On the morning of Trafalgar, Nelson was found kneeling in his cabin, saying this prayer, which he also wrote down:
May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in any one, tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet.
For myself individually, I commit my life to Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my country faithfully.
To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend.
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Nelson's final and most famous battle, fought off Cape Trafalgar with Nelson's 27 Sail-of-the-Line battle ships against the 33 of the French and Spanish combined fleet.
Nelson's thorough planning with his officers, known as the 'Nelson Touch', the superior seamanship and gunnery of his men and the poor state of the Franco-Spanish fleet resulted in a decisive victory for the British. It gave Britain naval supremacy for the next century and was the last battle of its kind. Nelson's death, however, caused the whole country to mourn rather than celebrate it's victory.
Nelson had formulated a plan long before the battle. During the weeks before-hand he had discussed it with his fellow officers and even asked their opinions about it, so that, when the day arrived, every captain would know exactly what to do. Even more importantly, he trusted his captains to use their initiative, believing in their ability and knowing they would not let him down. This would have strengthened his already good relationship with them.
The basic plan was for the fleet to be split and arranged into two columns, with Nelson in the Victory leading one, and Admiral Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign leading the other. Anticipating that the Combined Fleet would attempt to escape, Collingwood's division would break through and attack the rear of the enemy line, while Nelson's would do the same near the middle of the line, reducing the chances of escape, and causing the van of the enemy line to have to turn round in order to help the rest of the fleet, which would have taken time.
Once this was done, the captains were free to use their initiative and engage with individual ships at close quarters, resulting in a "melee" battle, in which the British superiority in sailing and gunnery could do it's worst to the French and Spanish ships, which were in bad condition and were housing mainly soldiers rather than seamen.
Stuck in the port of Cadiz for most of the Trafalgar Campaign, Nelson knew that they would have been ill-practiced and would be no match for the well-trained British seamen.
However, one draw-back of the plan was, as guns were placed at the sides of a ship, the inability to fire back at the Combined Fleet as they approached. Nelson was relying on the inferior French and Spanish gunnery, hoping that they wouldn't do too much damage before the British could return fire.
The fleets sighted each other on the morning of 21 October at about 6.00 am. Every sail bent, they slowly approached their opponent.
11.25 am, Nelson hoisted the signal, "England Expects Every Man Will Do His Duty", which was received with cheers all around the fleet. Villeneuve had turned his fleet round to head for Cadiz and Nelson, anxious that the enemy would escape, sent the signal, "I intend to push or go through the end of the enemy's line to prevent them from getting into Cadiz." This, however, was not done in the end, once the Buccentaure, Villeneuve's flagship had been identified, and Nelson once again aimed for the centre of the line. At midday, Villeneuve signalled to his fleet to "Engage the Enemy", and the Fougeux fired the first shots at the Royal Sovereign, which had recently had her hull re-coppered and was considerably faster than the other ships in the fleet. She was the first into action at 12.20 pm.
The Victory broke the enemy line and fired her first broadside, a stern rake to the Buccentaure at 1.30 pm. She came alongside the French ship, Redoubtable,whose captain had trained his men well. He intended to board, and, after a single broadside, his men, up in the rigging, began shooting down onto the Victory's quaterdeck. Eventually, the Temeraire came alongside to assist the Victory and the Redoubtable was brutally pounded by the two ships. She struck her colours at 1.55 pm, and would later sink in a storm that followed the battle.
As more ships entered the battle, the middle and rear of the enemy line were completely overwhelmed, and the van sailed away when they realised they could not help their comrades.
At about 1.15 pm, Nelson was shot through the shoulder while pacing the deck with Captain Hardy. Hardy reported that he turned to see the admiral on his knees, holding himself up with his one hand which soon gave way. He rushed to his friends aid to hear the ominous words, "they've done for me at last, Hardy... my backbone is shot through".
He was taken below to the surgeon, and spent the remainder of the battle dying in agony.
