
another in the paw of the lion, both proper; with a tri-coloured flag
and staff in the lion's mouth. He was created Baron Nelson of the Nile,
and of Burnham Thorpe, with a pension of L2000 for his own life, and
those of his two immediate successors. When the grant was moved in the
House of Commons, General Walpole expressed an opinion that a higher
degree of rank ought to be conferred. Mr. Pitt made answer, that he
thought it needless to enter into that question. "Admiral Nelson's
fame," he said,"would be co-equal with the British name; and it would be
remembered that he had obtained the greatest naval victory on record,
when no man would think of asking whether he had been created a baron, a
viscount, or an earl." It was strange that, in the very act of
conferring a title, the minister should have excused himself for not
having conferred a higher one, by representing all titles, on such an
occasion, as nugatory and superfluous. True, indeed, whatever title had
been bestowed, whether viscount, earl, marquis, duke, or prince, if our
laws had so permitted, he who received it would have been Nelson still.
That name he had ennobled beyond all addition of nobility; it was the
name by which England loved him, France feared him, Italy, Egypt, and
Turkey celebrated him, and by which he will continue to be known while
the present kingdoms and languages of the world endure, and as long as
their history after them shall be held in remembrance. It depended upon
the degree of rank what should be the fashion of his coronet, in what
page of the red book his name was to be inserted, and what precedency
should be allowed his lady in the drawing-room and at the ball. That
Nelson's honours were affected thus far, and no further, might be
conceded to Mr. Pitt and his colleagues in administration; but the
degree of rank which they thought proper to allot was the measure of
their gratitude, though not of his service. This Nelson felt, and this
he expressed, with indignation, among his friends.
Whatever may have been the motives of the ministry, and whatever the
formalities with which they excused their conduct to themselves, the
importance and magnitude of the victory were universally acknowledged.
A grant of L10,000 was voted to Nelson by the East India Company; the
Turkish Company presented him with a piece of plate; the City of London
presented a sword to him, and to each of his captains; gold medals were
distributed to the captains; and the first lieutenants of all the ships
were promoted, as had been done after Lord Howe's victory. Nelson was
exceedingly anxious that the captain and first lieutenant of the
CULLODEN should not be passed over because of their misfortune. To
Troubridge himself he said, "Let us rejoice that the ship which got on
shore was commanded by an officer whose character is so thoroughly
established." To the Admiralty he stated that Captain Troubridge's
conduct was as fully entitled to praise as that of any one officer in
the squadron, and as highly deserving of reward. "It was Troubridge,"
said he, "who equipped the squadron so soon at Syracuse; it was
Troubridge who exerted himself for me after the action; it was
Troubridge who saved the CULLODEN, when none that I know in the service
would have attempted it." The gold medal, therefore, by the king's
express desire, was given to Captain Troubridge, "for his services both
before and since, and for the great and wonderful exertion which he made
at the time of the action in saving and getting off his ship." The
private letter from the Admiralty to Nelson informed him that the first
lieutenants of all the ships ENGAGED were to be promoted. Nelson
instantly wrote to the commander-in-chief: "I sincerely hope," said he,
"this is not intended to exclude the first lieutenant of the CULLODEN.
For heaven's sake--for my sake, if it be so--get it altered. Our dear
friend Troubridge has endured enough. His sufferings were, in every
respect, more than any of us." To the Admiralty he wrote in terms
equally warm. "I hope, and believe, the word ENGAGED is not intended to
exclude the CULLODEN. The merits of that ship, and her gallant Captain,
are too well known to benefit by anything I could say. Her misfortune
was great in getting aground, while her more fortunate companions were
in the full tide of happiness. No: I am confident that my good Lord
Spencer will never add misery to misfortune. Captain Troubridge on
shore is superior to captains afloat: in the midst of his great
misfortunes he made those signals which prevented certainly the
ALEXANDER and SWIFTSURE from running on the shoals. I beg your pardon
for writing on a subject which, I verily believe, has never entered your
lordship's head; but my heart, as it ought to be, is warm to my gallant
friends." Thus feelingly alive was Nelson to the claims, and interests,
and feelings of others. The Admiralty replied, that the exception was
necessary, as the ship had not been in action; but they desired the
commander-in-chief to promote the lieutenant upon the first vacancy
which should occur.
Nelson, in remembrance of an old and uninterrupted friendship, appointed
Alexander Davison sole prize agent for the captured ships: upon
which Davison ordered medals to be struck in gold, for the captains; in
silver, for the lieutenants and warrant officers; in gilt metal for the
petty officers; and in copper for the seamen and marines. The cost of
this act of liberality amounted nearly to L2000. It is worthy of record
on another account;--for some of the gallant men, who received no other
honorary badge of their conduct on that memorable day than this copper
medal from a private individual, years afterwards, when they died upon
a foreign station, made it their last request, that the medals might
carefully be sent home to their respective friends. So sensible are
brave men of honour, in whatever rank they may be placed.
Three of the frigates, whose presence would have been so essential a
few weeks sooner, joined the squadron on the twelfth day after the
action. The fourth joined a few days after them. Nelson thus received
despatches, which rendered it necessary for him to return to Naples.
Before he left Egypt he burned three of the prizes; they could not have
been fitted for a passage to Gibraltar in less than a month, and that at
a great expense, and with the loss of the services of at least two sail
of the line. "I rest assured," he said to the Admiralty, "that they will
be paid for, and have held out that assurance to the squadron. For if
an admiral, after a victory, is to look after the captured ships, and
not to the distressing of the enemy, very dearly, indeed, must the
nation pay for the prizes. I trust that L60,000 will be deemed a very
moderate sum for them: and when the services, time, and men, with the
expense of fitting the three ships for a voyage to England, are
considered, government will save nearly as much as they are valued at.
Paying for prizes," he continued, "is no new idea of mine, and would
often prove an amazing saving to the state, even without taking into
calculation what the nation loses by the attention of admirals to the
property of the captors; an attention absolutely necessary, as a
recompence for the exertions of the officers and men. An admiral may be
amply rewarded by his own feelings, and by the approbation of his
superiors; but what reward have the inferior officers and men but the
value of the prizes? If an admiral takes that from them, on any
consideration, he cannot expect to be well supported." To Earl St.
Vincent he said, "If he could have been sure that government would have
paid a reasonable value for them, he would have ordered two of the other
prizes to be burnt, for they would cost more in refitting, and by the
loss of ships attending them, than they were worth."
Having sent the six remaining prizes forward, under Sir James
Saumarez, Nelson left Captain Hood, in the ZEALOUS off Alexandria, with
the SWIFTSURE, GOLIATH, Alcmene, ZEALOUS, and EMERALD, and stood out to
sea himself on the seventeenth day after the battle.
1798 - 1800
Nelson returns to Naples--State of that Court and Kingdom--
General Mack--The French approach Naples--Flight of the Royal
Family--Successes of the Allies in Italy--Transactions in the
Bay of Naples--Expulsion of the French from the Neapolitan and
Roman States--Nelson is made Duke of Bronte--He leaves the
Mediterranean and returns to England.
NELSON's health had suffered greatly while he was in the AGAMEMNON.
"My complaint," he said, "is as if a girth were buckled taut over my
breast, and my endeavour in the night is to get it loose." After the
battle of Cape St. Vincent he felt a little rest to be so essential to
his recovery, that he declared he would not continue to serve longer
than the ensuing summer, unless it should be absolutely necessary; for
in his own strong language, he had then been four years and nine months
without one moment's repose for body or mind. A few months'
intermission of labour he had obtained--not of rest, for it was
purchased with the loss of a limb; and the greater part of the time had
been a season of constant pain. As soon as his shattered frame had
sufficiently recovered for him to resume his duties, he was called to
services of greater importance than any on which he had hitherto been
employed, which brought with them commensurate fatigue and care.
The anxiety which he endured during his long pursuit of the enemy,
was rather changed in its direction than abated by their defeat; and
this constant wakefulness of thought, added to the effect of his wound,
and the exertions from which it was not possible for one of so ardent
and wide-reaching a mind to spare himself,nearly proved fatal. On his
way back to Italy he was seized with fever. For eighteen hours his life
was despaired of; and even when the disorder took a favourable turn,
and he was so far recovered as again to appear on deck, he himself
thought that his end was approaching--such was the weakness to which the
fever and cough had reduced him. Writing to Earl St. Vincent on the
passage, he said to him, "I never expect, my dear lord, to see your face
again. It may please God that this will be the finish to that fever of
anxiety which I have endured from the middle of June; but be that as it
pleases his goodness. I am resigned to his will."
The kindest attentions of the warmest friendship were awaiting him at
Naples. "Come here," said Sir William Hamilton, "for God's sake, my dear
friend, as soon as the service will permit you. A pleasant apartment is
ready for you in my house, and Emma is looking out for the softest
pillows to repose the few wearied limbs you have left." Happy would it
have been for Nelson if warm and careful friendship had been all that
waited him there. He himself saw at that time the character of the
Neapolitan court, as it first struck an Englishman, in its true light;
and when he was on the way, he declared that he detested the voyage to
Naples, and that nothing but necessity could have forced him to it. But
never was any hero, on his return from victory, welcomed with more
heartfelt joy. Before the battle of Aboukir the Court at Naples had been
trembling for its existence. The language which the Directory held
towards it was well described by Sir William Hamilton as being exactly
the language of a highwayman. The Neapolitans were told that Benevento
might be added to their dominions, provided they would pay a large sum,
sufficient to satisfy the Directory; and they were warned, that if the
proposal were refused, or even if there were any delay in accepting it,
the French would revolutionise all Italy. The joy, therefore, of the
Court at Nelson's success was in proportion to the dismay from which
that success relieved them. The queen was a daughter of Maria Theresa,
and sister of Maria Antoinette. Had she been the wisest and gentlest of
her sex, it would not have been possible for her to have regarded the
French without hatred and horror; and the progress of revolutionary
opinions, while it perpetually reminded her of her sister's fate,
excited no unreasonable apprehensions for her own. Her feelings,
naturally ardent, and little accustomed to restraint, were excited to
the highest pitch when the news of the victory arrived. Lady Hamilton,
her constant friend and favourite, who was present, says, "It is not
possible to describe her transports; she wept, she kissed her husband,
her children, walked frantically about the room, burst into tears again,
and again kissed and embraced every person near her; exclaiming,"O
brave Nelson! O God! bless and protect our brave deliverer! O Nelson!
Nelson! what do we not owe you! O conqueror--saviour of Italy! O that my
swollen heart could now tell him personally what we owe to him!" She
herself wrote to the Neapolitan ambassador at London upon the occasion,
in terms which show the fulness of her joy, and the height of the hopes
which it had excited. "I wish I could give wings," said she, "to the
bearer of the news, and at the same time to our most sincere gratitude.
The whole of the sea-coast of Italy saved; and this is owing alone to
the generous English. This battle, or, to speak more correctly, this
total defeat of the regicide squadron, was obtained by the valour of
this brave admiral, seconded by a navy which is the terror of its
enemies. The victory is so complete that I can still scarcely believe
it; and if it were not the brave English nation, which is accustomed to
perform prodigies by sea, I could not persuade myself that it had
happened. It would have moved you to have seen all my children, boys and
girls, hanging on my neck, and crying for joy at the happy news.
Recommend the hero to his master: he has filled the whole of Italy with
admiration of the English. Great hopes were entertained of some
advantages being gained by his bravery, but no one could look for so
total a destruction. All here are drunk with joy."
Such being the feelings of the royal family, it may well be supposed
with what delight, and with what honours Nelson would be welcomed. Early
on the 22nd of September the poor wretched VANGUARD, as he called his
shattered vessel, appeared in sight of Naples. The CULLODEN and
ALEXANDER had preceded her by some days, and given notice of her
approach. Many hundred boats and barges were ready to go forth and meet
him, with music and streamers and every demonstration of joy and
triumph. Sir William and Lady Hamilton led the way in their state barge.
They had seen Nelson only for a few days, four years ago, but they then
perceived in him that heroic spirit which was now so fully and
gloriously manifested to the world. Emma Lady Hamilton, who from this
time so greatly influenced his future life, was a woman whose personal
accomplishments have seldom been equalled, and whose powers of mind were
not less fascinating than her person. She was passionately attached to
the queen; and by her influence the British fleet had obtained those
supplies at Syracuse, without which, Nelson always asserted, the battle
of Aboukir could not have been fought. During the long interval which
passed before any tidings were received, her anxiety had been hardly
less than that of Nelson himself, while pursuing an enemy of whom he
could obtain no information; and when the tidings were brought her by a
joyful bearer, open-mouthed, its effect was such that she fell like one
who had been shot. She and Sir William had literally been made ill by
their hopes and fears, and joy at a catastrophe so far exceeding all
that they had dared to hope for. Their admiration for the hero
necessarily produced a degree of proportionate gratitude and affection;
and when their barge came alongside the VANGUARD, at the sight of
Nelson, Lady Hamilton sprang up the ship's side, and exclaiming,"O God!
is it possible!" fell into his arms more, he says, like one dead than
alive. He described the meeting as "terribly affecting." These friends
had scarcely recovered from their tears, when the king, who went out to
meet him three leagues in the royal barge, came on board and took him by
the hand, calling him his deliverer and preserver. From all the boats
around he was saluted with the same appellations: the multitude who
surrounded him when he landed repeated the same enthusiastic cries; and
the lazzaroni displayed their joy by holding up birds in cages, and
giving them their liberty as he passed.
His birth-day, which occurred a week after his arrival, was
celebrated with one of the most splendid fetes ever beheld at Naples.
But, notwithstanding the splendour with which he was encircled, and the
flattering honours with which all ranks welcomed him, Nelson was fully
sensible of the depravity, as well as weakness, of those by whom he was
surrounded. "What precious moments" said he, "the courts of Naples and
Vienna are losing! Three months would liberate Italy! but this court is
so enervated that the happy moment will be lost. I am very unwell; and
their miserable conduct is not likely to cool my irritable temper. It
is a country of fiddlers and poets, whores and scoundrels." This sense
of their ruinous weakness he always retained; nor was he ever blind to
the mingled folly and treachery of the Neapolitan ministers, and the
complication in iniquities under which the country groaned; but he
insensibly, under the influence of Lady Hamilton, formed an affection
for the court, to whose misgovernment the miserable condition of the
country was so greatly to be imputed. By the kindness of her nature, as
well as by her attractions, she had won his heart. Earl St. Vincent,
writing to her at this time, says, "Pray do not let your fascinating
Neapolitan dames approach too near our invaluable friend Nelson, for he
is made of flesh and blood, and cannot resist their temptations." But
this was addressed to the very person from whom he was in danger.
The state of Naples may be described in few words. The king was one
of the Spanish Bourbons. As the Caesars have shown us to what wickedness
the moral nature of princes may be perverted, so in this family, the
degradation to which their intellectual nature can be reduced has been
not less conspicuously evinced. Ferdinand, like the rest of his race,
was passionately fond of field sports, and cared for nothing else. His
queen had all the vices of the house of Austria, with little to
mitigate, and nothing to ennoble them--provided she could have her
pleasures, and the king his sports, they cared not in what manner the
revenue was raised or administered. Of course a system of favouritism
existed at court, and the vilest and most impudent corruption prevailed
in every department of state, and in every branch of administration,
from the highest to the lowest. It is only the institutions of
Christianity, and the vicinity of better-regulated states, which prevent
kingdoms, under such circumstances of misrule, from sinking into a
barbarism like that of Turkey. A sense of better things was kept alive
in some of the Neapolitans by literature, and by their intercourse with
happier countries. These persons naturally looked to France, at the
commencement of the Revolution, and during all the horrors of that
Revolution still cherished a hope that, by the aid of France, they might
be enabled to establish a new order of things in Naples. They were
grievously mistaken in supposing that the principles of liberty would
ever be supported by France, but they were not mistaken in believing
that no government could be worse than their own; and therefore they
considered any change as desirable. In this opinion men of the most
different characters agreed. Many of the nobles, who were not in favour,
wished for a revolution, that they might obtain the ascendancy to which
they thought themselves entitled; men of desperate fortunes desired it,
in the hope of enriching themselves; knaves and intriguers sold
themselves to the French to promote it; and a few enlightened men, and
true lovers of their country, joined in the same cause, from the purest
and noblest motives. All these were confounded under the common name of
Jacobins; and the Jacobins of the continental kingdoms were regarded by
the English with more hatred than they deserved. They were classed with
Phillippe Egalite, Marat, and Hebert; whereas they deserved rather to be
ranked, if not with Locke, and Sydney, and Russell, at least with Argyle
and Monmouth, and those who, having the same object as the prime movers
of our own Revolution, failed in their premature but not unworthy
No circumstances could be more unfavourable to the best interests of
Europe, than those which placed England in strict alliance with the
superannuated and abominable governments of the continent. The subjects
of those governments who wished for freedom thus became enemies to
England, and dupes and agents of France. They looked to their own
grinding grievances, and did not see the danger with which the liberties
of the world were threatened. England, on the other hand, saw the danger
in its true magnitude, but was blind to these grievances, and found
herself compelled to support systems which had formerly been equally the
object of her abhorrence and her contempt. This was the state of
Nelson's mind; he knew that there could be no peace for Europe till the
pride of France was humbled, and her strength broken; and he regarded
all those who were the friends of France as traitors to the common
cause, as well as to their own individual sovereigns. There are
situations in which the most opposite and hostile parties may mean
equally well, and yet act equally wrong. The court of Naples,
unconscious of committing any crime by continuing the system of misrule
to which they had succeeded, conceived that, in maintaining things as
they were, they were maintaining their own rights, and preserving the
people from such horrors as had been perpetrated in France. The
Neapolitan revolutionists thought that without a total change of system,
any relief from the present evils was impossible, and they believed
themselves justified in bringing about that change by any means. Both
parties knew that it was the fixed intention of the French to
revolutionise Naples. The revolutionists supposed that it was for the
purpose of establishing a free government; the court, and all
disinterested persons, were perfectly aware that the enemy had no other
object than conquest and plunder.
The battle of the Nile shook the power of France. Her most
successful general, and her finest army, were blocked up in Egypt--
hopeless, as it appeared, of return; and the government was in the hands
of men without talents, without character, and divided among themselves.
Austria, whom Buonaparte had terrified into a peace, at a time when
constancy on her part would probably have led to his destruction, took
advantage of the crisis to renew the war. Russia also was preparing to
enter the field with unbroken forces, led by a general, whose
extraordinary military genius would have entitled him to a high and
honourable rank in history, if it had not been sullied by all the
ferocity of a barbarian. Naples, seeing its destruction at hand, and
thinking that the only means of averting it was by meeting the danger,
after long vacillations, which were produced by the fears and treachery
of its council, agreed at last to join this new coalition with a
numerical force of 80,000 men. Nelson told the king, in plain terms,
that he had his choice, either to advance, trusting to God for his
blessing on a just cause, and prepared to die sword in hand, or to
remain quiet, and be kicked out of his kingdom; one of these things must
happen. The king made answer he would go on, and trust in God and
Nelson; and Nelson, who would else have returned to Egypt, for the
purpose of destroying the French shipping in Alexandria, gave up his
intention at the desire of the Neapolitan court, and resolved to. remain
on that station, in the hope that he might be useful to the movements of
the army. He suspected also, with reason, that the continuance of his
fleet was so earnestly requested, because the royal family thought
their persons would be safer, in case of any mishap, under the British
flag, than under their own.
His first object was the recovery of Malta--an island which the King
of Naples pretended to claim. The Maltese, whom the villanous knights of
their order had betrayed to France, had taken up arms against their
rapacious invaders, with a spirit and unanimity worthy of the highest
praise. They blockaded the French garrison by land, and a small
squadron, under Captain Ball, began to blockade them by sea, on the 12th
of October. Twelve days afterwards Nelson arrived. "It is as I
suspected," he says: "the ministers at Naples know nothing of the
situation of the island. Not a house or bastion of the town is in
possession of the islanders: and the Marquis de Niza tells us they want
arms, victuals, and support. He does not know that any Neapolitan
officers are on the island; perhaps, although I have their names, none
are arrived; and it is very certain, by the marquis's account, that no
supplies have been sent by the governors of Syracuse and Messina." The
little island of Gozo, dependent upon Malta, which had also been seized
and garrisoned by the French, capitulated soon after his arrival, and
was taken possession of by the British, in the name of his Sicilian
Majesty--a power who had no better claim to it than France. Having seen
this effected, and reinforced Captain Ball, he left that able officer to
perform a most arduous and important part, and returned himself to cooperate
with the intended movements of the Neapolitans.
General Mack was at the head of the Neapolitan troops. All that is
now doubtful concerning this man is, whether he was a coward or a
traitor. At that time he was assiduously extolled as a most consummate
commander, to whom Europe might look for deliverance. And when he was
introduced by the king and queen to the British admiral, the queen said
to him, "Be to us by land, general, what my hero Nelson has been by
sea." Mack, on his part, did not fail to praise the force which he was
appointed to command. "It was," he said,"the finest army in Europe."
Nelson agreed with him that there could not be finer men; but when the
general, at a review, so directed the operations of a mock fight, that
by an unhappy blunder his own troops were surrounded, instead of those
of the enemy, he turned to his friends and exclaimed with bitterness,
that the fellow did not understand his business. Another circumstance,
not less characteristic, confirmed Nelson in his judgment. "General
Mack:" said he, in one of his letters, "cannot move without five
carriages! I have formed my opinion. I heartily pray I may be mistaken."
While Mack, at the head of 32,000 men, marched into the Roman state,
5000 Neapolitans were embarked on board the British and Portuguese
squadron, to take possession of Leghorn. This was effected without
opposition; and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, whose neutrality had been so
outrageously violated by the French, was better satisfied with the
measure than some of the Neapolitans themselves. Nasseli, their
general, refused to seize the French vessels at Leghorn, because he and
the Duke di Sangro, who was ambassador at the Tuscan court, maintained
that the king of Naples was not at war with France. "What!" said
Nelson, "has not the king received, as a conquest made by him, the
republican flag taken at Gozo? Is not his own flag flying there, and at
Malta, not only by his permission, but by his order? Is not his flag
shot at every day by the French, and their shot returned from batteries
which bear that flag? Are not two frigates and a corvette placed under
my orders ready to fight the French, meet them where they may? Has not
the king sent publicly from Naples guns, mortars, &c., with officers and
artillery, against the French in Malta? If these acts are not tantamount
to any written paper, I give up all knowledge of what is war." This
reasoning was of less avail than argument addressed to the general's
fears. Nelson told him that, if he permitted the many hundred French who
were then in the mole to remain neutral, till they had a fair
opportunity of being active, they had one sure resource, if all other
schemes failed, which was to set one vessel on fire; the mole would be
destroyed, probably the town also, and the port ruined for twenty years.
This representation made Naselli agree to the half measure of laying an
embargo on the vessels; among them were a great number of French
privateers, some of which were of such force as to threaten the greatest
mischief to our commerce, and about seventy sail of vessels belonging to
the Ligurian republic, as Genoa was now called, laden with corn, and
ready to sail for Genoa and France; where their arrival would have
expedited the entrance of more French troops into Italy. "The general,"
said Nelson, "saw, I believe, the consequence of permitting these
vessels to depart, in the same light as myself; but there is this
difference between us: he prudently, and certainly safely, waits the
orders of his court, taking no responsibility upon himself; I act from
the circumstances of the moment, as I feel may be most advantageous for
the cause which I serve, taking all responsibility on myself." It was in
vain to hope for anything vigorous or manly from such men as Nelson was
compelled to act with. The crews of the French ships and their allies
were ordered to depart in two days. Four days elapsed and nobody obeyed
the order; nor, in spite of the representations of the British minister,
Mr. Wyndham, were any means taken to enforce it: the true Neapolitan
shuffle, as Nelson called it, took place on all occasions. After an
absence of ten days he returned to Naples; and receiving intelligence
there from Mr. Wyndham that the privateers were at last to be disarmed,
the corn landed, and the crews sent away, he expressed his satisfaction
at the news in characteristic language, saying, "So far I am content.
The enemy will be distressed; and, thank God, I shall get no money. The
world, I know, think that money is our god; and now they will be
undeceived as far as relates to us. Down, down with the French! is my
constant prayer."
Odes, sonnets, and congratulatory poems of every description were
poured in upon Nelson on his arrival at Naples. An Irish Franciscan, who
was one of the poets, not being content with panegyric upon this
occasion, ventured on a flight of prophecy, and predicted that Lord
Nelson would take Rome with his ships. His lordship reminded Father
M'Cormick that ships could not ascend the Tiber; but the father, who had
probably forgotten this circumstance, met the objection with a bold
front, and declared he saw that it would come to pass notwithstanding.
Rejoicings of this kind were of short duration. The King of Naples was
with the army which had entered Rome; but the castle of St. Angelo was
held by the French, and 13,000 French were strongly posted in the Roman
states at Castallana. Mack had marched against them with 20,000 men.
Nelson saw that the event was doubtful, or rather that there could be
very little hope of the result. But the immediate fate of Naples, as he
well knew, hung upon the issue. "If Mack is defeated," said he, "in
fourteen days this country is lost; for the emperor has not yet moved
his army, and Naples has not the power of resisting the enemy. It was
not a case for choice, but of necessity, which induced the king to march
out of his kingdom, and not wait till the French had collected a force
sufficient to drive him out of it in a week." He had no reliance upon
the Neapolitan officers, who, as he described them, seemed frightened at
a drawn sword or a loaded gun; and he was perfectly aware of the
consequences which the sluggish movements and deceitful policy of the
Austrians were likely to bring down upon themselves and all their
continental allies. "A delayed war on the part of the emperor," said he,
writing to the British minister at Vienna, "will be destructive to this
monarchy of Naples; and, of course, to the newly-acquired dominions of
the Emperor in Italy. Had the war commenced in September or October, all
Italy would, at this moment, have been liberated. This month is worse
than the last; the next will render the contest doubtful; and, in six
months, when the Neapolitan republic will be organised, armed, and with
its numerous resources called forth, the emperor will not only be
defeated in Italy, but will totter on his throne at Vienna. DOWN, DOWN
WITH THE FRENCH! ought to be written in the council-room of every
country in the world; and may Almighty God give right thoughts to every
sovereign, is my constant prayer!" His perfect foresight of the
immediate event was clearly shown in this letter, when he desired the
ambassador to assure the empress (who was a daughter of the house of
Naples) that, notwithstanding the councils which had shaken the throne
of her father and mother, he would remain there, ready to save their
persons, and her brothers and sisters; and that he had also left ships
at Leghorn to save the lives of the grand duke and her sister: "For
all," said he, "must be a republic, if the emperor does not act with
expedition and vigour."
His fears were soon verified. "The Neapolitan officers," said
Nelson, "did not lose much honour, for, God knows, they had not much to
lose; but they lost all they had." General St. Philip commanded the
right wing, of 19,000 men. He fell in with 3000 of the enemy; and, as
soon as he came near enough, deserted to them. One of his men had virtue
enough to level a musket at him, and shot him through the arm; but the
wound was not sufficient to prevent him from joining with the French in
pursuit of his own countrymen. Cannon, tents, baggage, and military
chest, were all forsaken by the runaways, though they lost only forty
men; for the French having put them to flight and got possession of
everything, did not pursue an army of more than three times their own
number. The main body of the Neapolitans, under Mack, did not behave
better. The king returned to Naples, where every day brought with it
tidings of some new disgrace from the army and the discovery of some new
treachery at home; till, four days after his return, the general sent
him advice that there was no prospect of stopping the progress of the
enemy, and that the royal family must look to their own personal safety.
The state of the public mind at Naples was such, at this time, that
neither the British minister nor the British Admiral thought it prudent
to appear at court. Their motions were watched; and the revolutionists
had even formed a plan for seizing and detaining them as hostages, to
prevent an attack on the city after the French should have taken
possession of it. A letter which Nelson addressed at this time to the
First Lord of the Admiralty, shows in what manner he contemplated the
possible issue of the storm. it was in these words:--"My dear lord,
there is an old saying, that when things are at the worst they must
mend: now the mind of man cannot fancy things worse than they are here.
But, thank God! my health is better, my mind never firmer, and my heart
in the right trim to comfort, relieve, and protect those whom it is my
duty to afford assistance to. Pray, my lord, assure our gracious
sovereign that while I live, I will support his glory; and that if I
fall, it shall be in a manner worthy of your lordship's faithful and
obliged Nelson. I must not write more. Every word may be a text for a
long letter."
Meantime Lady Hamilton arranged every thing for the removal of the
royal family. This was conducted on her part with the greatest address,
and without suspicion, because she had been in habits of constant
correspondence with the queen. It was known that the removal could not
be effected without danger; for the mob, and especially the lazzaroni,
were attached to the king; and as at this time they felt a natural
presumption in their own numbers and strength, they insisted that he
should not leave Naples. Several persons fell victims to their fury;
among others was a messenger from Vienna, whose body was dragged under
the windows of the palace in the king's sight. The king and queen spoke
to the mob, and pacified them; but it would not have been safe, while
they were in this agitated state, to have embarked the effects of the
royal family openly. Lady Hamilton, like a heroine of modern romance,
explored with no little danger a subterraneous passage leading from the
palace to the sea-side: through this passage the royal treasures, the
choicest pieces of painting and sculpture, and other property to the
amount of two millions and a half, were conveyed to the shore, and
stowed safely on board the English ships. On the night. of the 21st, at
half-past eight, Nelson landed, brought out the whole royal family,
embarked them in three barges, and carried them safely, through a
tremendous sea, to the VANGUARD. Notice was then immediately given to
the British merchants, that they would be received on board any ships in
the squadron. Their property had previously been embarked in transports.
Two days were passed in the bay, for the purpose of taking such persons
on board as required an asylum; and, on the night of the 23rd, the fleet
sailed. The next day a more violent storm arose than Nelson had ever
before encountered. On the 25th, the youngest of the princes was taken
ill, and died in Lady Hamilton's arms. During this whole trying season,
Lady Hamilton waited upon the royal family with the zeal of the most
devoted servant, at a time when, except one man, no person belonging to
the court assisted them.
On the morning of the 26th the royal family were landed at Palermo.
