GREAT HEROES OF GREAT BRITAIN
Travel is people. You may go abroad to see the famous sites, but
what you remember best are the people you meet. Among them, like
unexpected treasure, are a few memorable contacts that will make
your travels unique, special, and delightful. "People" is devoted to some
of those you may come in contact with during your Home At First
OF THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR, OCTOBER 21, 1805
article first appeared in June, 2005 and was most recently updated in
13 Things You
Don't Know about Britain's greatest naval hero:
Horatio Nelson was no Ozzie Nelson. And he was no ordinary hero, either. More
than two-hundred years
after his glorious death at Trafalgar, we examine a legend with
thirteen quick facts.
Standing at the top of his column in Trafalgar
Square, his sanctity ensured, Horatio Nelson Britains greatest naval
hero has kept his distance from us for the 200 years since his grand victory and
glorious death over Napoleon's navy at the Battle of Trafalgar. October 21, 2005,
marks the 200th anniversary of the great battle, and the death of the great man, revered
throughout the British Empire like Wellington, Churchill, and few others. But what do we
really know about the man? Here is a list with more than a few surprises:
BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW
1. NELSON WENT TO SEA AS A BOY. Horatio Nelson went to sea at the age of 12. The 6th of 11
children, Horatio was born in 1758 to Rev. Edmund and Catherine Suckling Nelson near the
North Sea coast in Norfolk county, East Anglia. When his mother died on the day after
Christmas, 1767, life became very difficult for the parish rector left to tend his large
family, tend his Burnham Thorpe congregation, and tend the family farm. As soon as he was
12, young Nelson despite being a weak, sickly boy enlisted in the Royal Navy and
was assigned to the HMS Raisonable, a 64-gun man o war under the command of
Captain Maurice Suckling, Horatios uncle.
2. NELSON BECAME A SEA CAPTAIN AT THE TENDER AGE OF 20. During his teens, Horatio saw extensive sea duty
service in the Caribbean, Canada, and in the Baltic. Three months before his 21st birthday
he was given the command of the British Navy frigate Hitchinbroke stationed at
Port Royal, Jamaica.
3. AMERICANS WERE AMONG NELSON'S NAVAL OPPONENTS. Just after the conclusion of Americas War
of Independence (1781), Nelson was assigned to enforce Britains Navigation Act that
mandated exclusive trading rights with Englands West Indies territories. When he
seized four U.S. merchant ships loaded with freight from the British West Indies, their
captains sued Nelson with significant support from the West Indian business
community. Finding himself suddenly unpopular in a remote part of the British Empire,
Nelson stayed on board his ship, the Boreas, for more than seven months.
4. NELSON MARRIED A WIDOW FROM THE WEST INDIES. Nelsons second great love affair (after the
Royal Navy) was Francis (Fanny) Nisbet, an aristocratic British widow Horatio met on the
Caribbean island of Nevis. The two were married at her island estate, Montpelier,
in 1787. One of Nelsons good friends a fellow navy man, third son of King
George III, and the future King William IV gave the bride away at the wedding.
5. NELSON WAS BLINDED IN BATTLE. Nelson was one-eyed. You may know that Nelson was killed by a
snipers bullet in the Battle of Trafalgar. Did you know that in previous battles he
was twice wounded? When only 35 he lost his right eye during the French Revolution in the
British capture of Corsica in 1794. While firing cannons during the siege of the Corsican
town of Calvi, Nelson was hit in the face and blinded by a shower of gravel. Though
sightless in one eye, the eye remained in place. Nelson never wore an eye-patch.
6. NELSON LOST HIS RIGHT ARM IN BATTLE. Nelson was one-armed. Four years after losing
sight in his right eye, Nelson lost an arm and a battle. In July 1797 during the battle to
capture the town of Santa Cruz in the (Spanish) Canary Islands, Nelson was severely
wounded in his right arm while leading a frontal assault on the town. To save his own
life, Nelson ordered the arm amputated without anesthetic. The invasion was repulsed and
Nelson had a constant reminder of the defeat. Afterwards, most paintings of the admiral
depict him from his left profile or show his right arm tucked inside his vest in a pose
very much like his greatest opponent Napoleon.
7. NELSON DEFEATED NAPOLEON'S NAVY TWICE. Speaking of Napoleon, did you know that Nelson
had to defeat Napoleons armada twice? The first time occurred at the Battle of the
Nile in 1798 when Nelson surprised Napoleons navy at anchor near Alexandria, Egypt,
in a daring night attack. The second battle was, of course, the Battle of Trafalgar,
fought between Gibraltar and the Spanish port of Cadiz as the French navy attempted to
slip through the Straits of Gibraltar in an expedition north to the English Channel
perhaps to invade and conquer England.