The French and Spanish fought bravely, but were no match for the superior British gunnery. The British lost no ships but managed to capture 10 French ships and 11 Spanish ships, including what was said to be the largest ship in the world, the Santisima Trinidad. One Spanish ship, the Archille, exploded. The battle ended at about 4.30 pm, with over 15,000 casulties.
Nelson lived just long enough to hear that he had won. He asked his captain, Hardy, a close friend of his, to take care of his mistress and daughter and then to kiss him, which Hardy does twice. His lasts words are said to be, 'Thank God I have done my duty'.
After the battle, a huge storm set in and wreaked havoc on the battle-worn fleets. It lasted for several days and many prizes that had been won, including the Santisima Trinidad, were lost in the storm. Only four prizes survived.
After the battle, Britain was never seriously challenged at sea again. Nelson was given a hero's funeral, and his death completely overshadowed the victory at Trafalgar.
Nowadays, the Battle of Trafalgar is still celebrated in some areas of the country. In Portsmouth, the Victory flies the signal, 'England Expects That Every Man Will do His Duty', and a dinner is held in the Great Cabin, where they toast the 'Immortal Memory' of Nelson.
By 1.15 pm, the Victory had only been firing for about 45 minutes. To her starboard side was the French ship Redoubtable, which was sandwiched between both her and the Temeraire.
Nelson and his captain, Thomas Hardy, a good friend of his, were pacing the quarterdeck, with Nelson on the right. Suddenly, Nelson was sent stumbling forward and down onto his knees. He was struck in the left shoulder by a musket ball which pierced his left lung, fractured two ribs, severed the pulmonary artery and lodged in his spine, damaging his spinal cord. Nelson already he knew the wound was fatal. He tried to support himslef with his hand before his arm gaveway and he fell into a pool of blood left by his secretary.
Hardy rushed to his admiral's aid.
'The have done for me at last, Hardy.' 'I hope not,' Hardy responded. Nelson was certain.'Yes, my backbone is shot through'.
The horrified captain called over Sergeant James Seckar of the Royal Marines and a couple of seamen to carry Nelson to the cockpit. They carefully lifted the admiral up and began to slowly carry him down to the Orlop deck. Nelson was still fully conscious and on his way down noticed that the tiller ropes needed to be replaced, and told a midshipman to inform Hardy. He also had a hankerchief placed over his face and chest so that his men would not recognise him and be discouraged.
When they reached the cockpit, where the surgeon was operating on the wounded, he was alerted of Nelson's presense by calls of 'Mr Beatty, Lord Nelson is here' and 'Mr Beatty, the admiral is wounded' from some of the injured. He immediately came and Nelson laid down on a bed, stiped of his clothes and covered with a sheet. 'You can do nothing for me', Nelson said. Beatty, after a quick examination, could tell instantly that Nelson was going to die.
So what lead to this moment?
The captain of the Redoubtable, Jean Lucas (to the right), had used his time wisely
while in Cadiz, training up his men for the purpose of boarding. While Nelson
had been walking the deck, the Redoubtable had closed her gun ports and
Lucas's men were showering Victory's quarterdeck with musket fire. It was unlucky for Nelson that the Victory ended up alongside her.
However, the bullet which hit Nelson probably wasn't deliberatly aimed. The soldiers up in the Redoubtable's rigging and on the fighting tops would have a hard time seeing the Victory's quarterdeck. There was smoke everywhere, and rigging would have impaired their view. To add to that was the swell of the ship, which would have been much more noticable high up on the tops. Nelson was in all probability hit by a completely random shot.
It's been suggested in the past that Nelson had caused his own death. He had sown onto his coat fascimilies of his four orders of chivalry- an obvious target which seemed to say 'here I am, shoot me if you can!' Some people have even gone as far as arguing that Nelson had deliberately set out to be shot, enhanced by the fact that he had left his sword in his cabin, had refused to change his coat and refused to leave the Victory and witness the battle from one of his frigates.
However, it is very unlikely that his orders would have been made out at all. They were made of sequins but were certainly not shiney or sparkly. They were worn on his every day 'undress' coat, not, as popular legend would have it, on his showy full dress coat- and so were probably quite worn and dull. It's very unlikely that they played a role in his death at all.