It was soon seen that their flight had not been premature. Prince
Pignatelli, who had been left as vicar-general and viceroy, with orders
to defend the kingdom to the last rock in Calabria, sent
plenipotentiaries to the French camp before Capua; and they, for the
sake of saving the capital, signed an armistice, by which the greater
part of the kingdom was given up to the enemy: a cession that
necessarily led to the loss of the whole. This was on the 10th of
January. The French advanced towards Naples. Mack, under pretext of
taking shelter from the fury of the lazzaroni, fled to the French
General Championet, who sent him under an escort to Milan; but as France
hoped for further services from this wretched traitor, it was thought
prudent to treat him apparently as a prisoner of war. The Neapolitan
army disappeared in a few days: of the men, some, following their
officers, deserted to the enemy; the greater part took the opportunity
of disbanding themselves. The lazzaroni proved true to their country;
they attacked the enemy's advanced posts, drove them in, and were not
dispirited by the murderous defeat which they suffered from the main
body. Flying into the city, they continued to defend it, even after the
French had planted their artillery in the principal streets. Had there
been a man of genius to have directed their enthusiasm, or had there
been any correspondent feelings in the higher ranks, Naples might have
set a glorious example to Europe, and have proved the grave of every
Frenchman who entered it. But the vices of the government had
extinguished all other patriotism than that of the rabble, who had no
other than that sort of loyalty which was like the fidelity of a dog to
its master. This fidelity the French and their adherents counteracted by
another kind of devotion: the priests affirmed that St. Januarius had
declared in favour of the revolution. The miracle of his blood was
performed with the usual success, and more than usual effect, on the
very evening when, after two days of desperate fighting, the French
obtained possession of Naples. A French guard of honour was stationed at
his church. Championet gave, "Respect for St. Januarius!" as the word
for the army; and the next day TE DEUM was sung by the archbishop in the
cathedral; and the inhabitants were invited to attend the ceremony, and
join in thanksgiving for the glorious entry of the French; who, it was
said, being under the peculiar protection of Providence, had
regenerated the Neapolitans, and were come to establish and consolidate
their happiness.
It seems to have been Nelson's opinion that the Austrian cabinet
regarded the conquest of Naples with complacency, and that its measures
were directed so as designedly not to prevent the French from
overrunning it. That cabinet was assuredly capable of any folly, and of
any baseness; and it is not improbable that at this time, calculating
upon the success of the new coalition, it indulged a dream of adding
extensively to its former Italian possessions; and, therefore, left the
few remaining powers of Italy to be overthrown, as a means which would
facilitate its own ambitious views. The King of Sardinia, finding it
impossible longer to endure the exactions of France and the insults of
the French commissary, went to Leghorn, embarked on board a Danish
frigate, and sailed, under British protection, to Sardinia--that part of
his dominions which the maritime supremacy of England rendered a secure
asylum. On his arrival he published a protest against the conduct of
France, declaring, upon the faith and word of a king, that he had never
infringed, even in the slightest degree, the treaties which he had made
with the French republic. Tuscany was soon occupied by French troops--a
fate which bolder policy might, perhaps, have failed to avert, but which
its weak and timid neutrality rendered inevitable. Nelson began to fear
even for Sicily. "Oh, my dear sir," said he, writing to Commodore
Duckworth, "one thousand English troops would save Messina; and I fear
General Stuart cannot give me men to save this most important island!"
But his representations were not lost upon Sir Charles Stuart. This
officer hastened immediately from Minorca with 1000 men, assisted in the
measures of defence which were taken, and did not return before he had
satisfied himself that, if the Neapolitans were excluded from the
management of affairs, and the spirit of the peasantry properly
directed, Sicily was safe. Before his coming, Nelson had offered the
king, if no resources should arrive, to defend Messina with the ship's
company of an English man-of-war.
Russia had now entered into the war. Corfu, surrendered to a Russian
and Turkish fleet, acting now, for the first time, in strange
confederacy yet against a power which was certainly the common and worst
enemy of both. Troubridge having given up the blockade of Alexandria to
Sir Sidney Smith, joined Nelson, bringing with him a considerable
addition of strength; and in himself what Nelson valued more, a man,
upon whose sagacity, indefatigable zeal, and inexhaustible resources, he
could place full reliance. Troubridge was intrusted to commence the
operations against the French in the bay of Naples. Meantime Cardinal
Ruffo, a man of questionable character, but of a temper fitted for such
times, having landed in Calabria, raised what he called a Christian
army, composed of the best and the vilest materials--loyal peasants,
enthusiastic priests and friars, galley slaves, the emptying of the
jails, and banditti. The islands in the bay of Naples were joyfully
delivered up by the inhabitants, who were in a state of famine already,
from the effect of this baleful revolution. Troubridge distributed among
them all his flour, and Nelson pressed the Sicilian court incessantly
for supplies; telling them that L10,000 given away in provisions would,
at this time, purchase a kingdom. Money, he was told, they had not to
give; and the wisdom and integrity which might have supplied its wants
were not to be found. "There is nothing," said he, "which I propose, that
is not, so far as orders go, implicitly complied with; but the execution
is dreadful, and almost makes me mad. My desire to serve their majesties
faithfully, as is my duty, has been such that I am almost blind and worn
out; and cannot in my present state hold out much longer."
Before any government can be overthrown by the consent of the people,
the government must be intolerably oppressive, or the people thoroughly
corrupted. Bad as the misrule at Naples had been, its consequences had
been felt far less there than in Sicily; and the peasantry had that
attachment to the soil which gives birth to so many of the noblest as
well as of the happiest feelings. In all the islands the people were
perfectly frantic with joy when they saw the Neapolitan colours hoisted.
At Procida, Troubridge could not procure even a rag of the tri-coloured
flag to lay at the king's feet: it was rent into ten thousand pieces by
the inhabitants, and entirely destroyed. "The horrid treatment of the
French," he said, "had made them mad." It exasperated the ferocity of a
character which neither the laws nor the religion under which they lived
tended to mitigate. Their hatred was especially directed against the
Neapolitan revolutionists; and the fishermen, in concert among
themselves, chose each his own victim, whom he would stiletto when the
day of vengeance should arrive. The head of one was sent off one morning
to Troubridge, with his basket of grapes for breakfast; and a note from
the Italian who had, what he called, the glory of presenting it, saying,
he had killed the man as he was running away, and begging his
excellency to accept the head, and consider it as a proof of the
writer's attachment to the crown. With the first successes of the court
the work of punishment began. The judge at Ischia said it was necessary
to have a bishop to degrade the traitorous priests before he could
execute them; upon which Troubridge advised him to hang them first, and
send them to him afterwards, if he did not think that degradation
sufficient. This was said with the straightforward feeling of a sailor,
who cared as little for canon-law as he knew about it; but when he
discovered that the judge's orders were to go through the business in a
summary manner, under his sanction, he told him at once that could not
be, for the prisoners were not British subjects; and he declined having
anything to do with it. There were manifestly persons about the court,
who, while they thirsted for the pleasure of vengeance, were devising
how to throw the odium of it upon the English. They wanted to employ an
English man-of-war to carry the priests to Palermo for degradation, and
then bring them back for execution; and they applied to Troubridge for
a hangman, which he indignantly refused. He, meantime, was almost heartbroken
by the situation in which he found himself. He had promised
relief to the islanders, relying upon the queen's promise to him. He had
distributed the whole of his private stock,--there was plenty of grain
at Palermo, and in its neighbourhood, and yet none was sent him: the
enemy, he complained, had more interest there than the king; and the
distress for bread which he witnessed was such, he said, that it would
move even a Frenchman to pity.
Nelson's heart, too, was at this time a-shore. "To tell you," he
says, writing to Lady Hamilton, "how dreary and uncomfortable the
VANGUARD appears, is only telling you what it is to go from the
pleasantest society to a solitary cell, or from the dearest friends to
no friends. I am now perfectly the GREAT MAN--not a creature near me.
>From my heart I wish myself the little man again. You and good Sir
William have spoiled me for any place but with you."
His mind was not in a happier state respecting public affairs. "As to
politics," said he, "at this time they are my abomination: the ministers
of kings and princes are as great scoundrels as ever lived. The brother
of the emperor is just going to marry the great Something of Russia, and
it is more than expected that a kingdom is to be found for him in Italy,
and that the king of Naples will be sacrificed." Had there been a wise
and manly spirit in the Italian states, or had the conduct of Austria
been directed by anything like a principle of honour, a more favourable
opportunity could not have been desired for restoring order and
prosperity in Europe, than the misconduct of the French Directory at
this time afforded. But Nelson perceived selfishness and knavery
wherever he looked; and even the pleasure of seeing a cause prosper, in
which he was so zealously engaged, was poisoned by his sense of the
rascality of those with whom he was compelled to act. At this juncture
intelligence arrived that the French fleet had escaped from Brest, under
cover of a fog, passed Cadiz unseen by Lord Keith's squadron, in hazy
weather, and entered the Mediterranean. It was said to consist of
twenty-four sail of the line, six frigates, and three sloops. The object
of the French was to liberate the Spanish fleet, form a junction with
them, act against Minorca and Sicily, and overpower our naval force in
the Mediterranean, by falling in with detached squadrons, and thus
destroying it in detail. When they arrived off Carthagena, they
requested the Spanish ships to make sail and join; but the Spaniards
replied they had not men to man them. To this it was answered that the
French had men enough on board for that purpose. But the Spaniards seem
to have been apprehensive of delivering up their ships thus entirely
into the power of such allies, and refused to come out. The fleet from
Cadiz, however, consisting of from seventeen to twenty sail of the line,
got out, under Masaredo, a man who then bore an honourable name, which
he has since rendered infamous by betraying his country. They met with a
violent storm off the coast of Oran, which dismasted many of their
ships, and so effectually disabled them as to prevent the junction, and
frustrate a well-planned expedition.
Before this occurred, and while the junction was as probable as it
would have been formidable, Nelson was in a state of the greatest
anxiety. "What a state am I in!" said he to Earl St. Vincent. "If I go,
I risk, and more than risk, Sicily; for we know, from experience, that
more depends upon opinion than upon acts themselves; and, as I stay, my
heart is breaking." His first business was to summon Troubridge to join
him, with all the ships of the line under his command, and a frigate,
if possible. Then hearing that the French had entered the Mediterranean,
and expecting them at Palermo, where he had only his own ship--with that
single ship he prepared to make all the resistance possible. Troubridge
having joined him, he left Captain E. J. Foote, of the SEAHORSE, to
command the smaller vessels in the bay of Naples, and sailed with six
ships--one a Portuguese, and a Portuguese corvette--telling Earl St.
Vincent that the squadron should never fall into the hands of the enemy.
"And before we are destroyed," said he, "I have little doubt but they
will have their wings so completely clipped that they may be easily
overtaken." It was just at this time that he received from Captain
Hallowell the present of the coffin. Such a present was regarded by the
men with natural astonishment. One of his old shipmates in the AGAMEMNON
said, "We shall have hot work of it indeed! You see the admiral intends
to fight till he is killed; and there he is to be buried." Nelson placed
it upright against the bulkhead of his cabin, behind his chair, where he
sat at dinner. The gift suited him at this time. It is said that he was
disappointed in the step-son whom he had loved so dearly from his
childhood, and who had saved his life at Teneriffe; and it is certain
that he had now formed an infatuated attachment for Lady Hamilton, which
totally weaned his affections from his wife. Farther than this, there is
no reason to believe that this most unfortunate attachment was criminal;
but this was criminality enough, and it brought with it its punishment.
Nelson was dissatisfied with himself, and therefore weary of the world.
This feeling he now frequently expressed. "There is no true happiness in
this life," said he, "and in my present state I could quit it with a
smile." And in a letter to his old friend Davison he said, "Believe me,
my only wish is to sink with honour into the grave; and when that shall
please God, I shall meet death with a smile. Not that I am insensible to
the honours and riches my king and country have heaped upon me--so much
more than any officer could deserve; yet am I ready to quit this world
of trouble, and envy none but those of the estate six feet by two."
Well had it been for Nelson if he had made no other sacrifices to
this unhappy attachment than his peace of mind; but it led to the only
blot upon his public character. While he sailed from Palermo, with the
intention of collecting his whole force, and keeping off Maretimo,
either to receive reinforcements there if the French were bound upwards,
or to hasten to Minorca if that should be their destination, Captain
Foote, in the Sea-horse, with the Neapolitan frigates, and some small
vessels, under his command, was left to act with a land force consisting
of a few regular troops, of four different nations, and with the armed
rabble which Cardinal Ruffo called the Christian army. His directions
were to co-operate to the utmost of his power with the royalists, at
whose head Ruffo had been placed, and he had no other instructions
whatever. Ruffo advancing without any plan, but relying upon the
enemy's want of numbers, which prevented them from attempting to act
upon the offensive, and ready to take advantage of any accident which
might occur, approached Naples. Fort St. Elmo, which commands the town,
was wholly garrisoned by the French troops; the castles of Uovo and
Nuovo, which commanded the anchorage, were chiefly defended by
Neapolitan revolutionists, the powerful men among them having taken
shelter there. If these castles were taken, the reduction of Fort St.
Elmo would be greatly expedited. They were strong places, and there was
reason to apprehend that the French fleet might arrive to relieve them.
Ruffo proposed to the garrison to capitulate, on condition that their
persons and property should be guaranteed, and that they should, at
their own option, either be sent to Toulon or remain at Naples, without
being molested either in their persons or families. This capitulation
was accepted: it was signed by the cardinal, and the Russian and Turkish
commanders; and lastly, by Captain Foote, as commander of the British
force. About six-and-thirty hours afterwards Nelson arrived in the bay
with a force which had joined him during his cruise, consisting of
seventeen sail of the line, with 1700 troops on board, and the Prince
Royal of Naples in the admiral's ship. A flag of truce was flying on the
castles, and on board the SEAHORSE. Nelson made a signal to annul the
treaty; declaring that he would grant rebels no other terms than those
of unconditional submission. The cardinal objected to this: nor could
all the arguments of Nelson, Sir W. Hamilton, and Lady Hamilton, who
took an active part in the conference, convince him that a treaty of
such a nature, solemnly concluded, could honourably be set aside. He
retired at last, silenced by Nelson's authority, but not convinced.
Captain Foote was sent out of the bay; and the garrisons, taken out of
the castles under pretence of carrying the treaty into effect, were
delivered over as rebels to the vengeance of the Sicilian court. A
deplorable transaction! a stain upon the memory of Nelson and the honour
of England! To palliate it would be in vain; to justify it would be
wicked: there is no alternative, for one who will not make himself a
participator in guilt, but to record the disgraceful story with sorrow
and with shame.
Prince Francesco Caraccioli, a younger branch of one of the noblest
Neapolitan families, escaped from one of these castles before it
capitulated. He was at the head of the marine, and was nearly seventy
years of age, bearing a high character, both for professional and
personal merit. He had accompanied the court to Sicily; but when the
revolutionary government, or Parthenopean Republic, as it was called,
issued an edict, ordering all absent Neapolitans to return on pain of
confiscation of their property, he solicited and obtained permission of
the king to return, his estates being very great. It is said that the
king, when he granted him this permission, warned him not to take any
part in politics; expressing at the same time his own persuasion that he
should recover his kingdom. But neither the king, nor he himself, ought
to have imagined that, in such times, a man of such reputation would be
permitted to remain inactive; and it soon appeared that Caraccioli was
again in command of the navy, and serving under the republic against his
late sovereign. The sailors reported that he was forced to act thus; and
this was believed, till it was seen that he directed ably the offensive
operations of the revolutionists, and did not avail himself of
opportunities for escaping when they offered. When the recovery of
Naples was evidently near, he applied to Cardinal Ruffo, and to the Duke
of Calvirrano, for protection; expressing his hope that the few days
during which he had been forced to obey the French would not outweigh
forty years of faithful services; but perhaps not receiving such
assurances as he wished, and knowing too well the temper of the Sicilian
court, he endeavoured to secrete himself, and a price was set upon his
head. More unfortunately for others than for himself, he was brought in
alive, having been discovered in the disguise of a peasant, and carried
one morning on board Lord Nelson's ship, with his hands tied behind him.
Caraccioli was well known to the British officers, and had been ever
highly esteemed by all who knew him. Captain Hardy ordered him immediately
to be unbound, and to be treated with all those attentions which
he felt due to a man who, when last on board the FOUDROYANT, had been
received as an admiral and a prince. Sir William and Lady Hamilton were
in the ship; but Nelson, it is affirmed, saw no one except his own
officers during the tragedy which ensued. His own determination was
made; and he issued an order to the Neapolitan commodore, Count Thurn,
to assemble a court-martial of Neapolitan officers, on board the British
flag-ship, proceed immediately to try the prisoner, and report to him,
if the charges were proved, what punishment he ought to suffer. These
proceedings were as rapid as possible; Caraccioli was brought on board
at nine in the forenoon, and the trial began at ten. It lasted two
hours: he averred in his defence that he had acted under compulsion,
having been compelled to serve as a common soldier, till he consented to
take command of the fleet. This, the apologists of Lord Nelson say, he
failed in proving. They forget that the possibility of proving it was
not allowed him, for he was brought to trial within an hour after he was
legally in arrest; and how, in that time, was he to collect his
witnesses? He was found guilty, and sentenced to death; and Nelson gave
orders that the sentence should be carried into effect that evening, at
five o'clock, on board the Sicilian frigate, LA MINERVA, by hanging him
at the fore-yard-arm till sunset; when the body was to be cut down and
thrown into the sea. Caraccioli requested Lieut. Parkinson, under whose
custody he was placed, to intercede with Lord Nelson for a second
trial--for this, among other reasons, that Count Thurn, who presided at
the court-martial, was notoriously his personal enemy. Nelson made
answer, that the prisoner had been fairly tried by the officers of his
own country, and he could not interfere; forgetting that, if he felt
himself justified in ordering the trial and the execution, no human
being could ever have questioned the propriety of his interfering on the
side of mercy. Caraccioli then entreated that he might be shot. "I am
an old man, sir," said he: "I leave no family to lament me, and
therefore cannot be supposed to be very anxious about prolonging my
life; but the disgrace of being hanged is dreadful to me." When this was
repeated to Nelson, he only told the lieutenant, with much agitation, to
go and attend his duty. As a last hope, Caraccioli asked the lieutenant
if he thought an application to Lady Hamilton would be beneficial?
Parkinson went to seek her; she was not to be seen on this occasion;
but she was present at the execution. She had the most devoted
attachment to the Neapolitan court; and the hatred which she felt
against those whom she regarded as its enemies, made her at this time
forget what was due to the character of her sex as well as of her
country. Here, also, a faithful historian is called upon to pronounce a
severe and unqualified condemnation of Nelson's conduct. Had he the
authority of his Sicilian majesty for proceeding as he did? If so, why
was not that authority produced? If not, why were the proceedings
hurried on without it? Why was the trial precipitated, so that it was
impossible for the prisoner, if he had been innocent, to provide the
witnesses, who might have proved him so? Why was a second trial refused,
when the known animosity of the president of the court against the
prisoner was considered? Why was the execution hastened, so as to
preclude any appeal for mercy, and render the prerogative of mercy
useless? Doubtless, the British Admiral seemed to himself to be acting
under a rigid sense of justice; but to all other persons it was obvious
that he was influenced by an infatuated attachment--a baneful passion,
which destroyed his domestic happiness, and now, in a second instance,
stained ineffaceably his public character.
The body was carried out to a considerable distance, and sunk in the
bay, with three double-headed shot, weighing 250 lbs., tied to its legs.
Between two or three weeks afterward, when the king was on board the
FOUDROYANT, a Neapolitan fisherman came to the ship, and solemnly
declared that Caraccioli had risen from the bottom of the sea, and was
coming as fast as he could to Naples, swimming half out of the water.
Such an account was listened to like a tale of idle credulity. The day
being fair, Nelson, to please the king, stood out to sea; but the ship
had not proceeded far before a body was distinctly seen, upright in the
water, and approaching them. It was soon recognised to be indeed the
corpse of Caraccioli, which had risen and floated, while the great
weights attached to the legs kept the body in a position like that of a
living man. A fact so extraordinary astonished the king, and perhaps
excited some feeling of superstitious fear, akin to regret. He gave
permission for the body to be taken on shore and receive Christian
burial. It produced no better effect. Naples exhibited more dreadful
scenes than it had witnessed in the days of Massaniello. After the mob
had had their fill of blood and plunder, the reins were given to
justice--if that can be called justice which annuls its own
stipulations, looks to the naked facts alone, disregarding all motives
and all circumstances; and without considering character, or science, or
sex, or youth, sacrifices its victims, not for the public weal, but for
the gratification of greedy vengeance.
The castles of St. Elmo, Gaieta, and Capua remained to be subdued.
On the land side there was no danger that the French in these garrisons
should be relieved, for Suvarof was now beginning to drive the enemy
before him; but Nelson thought his presence necessary in the bay of
Naples: and when Lord Keith, having received intelligence that the
French and Spanish fleets had formed a junction, and sailed for
Carthagena, ordered him to repair to Minorca with the whole or the
greater part of his force, he sent Admiral Duckworth with a small part
only. This was a dilemma which he had foreseen. "Should such an order
come at this moment," he said, in a letter previously written to the
Admiralty, "it would be a case for some consideration, whether Minorca
is to be risked, or the two kingdoms of Naples and Sicily; I rather
think my decision would be to risk the former." And after he had acted
upon this opinion, he wrote in these terms to the Duke of Clarence, with
whose high notions of obedience he was well acquainted: "I am well
aware of the consequences of disobeying my orders; but as I have often
before risked my life for the good cause, so I with cheerfulness did my
commission; for although a military tribunal may think me criminal, the
world will approve of my conduct; and I regard not my own safety when
the honour of my king is at stake."
Nelson was right in his judgment: no attempt was made on Minorca: and
the expulsion of the French from Naples may rather be said to have been
effected than accelerated by the English and Portuguese of the allied
fleet, acting upon shore, under Troubridge. The French commandant at St.
Elmo, relying upon the strength of the place, and the nature of the
force which attacked it, had insulted Captain Foote in the grossest
terms; but CITOYEN Mejan was soon taught better manners, when Troubridge,
in spite of every obstacle, opened five batteries upon the fort.
He was informed that none of his letters, with the insolent printed
words at the top, LIBERTE EQALITE, GUERRE AUX TYRANS, &c. would be
received; but that if he wrote like a soldier and a gentleman he would
be answered in the same style. The Frenchman then began to flatter his
antagonist upon the BIENFAISANCE and HUMANITE which, he said, were the
least of the many virtues which distinguished Monsieur Troubridge.
Monsieur Troubridge's BIENFAISANCE was at this time thinking of mining
the fort. "If we can accomplish that," said he,"I am a strong advocate
to send them, hostages and all, to Old Nick, and surprise him with a
group of nobility and republicans. Meantime," he added,"it was some
satisfaction to perceive that the shells fell well, and broke some of
their shins." Finally, to complete his character, Mejan offered to
surrender for 150,000 ducats. Great Britain, perhaps, has made but too
little use of this kind of artillery, which France has found so
effectual towards subjugating the continent: but Troubridge had the prey
within his reach; and in the course of a few days, his last battery,
"after much trouble and palaver," as he said, "brought the vagabonds to
their senses."
Troubridge had more difficulties to overcome this siege, from the
character of the Neapolitans who pretended to assist him, and whom he
made useful, than even from the strength of the place and the skill of
the French. "Such damned cowards and villains," he declared, "he had
never seen before." The men at the advanced posts carried on, what he
called, "a diabolical good understanding" with the enemy, and the
workmen would sometimes take fright and run away. "I make the best I
can," said he, "of the degenerate race I have to deal with; the whole
means of guns, ammunition, pioneers, &c., with all materials, rest with
them. With fair promises to the men, and threats of instant death if I
find any one erring, a little spur has been given." Nelson said of him
with truth, upon this occasion, that he was a first-rate general. "I
find, sir," said he afterwards in a letter to the Duke of Clarence,
"that General Koehler does not approve of such irregular proceedings as
naval officers attacking and defending fortifications. We have but one
idea--to get close alongside. None but a sailor would have placed a
battery only 180 yards from the Castle of St. Elmo; a soldier must have
gone according to art, and the /\/\/\/\ way. My brave Troubridge went
straight on, for we had no time to spare."
Troubridge then proceeded to Capua, and took the command of the
motley besieging force. One thousand of the best men in the fleet were
sent to assist in the siege. Just at this time Nelson received a
peremptory order from Lord Keith to sail with the whole of his force for
the protection of Minorca; or, at least, to retain no more than was
absolutely necessary at Sicily. "You will easily conceive my feelings,"
said he in communicating this to Earl St. Vincent; "but my mind, as your
lordship knows, was perfectly prepared for this order; and it is now,
more than ever, made up. At this moment I will not part with a single
ship; as I cannot do that without drawing a hundred and twenty men from
each ship, now at the siege of Capua. I am fully aware of the act I have
committed; but I am prepared for any fate which may await my
disobedience. Capua and Gaieta will soon fall; and the moment the
scoundrels of French are out of this kingdom I shall send eight or nine
ships of the line to Minorca. I have done what I thought right--others
may think differently; but it will be my consolation that I have gained
a kingdom, seated a faithful ally of his Majesty firmly on his throne,
and restored happiness to millions."
At Capua, Troubridge had the same difficulties as at St. Elmo; and
being farther from Naples, and from the fleet, was less able to overcome
them. The powder was so bad that he suspected treachery; and when he
asked Nelson to spare him forty casks from the ships, he told him it
would be necessary that some Englishmen should accompany it, or they
would steal one-half, and change the other. "All the men you see," said
he, "gentle and simple, are such notorious villains, that it is misery
to be with them." Capua, however, soon fell; Gaieta immediately
afterwards surrendered to Captain Louis of the MINOTAUR. Here the
commanding officer acted more unlike a Frenchman, Captain Louis said,
than any one he had ever met; meaning that he acted like a man of
honour. He required, however, that the garrison should carry away their
horses, and other pillaged property: to which Nelson replied, "That no
property which they did not bring with them into the country could be
theirs: and that the greatest care should be taken to prevent them from
carrying it away." "I am sorry," said he to Captain Louis, "that you
have entered into any altercation. There is no way of dealing with a
Frenchman but to knock him down; to be civil to them is only to be
laughed at, when they are enemies."
The whole kingdom of Naples was thus delivered by Nelson from the
French. The Admiralty, however, thought it expedient to censure him for
disobeying Lord Keith's orders, and thus hazarding Minorca, without, as
it appeared to them, any sufficient reason; and also for having landed
seamen for the siege of Capua, to form part of an army employed in
operations at a distance from the coast; where, in case of defeat, they
might have been prevented from returning to their ships; and they
enjoined him, "not to employ the seamen in like manner in future." This
reprimand was issued before the event was known; though, indeed, the
event would not affect the principle upon which it proceeded. When
Nelson communicated the tidings of his complete success, he said, in his
public letter, "that it would not be the less acceptable for having been
principally brought about by British sailors." His judgment in thus
employing them had been justified by the result; and his joy was
evidently heightened by the gratification of a professional and becoming
pride. To the first lord he said, at the same time, "I certainly, from
having only a left hand, cannot enter into details which may explain the
motives that actuated my conduct. My principle is, to assist in driving
the French to the devil, and in restoring peace and happiness to
mankind. I feel that I am fitter to do the action than to describe it."
He then added that he would take care of Minorca.
In expelling the French from Naples, Nelson had, with characteristic
zeal and ability, discharged his duty; but he deceived himself when he
imagined that he had seated Ferdinand firmly on his throne, and that he
had restored happiness to millions. These objects might have been
accomplished if it had been possible to inspire virtue and wisdom into a
vicious and infatuated court; and if Nelson's eyes had not been, as it
were, spell-bound by that unhappy attachment, which had now completely
mastered him, he would have seen things as they were; and might,
perhaps, have awakened the Sicilian court to a sense of their interest,
if not of their duty. That court employed itself in a miserable round of
folly and festivity, while the prisons of Naples were filled with
groans, and the scaffolds streamed with blood. St. Januarius was
solemnly removed from his rank as patron saint of the kingdom, having
been convicted of Jacobinism; and St. Antonio as solemnly installed in
his place. The king, instead of re-establishing order at Naples by his
presence, speedily returned to Palermo, to indulge in his favourite
amusements. Nelson, and the ambassador's family, accompanied the court;
and Troubridge remained, groaning over the villany and frivolity of
those with whom he was compelled to deal. A party of officers applied to
him for a passage to Palermo, to see the procession of St. Rosalia: he
recommended them to exercise their troops, and not behave like children.
It was grief enough for him that the court should be busied in these
follies, and Nelson involved in them. "I dread, my lord," said he, "all
the feasting, &c. at Palermo. I am sure your health will be hurt. If
so, all their saints will be damned by the navy. The king would be
better employed digesting a good government; everything gives way to
their pleasures. The money spent at Palermo gives discontent here; fifty
thousand people are unemployed, trade discouraged, manufactures at a
stand. It is the interest of many here to keep the king away: they all
dread reform. Their villanies are so deeply rooted, that if some method
is not taken to dig them out, this government cannot hold together. Out
of twenty millions of ducats, collected as the revenue, only thirteen
millions reach the treasury; and the king pays four ducats where he
should pay one. He is surrounded by thieves; and none of them have
honour or honesty enough to tell him the real and true state of things."
In another letter he expressed his sense of the miserable state of
Naples. "There are upwards of forty thousand families," said he,"who
have relations confined. If some act of oblivion is not passed, there
will be no end of persecution; for the people of this country have no
idea of anything but revenge, and to gain a point would swear ten
thousand false oaths. Constant efforts are made to get a man taken up,
in order to rob him. The confiscated property does not reach the king's
treasury. All thieves! It is selling for nothing. His own people, whom
he employs, are buying it up, and the vagabonds pocket the whole. I
should not be surprised to hear that they brought a bill of expenses
against him for the sale."
