I seem to keep choosing topics that are far too big for one blog post. However, this one needed writing, albeit in a very condensed format!
As many of you are aware I am a bit of a Horatio Nelson geek. As such, I thought I would attempt to do justice to his life in the briefest of timelines…
I’ve included what I feel to be the important dates, but have also added in some lesser known facts and other interesting details along the way.
September 29th 1758: Horatio Nelson is born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk. His father was the local vicar. Nelson was one of 11 siblings.
April 24th 1771: Nelson begs to join the navy and eventually after some misgivings on the part of his Uncle on his mother’s side, Maurice Suckling, he joins HMS Raisonnable. (Throughout his childhood he was known as Horace)
October 1783: Nelson moves to the frigate, HMS Seahorse. They were to sail to the East Indies. Nelson was a Midshipman, alongside Thomas Troubridge, who would also become a famous name in naval history. Troubridge later commanded the Culloden and led the line at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. He also took part in the battle at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
March 1776: Nelson is transferred to HMS Dolphin with malaria and, feeling very sorry for himself, commented that he was experiencing ‘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 will be a hero and, confiding in Providence, I will brave every danger’
October 1776: Nelson joins HMS Worcester as acting 4th Lt to sail to Gibraltar, before returning to London for his examination for lieutenant.
April 1777: Nelson takes his examination for lieutenant. His uncle, Maurice Suckling, sat on the examining board. Suckling did not acknowledge that he was related to Nelson until it was very clear that he had passed.
He passed and was sent to HMS Lowestoffe as second lieutenant. Whilst serving on the Lowestoffe, they took over a small vessel, the ‘Little Lucy’ and this was Nelson’s first real command as it were. Nelson would frequently quote the Captain of the Lowestoffe, William Locker, in future – ‘Lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him’
It was then recommended that Nelson was sent to Jamaica to serve under Rear Admiral Sir Peter Parker, who gave Nelson a place on his flagship, HMS Bristol. Parker went on to become Nelson’s patron and keep an eye on him after Suckling passed away.
December 1778: Nelson is made Master and Commander of the brig, HMS Badger, spending most of his 6 months on board sailing around the Spanish colonies and Caribbean looking for prizes.
June 1779: He was then promoted to Post Captain at a phenomenally young age compared to others such as Collingwood, Jervis and Hood. He was moved to be in command of the frigate, HMS Hinchinbrooke, handing over command of HMS Badger to Collingwood.
In the RN at this time, promotion from Captain to Admiral was based on the length of time you had been on the Captains List. If Nelson had not reached Post Captain when he did, he would never have become an Admiral and could not have commanded the British fleet at the Nile, leading them to victory.
February 1780: Nelson is given command of HMS Janus, but becomes severely unwell in Nicaragua. He was returned to Britain and spent time in Bath taking the waters. He was so unwell that even months later he was having to be carried to and from his bed.
August 1781: Nelson is placed in command of HMS Albemarle, A French merchant vessel taken as a prize. He was tasked with convoy duties and took charge of a small group of vessels sailing for Quebec. He then sailed under Hood to New York (with sails frozen to the masts) and on to the West Indies once more predominantly looking to capture prizes, before returning to Britain in 1783.
March 1784: Nelson is given command of the frigate, HMS Boreas. He wasn’t happy about being appointed to the Boreas, fearing that it would not advance his career in any way. Nevertheless, he sailed for the West Indies to enforce customs laws, which he did successfully… to the displeasure of many.
March 1785: Nelson visits Nevis and meets Frances Nisbet. They are engaged.
March 1787: Nelson marries Frances Nisbet at the Montpelier Estate on the island of Nevis on 11 March.
June 1788: Nelson arrives back in Britain after making a series of truthful, but unpopular decisions and is not given a commission. He spends a number of years continually writing and almost begging the Admiralty to give him a ship.
February 1793: France declares war on Britain. Nelson is given command of HMS Agamemnon. The ship which went on to become his favourite. Built at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River in Hampshire. He sails to the Mediterranean.
September 1793: Nelson and the Agamamnon are sent to Naples. Nelson meets the British Ambassador, William Hamilton and his wife, Emma.
January 1794: Nelson blockades Corsica. Hood gives Nelson command and they go on to defeat the French.
July 1794: The famous Siege of Calvi in Corsica. Nelson is wounded. A shell burst the sandbags on the ramparts, flinging stones and sand in to Nelson’s face, causing cuts. His sight in the right eye was never the same and he could merely distinguish between light and dark. Contrary to popular belief, and a number of paintings and films, he did not wear an eyepatch.