And let's not forget, Nelson was really not the suicidal type. Sure, he had his depressive moments, but now was not one of them, and he seemed happy and content with his life. Infact, he had everything to live for. He probably simply forgot to put his sword on. Nelson was determinded to lead the line. It was his duty to do so, and it was important to set an example. Agreeing to hide away or change to a less vulnerable ship went against everything that was important to him.
Nelson was always prepared for his death in battle, and fully acknowledged the possiblity of it. On the morning of Trafalgar, he had written down a prayer saying how he had resigned himself God.ever hoped to die, but was accepting of whatever his fate was.
Down in the cockpit, anxious eyes watched Beatty as he probed Nelson's wound and checked his symptoms. Nelson described feeling 'a gush of blood every minute within his brest' and had 'no feeling in the lower part of his body'. He found it difficult to breathe and was in tremendous pain. Blood was in his throat. Beatty was reluctant to share his true feelings on Nelson's condition. Nelson would not live to see the end of the day, but how could he possibly admit that to those around him, who were so desperate for any glimmer of hope?
Nelson took it upon himself to prepare everyone for his death, saying, 'I can live but a short time'. Walter Burke, the ship's purser, and John Scott, the chaplain, were supporting him at a 45 degree angle, the most comfortable position for Nelson, fanning him, offering him drinks of lemonade, and rubbing his chest- doing everything they could to ease his pain and discomfort. They tried to remain optimistic, suggesting that the wound was not as bad as it seemed and that he would live to reap the rewards of his glorious victory. 'It is nonsense to suppose I can live,' Nelson replied, 'It is all over!'. 'I have to leave Lady Hamilton, and my adopted daughter Horatia, as a legacy to my country,' he said.
He wanted to see Hardy, and requested his presence several times. But he didn't come. Nelson fretted that Hardy 'must be killed'.
Eventually, over an hour after Nelson was hit, Hardy was free to visit his dying friend. He reported that the battle was going well. 'I am a dead man, Hardy. Pray let dear Lady hamilton have my hair, and all other things belonging to me,' Nelson begged. Hardy still hoped that Nelson would live yet, but Nelson said that it was 'impossible'. Hardy returned to the quarterdeck.
Nelson had Beatty, who had left at Nelson's command to attend to the others, called over again. 'Ah, Mr Beatty! I have sent for you to say, what I forgot to tell you before, that all power of motion below my breast are gone; and you very well know I can live but a short time.' Beatty finally admitted it. 'My Lord, unhappliy for our Country, nothing can be done for you.' 'I know it Nelson said, 'I can feel something rising in my breast which tells me I am gone.'
Nelson then turned his thoughts to Emma and his daughter. He described that the pain was so great that he wished he were already dead, but then added, 'yet one would like to live a little longer too. What will become of poor Lady hamilton?'
About fifty minutes after his previous visit, Hardy returned once more. He congratulated his admiral on his glorious victory, saying he was certin that fourteen or fifteen of the enemy were captured. 'That is well' Nelson replied, 'but I bargained for twenty.' Nelson then told Hardy to send a signal for the fleet to anchor- he knew a storm was coming- and asked Hardy not to throw his dead body overboard. 'Oh! No, certainly not!' Hardy promised. 'Then you know what to do. Take care of my Ladt Hamilton, Hardy, take care of my poor Lady Hamilton. Kiss me Hardy.'
It is without a doubt that Nelson did ask for a kiss from Hardy. It was recorded by three people. It was an embarrasing thought to the Victorians, but in Nelson's time it was not unusual for men to display affection for each other, and nobody there was embarrassed by it. And it must be remembered that Nelson was dying. Even for the bravest of men there must of been something a little unnevering about death now that he was on the brink of it. It is understandabke that he, always sentimental man, would ask for that one last symbol of affection from one of his dearest friends. Hardy obliged, kissing him first on the cheek, and then kissing him on the forehead. 'God bless you Hardy!' Nelson exclaimed. 'Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty.'