The Sicilian court, however, were at this time duly sensible of the
services which had been rendered them by the British fleet, and their
gratitude to Nelson was shown with proper and princely munificence. They
gave him the dukedom and domain of Bronte, worth about L3000 a year. It
was some days before he could be persuaded to accept it; the argument
which finally prevailed is said to have been suggested by the queen, and
urged, at her request, by Lady Hamilton upon her knees. "He considered
his own honour too much," she said, "if he persisted in refusing what
the king and queen felt to be absolutely necessary for the preservation
of theirs." The king himself, also, is said to have addressed him in
words, which show that the sense of rank will sometimes confer a virtue
upon those who seem to be most unworthy of the lot to which they have
been born: "Lord Nelson, do you wish that your name alone should pass
with honour to posterity; and that I, Ferdinand Bourbon, should appear
ungrateful?" He gave him also, when the dukedom was accepted, a diamondhilted
sword, which his father, Char. III. of Spain, had given him on
his accession to the throne of the two Sicilies. Nelson said, "the
reward was magnificent, and worthy of a king, and he was determined that
the inhabitants on the domain should be the happiest in all his Sicilian
majesty's dominions. Yet," said he, speaking of these and the other
remunerations which were made him for his services, "these presents,
rich as they are, do not elevate me. My pride is, that at
Constantinople, from the grand seignior to the lowest Turk, the name of
Nelson is familiar in their mouths; and in this country I am everything
which a grateful monarch and people can call me." Nelson, however, had a
pardonable pride in the outward and visible signs of honour which he had
so fairly won. He was fond of his Sicilian title; the signification,
perhaps, pleased him; Duke of Thunder was what in Dahomy would be called
a STRONG NAME; it was to a sailor's taste; and certainly, to no man
could it ever be more applicable. But a simple offering, which he
received not long afterwards, from the island of Zante, affected him
with a deeper and finer feeling. The Greeks of that little community
sent him a golden-headed sword and a truncheon, set round with all the
diamonds that the island could furnish, in a single row. They thanked
him "for having, by his victory, preserved that part of Greece from the
horrors of anarchy; and prayed that his exploits might accelerate the
day, in which, amidst the glory and peace of thrones, the miseries of
the human race would cease." This unexpected tribute touched Nelson to
the heart. "No officer," he said, "had ever received from any country a
higher acknowledgment of his services."
The French still occupied the Roman states; from which, according to
their own admission, they had extorted in jewels, plate, specie, and
requisitions of every kind, to the enormous amount of eight millions
sterling; yet they affected to appear as deliverers among the people
whom they were thus cruelly plundering; and they distributed portraits
of Buonaparte, with the blasphemous inscription, "This is the true
likeness of the holy saviour of the world!" The people, detesting the
impiety, and groaning beneath the exactions of these perfidious robbers,
were ready to join any regular force that should come to their
assistance; but they dreaded Cardinal Ruffo's rabble, and declared they
would resist him as a banditti, who came only for the purpose of
pillage. Nelson perceived that no object was now so essential for the
tranquillity of Naples as the recovery of Rome; which in the present
state of things, when Suvarof was driving the French before him, would
complete the deliverance of Italy. He applied, therefore, to Sir James
St. Clair Erskine, who in the absence of General Fox commanded at
Minorca, to assist in this great object with 1200 men. "The field of
glory," said he, "is a large one, and was never more open to any one
than at this moment to you. Rome would throw open her gates and receive
you as her deliverer; and the pope would owe his restoration to a
heretic." But Sir James Erskine looked only at the difficulties of the
undertaking. "Twelve hundred men, he thought, would be too small a force
to be committed in such an enterprise; for Civita Vecchia was a regular
fortress; the local situation and climate also were such, that even if
this force were adequate, it would be proper to delay the.expedition
till October. General Fox, too, was soon expected; and during his
absence, and under existing circumstances, he did not feel justified in
sending away such a detachment."
What this general thought it imprudent to attempt, Nelson and
Troubridge effected without his assistance, by a small detachment from
the fleet. Troubridge first sent Captain Hallowell to Civita Vecchia to
offer the garrison there and at Castle St. Angelo the same terms which
had been granted to Gaieta. Hallowell perceived, by the overstrained
civility of the officers who came off to him, and the compliments which
they paid to the English nation, that they were sensible of their own
weakness and their inability to offer any effectual resistance; but the
French know, that while they are in a condition to serve their
government, they can rely upon it for every possible exertion in their
support; and this reliance gives them hope and confidence to the last.
Upon Hallowell's report, Troubridge, who had now been made Sir Thomas
for his services, sent Captain Louis with a squadron to enforce the
terms which he had offered; and, as soon as he could leave Naples, he
himself followed. The French, who had no longer any hope from the fate
of arms, relied upon their skill in negotiation, and proposed terms to
Troubridge with that effrontery which characterises their public
proceedings; but which is as often successful as it is impudent. They
had a man of the right stamp to deal with. Their ambassador at Rome
began by saying, that the Roman territory was the property of the French
by right of conquest. The British commodore settled that point, by
replying, "It is mine by reconquest." A capitulation was soon concluded
for all the Roman states, and Captain Louis rowed up the Tiber in his
barge, hoisted English colours on the capitol, and acted for the time as
governor of Rome. The 4prophecy of the Irish poet was thus accomplished,
and the friar reaped the fruits; for Nelson, who was struck with the
oddity of the circumstance, and not a little pleased with it, obtained
preferment for him from the King of Sicily, and recommended him to the
Having thus completed his work upon the continent of Italy, Nelson's
whole attention was directed towards Malta; where Captain Ball, with
most inadequate means, was besieging the French garrison. Never was any
officer engaged in more anxious and painful service: the smallest
reinforcement from France would, at any moment, have turned the scale
against him; and had it not been for his consummate ability, and the
love and veneration with which the Maltese regarded him, Malta must have
remained in the hands of the enemy. Men, money, food--all things were
wanting. The garrison consisted of 5000 troops; the besieging force of
500 English and Portuguese marines, and about 1500 armed peasants. Long
and repeatedly did Nelson solicit troops to effect the reduction of this
important place. "It has been no fault of the navy," said he, "that
Malta has not been attacked by land; but we have neither the means
ourselves nor influence with those who have." The same causes of
demurral existed which prevented British troops from assisting in the
expulsion of the French from Rome. Sir James Erskine was expecting
General Fox; he could not act without orders; and not having, like
Nelson, that lively spring of hope within him, which partakes enough of
the nature of faith to work miracles in war, he thought it "evident that
unless a respectable land force, in numbers sufficient to undertake the
siege of such a garrison, in one of the strongest places of Europe, and
supplied with proportionate artillery and stores, were sent against it,
no reasonable hope could be entertained of its surrender." Nelson
groaned over the spirit of over-reasoning caution and unreasoning
obedience. "My heart," said he, "is almost broken. If the enemy gets
supplies in, we may bid adieu to Malta; all the force we can collect
would then be of little use against the strongest place in Europe. To
say that an officer is never, for any object, to alter his orders, is
what I cannot comprehend. The circumstances of this war so often vary,
that an officer has almost every moment to consider, what would my
superiors direct, did they know what was passing under my nose?" "But,
sir," said he writing to the Duke of Clarence, "I find few think as I
do. To obey orders is all perfection. To serve my king, and to destroy
the French, I consider as the great order of all, from which little ones
spring; and if one of these militate against it (for who can tell
exactly at a distance?) I go back and obey the great order and object,
to down--down with the damned French villains!--my blood boils at the
name of Frenchmen!"
At length, General Fox arrived at Minorca--and at length permitted
Col. Graham to go to Malta, but with means miserably limited. In fact,
the expedition was at a stand for want of money; when Troubridge
arriving at Messina to co-operate in it, and finding this fresh delay,
immediately offered all that he could command of his own. "I procured
him, my lord," said he to Nelson,"1500 of my cobs--every farthing and
every atom of me shall be devoted to the cause." "What can this mean?"
said Nelson, when he learned that Col. Graham was ordered not to incur
any expenses for stores, or any articles except provisions!--"the cause
cannot stand still for want of a little money. If nobody will pay it, I
will sell Bronte and the Emperor of Russia's box." And he actually
pledged Bronte for L6600 if there should be any difficulty about paying
the bills. The long-delayed expedition was thus, at last, sent forth;
but Troubridge little imagined in what scenes of misery he was to bear
his part. He looked to Sicily for supplies: it was the interest, as
well as the duty of the Sicilian government to use every exertion for
furnishing them; and Nelson and the British ambassador were on the spot
to press upon them the necessity of exertion. But, though Nelson saw
with what a knavish crew the Sicilian court was surrounded, he was blind
to the vices of the court itself; and resigning himself wholly to Lady
Hamilton's influence, never even suspected the crooked policy which it
was remorselessly pursuing. The Maltese and the British in Malta
severely felt it. Troubridge, who had the truest affection for Nelson,
knew his infatuation, and feared that it might prove injurious to his
character, as well as fatal to an enterprise which had begun so well,
and been carried on so patiently.
"My lord," said he, writing to him from the siege, "we are dying off
fast for want. I learn that Sir William Hamilton says Prince Luzzi
refused corn some time ago, and Sir William does not think it worth
while making another application. If that be the case, I wish he
commanded this distressing scene instead of me. Puglia had an immense
harvest; near thirty sail left Messina before I did, to load corn. Will
they let us have any? If not, a short time will decide the business.
The German interest prevails. I wish I was at your Lordship's elbow for
an hour. ALL, ALL, will be thrown on you!- I will parry the blow as much
as in my power: I foresee much mischief brewing. God bless your
Lordship; I am miserable I cannot assist your operations more. Many
happy returns of the day to you--(it was the first of the new year)--
I never spent so miserable a one. I am not very tender-hearted; but
really the distress here would even move a Neapolitan." Soon afterwards
he wrote,"I have this day saved thirty thousand people from starving;
but with this day my ability ceases. As the government are bent on
starving us, I see no alternative but to leave these poor unhappy
people to perish, without our being witnesses of their distress. I curse
the day I ever served the Neapolitan government. We have characters, my
lord, to lose; these people have none. Do not suffer their infamous
conduct to fall on us. Our country is just, but severe. Such is the
fever of my brain this minute, that I assure you, on my honour, if the
Palermo traitors were here, I would shoot them first, and then myself.
Girgenti is full of corn; the money is ready to pay for it; we do not
ask it as a gift. Oh! could you see the horrid distress I daily
experience, something would be done. Some engine is at work against us
at Naples; and I believe I hit on the proper person. If you complain he
will be immediately promoted, agreeably to the Neapolitan custom. All I
write to you is known at the queen's. For my own part, I look upon the
Neapolitans as the worst of intriguing enemies: every hour shows me
their infamy and duplicity. I pray your lordship be cautious: your
honest, open manner of acting will be made a handle of. When I see you,
and tell of their infamous tricks, you will be as much surprised as I
am. The whole will fall on you."
Nelson was not, and could not be, insensible to the distress which
his friend so earnestly represented. He begged, almost on his knees, he
said, small supplies of money and corn, to keep the Maltese from
starving. And when the court granted a small supply, protesting their
poverty, he believed their protestations, and was satisfied with their
professions, instead of insisting that the restrictions upon the
exportation of corn should be withdrawn. The anxiety, however, which he
endured, affected him so deeply that he said it had broken his spirit
for ever. Happily, all that Troubridge with so much reason foreboded,
did not come to pass. For Captain Ball, with more decision than Nelson
himself would have shown at that time and upon that occasion, ventured
upon a resolute measure, for which his name would deserve always to be
held in veneration by the Maltese, even if it had no other claims to the
love and reverence of a grateful people. Finding it hopeless longer to
look for succour or common humanity from the deceitful and infatuated
court of Sicily, which persisted in prohibiting by sanguinary edicts the
exportation of supplies, at his own risk, he sent his first lieutenant
to the port of Girgenti, with orders to seize and bring with him to
Malta the ships which were there lying laden with corn; of the numbers
of which he had received accurate information. These orders were
executed to the great delight and advantage of the shipowners and
proprietors: the necessity of raising the siege was removed, and Captain
Ball waited in calmness for the consequences to himself. The Neapolitan
government complained to the English ambassador, and the complaint was
communicated to Nelson, who, in return, requested Sir William Hamilton
would fully and plainly state, that the act ought not to be considered
as any intended disrespect to his Sicilian Majesty, but as of the most
absolute and imperious necessity; the alternative being either of
abandoning Malta to the French, or of anticipating the king's orders for
carrying the corn in those vessels to Malta. "I trust," he added, "that
the government of the country will never again force any of our royal
master's servants to so unpleasant an alternative." Thus ended the
complaint of the Neapolitan court. "The sole result was," says Mr.
Coleridge, "that the governor of Malta became an especial object of its
hatred, its fears, and its respect."
Nelson himself, at the beginning of February, sailed for that island.
On the way he fell in with a French squadron bound for its relief, and
consisting of the GENEREUX seventy-four, three frigates, and a corvette.
One of these frigates and the line-of-battle ship were taken; the others
escaped, but failed in their purpose of reaching La Valette. This
success was peculiarly gratifying to Nelson, for many reasons. During
some months he had acted as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean,
while Lord Keith was in England. Lord Keith was now returned; and Nelson
had, upon his own plan, and at his own risk, left him to sail for Malta,
"for which," said he, "if I had not succeeded, I might have been broke:
and if I had not acted thus, the GENEREUX never would have been taken."
This ship was one of those which had escaped from Aboukir. Two frigates,
and the GUILLAUME TELL, eighty-six were all that now remained of the
fleet which Buonaparte had conducted to Egypt. The GUILLAUME TELL was at
this time closely watched in the harbour of La Valette; and shortly
afterwards, attempting to make her escape from thence, was taken after
an action, in which greater skill was never displayed by British ships,
nor greater gallantry by an enemy. She was taken by the FOUDROYANT,
LION, and PENELOPE frigate. Nelson, rejoicing at what he called this
glorious finish to the whole French Mediterranean fleet, rejoiced also
that he was not present to have taken a sprig of these brave men's
laurels. "They are," said he, "and I glory in them, my children; they
served in my school; and all of us caught our professional zeal and fire
from the great and good Earl St. Vincent. What a pleasure, what happiness,
to have the Nile fleet all taken, under my orders and regulations!"
The two frigates still remained in La Valette; before its surrender
they stole out; one was taken in the attempt; the other was the
only ship of the whole fleet which escaped capture or destruction.
Letters were found on board the GUILLAUME TELL showing that the
French were now become hopeless of preserving the conquest which they
had so foully acquired. Troubridge and his brother officers were anxious
that Nelson should have the honour of signing the capitulation. They
told, him that they absolutely, as far as they dared, insisted on his
staying to do this; but their earnest and affectionate entreaties were
vain. Sir William Hamilton had just been superseded: Nelson had no
feeling of cordiality towards Lord Keith; and thinking that after Earl
St. Vincent no man had so good a claim to the command in the
Mediterranean as himself, he applied for permission to return to
England; telling the First Lord of the Admiralty that his spirit could
not submit patiently, and that he was a broken-hearted man. From the
time of his return from Egypt, amid all the honours which were showered
upon him, he had suffered many mortifications. Sir Sidney Smith had been
sent to Egypt with orders to take under his command the squadron which
Nelson had left there. Sir Sidney appears to have thought that this
command was to be independent of Nelson; and Nelson himself thinking so,
determined to return, saying to Earl St. Vincent, "I do feel, for I am a
man, that it is impossible for me to serve in these seas with a squadron
under a junior officer." Earl St. Vincent seems to have dissuaded him
from this resolution: some heart-burnings, however, still remained, and
some incautious expressions of Sir Sidney's were noticed by him in terms
of evident displeasure. But this did not continue long, as no man bore
more willing testimony than Nelson to the admirable defence of Acre.
He differed from Sir Sidney as to the policy which ought to be
pursued toward the French in Egypt; and strictly commanded him, in the
strongest language, not, on any pretence, to permit a single Frenchman
to leave the country, saying that he considered it nothing short of
madness to permit that band of thieves to return to Europe. "No," said
he, "to Egypt they went with their own consent, and there they shall
remain while Nelson commands this squadron; for never, never, will he
consent to the return of one ship or Frenchman. I wish them to perish in
Egypt, and give an awful lesson to the world of the justice of the
Almighty." If Nelson had not thoroughly understood the character of the
enemy against whom he was engaged, their conduct in Egypt would have
disclosed it. After the battle of the Nile he had landed all his
prisoners, upon a solemn engagement made between Troubridge on one side
and Captain Barre on the other, that none of them should serve until
regularly exchanged. They were no sooner on shore than part of them were
drafted into the different regiments, and the remainder formed into a
corps, called the Nautic Legion. This occasioned Captain Hallowell to
say that the French had forfeited all claim to respect from us. "The
army of Buonaparte," said he, "are entirely destitute of every principle
of honour: they have always acted like licentious thieves." Buonaparte's
escape was the more regretted by Nelson, because, if he had had
sufficient force, he thought it would certainly have been prevented. He
wished to keep ships upon the watch to intercept anything coming from
Egypt; but the Admiralty calculated upon the assistance of the Russian
fleet, which failed when it was most wanted. The ships which should have
been thus employed were then required for more pressing services;and the
bloody Corsican was thus enabled to reach Europe in safety; there to
become the guilty instrument of a wider-spreading destruction than any
with which the world had ever before been visited.
Nelson had other causes of chagrin. Earl St. Vincent, for whom he
felt such high respect, and whom Sir John Orde had challenged for having
nominated Nelson instead of himself to the command of the Nile squadron,
laid claim to prize money, as commander-in-chief, after he had quitted
the station. The point was contested, and decided against him. Nelson,
perhaps, felt this the more, because his own feelings, with regard to
money, were so different. An opinion had been given by Dr. Lawrence,
which would have excluded the junior flag-officers from prize-money.
When this was made known to him, his reply was in these words:
"Notwithstanding Dr. Lawrence's opinion, I do not believe I have any
right to exclude the junior flag-officers; and if I have, I desire that
no such claim may be made: no, not if it were sixty times the sum--and,
poor as I am, I were never to see prize-money."
A ship could not be spared to convey him to England; he therefore
travelled through Germany to Hamburgh, in company with his inseparable
friends, Sir William and Lady Hamilton. The Queen of Naples went with
them to Vienna. While they were at Leghorn, upon a report that the
French were approaching (for, through the folly of weak courts and the
treachery of venal cabinets, they had now recovered their ascendancy in
Italy), the people rose tumultuously, and would fain have persuaded
Nelson to lead them against the enemy. Public honours, and yet more
gratifying testimonials of public admiration, awaited Nelson wherever he
went. The Prince of Esterhazy entertained him in a style of Hungarian
magnificence--a hundred grenadiers, each six feet in height,
constantly waiting at table. At Madgeburgh, the master of the hotel
where he was entertained contrived to show him for money--admitting the
curious to mount a ladder, and peep at him through a small window. A
wine merchant at Hamburgh, who was above seventy years of age, requested
to speak with Lady Hamilton; and told her he had some Rhenish wine, of
the vintage of 1625, which had been in his own possession more than
half-a-century: he had preserved it for some extraordinary occasion; and
that which had now arrived was far beyond any that he could ever have
expected. His request was, that her ladyship would prevail upon Lord
Nelson to accept six dozen of this incomparable wine: part of it would
then have the honour to flow into the heart's blood of that immortal
hero; and this thought would make him happy during the remainder of his
life. Nelson, when this singular request was reported to him, went into
the room, and taking the worthy old gentleman kindly by the hand,
consented to receive six bottles, provided the donor would dine with him
next day. Twelve were sent; and Nelson, saying that he hoped yet to win
half-a-dozen more great victories, promised to lay by six bottles of his
Hamburgh friend's wine, for the purpose of drinking one after each. A
German pastor, between seventy and eighty years of age, travelled forty
miles, with the Bible of his parish church, to request that Nelson would
write his name on the first leaf of it. He called him the Saviour of the
Christian world. The old man's hope deceived him. There was no Nelson
upon shore, or Europe would have been saved; but in his foresight of
the horrors with which all Germany and all Christendom were threatened
by France, the pastor could not possibly have apprehended more than has
actually taken place.
1800 - 1801
Nelson separates himself from his Wife--Northern Confederacy--
He goes to the Baltic, under Sir Hyde Parker--Battle of
Copenhagen, and subsequent Negotiation--Nelson is made a Viscount.
NELSON was welcomed in England with every mark of popular honour. At
Yarmouth, where he landed, every ship in the harbour hoisted her
colours. The mayor and corporation waited upon him with the freedom of
the town, and accompanied him in procession to church, with all the
naval officers on shore, and the principal inhabitants. Bonfires and
illuminations concluded the day; and on the morrow, the volunteer
cavalry drew up, and saluted him as he departed, and followed the
carriage to the borders of the county. At Ipswich, the people came out
to meet him, drew him a mile into the town, and three miles out. When he
was in the AGAMEMNON, he wished to represent this place in parliament,
and some of his friends had consulted the leading men of the
corporation--the result was not successful; and Nelson, observing that
he would endeavour to find out a preferable path into parliament, said
there might come a time when the people of Ipswich would think it an
honour to have had him for their representative. In London, he was
feasted by the City, drawn by the populace from Ludgate-hill to
Guildhall, and received the thanks of the common-council for his great
victory, and a golden-hilted sword studded with diamonds. Nelson had
every earthly blessing except domestic happiness; he had forfeited that
for ever. Before he had been three months in England he separated from
Lady Nelson. Some of his last words to her were--"I call God to witness,
there is nothing in you, or your conduct, that I wish otherwise." This
was the consequence of his infatuated attachment to Lady Hamilton. It
had before caused a quarrel with his son-in-law, and occasioned
remonstrances from his truest friends, which produced no other effect
than that of making him displeased with them, and more dissatisfied with
The Addington administration was just at this time formed; and
Nelson, who had solicited employment, and been made vice-admiral of the
blue, was sent to the Baltic, as second in command, under Sir Hyde
Parker, by Earl St. Vincent, the new First Lord of the Admiralty. The
three Northern courts had formed a confederacy for making England resign
her naval rights. Of these courts, Russia was guided by the passions of
its emperor, Paul, a man not without fits of generosity, and some
natural goodness, but subject to the wildest humours of caprice, and
erased by the possession of greater power than can ever be safely, or
perhaps innocently, possessed by weak humanity. Denmark was French at
heart: ready to co-operate in all the views of France, to recognise all
her usurpations, and obey all her injunctions. Sweden, under a king
whose principles were right, and whose feelings were generous, but who
had a taint of hereditary insanity, acted in acquiescence with the
dictates of two powers whom it feared to offend. The Danish navy, at
this time, consisted of 23 ships of the line, with about 31 frigates and
smaller vessels, exclusive of guard-ships. The Swedes had 18 ships of
the line, 14 frigates and sloops, seventy-four galleys and smaller vessels,
besides gun-boats; and this force was in a far better state of equipment
than the Danish. The Russians had 82 sail of the line and 40 frigates.
Of these there were 47 sail of the line at Cronstadt, Revel,
Petersburgh, and Archangel; but the Russian fleet was ill-manned, illofficered,
and ill-equipped. Such a combination under the influence of
France would soon have become formidable; and never did the British
Cabinet display more decision than in instantly preparing to crush it.
They erred, however, in permitting any petty consideration to prevent
them from appointing Nelson to the command. The public properly murmured
at seeing it intrusted to another; and he himself said to Earl St.
Vincent that, circumstanced as he was, this expedition would probably be
the last service that he should ever perform. The earl, in reply,
besought him, for God's sake, not to suffer himself to be carried away
by any sudden impulse.
The season happened to be unusually favourable; so mild a winter had
not been known in the Baltic for many years. When Nelson joined the
fleet at Yarmouth, he found the admiral "a little nervous about dark
nights and fields of ice." "But we must brace up," said he; "these are
not times for nervous systems. I hope we shall give our northern enemies
that hailstorm of bullets which gives our dear country the dominion of
the sea. We have it, and all the devils in the north cannot take it from
us, if our wooden walls have fair play." Before the fleet left Yarmouth,
it was sufficiently known that its destination was against Denmark. Some
Danes, who belonged to the AMAZON frigate, went to Captain Riou, and
telling him what they had heard, begged that he would get them exchanged
into a ship bound on some other destination. "They had no wish," they
said,"to quit the British service; but they entreated that they might
not be forced to fight against their own country." There was not in our
whole navy a man who had a higher and more chivalrous sense of duty than
Riou. Tears came into his eyes while the men were speaking. Without
making any reply, he instantly ordered his boat, and did not return to
the AMAZON till he could tell them that their wish was effected. The
fleet sailed on the 12th of March. Mr. Vansittart sailed in it; the
British Cabinet still hoping to attain its end by negotiation. It was
well for England that Sir Hyde Parker placed a fuller confidence in
Nelson than the government seems to have done at this most important
crisis. Her enemies might well have been astonished at learning that any
other man should for a moment have been thought of for the command. But
so little deference was paid, even at this time, to his intuitive and
all-commanding genius, that when the fleet had reached its first
rendezvous, at the entrance of the Cattegat, he had received no official
communication whatever of the intended operations. His own mind had been
made up upon them with its accustomed decision. "All I have gathered of
our first plans," said he, "I disapprove most exceedingly. Honour may
arise from them; good cannot. I hear we are likely to anchor outside of
Cronenburgh Castle, instead of Copenhagen, which would give weight to
our negotiation. A Danish minister would think twice before he would
put his name to war with England, when the next moment he would
probably see his master's fleet in flames, and his capital in ruins. The
Dane should see our flag every moment he lifted up his head."
Mr Vansittart left the fleet at the Scaw, and preceded it in a
frigate with a flag of truce. Precious time was lost by this delay,
which was to be purchased by the dearest blood of Britain and Denmark:
according to the Danes themselves, the intelligence that a British fleet
was seen off the Sound produced a much more general alarm in Copenhagen
than its actual arrival in the Roads; for the means of defence were at
that time in such a state that they could hardly hope to resist, still
less to repel an enemy. On the 21st Nelson had a long conference with
Sir Hyde; and the next day addressed a letter to him, worthy of himself
and of the occasion. Mr. Vansittart's report had then been received. It
represented the Danish government as in the highest degree hostile, and
their state of preparation as exceeding what our cabinet had supposed
possible; for Denmark had profited with all activity of the leisure
which had so impoliticly been given her. "The more I have reflected,"
said Nelson to his commander, "the more I am confirmed in opinion, that
not a moment should be lost in attacking the enemy. They will every day
and every hour be stronger; we shall never be so good a match for them
as at this moment. The only consideration is, how to get at them with
the least risk to our ships. Here you are, with almost the safety,
certainly with the honour of England, more entrusted to you than ever
yet fell to the lot of any British officer. On your decision depends
whether our country shall be degraded in the eyes of Europe, or whether
she shall rear her head higher than ever. Again, I do repeat, never did
our country depend so much upon the success of any fleet as on this. How
best to honour her and abate the pride of her enemies, must be the
subject of your deepest consideration."
Supposing him to force the passage of the Sound, Nelson thought some
damage might be done among the masts and yards; though, perhaps, not one
of them but would be serviceable again. "If the wind be fair," said he,
"and you determined to attack the ships and Crown Islands, you must
expect the natural issue of such a battle-- ships crippled, and perhaps
one or two lost for the wind which carries you in will most probably not
bring out a crippled ship. This mode I call taking the bull by the
horns. It, however, will not prevent the Revel ships, or the Swedes,
from joining the Danes and to prevent this is, in my humble opinion, a
measure absolutely necessary, and still to attack Copenhagen." For this
he proposed two modes. One was to pass Cronenburg, taking the risk of
danger; take the deepest and straightest channel along the middle
grounds, and then coming down to Garbar, or King's Channel, attack the
Danish line of floating batteries and ships as might be found
convenient. This would prevent a junction, and might give an opportunity
of bombarding Copenhagen. Or to take the passage of the Belt, which
might be accomplished in four or five days; and then the attack by Draco
might be made, and the junction of the Russians prevented. Supposing
them through the Belt, he proposed that a detachment of the fleet should
be sent to destroy the Russian squadron at Revel; and that the business
at Copenhagen should be attempted with the remainder. "The measure," he
said, "might be thought bold; but the boldest measures are the safest."
The pilots, as men who had nothing but safety to think of, were
terrified by the formidable report of the batteries of Elsinore, and the
tremendous preparations which our negotiators, who were now returned
from their fruitless mission, had witnessed. They, therefore, persuaded
Sir Hyde to prefer the passage of the Belt. "Let it be by the Sound, by
the Belt, or anyhow," cried Nelson,"only lose not an hour!" On the 26th
they sailed for the Belt. Such was the habitual reserve of Sir Hyde that
his own captain, the captain of the fleet, did not know which course he
had resolved to take till the fleet were getting under weigh. When
Captain Domett was thus apprised of it, he felt it his duty to represent
to the admiral his belief that if that course were persevered in, the
ultimate object would be totally defeated: it was liable to long delays,
and to accidents of ships grounding; in the whole fleet there were only
one captain and one pilot who knew anything of this formidable passage
(as it was then deemed), and their knowledge was very slight--their
instructions did not authorise them to attempt it. Supposing them safe
through the Belts, the heavy ships could not come over the GROUNDS to
attack Copenhagen; and light vessels would have no effect on such a line
of defence as had been prepared against them. Domett urged these reasons
so forcibly that Sir Hyde's opinion was shaken, and he consented to
bring the fleet to and send for Nelson on board. There can be little
doubt but that the expedition would have failed if Captain Domett had
not thus timeously and earnestly given his advice. Nelson entirely
agreed with him; and it was finally determined to take the passage of
the Sound, and the fleet returned to its former anchorage.
The next day was more idly expended in despatching a flag of truce to
the governor of Cronenburg Castle, to ask whether he had received orders
to fire at the British fleet; as the admiral must consider the first gun
to be a declaration of war on the part of Denmark. A soldier-like and
becoming answer was returned to this formality. The governor said that
the British minister had not been sent away from Copenhagen, but had
obtained a passport at his own demand. He himself, as a soldier, could
not meddle with politics; but he was not at liberty to suffer a fleet,
of which the intention was not yet known, to approach the guns of the
castle which he had the honour to command: and he requested, "if the
British admiral should think proper to make any proposals to the King of
Denmark, that he might be apprised of it before the fleet approached
nearer." During this intercourse, a Dane, who came on board the
commander's ship, having occasion to express his business in writing,
found the pen blunt; and, holding it up, sarcastically said, "If your
guns are not better pointed than your pens, you will make little
impression on Copenhagen!"