April 1796: Nelson is promoted to Commodore. He transfers to his new flagship, HMS Captain
February 14th 1797: The Battle of Cape St. Vincent. Nelson was at the rear of the line on board HMS Captain and instead of following, decided to disobey all orders and headed out to engage the Spanish ships. He engaged three of the largest Spanish ships including the 130 gun Santisima Trinidad. Troubridge and HMS Culloden came to his aid and both ships received extensive damage. Nelson led a boarding party to one of the Spanish ships, the San Nicolas, famously shouting, “Westminster Abbey or glorious victory” He eventually forced her surrender. From the San Nicolas he moved to the San Josef and forced her surrender as well. Nelson had disobeyed the orders given to him by Jervis. He was never disciplined for this, but his actions were not in the official report for the Admiralty.
After the battle, Nelson becomes a hero, is knighted and promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue.
September 1797: Nelson is invested with the Order of the Bath
December 1797: Nelson is given a new flagship, HMS Vanguard. He spends time searching the Mediterranean for Napoleon’s fleet, missing them a number of times before heading to check once more that the fleet were not at Alexandria.
June 1798: Nelson spots the French fleet moored at Aboukir bay, Egypt.
1st August 1798: Aboukir Bay, now usually referred to as The Battle of The Nile. Nelson’s fleet surrounds the French. The French had not expected Nelson to attack, as in terms of firepower they had the advantage. The British did not act in the way the French expected, the French fleet was caught off guard and was attacked from both sides. They began to surrender but the British continued to bombard their ships, including the flagship L’Orient, which was destroyed in the firefight.
The British captured and sank 13 of the 17 French ships and Nelson received the title ‘Baron Nelson of the Nile’, however, he was less than impressed with the title of ‘a mere barony’
Fun fact: Nelson had a dog named Nileus after his victory at the Nile.
September 22nd 1798: Nelson arrives in Naples. He stays with the Hamiltons and, whilst there, falls in love with Emma Hamilton and starts an affair.
14th February 1799: Nelson is promoted to R.Adm of the Red.
January 1800: Nelson is made Duke of Bronte. He returns to England with the Hamiltons. Frances asks him to choose her or Emma. He chooses Emma and is estranged from his wife for the remainder of his life.
January 1801: Nelson is promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue.
February 1801: Horatia Nelson is born to Nelson and Emma Hamilton. She was christened with the pair as her ‘godparents’ and named the daughter of Vice Admiral Charles Thompson. later on Nelson and Emma adopted her as an ‘orphan’. Nelson wrote a letter prior to the Battle of Trafalgar stating that he leaves ‘to the beneficence of my country my adopted (sic) daughter Horatia Nelson Thompson, and I desire the she will use in future the name of Nelson only’. Horatia agreed to this after learning of his death. In later years, after the death of Nelson, Emma Hamilton ran into serious financial difficulties and spent some time in prison. Horatia never agreed that Emma was her mother, but when Emma died in Calais in 1815, Horatia, who was still living with her, made the funeral arrangements before returning to England dressed as a bot, in order to escape arrest for the debts Emma had made in France.
2nd April 1801: The Battle of Copenhagen. It starts poorly, and Hyde-Parker raises the flag to withdraw. Nelson famously turned to his Flag Captain saying, “You know, Foley, I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal” whilst putting his telescope to his bling eye. Later, a truce was decided between the English and Danish. Nelson was made Viscount.
May 1803: Nelson joins HMS Victory, his new and most famous flagship. He spent 1.5 years enforcing blockades of the French fleet at Toulon and whilst there was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White.
September 1805: Nelson leaves Portsmouth on September 14th 1805 and returns to command the fleet, taking over command from Collingwood, arriving on September 27th to blockade the French and Spanish at Cadiz.
October 20th 1805: The Franco-Spanish fleet is spotted leaving Cadiz, Villeneuve (commanding) was due to be succeeded, as he was falling out of favour with Napoleon, and so he made the decision to leave the port. This was also, in part, due to the weather which had turned. Villeneuve believed he had a gap where the British could not chase him. He was wrong.
England Expects that every man will do his duty…
21st October 1805: The Battle of Trafalgar. 33 French and Spanish ships, 27 British meet. Nelson famously took two columns of ships and broke the French line. Nelson hoists his famous signal ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’. He was asked whether he should move to another ship, further back and refused, choosing to lead on HMS Victory. The Captain of HMS Victory, Thomas Hardy, suggested Nelson remove his coat, with decorations as he was a target. A sharpshooter on board HMS Redoubtable shoots Nelson who is mortally wounded and dies a few hours later. The British fleet wins the battle.
January 1806: The funeral of Horatio Nelson at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.