Hardy now left and Nelson was going quickly. His speech became faint and disjointed and he slipped in and out of consciouness. He asked to be turned over onto his right side and became very thirsty. 'Fan, fan... drink,drink' he called. 'Thank God I have done my duty,' he repeated.
After a few minutes of being silent, Beatty was sent for. He felt for a pulse but he could feel none. He placed his hand upon Nelson's forhead. Nelson opened his eyes and looked up one last time, before shutting them forever. Beatty returned to his work, and after another five mintutes, was called for again. He confirmed that Nelson had died, after about two and a half hours, at 4.30 pm.
Nelson's death had a huge effect on the country. Men who had never even seen him wept. They almost wished that they had lost Trafalgar, if it had meant they could keep their hero.
Nelson's hair was cut off and his body was placed in a cask of brandy. The crew of the Victory insisted that they be the ones to take his body home, rather than a faster frigate. When they returned to England, Beatty removed the ball, found with a piece of epaulette attached to it, and several of his organs. The heart was put back in. He noted that Nelson's organs were in very god condition, more like a young man's. It seemed that Nelson would have lived lived much longer if he hadn't been shot.
The body was wrapped in cotton bandages, and was placed in a coffin. The body wasn't preserved too well, and Beatty advised against an open casket funeral.
The funeral was massive and took place on 9 January 1806, after laying in state in the Painted Hall, Greenwich. He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, directly beneath the dome.
The manner of Nelson's death was what earnt him 'immortality'. People love it when someone dies doing their duty, and he did that right to the end.He expired in his finest hour. He never faded away like some heroes did, he remained solidly in the nation's heart, as Britain's greatest war hero.
Trafalgar Day is fast approaching, and I thought I'd take this time to reminisce the day that I became a Nelsonite, all those years ago!
By the time of the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar, my passionate love of dinosaurs and prehistory was beginning to wane a little (it's been revived in the last couple of years, however!) and there was room for a new interest. But never would I have guessed that it would come in the form of Nelson and his navy!
Only a few years before I was standing in Trafalgar Square, on my first visit to London, with my dad who was enthusing about the guy perched on top of the stone column, and all the wonderful things that he had done.
Me: not interested. If my dad found it interesting, then I definitely was't going to! (Oh, the irony!)
A couple of years later, when I was nine, I went on holiday to Portsmouth. The first time I went was when I was about two, so I didn't really know anything about the place. Needless to say, when I was informed of our new holiday destination, I wasn't exactly excited. Nevertheless, I ended up completely loving it. I'm not sure why, but I did!
While I was there, I went aboard HMS Victory for the first time. I was mildly interested- that is, I didn't hate it. I remember my aunty Sally doing a brilliant, masterful impersonation of Nelson, while we stood on the Quarterdeck. 'I see no ships,' she said, raising an invisible telescope to her eye, presumably thinking that I knew what she was referring to. I didn't.
When we returned, I was to begin my first year of middle school. A few weeks in, we were told that Friday, the 21st of October, was Trafalgar Day. My knowledge on Nelson at that point was, to say the least, pretty limited! I wrote it in my school diary, completely clueless.
When the day came around, I was pleasantly surprised. We had an assembly first thing and some of the things they mentioned rang a few bells. I recognised the man called Nelson with the big hat. I recognised HMS Victory. Something clicked in my brain, and suddenly, it was interesting. The idea of a stupendous battle in which Nelson, the hero, for his country so gallantly gave his life struck a chord with me. I was hooked.
The whole day was dedicated to Nelson and Trafalgar. We went to our normal classrooms, but instead of the usual lessons we learnt about some aspect of Trafalgar or Nelson and the world he lived in. It was one of the best school days I ever had. In PE we were pretending to be seamen living on the Victory and preparing for battle. I hated PE, but this was one of the few lessons that I actually enjoyed and put effort into!
At the end of the day, unusually, my dad picked me up from school, and my mom agreed that I could stay with him for a few hours. We met up with Sally and my granddad (who I call Daddad!) in Worcester and I asked questions the whole time about Nelson. I had to keep being reminded of what his first name was, because I had never heard of the name 'Horatio' before!