On that day intelligence reached the admiral of the loss of one of
his fleet, the INVINCIBLE, seventy-four, wrecked on a sand-bank, as she
was coming out of Yarmouth: four hundred of her men perished in her.
Nelson, who was now appointed to lead the van, shifted his flag to the
ELEPHANT, Captain Foley--a lighter ship than the ST. GEORGE, and, therefore,
fitter for the expected operations. The two following days were
calm. Orders had been given to pass the Sound as soon as the wind would
permit; and, on the afternoon of the 29th, the ships were cleared for
action, with an alacrity characteristic of British seamen. At daybreak
on the 30th it blew a topsail breeze from N.W. The signal was made, and
the fleet moved on in order of battle; Nelson's division in the van, Sir
Hyde's in the centre, and Admiral Graves' in the rear.
Great actions, whether military or naval, have generally given
celebrity to the scenes from whence they are denominated; and thus petty
villages, and capes and bays known only to the coasting trader, become
associated with mighty deeds, and their names are made conspicuous in
the history of the world. Here, however, the scene was every way worthy
of the drama. The political importance of the Sound is such, that grand
objects are not needed there to impress the imagination; yet is the
channel full of grand and interesting objects, both of art and nature.
This passage, which Denmark had so long considered as the key of the
Baltic, is, in its narrowest part, about three miles wide; and here the
city of Elsinore is situated; except Copenhagen, the most flourishing of
the Danish towns. Every vessel which passes lowers her top-gallant sails
and pays toll at Elsinore; a toll which is believed to have had its
origin in the consent of the traders to that sea, Denmark taking upon
itself the charge of constructing lighthouses, and erecting signals, to
mark the shoals and rocks from the Cattegat to the Baltic; and they, on
their part, agreeing that all ships should pass this way in order that
all might pay their shares: none from that time using the passage of
the Belt, because it was not fitting that they who enjoyed the benefit
of the beacons in dark and stormy weather, should evade contributing to
them in fair seasons and summer nights. Of late years about ten thousand
vessels had annually paid this contribution in time of peace. Adjoining
Elsinore, and at the edge of the peninsular promontory, upon the nearest
point of land to the Swedish coast, stands Cronenburgh Castle, built
after Tycho Brahe's design; a magnificent pile--at once a palace, and
fortress, and state-prison, with its spires, and towers, and
battlements, and batteries. On the left of the strait is the old Swedish
city of Helsinburg, at the foot, and on the side of a hill. To the north
of Helsinburg the shores are steep and rocky; they lower to the south;
and the distant spires of Lanscrona, Lund, and Malmoe are seen in the
flat country. The Danish shores consist partly of ridges of sand; but
more frequently they are diversified with cornfields, meadows, slopes,
and are covered with rich wood, and villages, and villas, and summer
palaces belonging to the king and the nobility, and denoting the
vicinity of a great capital. The isles of Huen, Statholm, and Amak,
appear in the widening channel; and at the distance of twenty miles from
Elsinore stands Copenhagen in full view; the best city of the north, and
one of the finest capitals of Europe, visible, with its stately spires,
far off. Amid these magnificent objects there are some which possess a
peculiar interest for the recollections which they call forth. The isle
of Huen, a lovely domain, about six miles in circumference, had been the
munificent gift of Frederick the Second to Tycho Brahe. It has higher
shores than the near coast of Zealand, or than the Swedish coast in that
part. Here most of his discoveries were made; and here the ruins are to
be seen of his observatory, and of the mansion where he was visited by
princes; and where, with a princely spirit, he received and entertained
all comers from all parts, and promoted science by his liberality as
well as by his labours. Elsinore is a name familiar to English ears,
being inseparably associated with HAMLET, and one of the noblest works
of human genius. Cronenburgh had been the scene of deeper tragedy: here
Queen Matilda was confined, the victim of a foul and murderous court
intrigue. Here, amid heart-breaking griefs, she found consolation in
nursing her infant. Here she took her everlasting leave of that infant,
when, by the interference of England, her own deliverance was obtained;
and as the ship bore her away from a country where the venial
indiscretions of youth and unsuspicious gaiety had been so cruelly
punished, upon these towers she fixed her eyes, and stood upon the deck,
obstinately gazing toward them till the last speck had disappeared.
The Sound being the only frequented entrance to the Baltic, the great
Mediterranean of the North, few parts of the sea display so frequent a
navigation. In the height of the season not fewer than a hundred vessels
pass every four-and-twenty hours for many weeks in succession; but never
had so busy or so splendid a scene been exhibited there as on this day,
when the British fleet prepared to force that passage where, till now,
all ships had vailed their topsails to the flag of Denmark. The whole
force consisted of fifty-one sail of various descriptions, of which
sixteen were of the line. The greater part of the bomb and gun vessels
took their stations off Cronenburgh Castle, to cover the fleet; while
others on the larboard were ready to engage the Swedish shore. The
Danes, having improved every moment which ill-timed negotiation and
baffling weather gave them, had lined their shores with batteries; and
as soon as the MONARCH, which was the leading ship, came abreast of
them, a fire was opened from about a hundred pieces of cannon and
mortars; our light vessels immediately, in return, opened their fire
upon the castle. Here was all the pompous circumstance and exciting
reality of war, without its effects; for this ostentatious display was
but a bloodless prelude to the wide and sweeping destruction which was
soon to follow. The enemy's shot fell near enough to splash the water
on board our ships: not relying upon any forbearance of the Swedes, they
meant to have kept the mid channel; but when they perceived that not a
shot was fired from Helsinburg, and that no batteries were to be seen on
the Swedish shore, they inclined to that side, so as completely to get
out of reach of the Danish guns. The uninterrupted blaze which was kept
up from them till the fleet had passed, served only to exhilarate our
sailors, and afford them matter for jest, as the shot fell in showers a
full cable's length short of its destined aim. A few rounds were returned
from some of our leading ships, till they perceived its inutility:
this, however, occasioned the only bloodshed of the day, some
of our men being killed and wounded by the bursting of a gun. As soon as
the main body had passed, the gun vessels followed, desisting from their
bombardment, which had been as innocent as that of the enemy; and, about
mid-day, the whole fleet anchored between the island of Huen and Copenhagen.
Sir Hyde, with Nelson, Admiral Graves, some of the senior
captains, and the commanding officers of the artillery and the troops,
then proceeded in a lugger to reconnoitre the enemy's means of defence;
a formidable line of ships, radeaus, pontoons, galleys, fire-ships and
gun-boats, flanked and supported by extensive batteries, and occupying,
from one extreme point to the other, an extent of nearly four miles.
A council of war was held In the afternoon. It was apparent that the
Danes could not be attacked without great difficulty and risk; and some
of the members of the council spoke of the number of the Swedes and the
Russians whom they should afterwards have to engage, as a consideration
which ought to be borne in mind. Nelson, who kept pacing the cabin,
impatient as he ever was of anything which savoured of irresolution,
repeatedly said, "The more numerous the better: I wish they were twice
as many,--the easier the victory, depend on it." The plan upon which he
had determined; if ever it should be his fortune to bring a Baltic fleet
to action, was, to attack the head of their line and confuse their
movements. "Close with a Frenchman," he used to say, "but out manoeuvre
a Russian." He offered his services for the attack, requiring ten sail
of the line and the whole of the smaller craft. Sir Hyde gave him two
more line-of-battle ships than he asked, and left everything to his
The enemy's force was not the only, nor the greatest, obstacle with
which the British fleet had to contend: there was another to be
overcome before they could come in contact with it. The channel was
little known and extremely intricate: all the buoys had been removed;
and the Danes considered this difficulty as almost insuperable, thinking
the channel impracticable for so large a fleet. Nelson himself saw the
soundings made and the buoys laid down, boating it upon this exhausting
service, day and night, till it was effected. When this was done he
thanked God for having enabled him to get through this difficult part of
his duty. "It had worn him down," he said, "and was infinitely more
grievous to him than any resistance which he could experience from the
At the first council of war, opinions inclined to an attack from the
eastward; but the next day, the wind being southerly, after a second
examination of the Danish position, it was determined to attack from the
south, approaching in the manner which Nelson had suggested in his first
thoughts. On the morning of the 1st of April the whole fleet removed to
an anchorage within two leagues of the town, and off the N.W. end of the
Middle Ground; a shoal lying exactly before the town, at about three
quarters of a mile distance, and extending along its whole sea-front.
The King's Channel, where there is deep water, is between this shoal and
the town; and here the Danes had arranged their line of defence, as near
the shore as possible: nineteen ships and floating batteries, flanked,
at the end nearest the town, by the Crown Batteries, which were two
artificial islands, at the mouth of the harbour--most formidable works;
the larger one having, by the Danish account, 66 guns; but, as Nelson
believed, 88. The fleet having anchored, Nelson, with Riou, in the
AMAZON, made his last examination of the ground; and about one o'clock,
returning to his own ship, threw out the signal to weigh. It was
received with a shout throughout the whole division; they weighed with a
light and favourable wind: the narrow channel between the island of
Saltholm and the Middle Ground had been accurately buoyed; the small
craft pointed out the course distinctly; Riou led the way: the whole
division coasted along the outer edge of the shoal, doubled its further
extremity, and anchored there off Draco Point, just as the darkness
closed--the headmost of the enemy's line not being more than two miles
distant. The signal to prepare for action had been made early in the
evening; and as his own anchor dropt, Nelson called out, "I will fight
them the moment I have a fair wind!" It had been agreed that Sir Hyde,
with the remaining ships, should weigh on the following morning, at the
same time as Nelson, to menace the Crown Batteries on his side, and the
four ships of the line which lay at the entrance of the arsenal; and to
cover our own disabled ships as they came out of action.
The Danes, meantime, had not been idle: no sooner did the guns of
Cronenburgh make it known to the whole city that all negotiation was at
an end, that the British fleet was passing the Sound, and that the
dispute between the two crowns must now be decided by arms, than a
spirit displayed itself most honourable to the Danish character. All
ranks offered themselves to the service of their country; the university
furnished a corps of 1200 youth, the flower of Denmark--it was one of
those emergencies in which little drilling or discipline is necessary to
render courage available: they had nothing to learn but how to manage
the guns, and day and night were employed in practising them. When the
movements of Nelson's squadron were perceived, it was known when and
where the attack was to be expected, and the line of defence was manned
indiscriminately by soldiers, sailors, and citizens. Had not the whole
attention of the Danes been directed to strengthen their own means of
defence, they might most materially have annoyed the invading squadron,
and perhaps frustrated the impending attack; for the British ships were
crowded in an anchoring ground of little extent:--it was calm, so that
mortar-boats might have acted against them to the utmost advantage; and
they were within range of shells from Amak Island. A few fell among
them; but the enemy soon ceased to fire. It was learned afterwards,
that, fortunately for the fleet, the bed of the mortar had given way;
and the Danes either could not get it replaced, or, in the darkness,
lost the direction.
This was an awful night for Copenhagen--far more so than for the
British fleet, where the men were accustomed to battle and victory, and
had none of those objects before their eyes which rendered death
terrible. Nelson sat down to table with a large party of his officers:
he was, as he was ever wont to be when on the eve of action, in high
spirits, and drank to a leading wind, and to the success of the morrow.
After supper they returned to their respective ships, except Riou, who
remained to arrange the order of battle with Nelson and Foley, and to
draw up instructions. Hardy, meantime, went in a small boat to examine
the channel between them and the enemy; approaching so near that he
sounded round their leading ship with a pole, lest the noise of throwing
the lead should discover him. The incessant fatigue of body, as well as
mind, which Nelson had undergone during the last three days, had so
exhausted him that he was earnestly urged to go to his cot; and his old
servant, Allen, using that kind of authority which long and affectionate
services entitled and enabled him to assume on such occasions, insisted
upon his complying. The cot was placed on the floor, and he continued to
dictate from it. About eleven Hardy returned, and reported the
practicability of the channel, and the depth of water up to the enemy's
line. About one the orders were completed; and half-a-dozen clerks, in
the foremost cabin, proceeded to transcribe them, Nelson frequently
calling out to them from his cot to hasten their work, for the wind was
becoming fair. Instead of attempting to get a few hours' sleep, he was
constantly receiving reports on this important point. At daybreak it was
announced as becoming perfectly fair. The clerks finished their work
about six. Nelson, who was already up, breakfasted, and made signal for
all captains. The land forces and five hundred seamen, under Captain
Freemantle and the Hon. Colonel Stewart, were to storm the Crown Battery
as soon as its fire should be silenced: and Riou--whom Nelson had never
seen till this expedition, but whose worth he had instantly perceived,
and appreciated as it deserved--had the BLANCHE and ALCMENE frigates,
the DART and ARROW sloops. and the ZEPHYR and OTTER fire-ships, given
him, with a special command to act as circumstances might require--every
other ship had its station appointed.
Between eight and nine, the pilots and masters were ordered on board
the admirals' ships. The pilots were mostly men who had been mates in
Baltic traders; and their hesitation about the bearing of the east end
of the shoal, and the exact line of deep water, gave ominous warning of
how little their knowledge was to be trusted. The signal for action had
been made, the wind was fair--not a moment to be lost. Nelson urged them
to be steady, to be resolute, and to decide; but they wanted the only
ground for steadiness and decision in such cases; and Nelson had reason
to regret that he had not trusted to Hardy's single report. This was one
of the most painful moments of his life; and he always spoke of it
with bitterness. "I experienced in the Sound," said he, "the misery of
having the honour of our country entrusted to a set of pilots, who have
no other thought than to keep the ships clear of danger, and their own
silly heads clear of shot. Everybody knows what I must have suffered;
and if any merit attaches itself to me, it was for combating the dangers
of the shallows in defiance of them." At length Mr. Bryerly, the master
of the BELLONA, declared that he was prepared to lead the fleet; his
judgment was acceded to by the rest; they returned to their ships; and
at half-past nine the signal was made to weigh in succession.
Captain Murray, in the EDGAR, led the way; the AGAMEMNON was next in
order; but on the first attempt to leave her anchorage, she could not
weather the edge of the shoal; and Nelson had the grief to see his old
ship, in which he had performed so many years' gallant services,
immovably aground at a moment when her help was so greatly required.
Signal was then made for the POLYPHEMUS; and this change in the order of
sailing was executed with the utmost promptitude: yet so much delay had
thus been unavoidably occasioned, that the EDGAR was for some time
unsupported, and the POLYPHEMUS, whose place should have been at the
end of the enemy's line, where their strength was the greatest, could
get no further than the beginning, owing to the difficulty of the
channel: there she occupied, indeed, an efficient station, but one where
her presence was less required. The ISIS followed with better fortune,
and took her own berth. The BELLONA, Sir Thomas Boulden Thompson, kept
too close on the starboard shoal, and grounded abreast of the outer ship
of the enemy: this was the more vexatious, inasmuch as the wind was
fair, the room ample, and three ships had led the way. The RUSSELL,
following the BELLONA, grounded in like manner: both were within reach
of shot; but their absence from their intended stations was severely
felt. Each ship had been ordered to pass her leader on the starboard
side, because the water was supposed to shoal on the larboard shore.
Nelson, who came next after these two ships, thought they had kept too
far on the starboard direction, and made signal for them to close with
the enemy, not knowing that they were aground; but when he perceived
that they did not obey the signal, he ordered the ELEPHANT's helm to
starboard, and went within these ships: thus quitting the appointed
order of sailing, and guiding those which were to follow. The greater
part of the fleet were probably, by this act of promptitude on his part,
saved from going on shore. Each ship, as she arrived nearly opposite to
her appointed station, let her anchor go by the stern, and presented her
broadside to the Danes. The distance between each was about half a
cable. The action was fought nearly at the distance of a cable's length
from the enemy. This, which rendered its continuance so long, was owing
to the ignorance and consequent indecision of the pilots. In pursuance
of the same error which had led the BELLONA and the RUSSELL aground,
they, when the lead was at a quarter less five, refused to approach
nearer, in dread of shoaling their water on the larboard shore: a fear
altogether erroneous, for the water deepened up to the very side of the
enemy's line of battle.
At five minutes after ten the action began. The first half of our
fleet was engaged in about half an hour; and by half-past eleven the
battle became general. The plan of the attack had been complete: but
seldom has any plan been more disconcerted by untoward accidents. Of
twelve ships of the line, one was entirely useless, and two others in a
situation where they could not render half the service which was
required of them. Of the squadron of gun-brigs, only one could get into
action; the rest were prevented, by baffling currents, from weathering
the eastern end of the shoal; and only two of the bomb-vessels could
reach their station on the Middle Ground, and open their mortars on the
arsenal, firing over both fleets. Riou took the vacant station against
the Crown Battery, with his frigates: attempting, with that unequal
force, a service in which three sail of the line had been directed to
Nelson's agitation had been extreme when he saw himself, before the
action began, deprived of a fourth part of his ships of the line; but no
sooner was he in battle, where his squadron was received with the fire
of more than a thousand guns, than, as if that artillery, like music,
had driven away all care and painful thoughts, his countenance
brightened; and, as a bystander describes him, his conversation became
joyous, animated, elevated, and delightful. The Commander-in-Chief
meantime, near enough to the scene of action to know the unfavourable
accidents which had so materially weakened Nelson, and yet too distant
to know the real state of the contending parties, suffered the most
dreadful anxiety. To get to his assistance was impossible; both wind and
current were against him. Fear for the event, in such circumstances,
would naturally preponderate in the bravest mind; and at one o'clock,
perceiving that, after three hours' endurance, the enemy's fire was
unslackened, he began to despair of success. "I will make the signal of
recall," said he to his captain, "for Nelson's sake. If he is in a
condition to continue the action successfully, he will disregard it; if
he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat, and no blame can be
imputed to him." Captain Domett urged him at least to delay the signal
till he could communicate with Nelson; but in Sir Hyde's opinion the
danger was too pressing for delay. "The fire," he said,"was too hot for
Nelson to oppose; a retreat he thought must be made; he was aware of
the consequences to his own personal reputation, but it would be
cowardly in him to leave Nelson to bear the whole shame of the failure,
if shame it should be deemed." Under, a mistaken judgment, therefore,
but with this disinterested and generous feeling, he made the signal for
Nelson was at this time, in all the excitement of action, pacing the
quarter-deck. A shot through the mainmast knocked the splinters about;
and he observed to one of his officers with a smile, "It is warm work,
and this day may be the last to any of us at a moment:"--and then
stopping short at the gangway, added, with emotion--"But mark you! I
would not be elsewhere for thousands." About this time the signallieutenant
called out that number Thirty-nine (the signal for
discontinuing the action) was thrown out by the Commander-in-Chief. He
continued to walk the deck, and appeared to take no notice of it. The
signal officer met him at the next turn, and asked if he should repeat
it. "No," he replied, "acknowledge it." Presently he called after him to
know if the signal for close action was still hoisted; and being
answered in the affirmative, said, "Mind you keep it so." He now paced
the deck, moving the stump of his lost arm in a manner which always
indicated great emotion. "Do you know," said he to Mr. Ferguson, "what
is shown on board the Commander-in-Chief? Number Thirty-nine!" Mr.
Ferguson asked what that meant. "Why, to leave off action!" Then
shrugging up his shoulders, he repeated the words--"Leave off action?
Now, damn me if I do! You know, Foley," turning to the captain, "I have
only one eye,--I have a right to be blind sometimes:" and then
putting the glass to his blind eye, in that mood of mind which sports
with bitterness, he exclaimed, "I really do not see the signal!"
Presently he exclaimed, "Damn the signal! Keep mine for closer battle
flying! That's the way I answer signals! Nail mine to the mast!" Admiral
Graves, who was so situated that he could not discern what was done on
board the ELEPHANT, disobeyed Sir Hyde's signal in like manner; whether
by fortunate mistake, or by a like brave intention, has not been made
known. The other ships of the line, looking only to Nelson, continued
the action. The signal, however, saved Riou's little squadron, but did
not save its heroic leader. This squadron, which was nearest the
Commander-in-Chief, obeyed and hauled off. It had suffered severely in
its most unequal contest. For a long time the AMAZON had been firing,
enveloped in smoke, when Riou desired his men to stand fast, and let the
smoke clear off, that they might see what they were about. A fatal
order--for the Danes then got clear sight of her from the batteries,
and pointed their guns with such tremendous effect that nothing but the
signal for retreat saved this frigate from destruction. "What will
Nelson think of us?" was Riou's mournful exclamation when he unwillingly
drew off. He had been wounded in the head by a splinter, and was sitting
on a gun, encouraging his men, when, just as the AMAZON showed her stern
to the Trekroner battery, his clerk was killed by his side; and another
shot swept away several marines who were hauling in the main-brace.
"Come, then, my boys!" cried Riou; "let us die all together!" The words
had scarcely been uttered before a raking shot cut him in two. Except it
had been Nelson himself, the British navy could not have suffered a
severer loss.
The action continued along the line with unabated vigour on our side,
and with the most determined resolution on the part of the Danes. They
fought to great advantage, because most of the vessels in their line of
defence were without masts; the few which had any standing had their
top-masts struck, and the hulls could not be seen at intervals. The ISIS
must have been destroyed by the superior weight of her enemy's fire, if
Captain Inman, in the DESIREE frigate, had not judiciously taken a
situation which enabled him to rake the Dane, if the POLYPHEMUS had not
also relieved her. Both in the BELLONA and the ISIS many men were lost
by the bursting of their guns. The former ship was about forty years
old, and these guns were believed to be the same which she had first
taken to sea: they were, probably, originally faulty, for the fragments
were full of little air-holes. The BELLONA lost 75 men; the ISIS, 110;
the MONARCH, 210. She was, more than any other line-of-battle ship,
exposed to the great battery; and supporting, at the same time, the
united fire of the HOLSTEIN and the ZEALAND, her loss this day exceeded
that of any single ship during the whole war. Amid the tremendous
carnage in this vessel, some of the men displayed a singular instance of
coolness: the pork and peas happened to be in the kettle; a shot knocked
its contents about; they picked up the pieces, and ate and fought at the
same time.
The Prince-Royal had taken his station upon one of the batteries,
from whence he beheld the action and issued his orders. Denmark had
never been engaged in so arduous a contest, and never did the Danes more
nobly display their national courage--a courage not more unhappily than
impolitically exerted in subserviency to the interests of France.
Captain Thura, of the INDFOEDSRETTEN, fell early in the action; and all
his officers, except one lieutenant and one marine officer, were either
killed or wounded In the confusion, the colours were either struck or
shot away; but she was moored athwart one of the batteries in such a
situation that the British made no attempt to board her; and a boat was
despatched to the prince, to inform him of her situation. He turned to
those about him, and said, "Gentlemen, Thura is killed; which of you
will take the command?" Schroedersee, a captain who had lately resigned
on account of extreme ill-health, answered in a feeble voice, "I will!"
and hastened on board. The crew, perceiving a new commander coming
alongside, hoisted their colours again, and fired a broadside.
Schroedersee, when he came on deck, found himself surrounded by the
dead and wounded, and called to those in the boat to get quickly on
board: a ball struck him at that moment. A lieutenant, who had
accompanied him, then took the command, and continued to fight the ship.
A youth of seventeen, by name Villemoes, particularly distinguished
himself on this memorable day. He had volunteered to take the command of
a floating battery, which was a raft, consisting merely of a number of
beams nailed together, with a flooring to support the guns: it was
square, with a breast-work full of port-holes, and without masts--
carrying twenty-four guns, and one hundred and twenty men. With this he
got under the stern of the ELEPHANT, below the reach of the sternchasers;
and under a heavy fire of small-arms from the marines, fought
his raft, till the truce was announced, with such skill as well as
courage, as to excite Nelson's warmest admiration.
Between one and two the fire of the Danes slackened; about two it
ceased from the greater part of their line, and some of their lighter
ships were adrift. It was, however, difficult to take possession of
those which struck, because the batteries on Amak Island protected them;
and because an irregular fire was kept up from the ships themselves as
the boats approached. This arose from the nature of the action: the
crews were continually reinforced from the shore; and fresh men coming
on board, did not inquire whether the flag had been struck, or, perhaps,
did not heed it; many or most of them never having been engaged in war
before--knowing nothing, therefore, of its laws, and thinking only of
defending their country to the last extremity. The DANBROG fired upon
the ELEPHANT's boats in this manner, though her commodore had removed
her pendant and deserted her, though she had struck, and though she was
in flames. After she had been abandoned by the commodore, Braun fought
her till he lost his right hand, and then Captain Lemming took the
command. This unexpected renewal of her fire made the ELEPHANT and
GLATTON renew theirs, till she was not only silenced, but nearly every
man in the praams, ahead and astern of her, was killed. When the smoke
of their guns died away, she was seen drifting in flames before the
wind: those of her crew who remained alive, and able to exert
themselves, throwing themselves out at her port-holes. Captain Bertie
of the ARDENT sent his launch to their assistance, and saved three-andtwenty
of them.
Captain Rothe commanded the NYEBORG praam; and perceiving that she
could not much longer be kept afloat, made for the inner road. As he
passed the line, he found the AGGERSHUUS praam in a more miserable
condition than his own; her masts had all gone by the board, and she was
on the point of sinking. Rothe made fast a cable to her stern, and towed
her off; but he could get her no further than a shoal called Stubben,
when she sunk, and soon after he had worked the NYEBORG up to the
landing-place, that vessel also sunk to her gunwale. Never did any
vessel come out of action in a more dreadful plight. The stump of her
foremast was the only stick standing; her cabin had been stove in; every
gun, except a single one, was dismounted; and her deck was covered with
shattered limbs and dead bodies.
By half-past two the action had ceased along that part of the line
which was astern of the ELEPHANT, but not with the ships ahead and the
Crown Batteries. Nelson, seeing the manner in which his boats were fired
upon when they went to take possession of the prizes, became angry, and
said he must either send ashore to have this irregular proceeding
stopped, or send a fire-ship and burn them. Half the shot from the
Trekroner, and from the batteries at Amak, at this time, struck the
surrendered ships, four of which had got close together; and the fire of
the English, in return, was equally or even more destructive to these
poor devoted Danes. Nelson, who was as humane as he was brave, was
shocked at the massacre--for such he called it; and with a presence of
mind peculiar to himself, and never more signally displayed than now, he
retired into the stern gallery, and wrote thus to the Crown Prince:--
"Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson has been commanded to spare Denmark when she
no longer resists. The line of defence which covered her shores has
struck to the British flag; but if the firing is continued on the part
of Denmark, he must set on fire all the prizes that he has taken,
without having the power of saving the men who have so nobly defended
them. The brave Danes are the brothers, and should never be the enemies,
of the English." A wafer was given him, but he ordered a candle to be
brought from the cockpit, and sealed the letter with wax, affixing a
larger seal than he ordinarily used. "This," said he, "is no time to
appear hurried and informal." Captain Sir Frederick Thesiger, who acted
as his aide-de-camp, carried this letter with a flag of truce. Meantime
the fire of the ships ahead, and the approach of the RAMILLIES and
DEFENCE from Sir Hyde's division, which had now worked near enough to
alarm the enemy, though not to injure them, silenced the remainder of
the Danish line to the eastward of the Trekroner. That battery, however,
continued its fire. This formidable work, owing to the want of the ships
which had been destined to attack it, and the inadequate force of Riou's
little squadron, was comparatively uninjured. Towards the close of the
action it had been manned with nearly fifteen hundred men; and the
intention of storming it, for which every preparation had been made, was
abandoned as impracticable.
During Thesiger's absence, Nelson sent for Freemantle, from the
GANGES, and consulted with him and Foley whether it was advisable to
advance, with those ships which had sustained least damage, against the
yet uninjured part of the Danish line. They were decidedly of opinion
that the best thing which could be done was, while the wind continued
fair, to remove the fleet out of the intricate channel from which it had
to retreat. In somewhat more than half an hour after Thesiger had been
despatched, the Danish adjutant-general, Lindholm came, bearing a flag
of truce, upon which the Trekroner ceased to fire, and the action
closed, after four hours' continuance. He brought an inquiry from the
prince,--What was the object of Nelson's note? The British admiral wrote
in reply:--"Lord Nelson's object in sending the flag of truce was humanity;
he therefore consents that hostilities shall cease, and that the
wounded Danes may be taken on shore. And Lord Nelson will take his
prisoners out of the vessels, and burn or carry off his prizes as he
shall think fit. Lord Nelson, with humble duty to his royal highness the
prince, will consider this the greatest victory he has ever gained, if
it may be the cause of a happy reconciliation and union between his own
most gracious sovereign and his majesty the King of Denmark." Sir
Frederick Thesiger was despatched a second time with the reply; and the
Danish adjutant-general was referred to the commander-in-chief for a
conference upon this overture. Lindholm assenting to this, proceeded to
the LONDON, which was riding at anchor full four miles off and Nelson,
losing not one of the critical moments which he had thus gained, made
signal for his leading ships to weigh in succession; they had the shoal
to clear, they were much crippled, and their course was immediately
under the guns of the Trekroner.