BECAME INVOLVED IN A SCANDALOUS LOVE TRIANGLE. Following the Battle of the Nile, Nelson fell for Emma, Lady
Hamilton. Emma, a former artists model and unwed mother, had become the mistress
then wife of the much older Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador to the Kingdom of
Naples. Emma swooned over the gallant hero of the Nile, despite Nelson being short,
plagued by the chronic aftereffects of malaria, blind in one eye, and lacking an arm.
Emmas husband permitted, then welcomed, the addition of the still-married-to-Fanny
Horatio to his marriage. Soon the threesome were living openly in a relationship that was
certainly more scandalous in their day than it would be today. Nelsons only child, a
girl, Horatia, was born to Emma. Nelson "dismissed" his wife, Fanny. When Sir
William died in 1803, Nelson and Emma continued to live together. They exchanged rings of
mistress of Horatio Nelson,
(1792) by Vigee Le Brun.
long before Nelson set sail from Britain
for the last time in
1805. Emma, who died in 1815, was neither reviled nor accepted by a
confused, and perhaps embarrassed, British public. Poor Fanny had to put
up with whispers and sniggers until her death in 1831. She did, however,
get Nelson’s pension.
9. ALCOHOL POWERED
NELSON'S FLEET. In
Nelson’s time, common sailors were provided with 1 gallon of beer or
wine each day. They also got a ration of grog (25% rum, 75%water) with
breakfast and supper daily.
WARSHIPS BOMBARDED COPENHAGEN.
Nelson was second in command of the British fleet sent to
in 1801 to destroy the Danish navy. Britain planned this unprovoked,
pre-emptive attack when diplomacy failed to convince Denmark to respect
British rules regarding neutrality on the high seas. Nelson’s daring got
his warships through coastal shallows and past Danish defenses to into
Copenhagen’s harbor within cannon range of the city. When the British
fleet admiral ordered Nelson to withdraw, Horatio put the telescope to
his blind right eye and claimed to see no message from the admiral’s
flagship. Then Nelson’s ships bombarded
forcing Denmark to give in to Britain’s demands. After the Denmark
campaign, Nelson was elevated to Vice Admiral and given command of the
Mediterranean Fleet in 1803.
NELSON'S WAS SHOT BY A SNIPER DURING A SEA
BATTLE. Nelson was killed by a sniper’s bullet during
the Battle of Trafalgar. Sniper’s bullet? Yes—when Nelson’s flagship,
HMS Victory confronted the French ship Redoutable, the two
vessels came together and their masts entangled. When French riflemen
fired on the British crew during this struggle, one of their victims was
Admiral Nelson. Although Nelson’s wound was fatal, the great commander
held on long enough to know that British forces would prevail. The
victory was huge. Twenty ships of Napoleon’s combined French and Spanish
navies were captured. No British ship — not even the imperiled HMS
Victory — was lost. Napoleon’s navy was ruined. The British Navy
emerged from Trafalgar to become the unchallenged sword of the world’s
only superpower for the next 100+ years.
NELSON'S LAST REQUEST WAS TO BE KISSED BY
A MAN. Nelson’s last words—spoken to the Victory’s
commander, Captain Thomas Hardy—were, "Kiss me, Hardy." No lie. Nelson
was prepared to die in battle. Behind his desk in the HMS Victory was
his coffin, made from the mast of a French ship he had defeated at the
Battle of the Nile. To preserve Nelson’s corpse for the long journey
back to England, his shipmates pickled their beloved leader in French
brandy, then, at Gibraltar put the coffin into a larger casket filled
with more brandy. Back in
London, Lord Nelson’s
remains received a full state funeral and were laid to rest in the crypt
of St. Paul’s Cathedral directly beneath the middle of the cathedral’s
great dome. (The Duke of Wellington would be placed nearby after his
death.) You can visit Nelson’s tomb at St. Paul’s Mo-Sa from 8:30AM-4PM.
Admission: £16/adults, £14/seniors,
£14/students 18 and up, £7/children 6-17, £39/family.
Getting There: St.
Paul’s Cathedral is approximately 10 minutes by Route 100 bus from
Home at First’s Apartments at St. Katharine’s Marina by the Tower.
13. NELSON'S FLAGSHIP LIVES! You can visit the HMS Victory today. It
rests completely restored in dry dock at Portsmouth Harbor, England. Open daily (except
December 24-26) from 10AM until at least 5:30PM.
Admission: £17/adult, £16/seniors (60+) & older
students, £12.50/child (5-16), £47/family.
Getting There: Portsmouth Harbor is within day trip reach of Home at
Firsts lodgings in the southern
From the southern Cotswolds, drive
approximately 100 minutes southeast to Portsmouth Harbour (parking
£4-£6). Trains depart London’s Waterloo half-hourly throughout the day
on the 90-110 minute journey to Portsmouth Harbour. Round-trip fares
dry dock at
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kinds of destinations as easy day trips
from Home At First lodgings
in the England.
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