We went back to Daddad's house, and on the TV was live coverage of some of the events that were taking place in commemoration of Trafalgar. I had to leave before it was finished, and I had to beg my granddad to ask my mom if I could watch it at her house. She wasn't impressed by the request, but she put it on all the same. While I was sat there glued to the telly, she jested that I was watching 'silly TV!'- let me tell you, she wouldn't dare now!
One of the last things they did was fire an imitation broadside from the Victory. It was very impressive, and I clearly remember the excitement and pride I felt as the guns thundered and poured out smoke. I wanted to be there. I still wish I could have seen it in person!
In the following weeks, my enthusiasm continued, probably because my dad and granddad were moderately interested in it themselves, and would happily answer some of my questions. Over the years, after a slow start, my knowledge began to grow. I'm certainly no expert, but I'm getting there! I'll have been hooked on Nelson for seven years on Sunday. I can't believe it's approaching a decade!
I'm so glad that they decided to make something of Trafalgar Day that year. If they hadn't then I wouldn't be interested today, and I'd like to think that the same happened for many kids across the country: education is the best way to get people interested, I think. They made a good choice to celebrate. And I dream that, maybe one day, the person inspiring kids to learn about Nelson, Trafalgar and the sailing navy will be me!
Let me know how you became interested in Nelson and his navy! I always enjoy hearing others stories of how they first became a Nelsonite!
Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve (whose name was not long at all!) was the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar.
He was born 31 December 1763, in Valensole, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France and was from an aristocratic background. He joined the French Navy in 1778 and took part in the American Revolutionary War. He was sympathetic towards the French revolutionaries and dropped the aristorcratic 'de' from his name, which probably saved him from the guillotine and allowed him to continue his service in the navy. He experienced many battles and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1796.
In 1798, he witnessed the devastation of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, which he would never forget. His was one of only two ships to escape, earning him a lot of criticism for not engaging the enemy. He was captured not long after but was soon released.
By 1804 Villeneuve had been promoted to Vice-Admiral and was stationed in Toulon. Napoleon ordered him to break the British blockade (commanded by Nelson) and draw them away to the West Indies, before quickly returning to destroy the Channel Fleet, enabling Napoleon to take his invasion barges across to England and invade (see Trafalgar Campaign post).
When he did finally escape, things started to go very wrong, and after being chased by Nelson to and from the West Indies, he joined with the Spanish Fleet and disobeyed his orders and sailed into the Port of Cadiz- putting an end to Napoloen's plans of invasion (no surprise then that Napoleon took such a disliking to him). After a few weeks, his fleet emerged only to be severely beaten by the British at Trafalgar.
He has been treated harshly by historians often been regarded as being cowardly. But is this really fair?
We know he was terrified of Nelson, and kept in port to avoid fighting him, afraid of a re-run of the Battle of the Nile. He knew what Nelson could do, and he knew he would lose.
However, it must be remembered that during the Trafalgar Campaign Villenueve was in a very difficult position. Napoleon was breathing down his neck and he was not the type of person you want to make angry! But Napoleon had no knowledge of the sea. It took months before Villeneuve successfully broke out of Nelson's blockade, and his was the only fleet that managed it, as other blockades were very tight. But Napoleon was outraged at the lack of action, failing to understand that Villenueve and the other admirals could not simply break the blockade without a battle first.
To add to his problems was the fact that the Combined Fleet was, let's say, not at its best! Keeping in port took its toll on their ships, which were now in bad condition and filled with disease. The men were unpractised and morale was very low. Villeneuve knew that they wouldn't stand a chance against the British fleet.
But, as mentioned before, Napoleon was not one to anger, and Villeneuve was reprimmanded and informed that he was to be replaced. His honour was hanging in the balance. He had one last chance to prove himself. He thought of the thin hope of him winning against Nelson and attempted to come up with a counter plan, having already accurately guessed what Nelson would break the line. But in the end he failed to actually formulate one.