The MONARCH led the way. This ship had received six-and-twenty shot
between wind and water. She had not a shroud standing; there was a
double-headed shot in the heart of her foremast, and the slightest wind
would have sent every mast over her side. The imminent danger from which
Nelson had extricated himself soon became apparent: the MONARCH touched
immediately upon a shoal, over which she was pushed by the GANGES taking
her amidships; the GLATTON went clear; but the other two, the DEFIANCE
and the ELEPHANT, grounded about a mile from the Trekroner, and there
remained fixed for many hours, in spite of all the exertions of their
wearied crews. The DESIREE frigate also, at the other end of the line,
having gone toward the close of the action to assist the BELLONA, became
fast on the same shoal. Nelson left the ELEPHANT soon after she took the
ground, to follow Lindholm. The heat of the action was over, and that
kind of feeling which the surrounding scene of havoc was so well fitted
to produce, pressed heavily upon his exhausted spirits. The sky had
suddenly become overcast; white flags were waving from the mast-heads of
so many shattered ships; the slaughter had ceased, but the grief was to
come; for the account of the dead was not yet made up, and no man could
tell for what friends he might have to mourn. The very silence which
follows the cessation of such a battle becomes a weight upon the heart
at first, rather than a relief; and though the work of mutual
destruction was at an end, the DANBROG was at this time drifting about
in flames; presently she blew up; while our boats, which had put off in
all directions to assist her, were endeavouring to pick up her devoted
crew, few of whom could be saved. The fate of these men, after the
gallantry which they had displayed, particularly affected Nelson; for
there was nothing in this action of that indignation against the enemy,
and that impression of retributive justice, which at the Nile had given
a sterner temper to his mind, and a sense of austere delight in
beholding the vengeance of which he was the appointed minister. The
Danes were an honourable foe; they were of English mould as well as
English blood; and now that the battle had ceased, he regarded them
rather as brethren than as enemies. There was another reflection also
which mingled with these melancholy thoughts, and predisposed him to
receive them. He was not here master of his own movements, as at Egypt;
he had won the day by disobeying his orders; and in so far as he had
been successful, had convicted the commander-in-chief of an error in
judgment. "Well," said he, as he left the ELEPHANT, "I have fought
contrary to orders, and I shall perhaps be hanged. Never mind: let
This was the language of a man who, while he is giving utterance to
uneasy thought, clothes it half in jest, because he half repents that it
has been disclosed. His services had been too eminent on that day, his
judgment too conspicuous, his success too signal, for any commander,
however jealous of his own authority, or envious of another's merits, to
express anything but satisfaction and gratitude: which Sir Hyde
heartily felt, and sincerely expressed. It was speedily agreed that
there should be a suspension of hostilities for four-and-twenty hours;
that all the prizes should be surrendered, and the wounded Danes carried
on shore. There was a pressing necessity for this, for the Danes,
either from too much confidence in the strength of their position and
the difficulty of the channel, or supposing that the wounded might be
carried on shore during the action, which was found totally
impracticable, or perhaps from the confusion which the attack excited,
had provided no surgeons; so that, when our men boarded the captured
ships, they found many of the mangled and mutilated Danes bleeding to
death for want of proper assistance--a scene, of all others, the most
shocking to a brave man's feelings.
The boats of Sir Hyde's division were actively employed all night in
bringing out the prizes, and in getting afloat the ships which were on
shore. At daybreak, Nelson, who had slept in his own ship, the St.
George, rowed to the ELEPHANT; and his delight at finding her afloat
seemed to give him new life. There he took a hasty breakfast, praising
the men for their exertions, and then pushed off to the prizes, which
had not yet been removed. The ZEALAND, seventy-four, the last which
struck, had drifted on the shoal under the Trekroner; and relying, as it
seems, upon the protection which that battery might have afforded,
refused to acknowledge herself captured; saying, that though it was true
her flag was not to be seen, her pendant was still flying. Nelson
ordered one of our brigs and three long-boats to approach her, and rowed
up himself to one of the enemy's ships, to communicate with the commodore.
This officer proved to be an old acquaintance, whom he had known
in the West Indies; so he invited himself on board, and with that urbanity
as well as decision which always characterised him, urged his claim
to the ZEALAND so well that it was admitted. The men from the boats
lashed a cable round her bowsprit, and the gun-vessel towed her away. It
is affirmed, and probably with truth, that the Danes felt more pain at
beholding this than at all their misfortunes on the preceding day; and
one of the officers, Commodore Steen Rille, went to the Trekroner
battery, and asked the commander why he had not sunk the ZEALAND, rather
than suffer her thus to be carried off by the enemy?
This was, indeed, a mournful day for Copenhagen! It was Good Friday;
but the general agitation, and the mourning which was in every house,
made all distinction of days be forgotten. There were, at that hour,
thousands in that city who felt, and more perhaps who needed, the
consolations of Christianity, but few or none who could be calm enough
to think of its observances. The English were actively employed in
refitting their own ships, securing the prizes, and distributing the
prisoners; the Danes, in carrying on shore and disposing of the wounded
and the dead. It had been a murderous action. Our loss, in killed and
wounded, was 953. Part of this slaughter might have been spared. The
commanding officer of the troops on board one of our ships asked where
his men should be stationed? He was told that they could be of no use!
that they were not near enough for musketry, and were not wanted at the
guns; they had, therefore, better go below. This, he said, was
impossible; it would be a disgrace that could never be wiped away. They
were, therefore, drawn up upon the gangway, to satisfy this cruel point
of honour; and there, without the possibility of annoying the enemy,
they were mowed down! The loss of the Danes, including prisoners,
amounted to about six thousand. The negotiations, meantime, went on; and
it was agreed that Nelson should have an interview with the prince the
following day. Hardy and Freemantle landed with him. This was a thing as
unexampled as the other circumstances of the battle. A strong guard was
appointed to escort him to the palace, as much for the purpose of
security as of honour. The populace, according to the British account,
showed a mixture of admiration, curiosity, and displeasure, at beholding
that man in the midst of them who had inflicted such wounds upon
Denmark. But there were neither acclamations nor murmurs. "The people,"
says a Dane, "did not degrade themselves with the former, nor disgrace
themselves with the latter: the admiral was received as one brave enemy
ever ought to receive another--he was received with respect." The
preliminaries of the negotiation were adjusted at this interview. During
the repast which followed, Nelson, with all the sincerity of his
character, bore willing testimony to the valour of his foes. He told the
prince that he had been in a hundred and five engagements, but that this
was the most tremendous of all. "The French," he said, "fought bravely;
but they could not have stood for one hour the fight which the Danes had
supported for four." He requested that Villemoes might be introduced to
him; and, shaking hands with the youth, told the prince that he ought
to be made an admiral. The prince replied: "If, my lord, I am to make
all my brave officers admirals, I should have no captains or lieutenants
in my service."
The sympathy of the Danes for their countrymen who had bled in their
defence, was not weakened by distance of time or place in this instance.
Things needful for the service, or the comfort of the wounded, were sent
in profusion to the hospitals, till the superintendents gave public
notice that they could receive no more. On the third day after the
action, the dead were buried in the naval churchyard: the ceremony was
made as public and as solemn as the occasion required; such a
procession had never before been seen in that, or perhaps in any other
city. A public monument was erected upon the spot where the slain were
gathered together. A subscription was opened on the day of the funeral
for the relief of the sufferers, and collections in aid of it made
throughout all the churches in the kingdom. This appeal to the feelings
of the people was made with circumstances which gave it full effect. A
monument was raised in the midst of the church, surmounted by the Danish
colours: young maidens, dressed in white, stood round it, with either
one who had been wounded in the battle, or the widow and orphans of some
one who had fallen: a suitable oration was delivered from the pulpit,
and patriotic hymns and songs were afterwards performed. Medals were
distributed to all the officers, and to the men who had distinguished
themselves. Poets and painters vied with each other in celebrating a
battle which, disastrous as it was, had yet been honourable to their
country: some, with pardonable sophistry, represented the advantage of
the day as on their own side. One writer discovered a more curious, but
less disputable ground of satisfaction, in the reflection that Nelson,
as may be inferred from his name, was of Danish descent, and his actions
therefore, the Dane argued, were attributable to Danish valour.
The negotiation was continued during the five following days; and in
that interval the prizes were disposed of, in a manner which was little
approved by Nelson. Six line-of-battle ships and eight praams had been
taken. Of these the HOLSTEIN, sixty-four, was the only one which was
sent home. The ZEALAND was a finer ship; but the ZEALAND and all the
others were burned, and their brass battering cannon sunk with the hulls
in such shoal water, that, when the fleet returned from Revel, they
found the Danes, with craft over the wrecks, employed in getting the
guns up again. Nelson, though he forbore from any public expression of
displeasure at seeing the proofs and trophies of his victory destroyed,
did not forget to represent to the Admiralty the case of those who were
thus deprived of their prize-money. "Whether," said he to Earl St.
Vincent, "Sir Hyde Parker may mention the subject to you, I know not;
for he is rich, and does not want it: nor is it, you will believe me,
any desire to get a few hundred pounds that actuates me to address this
letter to you; but justice to the brave officers and men who fought on
that day. It is true our opponents were in hulks and floats, only
adapted for the position they were in; but that made our battle so much
the harder, and victory so much the more difficult to obtain. Believe
me, I have weighed all circumstances; and, in my conscience, I think
that the king should send a gracious message to the House of Commons for
a gift to this fleet; for what must be the natural feelings of the
officers and men belonging to it, to see their rich commander-in-chief
burn all the fruits of their victory, which, if fitted up and sent to
England (as many of them might have been by dismantling part of our
fleet), would have sold for a good round sum."
On the 9th, Nelson landed again, to conclude the terms of the
armistice. During its continuance the armed ships and vessels of Denmark
were to remain in their actual situation, as to armament, equipment, and
hostile position; and the treaty of armed neutrality, as far as related
to the co-operation of Denmark, was suspended. The prisoners were to be
sent on shore; an acknowledgment being given for them, and for the
wounded also, that: they might be carried to Great Britain's credit in
the account of war, in case hostilities should be renewed. The British
fleet was allowed to provide itself with all things requisite for the
health and comfort of its men. A difficulty arose respecting the
duration of the armistice. The Danish commissioners fairly stated their
fears of Russia; and Nelson, with that frankness which sound policy and
the sense of power seem often to require as well as justify in
diplomacy, told them his reason for demanding a long term was, that he
might have time to act against the Russian fleet, and then return to
Copenhagen. Neither party would yield upon this point; and one of the
Danes hinted at the renewal of hostilities. "Renew hostilities!" cried
Nelson to one of his friends--for he understood French enough to
comprehend what was said, though not to answer it in the same language
--"tell him we are ready at a moment! ready to bombard this very night!"
The conference, however, proceeded amicably on both sides; and as the
commissioners could not agree on this head, they broke up, leaving
Nelson to settle it with the prince. A levee was held forthwith in one
of the state-rooms, a scene well suited for such a consultation; for all
these rooms had been stripped of their furniture, in fear of a
bombardment. To a bombardment also Nelson was looking at this time:
fatigue and anxiety, and vexation at the dilatory measures of the
commander-in-chief, combined to make him irritable; and as he was on
his way to the prince's dining-room, he whispered to the officer on
whose arm he was leaning, "Though I have only one eye, I can see that
all this will burn well." After dinner he was closeted with the prince;
and they agreed that the armistice should continue fourteen weeks; and
that, at its termination, fourteen days' notice should be given before
the recommencement of hostilities.
An official account of the battle was published by Olfert Fischer,
the Danish commander-in-chief in which it was asserted that our force
was greatly superior; nevertheless, that two of our ships of the line
had struck; that the others were so weakened, and especially Lord
Nelson's own ship, as to fire only single shots for an hour before the
end of the action; and that this hero himself, in the middle and very
heat of the conflict, sent a flag of truce on shore, to propose a
cessation of hostilities. For the truth of this account the Dane
appealed to the prince, and all those who, like him, had been
eyewitnesses of the scene. Nelson was exceedingly indignant at such a
statement, and addressed a letter in confutation of it to the Adjutant-
General Lindholm; thinking this incumbent on him for the information of
the prince, since His Royal Highness had been appealed to as a witness:
"Otherwise," said he, "had Commodore Fischer confined himself to his own
veracity, I should have treated his official letter with the contempt it
deserved, and allowed the world to appreciate the merits of the two
commanding officers." After pointing out and detecting some of the
misstatements in the account, he proceeds: "As to his nonsense about
victory, His Royal Highness will not much credit him. I sunk, burnt,
captured, or drove into the harbour, the whole line of defence to the
southward of the Crown Islands. He says he is told that two British
ships struck. Why did he not take possession of them? I took possession
of his as fast as they struck. The reason is clear, that he did not
believe it: he must have known the falsity of the report. He states that
the ship in which I had the honour to hoist my flag fired latterly only
single guns. It is true; for steady and cool were my brave fellows, and
did not wish to throw away a single shot. He seems to exult that I sent
on shore a flag of truce. You know, and His Royal Highness knows, that
the guns fired from the shore could only fire through the Danish ships
which had surrendered; and that, if I fired at the shore, it could only
be in the same manner. God forbid that I should destroy an unresisting
Dane! When they become my prisoners, I become their protector."
This letter was written in terms of great asperity to the Danish
commander. Lindholm replied in a manner every way honourable to himself.
He vindicated the commodore in some points, and excused him in others;
reminding Nelson that every commander-in-chief was liable to receive
incorrect reports. With a natural desire to represent the action in the
most favourable light to Denmark, he took into the comparative strength
of the two parties the ships which were aground, and which could not get
into action; and omitted the Trekroner and the batteries upon Amak
Island. He disclaimed all idea of claiming as a victory, "what, to every
intent and purpose," said he, "was a defeat--but not an inglorious one.
As to your lordship's motive for sending a flag of truce, it never can
be misconstrued and your subsequent conduct has sufficiently shown that
humanity is always the companion of true valour. You have done more: you
have shown yourself a friend to the re-establishment of peace and good
harmony between this country and Great Britain. It is, therefore, with
the sincerest esteem I shall always feel myself attached to your
lordship." Thus handsomely winding up his reply, he soothed and
contented Nelson; who drawing up a memorandum of the comparative force
of the two parties for his own satisfaction, assured Lindholm that, if
the commodore's statement had been in the same manly and honourable
strain, he would have been the last man to have noticed any little
inaccuracies which might get into a commander-in-chiefs public letter.
For the battle of Copenhagen Nelson was raised to the rank of
viscount--an inadequate mark of reward for services so splendid, and of
such paramount importance to the dearest interests of England. There
was, however, some prudence in dealing out honours to him step by step:
had he lived long enough, he would have fought his way up to a dukedom.
1801 - 1805
Sir Hyde Parker is recalled and Nelson appointed Commander--
He goes to Revel--Settlement of Affairs in the Baltic--Unsuccessful
Attempt upon the Flotilla at Boulogne--Peace of
Amiens--Nelson takes Command in the Mediterranean on the
Renewal of the War--Escape of the Toulon Fleet--Nelson
chases them to the West Indies and back--Delivers up his
Squadron to Admiral Cornwallis and lands in England.
WHEN Nelson informed Earl St. Vincent that the armistice had been
concluded, he told him also, without reserve, his own discontent at the
dilatoriness and indecision which he witnessed, and could not remedy.
"No man," said he, "but those who are on the spot, can tell what I have
gone through, and do suffer. I make no scruple in saying, that I would
have been at Revel fourteen days ago! that, without this armistice, the
fleet would never have gone, but by order of the Admiralty; and with it,
I daresay, we shall not go this week. I wanted Sir Hyde to let me, at
least, go and cruise off Carlscrona, to prevent the Revel ships from
getting in. I said I would not go to Revel to take any of those laurels
which I was sure he would reap there. Think for me, my dear lord: and
if I have deserved well, let me return; if ill, for Heaven's sake
supersede me, for I cannot exist in this state."
Fatigue, incessant anxiety, and a climate little suited to one of a
tender constitution, which had now for many years been accustomed to
more genial latitudes, made him at this time seriously determine upon
returning home. "If the northern business were not settled," he
said,"they must send more admirals; for the keen air of the north had
cut him to the heart." He felt the want of activity and decision in the
commander-in-chief more keenly; and this affected his spirits, and,
consequently, his health, more than the inclemency of the Baltic. Soon
after the armistice was signed, Sir Hyde proceeded to the eastward with
such ships as were fit for service, leaving Nelson to follow with the
rest, as soon as those which had received slight damages should be
repaired, and the rest sent to England. In passing between the isles of
Amak and Saltholm, most of the ships touched the ground, and some of
them stuck fast for a while: no serious injury, however, was sustained.
It was intended to act against the Russians first, before the breaking
up of the frost should enable them to leave Revel; but learning on the
way that the Swedes had put to sea to effect a junction with them, Sir
Hyde altered his course, in hopes of intercepting this part of the
enemy's force. Nelson had, at this time, provided for the more pressing
emergencies of the service, and prepared on the 18th to follow the
fleet. The ST. GEORGE drew too much water to pass the channel between
the isles without being lightened; the guns were therefore taken out,
and put on board an American vessel; a contrary wind, however, prevented
Nelson from moving; and on that same evening, while he was thus delayed,
information reached him of the relative situation of the Swedish and
British fleets, and the probability of an action. The fleet was nearly
ten leagues distant, and both wind and current contrary, but it was not
possible that Nelson could wait for a favourable season under such an
expectation. He ordered his boat immediately, and stepped into it.
Night was setting in, one of the cold spring nights of the north; and it
was discovered, soon after they left the ship, that in their haste they
had forgotten to provide him with a boat-cloak. He, however, forbade
them to return for one; and when one of his companions offered his own
great-coat, and urged him to make use of it, he replied, "I thank you
very much; but, to tell you the truth, my anxiety keeps me sufficiently
warm at present."
"Do you think," said he presently,"that our fleet has quitted
Bornholm? If it has, we must follow it to Carlscrona." About midnight
he reached it, and once more got on board the ELEPHANT. On the following
morning the Swedes were discovered; as soon, however, as they perceived
the English approaching, they retired, and took shelter in Carlscrona,
behind the batteries on the island, at the entrance of that port. Sir
Hyde sent in a flag of truce, stating that Denmark had concluded an
armistice, and requiring an explicit declaration from the court of
Sweden, whether it would adhere to or abandon the hostile measures which
it had taken against the rights and interests of Great Britain? The
commander, Vice-Admiral Cronstadt, replied, "That he could not answer a
question which did not come within the particular circle of his duty;
but that the king was then at Maloe, and would soon be at Carlscrona."
Gustavus shortly afterwards arrived, and an answer was then returned to
this effect: "That his Swedish majesty would not, for a moment, fail to
fulfil, with fidelity and sincerity, the engagements he had entered into
with his allies; but he would not refuse to listen to equitable
proposals made by deputies furnished with proper authority by the King
of Great Britain to the united northern powers." Satisfied with this
answer, and with the known disposition of the Swedish court, Sir Hyde
sailed for the Gulf of Finland; but he had not proceeded far before a
despatch boat from the Russian ambassador at Copenhagen arrived,
bringing intelligence of the death of the Emperor Paul, and that his
successor Alexander had accepted the offer made by England to his father
of terminating the dispute by a convention: the British admiral was,
therefore, required to desist from all further hostilities.
It was Nelson's maxim, that, to negotiate with effect, force should
be at hand, and in a situation to act. The fleet, having been
reinforced from England, amounted to eighteen sail of the line, and the
wind was fair for Revel. There he would have sailed immediately to place
himself between that division of the Russian fleet and the squadron at
Cronstadt, in case this offer should prove insincere. Sir Hyde, on the
other hand, believed that the death of Paul had effected all which was
necessary. The manner of that death, indeed, rendered it apparent that a
change of policy would take place in the cabinet of Petersburgh; but
Nelson never trusted anything to the uncertain events of time, which
could possibly be secured by promptitude or resolution. It was not,
therefore, without severe mortification, that he saw the commander-inchief
return to the coast of Zealand, and anchor in Kioge Bay, there to
wait patiently for what might happen.
There the fleet remained till dispatches arrived from home, on the
5th of May, recalling Sir Hyde, and appointing Nelson commander-inchief.
Nelson wrote to Earl St. Vincent that he was unable to hold this
honourable station. Admiral Graves also was so ill as to be confined to
his bed; and he entreated that some person might come out and take the
command. "I will endeavour," said he, "to do my best while I remain;
but, my dear lord, I shall either soon go to heaven, I hope, or must
rest quiet for a time. If Sir Hyde were gone, I would now be under
sail." On the day when this was written, he received news of his
appointment. Not a moment was now lost. His first signal, as commanderin-
chief, was to hoist in all launches and prepare to weigh; and on the
7th he sailed from Kioge. Part of his fleet was left at Bornholm, to
watch the Swedes, from whom he required and obtained an assurance that
the British trade in the Cattegat and in the Baltic should not be
molested; and saying how unpleasant it would be to him if anything
should happen which might for a moment disturb the returning harmony
between Sweden and Great Britain, he apprised them that he was not
directed to abstain from hostilities should he meet with the Swedish
fleet at sea. Meantime he himself; with ten sail of the line, two
frigates, a brig, and a schooner, made for the Gulf of Finland. Paul, in
one of the freaks of his tyranny, had seized upon all the British
effects in Russia, and even considered British subjects as his
prisoners. "I will have all the English shipping and property restored,"
said Nelson, "but I will do nothing violently, neither commit the
affairs of my country, nor suffer Russia to mix the affairs of Denmark
or Sweden with the detention of our ships." The wind was fair, and
carried him in four days to Revel Roads. But the Bay had been clear of
firm ice on the 29th of April, while the English were lying idly at
Kioge. The Russians had cut through the ice in the mole six feet thick,
and their whole squadron had sailed for Cronstadt on the 3rd. Before
that time it had lain at the mercy of the English. "Nothing," Nelson
said, "if it had been right to make the attack, could have saved one ship
of them in two hours after our entering the bay."
It so happened that there was no cause to regret the opportunity
which had been lost, and Nelson immediately put the intentions of Russia
to the proof. He sent on shore, to say that he came with friendly views,
and was ready to return a salute. On their part the salute was delayed,
till a message was sent to them to inquire for what reason; and the
officer whose neglect had occasioned the delay, was put under arrest.
Nelson wrote to the emperor, proposing to wait on him personally and
congratulate him on his accession, and urged the immediate release of
British subjects, and restoration of British property.
The answer arrived on the 16th: Nelson, meantime, had exchanged
visits with the governor, and the most friendly intercourse had
subsisted between the ships and the shore. Alexander's ministers, in
their reply, expressed their surprise at the arrival of a British
fleet in a Russian port, and their wish that it should return: they
professed, on the part of Russia, the most friendly disposition towards
Great Britain; but declined the personal visit of Lord Nelson, unless
he came in a single ship. There was a suspicion implied in this which
stung Nelson; and he said the Russian ministers would never have
written thus if their fleet had been at Revel. He wrote an immediate
reply, expressing what he felt; he told the court of Petersburgh,
"That the word of a British admiral, when given in explanation of any
part of his conduct, was as sacred as that of any sovereign's in
Europe." And he repeated, "that, under other circumstances, it would
have been his anxious wish to have paid his personal respects to the
emperor, and signed with his own hand the act of amity between the two
countries." Having despatched this, he stood out to sea immediately,
leaving a brig to bring off the provisions which had been contracted
for, and to settle the accounts. "I hope all is right," said he,
writing to our ambassador at Berlin; "but seamen are but bad
negotiators; for we put to issue in five minutes what diplomatic
forms would be five months doing."
On his way down the Baltic, however, he met the Russian admiral,
Tchitchagof, whom the emperor, in reply to Sir Hyde's overtures, had
sent to communicate personally with the British commander-in-chief.
The reply was such as had been wished and expected; and these
negotiators going, seamen-like, straight to their object, satisfied
each other of the friendly intentions of their respective governments.
Nelson then anchored off Rostock; and there he received an answer to
his last despatch from Revel, in which the Russian court expressed
their regret that there should have been any misconception between
them; informed him that the British vessels which Paul had detained
were ordered to be liberated, and invited him to Petersburgh, in
whatever mode might be most agreeable to himself. Other honours awaited
him: the Duke of Mecklenburgh Strelitz, the queen's brother, came to
visit him on board his ship; and towns of the inland parts of
Mecklenburgh sent deputations, with their public books of record,
that they might have the name of Nelson in them written by his
own hand.
From Rostock the fleet returned to Kioge Bay. Nelson saw that the
temper of the Danes towards England was such as naturally arose from the
chastisement which they had so recently received. "In this nation," said
he, "we shall not be forgiven for having the upper hand of them: I only
thank God we have, or they would try to humble us to the dust." He saw
also that the Danish cabinet was completely subservient to France: a
French officer was at this time the companion and counsellor of the
Crown Prince; and things were done in such open violation of the
armistice, that Nelson thought a second infliction of vengeance would
soon be necessary. He wrote to the Admiralty, requesting a clear and
explicit reply to his inquiry, Whether the commander-in-chief was at
liberty to hold the language becoming a British admiral? "Which, very
probably," said he, "if I am here, will break the armistice, and set
Copenhagen in a blaze. I see everything which is dirty and mean going
on, and the Prince Royal at the head of it. Ships have been masted, guns
taken on board, floating batteries prepared, and except hauling out and
completing their rigging, everything is done in defiance of the treaty.
My heart burns at seeing the word of a prince, nearly allied to our good
king, so falsified; but his conduct is such, that he will lose his
kingdom if he goes on; for Jacobins rule in Denmark. I have made no
representations yet, as it would be useless to do so until I have the
power of correction. All I beg, in the name of the future commander-inchief,
is, that the orders may be clear; for enough is done to break
twenty treaties, if it should be wished, or to make the Prince Royal
humble himself before British generosity."
Nelson was not deceived in his judgment of the Danish cabinet, but
the battle of Copenhagen had crippled its power. The death of the Czar
Paul had broken the confederacy; and that cabinet, therefore, was
compelled to defer till a more convenient season the indulgence of its
enmity towards Great Britain. Soon afterwards Admiral Sir Charles
Maurice Pole arrived to take the command. The business, military and
political, had by that time been so far completed that the presence of
the British fleet soon became no longer necessary. Sir Charles, however,
made the short time of his command memorable, by passing the Great Belt
for the first time with line-of-battle ships, working through the
channel against adverse winds. When Nelson left the fleet, this speedy
termination of the expedition, though confidently expected, was not
certain; and he, in his unwillingness to weaken the British force,
thought at one time of traversing Jutland in his boat, by the canal to
Tonningen on the Eyder and finding his way home from thence. This
intention was not executed; but he returned in a brig, declining
to accept a frigate, which few admirals would have done, especially if,
like him, they suffered from sea-sickness in a small vessel. On his
arrival at Yarmouth, the first thing he did was to visit the hospital
and see the men who had been wounded in the late battle--that victory
which had added new glory to the name of Nelson, and which was of more
importance even than the battle of the Nile to the honour, the strength,
and security of England.
The feelings of Nelson's friends, upon the news of his great victory
at Copenhagen, were highly described by Sir William Hamilton in a letter
to him. "We can only expect," he says, "what me know well, and often
said before, that Nelson WAS, IS, and to the LAST WILL EVER BE, THE
FIRST. Emma did not know whether she was on her head or heels--in such
a hurry to tell your great news, that she could utter nothing but tears
of joy and tenderness. I went to Davison, and found him still in bed,
having had a severe fit of the gout, and with your letter, which he had
just received; and he cried like a child; but, what was very extraordinary,
assured me that, from the instant he had read your letter, all pain
had left him, and that he felt himself able to get up and walk about.
Your brother, Mrs. Nelson, and Horace dined with us. Your brother was
more extraordinary than ever. He would get up suddenly and cut a caper,
rubbing his hands every time that the thought of your fresh laurels came
into his head. But I am sure that no one really rejoiced more at heart
than I did. I have lived too long to have ecstasies! But with calm
reflection, I felt for my friend having got to the very summit of glory!
the NE PLUS ULTRA! that he has had another opportunity of rendering his
country the most important service, and manifesting again his judgment,
his intrepidity, and his humanity."
He had not been many weeks on shore before he was called upon to
undertake a service, for which no Nelson was required. Buonaparte, who
was now first consul, and in reality sole ruler of France, was making
preparations, upon a great scale, for invading England; but his schemes
in the Baltic had been baffled; fleets could not be created as they were
wanted; and his armies, therefore, were to come over in gun-boats, and
such small craft as could be rapidly built or collected for the
occasion. From the former governments of France such threats have only
been matter of insult and policy: in Buonaparte they were sincere; for
this adventurer, intoxicated with success, already began to imagine that
all things were to be submitted to his fortune. We had not at that time
proved the superiority of our soldiers over the French; and the
unreflecting multitude were not to be persuaded that an invasion could
only be effected by numerous and powerful fleets. A general alarm was
excited; and, in condescension to this unworthy feeling, Nelson was
appointed to a command, extending from Orfordness to Beachy Head, on
both shores--a sort of service, he said, for which he felt no other
ability than what might be found in his zeal.
To this service, however, such as it was, he applied with his wonted
alacrity; though in no cheerful frame of mind. To Lady Hamilton, his
only female correspondent, he says at this time; "I am not in very good
spirits; and, except that our country demands all our services and
abilities to bring about an honourable peace, nothing should prevent my
being the bearer of my own letter. But, my dear friend, I know you are
so true and loyal an Englishwoman, that you would hate those who would
not stand forth in defence of our king, laws, religion, and all that is
dear to us. It is your sex that makes us go forth, and seem to tell us,
"None but the brave deserve the fair"; and if we fall, we still live in
the hearts of those females. It is your sex that rewards us; it is your
sex who cherish our memories; and you, my dear honoured friend, are,
believe me, the first, the best of your sex. I have been the world
around, and in every corner of it, and never yet saw your equal, or even
one who could be put in comparison with you. You know how to reward
virtue, honour, and courage, and never to ask if it is placed in a
prince, duke, lord, or peasant." Having hoisted his flag in the MEDUSA
frigate, he went to reconnoitre Boulogne the point from which it was
supposed the great attempt would be made, and which the French, in fear
of an attack themselves, were fortifying with all care. He approached
near enough to sink two of their floating batteries, and to destroy a
few gun-boats which were without the pier. What damage was done within
could not be ascertained. "Boulogne," he said, "was certainly not a very
pleasant place that morning; but," he added, "it is not my wish to
injure the poor inhabitants; and the town is spared as much as the
nature of the service will admit." Enough was done to show the enemy
that they could not, with impunity, come outside their own ports. Nelson
was satisfied by what he saw, that they meant to make an attempt from
this place, but that it was impracticable; for the least wind at W.N.W.
and they were lost. The ports of Flushing and Flanders were better
points: there we could not tell by our eyes what means of transport were
provided. From thence, therefore, if it came forth at all, the
expedition would come. "And what a forlorn undertaking!" said he:
"consider cross tides, &c. As for rowing, that is impossible. It Is
perfectly right to be prepared for a mad government; but with the active
force which has been given me, I may pronounce it almost impracticable."
That force had been got together with an alacrity which has seldom
been equalled. On the 28th of July, we were, in Nelson's own words,
literally at the foundation of our fabric of defence, and twelve days
afterwards we were so prepared on the enemy's coast that he did not
believe they could get three miles from their ports. The MEDUSA,
returning to our own shores, anchored in the rolling ground off Harwich;
and when Nelson wished to get to the Nore in her, the wind rendered it
impossible to proceed there by the usual channel. In haste to be at the
Nore, remembering that he had been a tolerable pilot for the mouth of
the Thames in his younger days, and thinking it necessary that he should
know all that could be known of the navigation, he requested the
maritime surveyor of the coast, Mr. Spence, to get him into the Swin by
any channel; for neither the pilots which he had on board, nor the
Harwich ones, would take charge of the ship. No vessel drawing more than
fourteen feet had ever before ventured over the Naze. Mr. Spence,
however, who had surveyed the channel, carried her safely through. The
channel has since been called Nelson's, though he himself wished it to
be named after the MEDUSA: his name needed no new memorial.