To add to all of this, the relationship between the two fleets under his command was incredibly strained. When he called a Council of War on his flagship the Bucentaure,
there was nearly a duel between two officers and Villeneuve and Gravina, the Spanish Admiral, argued about whether to put to sea or not. Villenueve wanted to sail as soon as possible, and Gravina was concerned about the westerly winds which would make putting to sea almost impossibe, saying, 'Do you not see sir, that the barometer is falling?' To which Villeneuve scathingly replied, 'It is not the glass, but the courage of certain persons that is falling'. Eventually, they decided to sail to the mouth of the harbour and then wait for the weather to pass.
He sailed his fleet out of Cadiz on 19th October, before his replacement could arrive. He told his officers to rely on their 'love of glory'.
He as been criticised for sailing his fleet to it's doom, but it was a rather lose-lose situation for Villenueve, and his prospects were rather grim either way.
So, despite what Napoleon thought of him, it seems to me that Villenueve, while always a 'sensible' admiral (not something Nelson would have admired at all!), he was not cowardly- quite the opposite. He faced Nelson- the scariest thing at sea if you were an enemy of Britain- despite knowing he would lose. It takes quite a lot of guts to do that. In fact, when he was captured, the British were amazed by the way he calmly accepted his fate. I think Villeneuve deserves respect for that at least.
Unfortunately, it didn't end well for Villeneuve. He was sent to England as a prisoner of war, but was released on parole. He even attended Nelson's funeral. Not long after he was free to return to France, but was found dead only a few days later on 22nd April. He was discovered allegedly with six stab wounds to the left lung and heart, and it was reported as suicide. However, many people believed that he had been assassinated by Napoleon's men
During his brief home leave during the summer of 1805; Nelson told a number of people about his ideas for his next battle. He dubbed this collection of ideas, 'The Nelson Touch'.
Traditionally, in a naval battle, each fleet would form a line of battle, parallel to each other, and fire away until someone surrendered, or, more commonly, escaped. This was a good defense tactic and also meant that, as ships are firing at one opponent they would avoid hitting a friendly ship. However, it's major flaw was that it rarely accomplished decisive results- not at all what Nelson wants!
In his plan for Trafalgar, he decided to separate his fleet into three divisions, and each would concentrate on one section of the enemy's fleet, bringing about a melee battle, in which, fighting at close quarters with individual ships, Nelson was taking advantage of the superior British gunnery and ability to maneuver, and allowing it to take its toll on the enemy, resulting in a decisive victory for the British.
In practice, Nelson's fleet was split into two divisions rather than three, probably because he didn't have the number of ships required for three divisions.
When he explained 'the Nelson Touch' to his captains, Nelson described that 'it was like an electric shock! Some shed tears, all approved- it was new, it was singular, it was simple!'
But despite what Nelson said, it must be noted that there was nothing new about his battle plan. Breaking the enemy line was a tactic that had previously been done several times, for example at the Battle of the Saintes, 2 April 1782, or at the Battle of Camperdown, 11 October 1797. And concentration on one part of the enemy fleet had already been used by himself at the Nile in 1798.
However, the fact that he had his plan weeks in advance of the battle, and was able to discuss it in full with his captains, was new. Even more exciting for his captains was that his confidence in them was such that he trusted them to use their own initiative in battle, meaning that the plan remained simple and that there was a good relationship between him and his officers. This is what is revolutionary about The Nelson Touch.
Another aspect that was new was that Nelson ordered his fleet to cruise in the same order that they would go into battle. This probably arose from the remembered frustration at Hyeres in July 1795, during which Admiral Hotham allowed the French fleet to escape by wasting time ordering his fleet.
The origin of the expression, 'The Nelson Touch' is unknown, but it is suspected that it may have been inspired by a line from one of Shakespeare's plays, Henry V. 'A little touch of Harry in the night' was used to describe the King calming down his frightened men on the eve of battle.
Another theory is that it may have been a sexual reference. Nelson wrote in one of his letters to Lady Hamilton that 'the Nelson touch, which we say is warranted never to fail', suggesting that it was a private joke between the two lovers.
Nelson's exceptional leadership and the way he provoked admiration and trust in his fellow officers also became known as the 'Nelson Touch'; although Nelson never really spoke of that himself.