Nelson's eye was upon Flushing. "To take possession of that place,"
he said, "would be a week's expedition for four or five thousand
troops." This, however, required a consultation with the Admiralty; and
that something might be done, meantime he resolved upon attacking the
flotilla in the mouth of the Boulogne harbour. This resolution was made
in deference to the opinion of others, and to the public feeling, which
was so preposterously excited. He himself scrupled not to assert that
the French army would never embark at Boulogne for the invasion of
England; and he owned that this boat warfare was not exactly congenial
to his feelings. Into Helvoet or Flushing he should be happy to lead, if
Government turned their thoughts that way. "While I serve," said he, "I
will do it actively, and to the very best of my abilities. I require
nursing like a child," he added; "my mind carries me beyond my strength,
and will do me up; but such is my nature."
The attack was made by the boats of the squadron in five divisions,
under Captains Somerville, Parker, Cotgrave, Jones, and Conn. The
previous essay had taught the French the weak parts of their position;
and they omitted no means of strengthening it, and of guarding against
the expected attempt. The boats put off about half-an-hour before
midnight; but, owing to the darkness, and tide and half-tide, which
must always make night attacks so uncertain on the coasts of the
Channel, the divisions separated. One could not arrive at all; another
not till near daybreak. The others made their attack gallantly; but
the enemy were fully prepared: every vessel was defended by long poles,
headed with iron spikes, projecting from their sides: strong nettings
were braced up to their lower yards; they were moored by the bottom to
the shore, they were strongly manned with soldiers, and protected by
land batteries, and the shore was lined with troops. Many were taken
possession of; and, though they could not have been brought out, would
have been burned, had not the French resorted to a mode of offence,
which they have often used, but which no other people have ever been
wicked enough to employ. The moment the firing ceased on board one of
their own vessels they fired upon it from the shore, perfectly
regardless of their own men.
The commander of one of the French divisions acted like a generous
enemy. He hailed the boats as they approached, and cried out in English:
"Let me advise you, my brave Englishmen, to keep your distance: you can
do nothing here; and it is only uselessly shedding the blood of brave
men to make the attempt." The French official account boasted of the
victory. "The combat," it said, "took place in sight of both countries;
it was the first of the kind, and the historian would have cause to make
this remark." They guessed our loss at four or five hundred; it
amounted to one hundred and seventy-two. In his private letters to the
Admiralty, Nelson affirmed, that had our force arrived as he intended,
it was not all the chains in France which could have prevented our men
from bringing off the whole of the vessels. There had been no error
committed, and never did Englishmen display more courage. Upon this
point Nelson was fully satisfied; but he said he should never bring
himself again to allow any attack wherein he was not personally
concerned; and that his mind suffered more than if he had had a leg shot
off in the affair. He grieved particularly for Captain Parker, an
excellent officer, to whom he was greatly attached, and who had an aged
father looking to him for assistance. His thigh was shattered in the
action; and the wound proved mortal, after some weeks of suffering and
manly resignation. During this interval, Nelson's anxiety was very
great. "Dear Parker is my child," said he; "for I found him in
distress." And when he received the tidings of his death, he replied:
"You will judge of my feelings: God's will be done. I beg that his hair
may be cut off and given me; it shall be buried in my grave. Poor Mr.
Parker! What a son has he lost! If I were to say I was content, I
should lie; but I shall endeavour to submit with all the fortitude in
my power. His loss has made a wound in my heart, which time will
hardly heal."
"You ask me, my dear friend," he says to Lady Hamilton, "if I am
going on more expeditions? and even if I was to forfeit your friendship,
which is dearer to me than all the world, I can tell you nothing. For, I
go out: I see the enemy, and can get at them, it is my duty: and you
would naturally hate me, if I kept back one moment. I long to pay them
for their tricks t'other day, the debt of a drubbing, which surely I'll
pay: but WHEN, WHERE or HOW, it is impossible, your own good sense must
tell you, for me or mortal man to say." Yet he now wished to be
relieved from this service. The country, he said, had attached a
confidence to his name, which he had submitted to, and therefore had
cheerfully repaired to the station; but this boat business, though it
might be part of a great plan of invasion, could never be the only one,
and he did not think it was a command for a vice-admiral. It was not
that he wanted a more lucrative situation; for, seriously indisposed as
he was, and low-spirited from private considerations, he did not know,
if the Mediterranean were vacant, that he should be equal to undertake
it. He was offended with the Admiralty for refusing him leave to go to
town when he had solicited: in reply to a friendly letter from
Troubridge he says, "I am at this moment as firmly of opinion as ever,
that Lord St. Vincent and yourself should have allowed of my coming to
town for my own affairs, for every one knows I left it without a thought
for myself."
His letters at this time breathe an angry feeling toward Troubridge,
who was now become, he said, one of his lords and masters. "I have a
letter from him," he says, "recommending me to wear flannel shirts.
Does he care for me? NO: but never mind. They shall work hard to get me
again. The cold has settled in my bowels. I wish the Admiralty had my
complaint: but they have no bowels, at least for me. I daresay
Master Troubridge is grown fat; I know I am grown lean with my
complaint, which, but for their indifference about my health, could
never have happened; or, at least, I should have got well long ago in a
warm room with a good fire and sincere friend." In the same tone of
bitterness he complained that he was not able to promote those whom he
thought deserving. "Troubridge," he says, "has so completely prevented
my ever mentioning anybody's service, that I am become a cipher, and he
has gained a victory over Nelson's spirit. I am kept here, for what?--he
may be able to tell, I cannot. But long it cannot, shall not be." An end
was put to this uncomfortable state of mind when, fortunately (on that
account) for him, as well as happily for the nation, the peace of Amiens
was just at this time signed. Nelson rejoiced that the experiment was
made, but was well aware that it was an experiment. He saw what he
called the misery of peace, unless the utmost vigilance and prudence
were exerted; and he expressed, in bitter terms, his proper indignation
at the manner in which the mob of London welcomed the French general who
brought the ratification saying, "that they made him ashamed of his
He had purchased a house and estate at Merton, in Surrey, meaning to
pass his days there in the society of Sir William and Lady Hamilton. He
had indulged in pleasant dreams when looking on to this as his place of
residence and rest. "To be sure," he says, "we shall employ the
tradespeople of our village in preference to any others in what we want
for common use, and give them every encouragement to be kind and
attentive to us." "Have we a nice church at Merton? We will set an
example of goodness to the under-parishioners. I admire the pigs and
poultry. Sheep are certainly most beneficial to eat off the grass. Do
you get paid for them, and take care that they are kept on the premises
all night, for that is the time they do good to the land. They should be
folded. Is your head-man a good person, and true to our interest? I
intend to have a farming-book. I expect that all animals will increase
where you are, for I never expect that you will suffer any to be killed.
No person can take amiss our not visiting. The answer from me will
always be very civil thanks, but that I wish to live retired. We shall
have our sea-friends; and I know Sir William thinks they are the best."
This place he had never seen till he was now welcomed there by the
friends to whom he had so passionately devoted himself, and who were not
less sincerely attached to him. The place, and everything which Lady
Hamilton had done to it, delighted him; and he declared that the longest
liver should possess it all. Here he amused himself with angling in the
Wandle, having been a good fly-fisher in former days, and learning now
to practise with his left hand what he could no longer pursue as a
solitary diversion. His pensions for his victories, and for the loss of
his eye and arm, amounted with his half-pay to about L3400 a-year. From
this he gave L1800 to Lady Nelson, L200 to a brother's widow, and L150
for the education of his children; and he paid L500 interest for
borrowed money; so that Nelson was comparatively a poor man; and though
much of the pecuniary embarrassment which he endured was occasioned by
the separation from his wife--even if that cause had not existed, his
income would not have been sufficient for the rank which he held, and
the claims which would necessarily be made upon his bounty. The
depression of spirits under which he had long laboured arose partly from
this state of his circumstances, and partly from the other disquietudes
in which his connection with Lady Hamilton had involved him--a
connection which it was not possible his father could behold without
sorrow and displeasure. Mr. Nelson, however, was soon persuaded that the
attachment, which Lady Nelson regarded with natural jealousy and
resentment, did not in reality pass the bounds of ardent and romantic
admiration: a passion which the manners and accomplishments of Lady
Hamilton, fascinating as they were, would not have been able to excite,
if they had not been accompanied by more uncommon intellectual
endowments, and by a character which, both in its strength and in its
weakness, resembled his own. It did not, therefore, require much
explanation to reconcile him to his son--an event the more essential to
Nelson's happiness, because, a few months afterwards, the good old man
died at the age of seventy-nine.
Soon after the conclusion of peace, tidings arrived of our final and
decisive successes in Egypt; in consequence of which, the common council
voted their thanks to the army and navy for bringing the campaign to so
glorious a conclusion. When Nelson, after the action of Cape St.
Vincent, had been entertained at a city feast, he had observed to the
lord mayor, "that, if the city continued its generosity, the navy would
ruin them in gifts." To which the lord mayor replied, putting his hand
upon the admiral's shoulder: "Do you find victories and we will find
rewards." Nelson, as he said, had kept his word, had doubly fulfilled
his part of the contract, but no thanks had been voted for the battle of
Copenhagen; and feeling that he and his companions in that day's glory
had a fair and honourable claim to this reward, he took the present
opportunity of addressing a letter to the lord mayor, complaining of the
omission and the injustice. "The smallest services," said he, "rendered
by the army or navy to the country, have always been noticed by the
great city of London with one exception--the glorious 2nd of April--a
day when the greatest dangers of navigation were overcome; and the
Danish force, which they thought impregnable, totally taken or
destroyed, by the consummate skill of our commanders, and by the
undaunted bravery of as gallant a band as ever defended the rights of
this country. For myself, if I were only personally concerned, I should
bear the stigma, attempted to be now first placed upon my brow, with
humility. But, my lord, I am the natural guardian of the fame of all the
officers of the navy, army, and marines who fought, and so profusely
bled, under my command on that day. Again I disclaim for myself more
merit than naturally falls to a successful commander; but when I am
called upon to speak of the merits of the captains of his Majesty's
ships, and of the officers and men, whether seamen, marines, or
soldiers, whom I that day had the happiness to command, I then say, that
never was the glory of this country upheld with more determined bravery
than on that occasion: and if I may be allowed to give an opinion as a
Briton, then I say, that more important service was never rendered to
our king and country. It is my duty, my lord, to prove to the brave
fellows, my companions in danger, that I have not failed at every
proper place to represent, as well as I am able, their bravery and
meritorious conduct."
Another honour, of greater import, was withheld from the conquerors.
The king had given medals to those captains who were engaged in the
battles of the 1st of June, of Cape St. Vincent, of Camperdown, and of
the Nile. Then came the victory at Copenhagen, which Nelson truly
called the most difficult achievement, the hardest-fought battle, the
most glorious result that ever graced the annals of our country. He, of
course, expected the medal; and in writing to Earl St. Vincent, said,
"He longed to have it, and would not give it up to be made an English
duke." The medal, however, was not given:--"For what reason," said
Nelson, "Lord St. Vincent best knows." Words plainly implying a
suspicion that it was withheld by some feeling of jealousy; and that
suspicion estranged him, during the remaining period of his life, from
one who had at one time been essentially, as well as sincerely, his
friend; and of whose professional abilities he ever entertained the
highest opinion.
The happiness which Nelson enjoyed in the society of his chosen
friends was of no long continuance. Sir William Hamilton, who was far
advanced in years, died early in 1803; a mild, amiable, and
accomplished man, who has thus in a letter described his own philosophy:
"My study of antiquities," he says, "has kept me in constant thought of
the perpetual fluctuation of everything. The whole art is really to live
all the DAYS of our life; and not with anxious care disturb the sweetest
hour that life affords--which is the present. Admire the Creator, and
all His works, to us incomprehensible; and do all the good you can upon
earth; and take the chance of eternity without dismay." He expired in
his wife's arms, holding Nelson by the hand; and almost in his last
words, left her to his protection; requesting him that he would see
justice done her by the government, as he knew what she had done for her
country. He left him her portrait in enamel, calling him his dearest
friend; the most virtuous, loyal, and truly brave character he had ever
known. The codicil, containing this bequest, concluded with these words,
"God bless him, and shame fall on those who do not say amen." Sir
William's pension of L1200 a year ceased with his death. Nelson applied
to Mr. Addington in Lady Hamilton's behalf, stating the important
service which she had rendered to the fleet at Syracuse; and Mr.
Addington, it is said, acknowledged that she had a just claim upon the
gratitude of the country. This barren acknowledgment was all that was
obtained; but a sum, equal to the pension which her husband had enjoyed,
was settled on her by Nelson, and paid in monthly payments during his
life. A few weeks after this event, the war was renewed; and the day
after his Majesty's message to Parliament, Nelson departed to take the
command of the Mediterranean fleet. The war he thought, could not be
long; just enough to make him independent in pecuniary matters.
He took his station immediately off Toulon; and there, with incessant
vigilance, waited for the coming out of the enemy. The expectation of
acquiring a competent fortune did not last long. "Somehow," he says,"my
mind is not sharp enough for prize-money. Lord Keith would have made
L20,000, and I have not made L6000." More than once he says that the
prizes taken in the Mediterranean had not paid his expenses; and once he
expresses himself as if it were a consolation to think that some ball
might soon close all his accounts with this world of care and vexation.
At this time the widow of his brother, being then blind and advanced in
years, was distressed for money, and about to sell her plate; he wrote
to Lady Hamilton, requesting of her to find out what her debts were, and
saying that, if the amount was within his power, he would certainly pay
it, and rather pinch himself than that she should want. Before he had
finished the letter, an account arrived that a sum was payable to him
for some neutral taken four years before, which enabled him to do this
without being the poorer; and he seems to have felt at the moment that
what was thus disposed of by a cheerful giver, shall be paid to him
again. One from whom he had looked for very different conduct, had
compared his own wealth, in no becoming manner, with Nelson's limited
means. "I know," said he to Lady Hamilton, "the full extent of the
obligation I owe him, and he may be useful to me again; but I can never
forget his unkindness to you. But, I guess many reasons influenced his
conduct in bragging of his riches and my honourable poverty; but, as I
have often said, and with honest pride, what I have is my own: it never
cost the widow a tear, or the nation a farthing. I got what I have with
my pure blood, from the enemies of my country. Our house, my own Emma,
is built upon a solid foundation; and will last to us, when his houses
and lands may belong to others than his children."
His hope was that peace might soon be made, or that he should be
relieved from his command, and retire to Merton, where at that distance
he was planning and directing improvements. On his birthday he writes,
"This day, my dearest Emma, I consider as more fortunate than common
days, as by my coming into this world it has brought me so intimately
acquainted with you. I well know that you will keep it, and have my dear
Horatio to drink my health. Forty-six years of toil and trouble! How few
more the common lot of mankind leads us to expect! and therefore it is
almost time to think of spending the few last years in peace and
quietness." It is painful to think that this language was not addressed
to his wife, but to one with whom he promised himself "many many happy
years, when that impediment," as he calls her, "shall be removed, if God
pleased; and they might be surrounded by their children's children."
When he had been fourteen months off Toulon, he received a vote of
thanks from the city of London for his skill and perseverance in
blockading that port, so as to prevent the French from putting to sea.
Nelson had not forgotten the wrong which the city had done to the Baltic
fleet by their omission, and did not lose the opportunity which this
vote afforded of recurring to that point. "I do assure your lordship,"
said he, in his answer to the lord mayor, "that there is not that man
breathing who sets a higher value upon the thanks of his fellow-citizens
of London than myself; but I should feel as much ashamed to receive them
for a particular service marked in the resolution, if I felt that I did
not come within that line of service, as I should feel hurt at having a
great victory passed over without notice. I beg to inform your lordship,
that the port of Toulon has never been blockaded by me; quite the
reverse. Every opportunity has been offered the enemy to put to sea;
for it is there that we hope to realise the hopes and expectations of
our country." Nelson then remarked that the junior flag-officers of his
fleet had been omitted in this vote of thanks; and his surprise at the
omission was expressed with more asperity, perhaps, than an offence so
entirely and manifestly unintentional deserved; but it arose from that
generous regard for the feelings as well as the interests of all who
were under his command, which made him as much beloved in the fleets of
Britain as he was dreaded in those of the enemy.
Never was any commander more beloved. He governed men by their reason
and their affections; they knew that he was incapable of caprice or
tyranny and they obeyed him with alacrity and joy, because he possessed
their confidence as well as their love. "Our Nel," they used to say, "is
as brave as a lion and as gentle as a lamb." Severe discipline he
detested, though he had been bred in a severe school. He never inflicted
corporal punishment if it were possible to avoid it; and when compelled
to enforce it, he, who was familiar with wounds and death, suffered like
a woman. In his whole life, Nelson was never known to act unkindly
towards an officer. If he was asked to prosecute one for ill behaviour,
he used to answer, "That there was no occasion for him to ruin a poor
devil who was sufficiently his own enemy to ruin himself." But in
Nelson there was more than the easiness and humanity of a happy nature:
he did not merely abstain from injury; his was an active and watchful
benevolence, ever desirous not only to render justice, but to do good.
During the peace he had spoken in parliament upon the abuses respecting
prize-money, and had submitted plans to government for more easily
manning the navy, and preventing desertion from it, by bettering the
condition of the seamen. He proposed that their certificates should be
registered, and that every man who had served, with a good character,
five years in war, should receive a bounty of two guineas annually after
that time, and of four guineas after eight years. "This," he said,
"might, at first sight, appear an enormous sum for the state to pay; but
the average life of seamen is, from hard service, finished at fortyfive.
He cannot, therefore, enjoy the annuity many years, and the
interest of the money saved by their not deserting would go far to pay
the whole expense."
To his midshipmen he ever showed the most winning kindness,
encouraging the diffident, tempering the hasty, counselling and
befriending both. "Recollect," he used to say, "that you must be a
seaman to be an officer; and also that you cannot be a good officer
without being a gentleman." A lieutenant wrote to him to say that he was
dissatisfied with his captain. Nelson's answer was in that spirit of
perfect wisdom and perfect goodness which regulated his whole conduct
towards those who were under his command. "I have just received your
letter, and am truly sorry that any difference should arise between your
captain, who has the reputation of being one of the bright officers of
the service, and yourself, a very young man, and a very young officer,
who must naturally have much to learn; therefore the chance is that you
are perfectly wrong in the disagreement. However, as your present
situation must be very disagreeable, I will certainly take an early
opportunity of removing you, provided your conduct to your present
captain be such that another may not refuse to receive you." The
gentleness and benignity of his disposition never made him forget what
was due to discipline. Being on one occasion applied to, to save a young
officer from a court-martial, which he had provoked by his misconduct,
his reply was, "That he would do everything in his power to oblige so
gallant and good an officer as Sir John Warren," in whose name the
intercession had been made. "But what," he added, "would he do if he
were here? Exactly what I have done, and am still willing to do. The
young man must write such a letter of contrition as would be an
acknowledgment of his great fault; and with a sincere promise, if his
captain will intercede to prevent the impending court-martial, never to
so misbehave again. On his captain's enclosing me such a letter, with a
request to cancel the order for the trial, I might be induced to do it;
but the letters and reprimand will be given in the public order-book of
the fleet, and read to all the officers. The young man has pushed
himself forward to notice, and he must take the consequence. It was
upon the quarter-deck, in the face of the ship's company, that he
treated his captain with contempt; and I am in duty bound to support the
authority and consequence of every officer under my command. A poor
ignorant seaman is for ever punished for contempt to HIS superiors."
A dispute occurred in the fleet while it was off Toulon, which called
forth Nelson's zeal for the rights and interests of the navy. Some young
artillery officers, serving on board the bomb vessels, refused to let
their men perform any other duty but what related to the mortars. They
wished to have it established that their corps was not subject to the
captain's authority. The same pretensions were made in the Channel fleet
about the same time, and the artillery rested their claims to separate
and independent authority on board, upon a clause in the act, which they
interpreted in their favour. Nelson took up the subject with all the
earnestness which its importance deserved. "There is no real happiness
in this world," said he, writing to Earl St. Vincent, as first lord.
"With all content and smiles around me, up start these artillery boys (I
understand they are not beyond that age), and set us at defiance;
speaking in the most disrespectful manner of the navy and its
commanders. I know you, my dear lord, so well, that with your quickness
the matter would have been settled, and perhaps some of them been
broke. I am perhaps more patient, but I do assure you not less resolved,
if my plan of conciliation is not attended to. You and I are on the eve
of quitting the theatre of our exploits; but we hold it due to our
successors never, whilst we have a tongue to speak or a hand to write,
to allow the navy to be in the smallest degree injured in its discipline
by our conduct." To Troubridge he wrote in the same spirit: "It is the
old history, trying to do away the act of parliament; but I trust they
will never succeed; for when they do, farewell to our naval superiority.
We should be prettily commanded! Let them once gain the step of being
independent of the navy on board a ship, and they will soon have the
other, and command us. But, thank God! my dear Troubridge, the king
himself cannot do away the act of parliament. Although my career is
nearly run, yet it would embitter my future days, and expiring moments,
to hear of our navy being sacrificed to the army." As the surest way of
preventing such disputes, he suggested that the navy should have it's
own corps of artillery; and a corps of marine artillery was accordingly
Instead of lessening the power of the commander, Nelson would have
wished to see it increased: it was absolutely necessary, he thought,
that merit should be rewarded at the moment, and that the officers of
the fleet should look up to the commander-in-chief for their reward. He
himself was never more happy than when he could promote those who were
deserving of promotion. Many were the services which he thus rendered
unsolicited; and frequently the officer, in whose behalf he had
interested himself with the Admiralty, did not know to whose friendly
interference he was indebted for his good fortune. He used to say, "I
wish it to appear as a God-send." The love which he bore the navy made
him promote the interests, and honour the memory, of all who had added
to its glories. "The near relations of brother officers," he said, "he
considered as legacies to the service." Upon mention being made to him
of a son of Rodney, by the Duke of Clarence, his reply was: "I agree
with your Royal Highness most entirely, that the son of a Rodney ought
to be the PROTEGE of every person in the kingdom, and particularly of
the sea-officers. Had I known that there had been this claimant, some
of my own lieutenants must have given way to such a name, and he should
have been placed in the VICTORY: she is full, and I have twenty on my
list; but, whatever numbers I have, the name of Rodney must cut many of
them out." Such was the proper sense which Nelson felt of what was due
to splendid services and illustrious names. His feelings toward the
brave men who had served with him are shown by a note in his diary,
which was probably not intended for any other eye than his own: "Nov. 7.
I had the comfort of making an old AGAMEMNON, George Jones, a gunner
into the CHAMELEON brig."
When Nelson took the command, it was expected that the Mediterranean
would be an active scene. Nelson well understood the character of the
perfidious Corsican, who was now sole tyrant of France; and knowing that
he was as ready to attack his friends as his enemies, knew, therefore,
that nothing could be more uncertain than the direction of the fleet
from Toulon, whenever it should put to sea. "It had as many
destinations," he said, "as there were countries." The momentous
revolutions of the last ten years had given him ample matter for
reflection, as well as opportunities for observation: the film was
cleared from his eyes; and now, when the French no longer went abroad
with the cry of liberty and equality, he saw that the oppression and
misrule of the powers which had been opposed to them, had been the main
causes of their success, and that those causes would still prepare the
way before them. Even in Sicily, where, if it had been possible longer
to blind himself, Nelson would willingly have seen no evil, he perceived
that the people wished for a change, and acknowledged that they had
reason to wish for it. In Sardinia the same burden of misgovernment was
felt; and the people, like the Sicilians, were impoverished by a
government so utterly incompetent to perform its first and most
essential duties that it did not protect its own coasts from the Barbary
pirates. He would fain have had us purchase this island (the finest in
the Mediterranean) from its sovereign, who did not receive L5000 a year
from it after its wretched establishment was paid. There was reason to
think that France was preparing to possess herself of this important
point, which afforded our fleet facilities for watching Toulon, not to
be obtained elsewhere. An expedition was preparing at Corsica for the
purpose; and all the Sardes, who had taken part with revolutionary
France, were ordered to assemble there. It was certain that if the
attack were made it would succeed. Nelson thought that the only means to
prevent Sardinia from becoming French was to make it English, and that
half a million would give the king a rich price, and England a cheap
purchase. A better, and therefore a wiser policy, would have been to
exert our influence in removing the abuses of the government, for
foreign dominion is always, in some degree, an evil and allegiance
neither can nor ought to be made a thing of bargain and sale. Sardinia,
like Sicily and Corsica, is large enough to form a separate state. Let
us hope that these islands may one day be made free and independent.
Freedom and independence will bring with them industry and
prosperity;and wherever these are found, arts and letters will flourish,
and the improvement of the human race proceed.
The proposed attack was postponed. Views of wider ambition were
opening upon Buonaparte, who now almost undisguisedldy aspired to make
himself master of the continent of Europe; and Austria was preparing for
another struggle, to be conducted as weakly and terminated as miserably
as the former. Spain, too, was once more to be involved in war by the
policy of France: that perfidious government having in view the double
object of employing the Spanish resources against England, and
exhausting them in order to render Spain herself finally its prey.
Nelson, who knew that England and the Peninsula ought to be in alliance,
for the common interest of both, frequently expressed his hopes that
Spain might resume her natural rank among the nations. "We ought," he
said, "by mutual consent, to be the very best friends, and both to be
ever hostile to France." But he saw that Buonaparte was meditating the
destruction of Spain; and that, while the wretched court of Madrid
professed to remain neutral, the appearances of neutrality were scarcely
preserved, An order of the year 1771, excluding British ships of war
from the Spanish ports, was revived, and put in force: while French
privateers, from these very ports, annoyed the British trade, carried
their prizes in, and sold them even at Barcelona. Nelson complained of
this to the captain-general of Catalonia, informing him that he claimed,
for every British ship or squadron, the right of lying, as long as it
pleased, in the ports of Spain, while that right was allowed to other
powers. To the British Ambassador he said: "I am ready to make large
allowances for the miserable situation Spain has placed herself in; but
there is a certain line, beyond which I cannot submit to be treated with
disrespect. We have given up French vessels taken within gunshot of the
Spanish shore, and yet French vessels are permitted to attack our ships
from the Spanish shore. Your excellency may assure the Spanish
government that, in whatever place the Spaniards allow the French to
attack us, in that place I shall order the French to be attacked."
During this state of things, to which the weakness of Spain, and not
her will, consented, the enemy's fleet did not venture to put to sea.
Nelson watched it with unremitting and almost unexampled perseverance.
The station off Toulon he called his home. "We are in the right fighting
trim," said he: "let them come as soon as they please. I never saw a
fleet altogether so well officered and manned; would to God the ships
were half as good! The finest ones in the service would soon be
destroyed by such terrible weather. I know well enough that if I were to
go into Malta I should save the ships during this bad season; but if I
am to watch the French I must be at sea; and if at sea, must have bad
weather; and if the ships are not fit to stand bad weather, they are
useless." Then only he was satisfied and at ease when he had the enemy
in view. Mr. Elliot, our minister at Naples, seems at this time to have
proposed to send a confidential Frenchman to him with information. "I
should be very happy," he replied, "to receive authentic intelligence of
the destination of the French squadron, their route, and time of
sailing. Anything short of this is useless; and I assure your
excellency, that I would not upon any consideration have a Frenchman in
the fleet, except as a prisoner. I put no confidence in them. You think
yours good; the queen thinks the same; I believe they are all alike.
Whatever information you can get me I shall be very thankful for; but
not a Frenchman comes here. Forgive me, but my mother hated the French."
M. Latouche Treville, who had commanded at Boulogne, commanded now
at Toulon. "He was sent for on purpose," said Nelson, "as he BEAT ME at
Boulogne, to beat me again; but he seems very loath to try." One day,
while the main body of our fleet was out of sight of land, Rear-Admiral
Campbell, reconnoitring with the CANOPUS, DONEGAL, and AMAZON, stood in
close to the port; and M. Latouche, taking advantage of a breeze which
sprung up, pushed out with four ships of the line and three heavy
frigates, and chased him about four leagues. The Frenchman, delighted at
having found himself in so novel a situation, published a boastful
account, affirming that he had given chase to the whole British fleet,
and that Nelson had fled before him! Nelson thought it due to the
Admiralty to send home a copy of the VICTORY's log upon this occasion.
"As for himself," he said, "if his character was not established by that
time for not being apt to run away, it was not worth his while to put
the world right."--"If this fleet gets fairly up with M. Latouche," said
he to one of his correspondents, "his letter, with all his ingenuity,
must be different from his last. We had fancied that we chased him into
Toulon; for, blind as I am, I could see his water line, when he clued
his topsails up, shutting in Sepet. But from the time of his meeting
Captain Hawker in the ISIS, I never heard of his acting otherwise than
as a poltroon and a liar. Contempt is the best mode of treating such a
miscreant." In spite, however, of contempt, the impudence of this
Frenchman half angered him. He said to his brother: "You will have seen
Latouche's letter; how he chased me and how I ran. I keep it; and if I
take him, by God he shall eat it."
Nelson, who used to say, that in sea affairs nothing is impossible,
and nothing improbable, feared the more that this Frenchman might get
out and elude his vigilance; because he was so especially desirous of
catching him, and administering to him his own lying letter in a
sandwich. M. Latouche, however, escaped him in another way. He died,
according to the French papers, in consequence of walking so often up to
the signal-post upon Sepet, to watch the British fleet. "I always
pronounced that would be his death," said Nelson. "If he had come out
and fought me, it would at least have added ten years to my life." The
patience with which he had watched Toulon, he spoke of, truly, as a
perseverance at sea which had never been surpassed. From May, 1803, to
August, 1805, he himself went out of his ship but three times; each of
those times was upon the king's service, and neither time of absence
exceeded an hour. In 1804 the SWIFT cutter going out with despatches was
taken, and all the despatches and letters fell into the hands of the
enemy. "A very pretty piece of work," says Nelson; "I am not surprised
at the capture, but am very much so that any despatches should be sent
in a vessel with twenty-three men, not equal to cope with any row-boat
privateer. The loss of the HINDOSTAN was great enough; but for
importance it is lost in comparison to the probable knowledge the enemy
will obtain of our connexions with foreign countries. Foreigners for
ever say, and it is true, we dare not trust England: one way or other we
are sure to be committed." In a subsequent letter he says, speaking of
the same capture: "I find, my dearest Emma, that your picture is very
much admired by the French Consul at Barcelona, and that he has not sent
it to be admired, which I am sure it would be, by Buonaparte. They
pretend that there were three pictures taken. I wish I had them; but
they are all gone as irretrievably as the despatches, unless we may read
them in a book, as we printed their correspondence from Egypt. But from
us what can they find out? That I love you most dearly, and hate the
French most damnably. Dr. Scott went to Barcelona to try to get the
private letters, but I fancy they are all gone to Paris. The Swedish and
American Consuls told him that the French Consul had your picture and
read your letters; and the Doctor thinks one of them, probably, read the
letters. By the master's account of the cutter, I would not have
trusted an old pair of shoes in her. He tells me she did not sail, but
was a good sea-boat. I hope Mr. Marsden will not trust any more of my
private letters in such a conveyance: if they choose to trust the
affairs of the public in such a thing, I cannot help it."
While he was on this station, the weather had been so unusually
severe that he said the Mediterranean seemed altered. It was his rule
never to contend with the gales; but either run to the southward to
escape their violence, or furl all the sails, and make the ships as easy
as possible. The men, though he said flesh and blood could hardly stand
it, continued in excellent health, which he ascribed, in great measure,
to a plentiful supply of lemons and onions. For himself, he thought he
could only last till the battle was over. One battle more it was his
hope that he might fight. "However," said he, "whatever happens, I have
run a glorious race." "A few months" rest," he says, "I must have very
soon. If I am in my grave, what are the mines of Peru to me? But to say
the truth, I have no idea of killing myself. I may, with care, live yet
to do good service to the state. My cough is very bad, and my side,
where I was struck on the 14th of February, is very much swelled: at
times a lump as large as my fist, brought on occasionally by violent
coughing. But I hope and believe my lungs are yet safe." He was afraid
of blindness and this was the only evil which he could not contemplate
without unhappiness. More alarming symptoms he regarded with less
apprehension, describing his own "shattered carcass" as in the worst
plight of any in the fleet; and he says,"I have felt the blood gushing
up the left side of my head; and, the moment it covers the brain, I am
fast asleep." The fleet was in worse trim than the men; but when he
compared it with the enemy's, it was with a right English feeling. "The
French fleet yesterday," said he, in one of his letters, "was to
appearance in high feather, and as fine as paint could make them; but
when they may sail, or where they may go, I am very sorry to say is a
secret I am not acquainted with. Our weather-beaten ships, I have no
fear, will make their sides like a plum-pudding." "Yesterday," he says,
on another occasion, "a rear-admiral and seven sail of ships put their
nose outside the harbour. If they go on playing this game, some day we
shall lay salt on their tails."
Hostilities at length commenced between Great Britain and Spain. That
country, whose miserable government made her subservient to France, was
once more destined to lavish her resources and her blood in furtherance
of the designs of a perfidious ally. The immediate occasion of the war
was the seizure of four treasure-ships by the English. The act was
perfectly justifiable, for those treasures were intended to furnish
means for France; but the circumstances which attended it were as
unhappy as they were unforeseen. Four frigates had been despatched to
intercept them. They met with an equal force. Resistance, therefore,
became a point of honour on the part of the Spaniards, and one of their
ships soon blew up with all on board. Had a stronger squadron been sent,
this deplorable catastrophe might have been spared: a catastrophe which
excited not more indignation in Spain than it did grief in those who
were its unwilling instruments, in the English government, and in the
English people. On the 5th of October this unhappy affair occurred, and
Nelson was not apprised of it till the twelfth of the ensuing month. He
had, indeed, sufficient mortification at the breaking out of this
Spanish war; an event which, it might reasonably have been supposed,
would amply enrich the officers of the Mediterranean fleet, and repay
them for the severe and unremitting duty on which they had been so long
employed. But of this harvest they were deprived; for Sir John Orde was
sent with a small squadron, and a separate command, to Cadiz. Nelson's
feelings were never wounded so deeply as now. "I had thought," said he,
writing in the first flow and freshness of indignation; "Fancied--but
nay; it must have been a dream, an idle dream; yet I confess it, I DID
fancy that I had done my country service; and thus they use me! And
under what circumstances, and with what pointed aggravation? Yet, if I
know my own thoughts, it is not for myself, or on my own account
chiefly, that I feel the sting and the disappointment. No! it is for my
brave officers: for my noble minded friends and comrades. Such a gallant
set of fellows! Such a band of brothers! My heart swells at the thought
of them."
War between Spain and England was now declared; and on the eighteenth
of January, the Toulon fleet, having the Spaniards to co-operate with
them, put to sea. Nelson was at anchor off the coast of Sardinia, where
the Madelena islands form one of the finest harbours in the world, when,
at three in the afternoon of the nineteenth, the ACTIVE and SEAHORSE
frigates brought this long-hoped-for intelligence. They had been close
to the enemy at ten on the preceding night, but lost sight of them in
about four hours. The fleet immediately unmoored and weighed, and at six
in the evening ran through the strait between Biche and Sardinia: a
passage so narrow that the ships could only pass one at a time, each
following the stern-lights of its leader. From the position of the
enemy, when they were last seen, it was inferred that they must be bound
round the southern end of Sardinia. Signal was made the next morning to
prepare for battle. Bad weather came on, baffling the one fleet in its
object, and the other in its pursuit. Nelson beat about the Sicilian
seas for ten days, without obtaining any other information of the enemy
than that one of their ships had put into Ajaccio, dismasted; and having
seen that Sardinia, Naples, and Sicily were safe, believing Egypt to be
their destination, for Egypt he ran. The disappointment and distress
which he had experienced in his former pursuits of the French through
the same seas were now renewed; but Nelson, while he endured these
anxious and unhappy feelings, was still consoled by the same confidence
as on the former occasion--that, though his judgment might be erroneous,
under all circumstances he was right in having formed it. "I have
consulted no man," said he to the Admiralty; "therefore the whole blame
of ignorance in forming my judgment must rest with me. I would allow no
man to take from me an atom of my glory had I fallen in with the French
fleet; nor do I desire any man to partake any of the responsibility. All
is mine, right or wrong." Then stating the grounds upon which he had
proceeded, he added, "At this moment of sorrow, I still feel that I have
acted right." In the same spirit he said to Sir Alexander Ball: "When I
call to remembrance all the circumstances, I approve, if nobody else
does, of my own conduct."
Baffled thus, he bore up for Malta, and met intelligence from Naples
that the French, having been dispersed in a gale, had put back to
Toulon. From the same quarter he learned that a great number of saddles
and muskets had been embarked; and this confirmed him in his opinion
that Egypt was their destination. That they should have put him back in
consequence of storms which he had weathered, gave him a consoling sense
of British superiority. "These gentlemen," said he, "are not accustomed
to a Gulf of Lyons gale: we have buffeted them for one-and-twenty
months, and not carried away a spar." He, however, who had so often
braved these gales, was now, though not mastered by them, vexatiously
thwarted and impeded; and on February 27th he was compelled to anchor in
Pula Bay in the Gulf of Cagliari. From the 21st of January the fleet had
remained ready for battle, without a bulk-head up night or day. He
anchored here that he might not be driven to leeward. As soon as the
weather moderated he put to sea again; and after again beating about
against contrary winds, another gale drove him to anchor in the Gulf of
Palma on the 8th of March. This he made his rendezvous: he knew that
the French troops still remained embarked; and wishing to lead them into
a belief that he was stationed upon the Spanish coast, he made his
appearance off Barcelona with that intent. About the end of the month he
began to fear that the plan of the expedition was abandoned; and sailing
once more towards his old station off Toulon on the 4th of April, he met
the PHOEBE, with news that Villeneuve had put to sea on the last of
March, with eleven ships of the line, seven frigates, and two brigs.
When last seen they were steering towards the coast of Africa. Nelson
first covered the channel between Sardinia and Barbary, so as to satisfy
himself that Villeneuve was not taking the same route for Egypt which
Gantheaume had taken before him, when he attempted to carry
reinforcements thither. Certain of this, he bore up on the 7th for
Palermo, lest the French should pass to the north of Corsica, and he
despatched cruisers in all directions. On the 11th he felt assured that
they were not gone down the Mediterranean; and sending off frigates to
Gibraltar, to Lisbon, and to Admiral Cornwallis, who commanded the
squadron off Brest, he endeavoured to get to the westward, beating
against westerly winds. After five days a neutral gave intelligence that
the French had been seen off Cape de Gatte on the 7th. It was soon after
ascertained that they had passed the Straits of Gibraltar on the day
following; and Nelson, knowing that they might already be half way to
Ireland or to Jamaica, exclaimed that he was miserable. One gleam of
comfort only came across him in the reflection, that his vigilance had
rendered it impossible for them to undertake any expedition in the
Eight days after this certain intelligence had been obtained, he
described his state of mind thus forcibly in writing to the governor of
Malta: "My good fortune, my dear Ball, seems flown away. I cannot get a
fair wind, or even a side-wind. Dead foul!--Dead foul! But my mind is
fully made up what to do when I leave the supposing there is no certain
account of the enemy's destination. I believe this ill-luck will go near
to kill me; but as these are times for exertion, I must not be cast
down, whatever I may feel." In spite of every exertion which could be
made by all the zeal and all the skill of British seamen, he did not get
in sight of Gibraltar till the 30th of April; and the wind was then so
adverse that it was impossible to pass the Gut. He anchored in Mazari
Bay, on the Barbary shore; obtained supplies from Tetuan; and when, on
the 5th, a breeze from the eastward sprang up at last, sailed once more,
hoping to hear of the enemy from Sir John Orde, who commanded off Cadiz,
or from Lisbon. "If nothing is heard of them," said he to the Admiralty,
"I shall probably think the rumours which have been spread are true,
that their object is the West Indies; and, in that case, I think it my
duty to follow them--or to the Antipodes, should I believe that to be
their destination." At the time when this resolution was taken, the
physician of the fleet had ordered him to return to England before the
hot months.
Nelson had formed his judgment of their destination, and made up his
mind accordingly, when Donald Campbell, at that time an admiral in the
Portuguese service, the same person who had given important tidings to
Earl St. Vincent of the movements of that fleet from which he won his
title, a second time gave timely and momentous intelligence to the flag
of his country. He went on board the VICTORY, and communicated to
Nelson his certain knowledge that the combined Spanish and French fleets
were bound for the West Indies. Hitherto all things had favoured the
enemy. While the British commander was beating up again strong southerly
and westerly gales, they had wind to their wish from the N.E., and had
done in nine days what he was a whole month in accomplishing.
Villeneuve, finding the Spaniards at Carthagena were not in a fit state
of equipment to join him, dared not wait, but hastened on to Cadiz. Sir
John Orde necessarily retired at his approach. Admiral Gravina, with six
Spanish ships of the line and two French, come out to him, and they
sailed without a moment's loss of time. They had about three thousand
French troops on board, and fifteen hundred Spanish: six hundred were
under orders, expecting them at Martinique, and one thousand at
Guadaloupe. General Lauriston commanded the troops. The combined fleet
now consisted of eighteen sail of the line, six forty-four gun frigates,
one of twenty-six guns, three corvettes, and a brig. They were joined
afterwards by two new French line-of-battle ships, and one forty-four.
Nelson pursued them with ten sail of the line and three frigates. "Take
you a Frenchman apiece," said he to his captains, "and leave me the
Spaniards: when I haul down my colours, I expect you to do the same, and
not till then."
The enemy had five-and-thirty days' start; but he calculated that he
should gain eight or ten days upon them by his exertions. May 15th he
made Madeira, and on June 4th reached Barbadoes, whither he had sent
despatches before him; and where he found Admiral Cochrane, with two
ships, part of our squadron in those seas being at Jamaica. He found
here also accounts that the combined fleets had been seen from St. Lucia
on the 28th, standing to the southward, and that Tobago and Trinidad
were their objects. This Nelson doubted; but he was alone in his
opinion, and yielded it with these foreboding words: "If your
intelligence proves false, you lose me the French fleet." Sir W. Myers
offered to embark here with 2000 troops; they were taken on board, and
the next morning he sailed for Tobago. Here accident confirmed the false
intelligence which had, whether from intention or error, misled him. A
merchant at Tobago, in the general alarm, not knowing whether this fleet
was friend or foe, sent out a schooner to reconnoitre, and acquaint him
by signal. The signal which he had chosen happened to be the very one
which had been appointed by Col. Shipley of the engineers to signify
that the enemy were at Trinidad; and as this was at the close of the
day, there was no opportunity of discovering the mistake. An American
brig was met with about the same time, the master of which, with that
propensity to deceive the English and assist the French in any manner
which has been but too common among his countrymen, affirmed that he had
been boarded off Granada a few days before by the French, who were
standing towards the Bocas of Trinidad. This fresh intelligence removed
all doubts. The ships were cleared for action before daylight, and
Nelson entered the Bay of Paria on the 7th, hoping and expecting to make
the mouths of the Orinoco as famous in the annals of the British navy as
those of the Nile. Not an enemy was there; and it was discovered that
accident and artifice had combined to lead him so far to leeward, that
there could have been little hope of fetching to windward of Granada for
any other fleet. Nelson, however, with skill and exertions never
exceeded, and almost unexampled, bore for that island.
Advices met him on the way, that the combined fleets, having
captured the Diamond Rock, were then at Martinique on the fourth, and
were expected to sail that night for the attack of Granada. On the 9th
Nelson arrived off that island; and there learned that they had passed
to leeward of Antigua the preceding day, and had taken a homeward-bound
convoy. Had it not been for false information, upon which Nelson had
acted reluctantly, and in opposition to his own judgment, he would have
been off Port Royal just as they were leaving; it, and the battle would
have been fought on the spot where Rodney defeated De Grasse. This he
remembered in his vexation; but he had saved the colonies, and above 200
ships laden for Europe, which would else have fallen into the enemy's
hands; and he had the satisfaction of knowing that the mere terror of
his name had effected this, and had put to flight the allied enemies,
whose force nearly doubled that before which they fled. That they were
flying back to Europe he believed, and for Europe he steered in pursuit
on the 13th, having disembarked the troops at Antigua, and taking with
him the SPARTIATE, seventy-four; the only addition to the squadron with
which he was pursuing so superior a force. Five days afterwards the
AMAZON brought intelligence that she had spoke a schooner who had seen
them on the evening of the 15th, steering to the north; and by
computation, eighty-seven leagues off. Nelson's diary at this time
denotes his great anxiety and his perpetual and all-observing vigilance.
"June 21. Midnight, nearly calm, saw three planks, which I think came
from the French fleet. Very miserable, which is very foolish." On the
17th of July he came in sight of Cape St. Vincent, and steered for
Gibraltar. "June 18th," his diary says,"Cape Spartel in sight, but no
French fleet, nor any information about them. How sorrowful this makes
me! but I cannot help myself." The next day he anchored at Gibraltar;
and on the 20th, says he, "I went on shore for the first time since June
16, 1803; and from having my foot out of the VICTORY two years, wanting
ten days."
Here he communicated with his old friend Collingwood; who, having
been detached with a squadron, when the disappearance of the combined
fleets, and of Nelson in their pursuit, was known in England, had taken
his station off Cadiz. He thought that Ireland was the enemy's ultimate
object; that they would now liberate the Ferrol squadron, which was
blocked up by Sir Robert Calder, call for the Rochefort ships,and then
appear off Ushant with 33 or 34 sail; there to be joined: by the Brest
fleet. With this great force he supposed they would make for Ireland--
the real mark and bent of all their operations; and their flight to the
West Indies, he thought, had been merely undertaken to take off Nelson's
force, which was the great impediment to their undertaking.
Collingwood was gifted with great political penetration. As yet,
however, all was conjecture concerning the enemy; and Nelson, having
victualled and watered at Tetuan, stood for Ceuta on the 24th, still
without information of their course. Next day intelligence arrived that
the CURIEUX brig had seen them on the 19th, standing to the northward.
He proceeded off Cape St. Vincent, rather cruising for intelligence than
knowing whither to betake himself; and here a case occurred that more
than any other event in real history resembles those whimsical proofs of
sagacity which Voltaire, in his Zadig, has borrowed from the Orientals.
One of our frigates spoke an American, who, a little to the westward of
the Azores, had fallen in with an armed vessel, appearing to be a
dismasted privateer, deserted by her crew, which had been run on board
by another ship, and had been set fire to; but the fire had gone out. A
log-book and a few seamen's jackets were found in the cabin; and these
were brought to Nelson. The log-book closed with these words: "Two large
vessels in the W.N.W.:" and this led him to conclude that the vessel had
been an English privateer, cruising off the Western Islands. But there
was in this book a scrap of dirty paper, filled with figures. Nelson,
immediately upon seeing it, observed that the figures were written by a
Frenchman; and after studying this for a while, said, "I can explain the
whole. The jackets are of French manufacture, and prove that the
privateer was in possession of the enemy. She had been chased and taken
by the two ships that were seen in the W.N.W. The prizemaster, going on
board in a hurry, forgot to take with him his reckoning: there is none
in the log-book; and the dirty paper contains her work for the number of
days since the privateer last left Corvo; with an unaccounted-for run,
which I take to have been the chase, in his endeavour to find out her
situation by back reckonings. By some mismanagement, I conclude she was
run on board of by one of the enemy's ships, and dismasted. Not liking
delay (for I am satisfied that those two ships were the advanced ones of
the French squadron), and fancying we were close at their heels, they
set fire to the vessel, and abandoned her in a hurry. If this
explanation be correct, I infer from it that they are gone more to the
northward; and more to the northward I will look for them." This course
accordingly he held, but still without success. Still persevering, and
still disappointed, he returned near enough to Cadiz to ascertain that
they were not there; traversed the Bay of Biscay; and then, as a last
hope, stood over for the north-west coast of Ireland against adverse
winds, till, on the evening of the 12th of August, he learned that they
had not been heard of there. Frustrated thus in all his hopes, after a
pursuit, to which, for its extent, rapidity, and perseverance, no
parallel can he produced, he judged it best to reinforce the Channel
fleet with his squadron, lest the enemy, as Collingwood apprehended,
should bear down upon Brest with their whole collected force. On the
15th he joined Admiral Cornwallis off Ushant. No news had yet been
obtained of the enemy; and on the same evening he received orders to
proceed, with the VICTORY and SUPERB, to Portsmouth.
Sir Robert Calder falls in with the combined Fleets--They form a
Junction with the Ferrol Squadron, and get into Cadiz--Nelson is
reappointed to the Command--Battle of Trafalgar--Victory, and
Death of Nelson.
At Portsmouth, Nelson at length found news of the combined fleet. Sir
Robert Calder, who had been sent out to intercept their return, had
fallen in with them on the 22nd of July, sixty leagues off Cape
Finisterre. Their force consisted of twenty sail of the line, three
fifty-gun ships, five frigates, and two brigs: his, of fifteen line-ofbattle
ships, two frigates, a cutter, and a lugger. After an action of
four hours he had captured an eighty-four and a seventy-four, and then
thought it necessary to bring-to the squadron, for the purpose of
securing their prizes. The hostile fleets remained in sight of each
other till the 26th, when the enemy bore away. The capture of two ships
from so superior a force would have been considered as no inconsiderable
victory, a few years earlier; but Nelson had introduced a new era
in our naval history; and the nation felt respecting this action as he
had felt on a somewhat similar occasion. They regretted that Nelson,
with his eleven ships, had not been in Sir Robert Calder's place; and
their disappointment was generally and loudly expressed.
Frustrated as his own hopes had been, Nelson had yet the high
satisfaction of knowing that his judgment had never been more
conspicuously approved, and that he had rendered essential service to
his country, by driving the enemy from those Islands where they expected
there could be no force capable of opposing them. The West India
merchants in London, as men whose interests were more immediately
benefited, appointed a deputation to express their thanks for his great
and judicious exertions. It was now his intention to rest awhile from
his labours, and recruit himself, after all his fatigues and cares, in
the society of those whom he loved. All his stores were brought up from
the VICTORY; and he found in his house at Merton the enjoyment which he
had anticipated. Many days had not elapsed before Captain Blackwood, on
his way to London with despatches, called on him at five in the morning.
Nelson, who was already dressed, exclaimed, the moment he saw him: "I am
sure you bring me news of the French and Spanish fleets! I think I shall
yet have to beat them!" They had refitted at Vigo, after the indecisive
action with Sir Robert Calder; then proceeded to Ferrol, brought out the
squadron from thence, and with it entered Cadiz in safety. "Depend on
it, Blackwood:" he repeatedly said, "I shall yet give M. Villeneuve a
drubbing." But when Blackwood had left him, he wanted resolution to
declare his wishes to Lady Hamilton and his sisters, and endeavoured to
drive away the thought. He had done enough, he said: "Let the man trudge
it who has lost his budget!" His countenance belied his lips; and as he
was pacing one of the walks in the garden, which he used to call the
quarter-deck, Lady Hamilton came up to him, and told him she saw he was
uneasy. He smiled, and said: "No, he was as happy as possible; he was
surrounded by his family, his health was better since he had been an
shore, and he would not give sixpence to call the king his uncle." She
replied, that she did not believe him, that she knew that he was longing
to get at the combined fleets, that he considered them as his own
property, that he would be miserable if any man but himself did the
business; and that he ought to have them, as the price and reward of his
two years' long watching, and his hard chase. "Nelson," said she,
"however we may lament your absence, offer your services; they will be
accepted, and you will gain a quiet heart by it: you will have a
glorious victory, and then you may return here, and be happy." He looked
at her with tears in his eyes: "Brave Emma! Good Emma! If there were
more Emmas there would be more Nelsons."
His services were as willingly accepted as they were offered; and
Lord Barham, giving him the list of the navy, desired him to choose his
own officers. "Choose yourself, my lord," was his reply: "the same
spirit actuates the whole profession: you cannot choose wrong." Lord
Barham then desired him to say what ships, and how many, he would wish,
in addition to the fleet which he was going to command, and said they
should follow him as soon as each was ready. No appointment was ever
more in unison with the feelings and judgment of the whole nation. They,
like Lady Hamilton, thought that the destruction of the combined fleets
ought properly to be Nelson's work; that he who had been
"Half around the sea-girt ball,
The hunter of the recreant Gaul,"
ought to reap the spoils of the chase which he had watched so long, and
so perseveringly pursued.
Unremitting exertions were made to equip the ships which he had
chosen, and especially to refit the VICTORY, which was once more to bear
his flag. Before he left London he called at his upholsterer's, where
the coffin which Captain Hallowell had given him was deposited; and
desired that its history might be engraven upon the lid, saying that it
was highly probable he might want it on his return. He seemed, indeed,
to have been impressed with an expectation that he should fall in the
battle. In a letter to his brother, written immediately after his
return, he had said: "We must not talk of Sir Robert Calder's battle--I
might not have done so much with my small force. If I had fallen in with
them, you might probably have been a lord before I wished; for I know
they meant to make a dead set at the VICTORY." Nelson had once regarded
the prospect of death with gloomy satisfaction: it was when he
anticipated the upbraidings of his wife, and the displeasure of his
venerable father. The state of his feelings now was expressed in his
private journal in these words: "Friday night (Sept. 13), at half-past
ten, I drove from dear, dear Merton; where I left all which I hold dear
in this world, to go and serve my king and country. May the great GOD,
whom I adore, enable me to fulfil the expectations of my country! and if
it is His good pleasure that I should return, my thanks will never cease
being offered up to the throne of His mercy. If it is His good
providence to cut short my days upon earth, I bow with the greatest
submission; relying that he will protect those so dear to me whom I may
leave behind! His will be done. Amen! Amen! Amen!"
Early on the following morning he reached Portsmouth; and having
despatched his business on shore, endeavoured to elude the populace by
taking a by-way to the beach; but a crowd collected in his train,
pressing forward to obtain a sight of his face: many were in tears, and
many knelt down before him and blessed him as he passed. England has had
many heroes; but never one who so entirely possessed the love of his
fellow-countrymen as Nelson. All men knew that his heart was as humane
as it was fearless; that there was not in his nature the slightest alloy
of selfishness or cupidity; but that with perfect and entire devotion he
served his country with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with
all his strength; and, therefore, they loved him as truly and as
fervently as he loved England. They pressed upon the parapet to gaze
after him when his barge pushed off, and he was returning their cheers
by waving his hat. The sentinels, who endeavoured to prevent them from
trespassing upon this ground, were wedged among the crowd; and an
officer who, not very prudently upon such an occasion, ordered them to
drive the people down with their bayonets, was compelled speedily to
retreat; for the people would not be debarred from gazing till the last
moment upon the hero--the darling hero of England!
He arrived off Cadiz on the 29th of September--his birthday. Fearing
that if the enemy knew his force they might be deterred from venturing
to sea, he kept out of sight of land, desired Collingwood to fire no
salute and hoist no colours, and wrote to Gibraltar to request that the
force of the fleet might not be inserted there in the GAZETTE. His
reception in the Mediterranean fleet was as gratifying as the farewell
of his countrymen at Portsmouth: the officers who came on board to
welcome him forgot his rank as commander in their joy at seeing him
again. On the day of his arrival, Villeneuve received orders to put to
sea the first opportunity. Villeneuve, however, hesitated when he heard
that Nelson had resumed the command. He called a council of war; and
their determination was, that it would not be expedient to leave Cadiz,
unless they had reason to believe themselves stronger by one-third than
the British force. In the public measures of this country secrecy is
seldom practicable, and seldomer attempted: here, however, by the
precautions of Nelson and the wise measures of the Admiralty, the enemy
were for once kept in ignorance; for as the ships appointed to reinforce
the Mediterranean fleet were despatched singly, each as soon as it was
ready, their collected number was not stated in the newspapers, and
their arrival was not known to the enemy. But the enemy knew that
Admiral Louis, with six sail, had been detached for stores and water to
Gibraltar. Accident also contributed to make the French admiral doubt
whether Nelson himself had actually taken the command. An American,
lately arrived from England, maintained that it was impossible, for he
had seen him only a few days before in London, and at that time there
was no rumour of his going again to sea.
The station which Nelson had chosen was some fifty or sixty miles to
the west of Cadiz, near Cape St. Marys. At this distance, he hoped to
decoy the enemy out while he guarded against the danger of being caught
with a westerly wind near Cadiz and driven within the Straits. The
blockade of the port was rigorously enforced, in hopes that the combined
fleet might be forced to sea by want. The Danish vessels, therefore,
which were carrying provisions from the French ports in the bay, under
the name of Danish property, to all the little ports from Ayamonte to
Algeziras, from whence they were conveyed in coasting boats to Cadiz,
were seized. Without this proper exertion of power, the blockade would
have been rendered nugatory by the advantage thus taken of the neutral
flag. The supplies from France were thus effectually cut off. There was
now every indication that the enemy would speedily venture out: officers
and men were in the highest spirits at the prospects of giving them a
decisive blow; such, indeed, as would put an end to all further contest
upon the seas. Theatrical amusements were performed every evening in
most of the ships; and God save the King was the hymn with which the
sports concluded. "I verily believe," said Nelson (writing on the 6th of
October), "that the country will soon be put to some expense on my
account; either a monument, or a new pension and honours; for I have not
the smallest doubt but that a very few days, almost hours, will put us
in battle. The success no man can ensure; but for the fighting them, if
they can be got at, I pledge myself. The sooner the better: I don't like
to have these things upon my mind."
At this time he was not without some cause of anxiety: he was in want
of frigates, and the eyes of the fleet, as he always called them; to the
want of which the enemy before were indebted for their escape, and
Buonaparte for his arrival in Egypt. He had only twenty-three ships;
others were on the way, but they might come too late; and though Nelson
never doubted of victory, mere victory was not what he looked to; he
wanted to annihilate the enemy's fleet. The Carthagena squadron might
effect a junction with this fleet on the one side; and on the other it
was to be expected that a similar attempt would be made by the French
from Brest; in either case a formidable contingency to be apprehended by
the blockading force. The Rochefort squadron did push out, and had
nearly caught the AGAMEMNON and L'AIMABLE in their way to reinforce the
British admiral. Yet Nelson at this time weakened his own fleet. He had
the unpleasant task to perform of sending home Sir Robert Calder, whose
conduct was to be made the subject of a court-martial, in consequence of
the general dissatisfaction which had been felt and expressed at his
imperfect victory. Sir Robert Calder and Sir John Orde, Nelson believed
to be the only two enemies whom he had ever had in his profession; and
from that sensitive delicacy which distinguished him, this made him the
more scrupulously anxious to show every possible mark of respect and
kindness to Sir Robert. He wished to detain him till after the expected
action, when the services which he might perform, and the triumphant joy
which would be excited, would leave nothing to be apprehended from an
inquiry into the previous engagement. Sir Robert, however, whose situation
was very painful, did not choose to delay a trial from the result
of which he confidently expected a complete justification; and Nelson,
instead of sending him home in a frigate, insisted on his returning in
his own ninety-gun ship--ill as such a ship could at that time be
spared. Nothing could be more honourable than the feeling by which
Nelson was influenced; but, at such a crisis, it ought not to have been
On the 9th Nelson sent Collingwood what he called, in his diary, the
Nelson-touch. "I send you," said he, "my plan of attack, as far as a man
dare venture to guess at the very uncertain position the enemy may be
found in; but it is to place you perfectly at ease respecting my
intentions, and to give full scope to your judgment for carrying them
into effect. We can, my dear Coll, have no little jealousies. We have
only one great object in view, that of annihilating our enemies, and
getting a glorious peace for our country. No man has more confidence in
another than I have in you; and no man will render your services more
justice than your very old friend Nelson and Bronte." The order of
sailing was to be the order of battle: the fleet in two lines, with an
advanced squadron of eight of the fastest-sailing two-deckers. The
second in command, having the entire direction of his line, was to break
through the enemy, about the twelfth ship from their rear: he would lead
through the centre, and the advanced squadron was to cut off three or
four ahead of the centre. This plan was to be adapted to the strength
of the enemy, so that they should always be one-fourth superior to those
whom they cut off. Nelson said, "That his admirals and captains, knowing
his precise object to be that of a close and decisive action, would
supply any deficiency of signals, and act accordingly. In case signals
cannot be seen or clearly understood, no captain can do wrong if he
places his ship alongside that of an enemy." One of the last orders of
this admirable man was, that the name and family of every officer,
seaman, and marine, who might be killed or wounded in action, should be,
as soon as possible, returned to him, in order to be transmitted to the
chairman of the Patriotic Fund, that the case might be taken into
consideration for the benefit of the sufferer or his family.