He often refered to his captains as his 'band of brothers' another reference from Henry V. In the play, Shakespeare portrays the King as someone who was well loved was a source inspiration to his men, and it certainly seems that Nelson aspired to be like him.
Anybody who knows anything about Nelson would have heard her name. They most likely would have seen photos or paintings of her. Some may have been fortunate enough to stroll along her deck. After his death on her orlop deck during the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Victory very quickly became part of the Nelson legend. Ever since their names have been bound together and the name HMS Victory is as immortalised as Nelson's.
But at Trafalgar the Victory was very much an elderly ship- not far from the age of Nelson himself- and had already seen much action.
Her construction was ordered in 1758, the year of Nelson's birth, and she was laid down in Chatham in 1759. Her designer was Thomas Slade, a brilliant architect who designed some of the most successful ships of the age. At the time she was ordered, Britain was in a conflict, predominantly with France, that became known as the Seven Years War. But construction was particularly slow and by the time Victory was finished, the war had ended. She was launched 7 May 1765 but remained 'in ordinary' (in reserve) until 1778 after war a with America broke out. She first saw action off Cape Ushant with Admiral Augustus Keppel in July that year. It was a decisive victory for the British and by now Victory became well known for being fast and easy to sail. In 1782 she took part in the Second Battle of Ushant, under Richard Kempenfelt. Following a peace when she was kept in ordianry, she was recommissioned in 1793 and, as the flagship of Lord Hood, took part in the capture of Toulon that same year, and later Corsica in 1794. After a refit she became the flagship of Sir John Jervis and played a key role in the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 1797. She was badly damaged in the action and was afterward used as a hospital ship. It was expected that she would never return to active service again.
But, the breakout of war with France in 1803 saw a new demand for First Raters, and the Victory was fitted out and returned to active service once more, as the flagship of our hero: Lord Nelson! During the long Trafalgar Campaign she never docked and any repairs were carried out by the ship's company. Her role in the ensuing battle earned her her place in British history books, as the leading ship in Nelson's line and the ship which carried the hero's body home to England.
After having another major refit, she saw service in the Baltic under Sir James Saumarez, before returning to Portsmouth in 1812 and being placed in ordinary. She was later recommissioned in 1823 as the flagship of the port admiral at Porstmouth, remaining at anchor in the harbour, where she would stay for nearly a century. In 1889 she became a Naval School of Telegraphy and this lasted until 1904. By the begining of the 1920s, she was in such a sorry state that it was feared she would sink. The 'Save the Victory Fund' was set up by the Society for Nautical Resaerch. She was moved to the No. 2 Dock, the oldest drydock in the world still in use, and a massive restoration was carried out to restore her to her state at the time of Trafalgar. This lasted several years.She was finally opened to the public in 1928, while still retaining her commission.
She is still in commission today, and still has a crew, making her the oldest commissioned warship in the world! She is also the only surviving example of a First Rate Battleship, making her pretty special. I find it possible that, without her strong connection with Nelson, she may not have survived at all!
Every Trafalgar Day, 'England Expects' is hoisted from her masts, and dinner is held in the Great Cabin, during which a toast to the 'Immortal Memory' is drunk.
Now time for some facts and figures!
It would have taken over 2,000 oak trees for the construction of her hull, and it cost over £63,000 to make her- only about £60 million in today's money!
She weighs about 3.500 tons and is 227 ft and 6in in total length! Her hull is about 2 ft thick!
She would have had a crew about 850 men and could hold just over 100 guns.
Originally, she had thirty 42 pounders on her lower gun deck, and twelve 6 pounders on her quarterdeck and forecastle. but these were later replaced by 32 pounders and 12 pounders, and carronades were also added.
It is said that Nelson's close friend, Hardy, as an admiral, had decided to have her broken up, but changed his mind after his wife gave him a bit of a telling off!
The Battles she took part in are as follows: The First Battle of Ushant; The Second Battle of Ushant; The Battle of Cape Spartel; The Batle of Cape St. Vincent and the Battle of Trafalgar!