About half-past nine in the morning of the 19th, the MARS, being the
nearest to the fleet of the ships which formed the line of communication
with the frigates inshore, repeated the signal that the enemy were
coming out of port. The wind was at this time very light, with partial
breezes, mostly from the S.S.W. Nelson ordered the signal to be made for
a chase in the south-east quarter. About two, the repeating ships
announced that the enemy were at sea. All night the British fleet
continued under all sail, steering to the south-east. At daybreak they
were in the entrance of the Straits, but the enemy were not in sight.
About seven one of the frigates made signal that the enemy were bearing
north. Upon this the VICTORY hove to; and shortly afterwards Nelson made
sail again to the northward. In the afternoon-the wind blew fresh from
the south-west, and the English began to fear that the foe might be
forced to return to port. A little before sunset, however, Blackwood, in
the EURYALUS, telegraphed that they appeared determined to go to the
westward, "And that," said the admiral in his diary, "they shall not
do, if it is in the power of Nelson and Bronte to prevent them." Nelson
had signified to Blackwood that he depended upon him to keep sight of
the enemy. They were observed so well that all their motions were made
known to him; and as they wore twice, he inferred that they were aiming
to keep the port of Cadiz open, and would retreat there as soon as they
saw the British fleet; for this reason he was very careful not to
approach near enough to be seen by them during the night. At daybreak
the combined fleets were distinctly seen from the VICTORY's deck,
formed in a close line of battle ahead, on the starboard tack, about
twelve miles to leeward, and standing to the south. Our fleet consisted
of twenty-seven sail of the line and four frigates; theirs of thirtythree
and seven large frigates. Their superiority was greater in size
and weight of metal than in numbers. They had four thousand troops on
board; and the best riflemen who could be procured, many of them
Tyrolese, were dispersed through the ships. Little did the Tyrolese,
and little did the Spaniards, at that day, imagine what horrors the
wicked tyrant whom they served was preparing for their country.
Soon after daylight Nelson came upon deck. The 21st of October was a
festival in his family, because on that day his uncle, Captain Suckling,
in the DREADNOUGHT, with two other line-of-battle ships, had beaten off
a French squadron of four sail of the line and three frigates. Nelson,
with that sort of superstition from which few persons are entirely
exempt, had more than once expressed his persuasion that this was to be
the day of his battle also; and he was well pleased at seeing his
prediction about to be verified. The wind was now from the west, light
breezes, with a long heavy swell. Signal was made to bear down upon the
enemy in two lines; and the fleet set all sail. Collingwood, in the
ROYAL SOVEREIGN, led the leeline of thirteen ships; the VICTORY led the
weather line of fourteen. Having seen that all was as it should be,
Nelson retired to his cabin, and wrote the following prayer:--
"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 that made me; and may His blessing alight on 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!
Having thus discharged his devotional duties, he annexed, in the same
diary, the following remarkable writing:---
"Whereas the eminent services of Emma Hamilton, widow of the
Right Hon. Sir W. Hamilton, have been of the very greatest service
to my king and country, to my knowledge, without ever receiving any
reward from either our king or country.
1. That she obtained the King of Spain's letter, in 1796, to his
brother, the King of Naples, acquainting him of his intention to
declare war against England from which letter the ministry sent out
orders to the then Sir John Jervis to strike a stroke, if opportunity
offered, against either the arsenals of Spain or her fleets. That
neither of these was done is not the fault of Lady Hamilton; the
opportunity might have been offered.
2. The British fleet under my command could never have returned
the second time to Egypt, had not Lady Hamilton's influence with
the Queen of Naples caused letters to be wrote to the governor of
Syracuse that he was to encourage the fleet's being supplied with
everything, should they put into any port in Sicily. We put into
Syracuse, and received every supply; went to Egypt and destroyed
the French fleet.
"Could I have rewarded these services, I would not now call upon
my country; but as that has not been in my power, I leave Emma Lady
Hamilton therefore a legacy to my king and country, that they will
give her an ample provision to maintain her rank in life.
"I also leave to the beneficence of my country my adopted daughter,
Horatio Nelson Thomson; and I desire she will use in future the
name of Nelson only.
"These are the only favours I ask of my king and country, at this
moment, when I am going to fight their battle. May God bless my
king and country, and all those I hold dear! My relations it is
needless to mention; they will of course be amply provided for.
The child of whom this writing Speaks was believed to be his
daughter, and so, indeed, he called her the last time he pronounced her
name. She was then about five years old, living at Merton, under Lady
Hamilton's care. The last minutes which Nelson passed at Merton were
employed in praying over this child, as she lay sleeping. A portrait of
Lady Hamilton hung in his cabin; and no Catholic ever beheld the picture
of his patron saint with devouter reverence. The undisguised and
romantic passion with which he regarded it amounted almost to
superstition; and when the portrait was now taken down in clearing for
action, he desired the men who removed it to "take care of his guardian
angel." In this manner he frequently spoke of it, as if he believed
there were a virtue in the image. He wore a miniature of her, also, next
his heart.
Blackwood went on board the VICTORY about six. He found him in good
spirits, but very calm; not in that exhilaration which he had felt upon
entering into battle at Aboukir and Copenhagen: he knew that his own
life would be particularly aimed at, and seems to have looked for death
with almost as sure an expectation as for victory. His whole attention
was fixed upon the enemy. They tacked to the northward, and formed their
line on the larboard tack; thus bringing the shoals of Trafalgar and St.
Pedro under the lee of the British, and keeping the port of Cadiz open
for themselves. This was judiciously done; and Nelson, aware of all the
advantages which it gave them. made signal to prepare to anchor.
Villeneuve was a skilful seaman: worthy of serving a better master,
and a better cause. His plan of defence was as well conceived, and as
original, as the plan of attack. He formed the fleet in a double line;
every alternate ship being about a cable's length to windward of her
second ahead and astern. Nelson, certain of a triumphant issue to the
day, asked Blackwood what he should consider as a victory. That officer
answered, that, considering the handsome way in which battle was offered
by the enemy, their apparent determination for a fair trial of strength,
and the situation of the land, he thought it would be a glorious result
if fourteen were captured. He replied: "I shall not be satisfied with
less than twenty." Soon afterwards he asked him if he did not think there
was a signal wanting. Captain Blackwood made answer, that he thought the
whole fleet seemed very clearly to understand what they were about.
These words were scarcely spoken before that signal was made, which will
be remembered as long as the language, or even the memory, of England
shall endure; Nelson's last signal:--"ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN TO DO
HIS DUTY!" It was received throughout the fleet with a shout of
answering acclamation, made sublime by the spirit which it breathed, and
the feeling which it expressed. "Now," said Lord Nelson, "I can do no
more. We must trust to the great Disposer of all events, and the justice
of our cause. I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty."
He wore that day, as usual, his admiral's frock-coat, bearing on the
left breast four stars, of the different orders with which he was
invested. Ornaments which rendered him so conspicuous a mark for the
enemy were beheld with ominous apprehensions by his officers. It was
known that there were riflemen on board the French ships, and it could
not be doubted but that his life would be particularly aimed at. They
communicated their fears to each other; and the surgeon, Mr. Beatty,
spoke to the chaplain Dr. Scott, and to Mr. Scott the public secretary,
desiring that some person would entreat him to change his dress, or
cover the stars; but they knew that such a request would highly
displease him. "In honour I gained them," he had said when such a thing
had been hinted to him formerly, "and in honour I will die with them."
Mr. Beatty, however, would not have been deterred by any fear of
exciting his displeasure from speaking to him himself upon a subject in
which the weal of England, as well as the life of Nelson, was concerned;
but he was ordered from the deck before he could find an opportunity.
This was a point upon which Nelson's officers knew that it was hopeless
to remonstrate or reason with him; but both Blackwood, and his own
captain, Hardy, represented to him how advantageous to the fleet it
would be for him to keep out of action as long as possible; and he
consented at last to let the LEVIATHAN and the TEMERAIRE, which were
sailing abreast of the VICTORY, be ordered to pass ahead. Yet even here
the last infirmity of this noble mind was indulged, for these ships
could not pass ahead if the VICTORY continued to carry all her sail; and
so far was Nelson from shortening sail, that it was evident he took
pleasure in pressing on, and rendering it impossible for them to obey
his own orders. A long swell was setting into the bay of Cadiz: our
ships, crowding all sail, moved majestically before it, with light winds
from the south-west. The sun shone on the sails of the enemy; and their
well-formed line, with their numerous three-deckers, made an appearance
which any other assailants would have thought formidable; but the
British sailors only admired the beauty and the splendour of the
spectacle; and in full confidence of winning what they saw, remarked to
each other what a fine sight yonder ships would make at Spithead!
The French admiral, from the BUCENTAURE, beheld the new manner in
which his enemy was advancing--Nelson and Collingwood each leading his
line; and pointing them out; to his officers, he is said to have
exclaimed that such conduct could not fail to be successful. Yet
Villeneuve had made his own dispositions with the utmost skill and the
fleets under his command waited for the attack with perfect coolness.
Ten minutes before twelve they opened their fire. Eight or nine of the
ships immediately ahead of the VICTORY, and across her bows, fired
single guns at her, to ascertain whether she was yet within their range.
As soon as Nelson perceived that their shot passed over him, he desired
Blackwood and Captain Prowse, of the SIRIUS, to repair to their
respective frigates; and, on their way, to tell all the captains of the
line-of-battle ships that he depended on their exertions; and that if,
by the prescribed mode of attack, they found it impracticable to get
into action immediately, they might adopt whatever they thought best,
provided it led them quickly and closely alongside an enemy. As they
were standing on the front of the poop, Blackwood took him by the hand,
saying, he hoped soon to return and find him in possession of twenty
prizes. He replied, "God bless you, Blackwood; I shall never see you
Nelson's column was steered about two points more to the north than
Collingwood's, in order to cut off the enemy's escape into Cadiz: the
lee line, therefore, was first engaged. "See," cried Nelson, pointing
to the ROYAL SOVEREIGN, as she steered right for the centre of the
enemy's line, cut through it astern of the SANTA ANNA three-decker, and
engaged her at the muzzle of her guns on the starboard side--"see how
that noble fellow, Collingwood, carries his ship into action!"
Collingwood, delighted at being first in the heat of the fire, and
knowing the feelings of his commander and old friend, turned to his
captain, and exclaimed: "Rotherham, what would Nelson give to be here?"
Both these brave officers, perhaps, at this moment, thought of Nelson
with gratitude, for a circumstance which had occurred on the preceding
day. Admiral Collingwood, with some of the captains, having gone on
board the VICTORY to receive instructions, Nelson inquired of him where
his captain was and was told, in reply, that they were not upon good
terms with each other. "Terms!" said Nelson,--"good terms with each
other!" Immediately he sent a boat for Captain Rotherham; led him, as
soon as he arrived, to Collingwood; and saying,"Look; yonder are the
enemy!" bade them shake hands like Englishmen.
The enemy continued to fire a gun at a time at the VICTORY, till they
saw that a shot had passed through her main-top-gallant sail; then they
opened their broadsides, aiming chiefly at her rigging, in the hope of
disabling her before she could close with them. Nelson, as usual, had
hoisted several flags, lest one should be shot away. The enemy showed no
colours till late in the action, when they began to feel the necessity
of having them to strike. For this reason, the SANTISSIMA TRINIDAD,
Nelson's old acquaintance, as he used to call her, was distinguishable
only by her four decks; and to the bow of this opponent he ordered the
VICTORY to be steered. Meantime an incessant raking fire was kept up
upon the VICTORY. The admiral's secretary was one of the first who fell;
he was killed by a cannon-shot while conversing with Hardy. Captain
Adair of the marines, with the help of a sailor, endeavoured to remove
the body from Nelson's sight, who had a great regard for Mr. Scott; but
he anxiously asked: "Is that poor Scott that's gone?" and being informed
that was indeed so, exclaimed: "Poor fellow!" Presently, a double-headed
shot struck a party of marines who were drawn up on the poop, and killed
eight of them; upon which Nelson immediately desired Captain Adair to
disperse his men round the ship, that they might not suffer so much from
being together. A few minutes afterwards a shot struck the four-brace
bits on the quarter-deck, and passed between Nelson and Hardy, a
splinter from the bit tearing off Hardy's buckle, and bruising his foot.
Both stopped, and looked anxiously at each other, each supposed the
other to be wounded. Nelson then smiled, and said, "This is too warm
work, Hardy, to last long."
The VICTORY had not yet returned a single gun: fifty of her men had
been by this time killed or wounded, and her main-top-mast, with all her
studding-sails and her booms, shot away. Nelson declared, that, in all
his battles, he had seen nothing which surpassed the cool courage of
his crew on this occasion. At four minutes after twelve she opened her
fire from both sides of her deck. It was not possible to break the
enemy's line without running on board one of their ships: Hardy informed
him of this, and asked him which he would prefer. Nelson replied: "Take
your choice, Hardy, it does not signify much." The master was ordered to
put the helm to port, and the VICTORY ran on board the REDOUTABLE, just
as her tiller ropes were shot away. The French ship received her with a
broadside; then instantly let down her lower-deck ports, for fear of
being bearded through them, and never afterwards fired a great gun
during the action. Her tops, like those of all the enemy's ships, were
filled with riflemen. Nelson never placed musketry in his tops; he had a
strong dislike to the practice; not merely because it endangers setting
fire to the sails, but also because it is a murderous sort of warfare,
by which individuals may suffer, and a commander now and then be picked
off; but which never can decide the fate of a general engagement.
Captain Harvey, in the TEMERAIRE, fell on board the REDOUTABLE on the
other side. Another enemy was in like manner on board the TEMERAIRE; so
that these four ships formed as compact a tier as if they had been
moored together, their heads lying all the same way. The lieutenants of
the VICTORY, seeing this, depressed their guns of the middle and lower
decks, and fired with a diminished charge, lest the shot should pass
through, and injure the TEMERAIRE. And because there was danger that the
REDOUBTABLE might take fire from the lower-deck guns, the muzzles of
which touched her side when they were run out, the fireman of each gun
stood ready with a bucket of water; which, as soon as the gun was
discharged, he dashed into the hole made by the shot. An incessant fire
was kept up from the VICTORY from both sides; her larboard guns playing
It had been part of Nelson's prayer that the British fleet might be
distinguished by humanity in the victory which he expected. Setting an
example himself, he twice gave orders to cease firing upon the
REDOUTABLE, supposing that she had struck, because her great guns were
silent; for as she carried no flag, there were no means of instantly
ascertaining the fact. From this ship, which he had thus twice spared,
he received his death. A ball fired from her mizzen-top, which, in the
then situation of the two vessels, was not more than fifteen yards from
that part of the deck where he was standing, struck the epaulette on his
left shoulder, about a quarter after one, just in the heat of action. He
fell upon his face, on the spot which was covered with his poor
secretary's blood. Hardy, who was a few steps from him, turning round,
saw three men raising him up.--"They have done for me at last, Hardy,"
said he.--"I hope not," cried Hardy.--"Yes!" he replied,"my back-bone is
shot through." Yet even now, not for a moment losing his presence of
mind, he observed, as they were carrying him down the ladder, that the
tiller ropes, which had been shot away, were not yet replaced, and
ordered that new ones should be rove immediately. Then, that he might
not be seen by the crew, he took out his handkerchief, and covered his
face and his stars. Had he but concealed these badges of honour from the
enemy, England, perhaps, would not have had cause to receive with sorrow
the news of the battle of Trafalgar. The cockpit was crowded with
wounded and dying men, over whose bodies he was with some difficulty
conveyed, and laid upon a pallet in the midshipmen's berth. It was soon
perceived, upon examination, that the wound was mortal. This, however,
was concealed from all except Captain Hardy, the chaplain, and the
medical attendants. He himself being certain, from the sensation in his
back, and the gush of blood he felt momently within his breast, that no
human care could avail him, insisted that the surgeon should leave him,
and attend to those to whom he might be useful; "For," said he, "you can
do nothing for me." All that could be done was to fan him with paper,
and frequently to give him lemonade to alleviate his intense thirst. He
was in great pain, and expressed much anxiety for the event of the
action, which now began to declare itself. As often as a ship struck,
the crew of the VICTORY hurrahed; and at every hurrah a visible expression
of joy gleamed in the eyes, and marked the countenance of the dying
hero. But he became impatient to see Captain Hardy; and as that officer,
though often sent for, could not leave the deck, Nelson feared that some
fatal cause prevented him, and repeatedly cried, "Will no one bring
Hardy to me? He must be killed! He is surely dead!" An hour and ten
minutes elapsed from the time when Nelson received his wound before
Hardy could come to him. They shook hands in silence, Hardy in vain
struggling to repress the feelings of that most painful and yet
sublimest moment. "Well, Hardy," said Nelson, "how goes the day with
us?"--"Very well," replied Hardy; "ten ships have struck, but five of
the van have tacked, and show an intention to bear down upon the
VICTORY, I have called two or three of our fresh ships round, and have
no doubt of giving them a drubbing."--"I hope," said Nelson, "none of
our ships have struck?" Hardy answered, "There was no fear of that."
Then, and not till then, Nelson spoke of himself. "I am a dead man,
Hardy," said he: "I am going fast: it will be all over with me soon.
Come nearer to me. Let my dear Lady Hamilton have my hair, and all other
things belonging to me." Hardy observed that he hoped Mr. Beatty could
yet hold out some prospect of life. "Oh, no!" he replied, "it is
impossible. My back is shot through. Beatty will tell you so." Captain
Hardy then, once more, shook hands with him; and, with a heart almost
bursting, hastened upon deck.
By this time all feeling below the breast was gone; and Nelson,
having made the surgeon ascertain this, said to him: "You know I am
gone, I know it. I feel something rising in my breast,"-- putting his
hand on his left side,--"which tells me so." And upon Beatty's inquiring
whether his pain was very great, he replied, "So great, that he wished
he was dead. Yet," said he, in a lower voice, "one would like to live a
little longer too!" And after a few minutes, in the same under tone, he
added--"What would become of poor Lady Hamilton, if she knew my
situation!" Next to his country she occupied his thoughts. Captain
Hardy, some fifty minutes after he had left the cockpit, returned; and,
again taking the hand of his dying friend and commander, congratulated
him on having gained a complete victory. How many of the enemy were
taken he did not know, as it was impossible to perceive them distinctly;
but fourteen or fifteen at least. "That's well," cried Nelson, "but I
bargained for twenty." And then, in a stronger voice, he said: "Anchor,
Hardy; anchor." Hardy, upon this, hinted that Admiral Collingwood would
take upon himself the direction of affairs. "Not while I live, Hardy,"
said the dying Nelson, ineffectually endeavouring to raise himself from
the bed: "Do you anchor." His previous order for preparing to anchor had
shown how clearly he foresaw the necessity of this. Presently, calling
Hardy back, he said to him in a low voice, "Don't throw me overboard:"
and he desired that he might be buried by his parents, unless it should
please the king to order otherwise. Then reverting to private feelings:
"Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy take care of poor Lady
Hamilton. Kiss me, Hardy," said he. Hardy knelt down and kissed his
cheek; and Nelson: said, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my
duty." Hardy stood over him in silence for a moment or two, then knelt
again and kissed his forehead. "Who is that?" said Nelson; and being
informed, he replied, "God bless you, Hardy." And Hardy then left him
--for ever.
Nelson now desired to be turned upon his right side, and said, "I
wish I had not left the deck; for I shall soon be gone." Death was,
indeed, rapidly approaching. He said to the chaplain, "Doctor, I have
NOT been a GREAT sinner;" and after a short pause, "Remember that I
leave Lady Hamilton and my daughter Horatia as a legacy to my country."
His articulation now became difficult; but he was distinctly heard to
say, "Thank God I have done my duty." These words he repeatedly
pronounced; and they were the last words which he uttered. He expired
at thirty minutes after four--three hours and a quarter after he had
received his wound.
Within a quarter of an hour after Nelson was wounded, above fifty of
the VICTORY's men fell by the enemy's musketry. They, however, on their
part, were not idle; and it was not long before there were only two
Frenchmen left alive in the mizzen-top of the REDOUTABLE. One of them
was the man who had given the fatal wound: he did not live to boast of
what he had done. An old quarter-master had seen him fire; and easily
recognised him, because he wore a glazed cocked hat and a white frock.
This quarter-master and two midshipmen, Mr. Collingwood and Mr.
Pollard, were the only persons left in the VICTORY's poop; the two
midshipmen kept firing at the top, and he supplied them with cartridges.
One of the Frenchmen, attempting to make his escape down the rigging,
was shot by Mr. Pollard, and fell on the poop. But the old quartermaster,
as he cried out, "That's he, that's he," and pointed at the
other who was coming forward to fire again, received a shot in his
mouth, and fell dead. Both the midshipmen then fired at the same time,
and the fellow dropped in the top. When they took possession of the
prize, they went into the mizzen-top, and found him dead, with one ball
through his head, and another through his breast.
The REDOUTABLE struck within twenty minutes after the fatal shot had
been fired from her. During that time she had been twice on fire in her
fore-chains and in her forecastle. The French, as they had done in other
battles, made use in this, of fire-balls and other combustibles;
implements of destruction which other nations, from a sense of honour
and humanity, have laid aside; which add to the, sufferings of the
wounded, without determining the issue of the combat: which none but
the cruel would employ, and which never can be successful against the
brave. Once they succeeded in setting fire, from the REDOUTABLE, to some
ropes and canvas on the VICTORY's booms. The cry ran through the ship,
and reached the cockpit; but even this dreadful cry produced no
confusion: the men displayed that perfect self-possession in danger by
which English seamen are characterised; they extinguished the flames on
board their own ship, and then hastened to extinguish them in the enemy,
by throwing buckets of water from the gangway. When the REDOUTABLE had
struck, it was not practicable to board her from the VICTORY; for,
though the two ships touched, the upper works of both fell in so much,
that there was a great space between their gangways; and she could not
be boarded from the lower or middle decks because her ports were down.
Some of our men went to Lieutenant Quilliam, and offered to swim under
her bows, and get up there; but it was thought unfit to hazard brave
lives in this manner.
What our men would have done from gallantry, some of the crew of the
SANTISSIMA TRINIDAD did to save themselves. Unable to stand the
tremendous fire of the VICTORY, whose larboard guns played against this
great four-decker, and not knowing how else to escape them, nor where
else to betake themselves for protection, many of them leaped overboard
and swam to the VICTORY; and were actually helped up her sides by the
English during the action. The Spaniards began the battle with less
vivacity than their unworthy allies, but they continued it with greater
firmness. The ARGONAUTA and BAHAMA were defended till they had each lost
about four hundred men; the SAN JUAN NEPOMUCENO lost three hundred and
fifty. Often as the superiority of British courage has been proved
against France upon the seas, it was never more conspicuous than in this
decisive conflict. Five of our ships were engaged muzzle to muzzle with
five of the French. In all five the Frenchmen lowered their lower-deck
ports, and deserted their guns; while our men continued deliberately to
load and fire till they had made the victory secure.
Once, amidst his sufferings, Nelson had expressed a wish that he were
dead; but immediately the spirit subdued the pains of death, and he
wished to live a little longer, doubtless that he might hear the
completion of the victory which he had seen so gloriously begun. That
consolation, that joy, that triumph, was afforded him. He lived to know
that the victory was decisive; and the last guns which were fired at the
flying enemy were heard a minute or two before he expired. The ships
which were thus flying were four of the enemy's van, all French, under
Rear-Admiral Dumanoir. They had borne no part in the action; and now,
when they were seeking safety in flight, they fired not only into the
VICTORY and ROYAL SOVEREIGN as they passed, but poured their broadsides
into the Spanish captured ships; and they were seen to back their
topsails for the purpose of firing with more precision. The indignation
of the Spaniards at this detestable cruelty from their allies, for whom
they had fought so bravely, and so profusely bled, may well be
conceived. It was such that when, two days after the action, seven of
the ships which had escaped into Cadiz came out in hopes of re-taking
some of the disabled prizes, the prisoners in the ARGONAUTA, in a body,
offered their services to the British prize-master, to man the guns
against any of the French ships, saying, that if a Spanish ship came
alongside, they would quietly go below; but they requested that they
might be allowed to fight the French in resentment for the murderous
usage which they had suffered at their hands. Such was their
earnestness, and such the implicit confidence which could be placed in
Spanish honour, that the offer was accepted and they were actually
stationed at the lower-deck guns. Dumanoir and his squadron were not
more fortunate than the fleet from whose destruction they fled. They
fell in with Sir Richard Strachan, who was cruising for the Rochefort
squadron, and were all taken. In the better days of France, if such a
crime could then have been committed, it would have received an
exemplary punishment from the French government. Under Buonaparte it
was sure of impunity, and perhaps might be thought deserving of reward.
But if the Spanish court had been independent, it would have become us
to have delivered Dumanoir and his captains up to Spain, that they might
have been brought to trial, and hanged in sight of the remains of the
Spanish fleet.
The total British loss in the battle of Trafalgar amounted to 1587.
Twenty of the enemy struck; but it was not possible to anchor the fleet,
as Nelson had enjoined. A gale came on from the S.W., some of the prizes
went down, some went on shore; one effected its escape into Cadiz;
others were destroyed; four only were saved, and those by the greatest
exertions. The wounded Spaniards were sent ashore, an assurance being
given that they should not serve till regularly exchanged; and the
Spaniards, with a generous feeling, which would not perhaps have been
found in any other people, offered the use of their hospitals for our
wounded, pledging the honour of Spain that they should be carefully
attended there. When the storm, after the action, drove some of the
prizes upon the coast, they declared that the English who were thus
thrown into their hands should not be considered as prisoners of war;
and the Spanish soldiers gave up their own beds to their shipwrecked
enemies. The Spanish vice-admiral, Alva, died of his wounds. Villeneuve
was sent to England, and permitted to return to France. The French
Government say that he destroyed himself on the way to Paris, dreading
the consequences of a court-martial; but there is every reason to
believe that the tyrant, who never acknowledged the loss of the battle
of Trafalgar, added Villeneuve to the numerous victims of his murderous
It is almost superfluous to add, that all the honours which a
grateful country could bestow were heaped upon the memory of Nelson. His
brother was made an earl, with a grant of L6000 a year. L10,000 were
voted to each of his sisters; and L100,000 for the purchase of an
estate. A public funeral was decreed, and a public monument. Statues and
monuments also were voted by most of our principal cities. The leaden
coffin in which he was brought home was cut in pieces, which were
distributed as relics of Saint Nelson,--so the gunner of the VICTORY
called them; and when, at his internment, his flag was about to be
lowered into the grave, the sailors who assisted at the ceremony with
one accord rent it in pieces, that each might preserve a fragment while
he lived.
The death of Nelson was felt in England as something more than a
public calamity; men started at the intelligence, and turned pale, as if
they had heard of the loss of a dear friend. An object of our admiration
and affection, of our pride and of our hopes, was suddenly taken from
us; and it seemed as if we had never, till then, known how deeply we
loved and reverenced him. What the country had lost in its great naval
hero--the greatest of our own, and of all former times--was scarcely
taken into the account of grief. So perfectly, indeed, had he performed
his part, that the maritime war, after the battle of Trafalgar, was
considered at an end: the fleets of the enemy were not merely defeated
but destroyed; new navies must be built, and a new race of seamen reared
for them, before the possibility of their invading our shores could
again be contemplated. It was not, therefore, from any selfish
reflection upon the magnitude of our loss that we mourned for him: the
general sorrow was of a higher character. The people of England grieved
that funeral ceremonies, and public monuments, and posthumous rewards,
were all which they could now bestow upon him, whom the king, the
legislature, and the nation would have alike delighted to honour; whom
every tongue would have blessed; whose presence in every village through
which he might have passed would have wakened the church bells, have
given schoolboys a holiday, have drawn children from their sports to
gaze upon him, and "old men from the chimney corner" to look upon Nelson
ere they died. The victory of Trafalgar was celebrated, indeed, with the
usual forms of rejoicing, but they were without joy; for such already
was the glory of the British navy, through Nelson's surpassing genius,
that it scarcely seemed to receive any addition from the most signal
victory that ever was achieved upon the seas: and the destruction of
this mighty fleet, by which all the maritime schemes of France were
totally frustrated, hardly appeared to add to our security or strength;
for, while Nelson was living, to watch the combined squadrons of the
enemy, we felt ourselves as secure as now, when they were no longer in
There was reason to suppose, from the appearances upon opening the
body, that in the course of nature he might have attained, like his
father, to a good old age. Yet he cannot be said to have fallen
prematurely whose work was done; nor ought he to be lamented who died so
full of honours, at the height of human fame. The most triumphant death
is that of the martyr; the most awful that of the martyred patriot; the
most splendid that of the hero in the hour of victory: and if the
chariot and horses of fire had been vouchsafed for Nelson's translation,
he could scarcely have departed in a brighter blaze of glory. He has
left us, not indeed his mantle of inspiration, but a name and an example
which are at this hour inspiring thousands of the youth of England: a
name which is our pride, and an example which will continue to be our
shield and our strength. Thus it is that the spirits of the great and
the wise continue to live and to act after them; verifying, in this
sense, the language of the old mythologist:--
[The book ends with two lines of ancient Greek by the poet Hesiod.
Their meaning is approximately that of the final lines above.]
In this text, to keep the character set to the minimum 'vanilla
ASCII': italics have been converted to capitals, accents etc.
have been omitted, and the British 'Pound' currency symbol has
been written as 'L'. Where angles are given in degrees, minutes
and seconds; the abreviations d, m, s have been used.

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