After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens in May 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte (to the left) revived his plans for the invasion of Britain. His 'Army of England' was trained up in camps and invasion barges were built and gathered at Boulogne. But before he could send his invasion flotilla across to England, he had to first take control of the English Channel. In his own words, "Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours and we are masters of the world."
To do this he planned to distract the British fleets by having the Brest and Toulon Franco-Spanish fleets break out of the British blockade and sail across the Atlantic and threaten the West Indies, where they would both rendezvous. After, they would then quickly sail back to Europe and help take over the Channel, before the British fleets could intervene. Then, voila! Britain would be invaded.
Sound like a good plan? It was!
... If he was dealing with armies.
The problem with Napoleon was that he never really understood the navy and how it worked. He didn't understand the problems with winds and tides and how difficult it was for his fleets to break out of a British blockade without a fight.
So, for months, nothing happened. And Napoleon got increasingly furious with the lack of action, and it was poor Villeneuve, who commanded the Toulon fleet, (more on him in another post) who bore the brunt of his anger.
Meanwhile, Nelson, in HMS Victory, was bored, bored, bored! He was now commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and wasn't a fan of blockading. He longed to do battle with the French and Spanish.
Eventually, in March 1805, while Nelson's fleet was victualing in Sardinia, Villeneuve's fleet left Toulon (the only fleet that managed to make it out) and sailed to the West Indies. Nelson, understandably, was miffed, and looked desperately for the French and Spanish... in the wrong direction. When he finally caught on, he sped across the Atlantic with remarkable speed, and arrived in the West Indies in early June... and looked in the wrong place again. Upon Villeneuve hearing of Nelson's arrival, he quickly set sail back home. Nelson soon caught wind of this and raced after him. He sent a brig to to inform the Admiralty of the combined fleet's movements which spotted them on 19th June and sent news of their course. Following orders from the Admiralty, Admiral Cornwallis sent Sir Robert Calder to intercept Villeneuve's fleet. This resulted in the Battle of Cape Finisterre on 22 July, in which Calder captured two ships, but failed to do further damage over the following few days (he was later court-martialled for this) and the Combined fleet escaped to Virgo and later moved to Ferrol. In August, he was about to obey Napoleon's command to join with anothor fleet and sail for the channel, when the two fleets spotted each other and ran away, believing the other fleet to be a British force! Villenueve fled to Cadiz. By now, an exasperated Napoleon had abandoned his invasion plans, although the British had no way of knowing this.
A very tired Nelson joined admiral Cornwallis's fleet off Brest, and then received permission to return home. He did so in the Victory and arrived in Portsmouth on 19th August. Although he had failed to catch the Combined Fleet, he was pleasantly surprised by the reception he received at home. He was as much of a hero as ever. He spent 25 days at his home in Merton, before leaving England for the final time on 14th September. He took over command of the fleet which, under Admiral Collingwood, had been blockading Cadiz, and spent the next few weeks keeping a close eye on his opponent's actions and refining his battle plans.
Meanwhile, Villeneuve, having hugely aggravated Napoleon, found out that he was about to be replaced. In an attempt to restore his honour, he sailed his fleet on 19th October.
Nelson and his fleet were more than ready for him, and many have suggested that the Battle of Trafalgar, fought 21 October, had already been won by the British before a single shot had been fired.
Dear fellow Nelsonites,
The 207th anniversary of Trafalgar is almost upon us, and since it is the first Trafalgar Day since the start of HMS Hinchy, I thought I'd make a bit of a celebration of it, in the form of Trafalgar Week! I will be posting something new every day of the week (probably in the evenings), ending next Sunday on the 21st October.
I am very busy with college work, so some posts may be shorter than others, but I will try my best! I will not be defeated by teachers giving me too much homework! *Hint to college teachers: give me less homework!*
If you follow our Twitter and Facebook pages (if you aren't, why ever not?), I'll let you know when a new post is up!
So remember to check back- if you don't it'll be a dozen lashes of the Cat O' Nine Tails for you!
Vice-Admiral Rae-Rae :)