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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 travels.

HERO OF THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR, OCTOBER 21, 1805

This article first appeared in June, 2005 and was most recently updated in 2013.

13 Things You Don't Know about Britain's greatest naval hero:

ADMIRAL HORATIO NELSON

 

          Vice Admiral 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 — Britain’s 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:

1797 Portrait of Nelson by Lemuel Abbott.

 

Admiral Horatio Nelson


 

BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT:

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, Horatio’s 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 America’s War of Independence (1781), Nelson was assigned to enforce Britain’s Navigation Act that mandated exclusive trading rights with England’s 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. Nelson’s 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 Nelson’s 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 sniper’s 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 Napoleon’s armada twice? The first time occurred at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 when Nelson surprised Napoleon’s 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.

8. NELSON BECAME INVOLVED IN A SCANDALOUS LOVE TRIANGLE. Following the Battle of the Nile, Nelson fell for Emma, Lady Hamilton. Emma, a former artist’s 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. Emma’s 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. Nelson’s 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 commitment—not marriage—not

Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton, mistress of Horatio Nelson, Portrait (1792) by Vigee Le Brun.
Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton,
mistress of Horatio Nelson,
Portrait (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 Nelsonís pension.

9. ALCOHOL POWERED NELSON'S FLEET. In Nelsonís 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.

10. NELSON'S WARSHIPS BOMBARDED COPENHAGEN. Nelson was second in command of the British fleet sent to Denmark 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. Nelsonís daring got his warships through coastal shallows and past Danish defenses to into Copenhagenís 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 admiralís flagship. Then Nelsonís ships bombarded Copenhagen, forcing Denmark to give in to Britainís demands. After the Denmark campaign, Nelson was elevated to Vice Admiral and given command of the Mediterranean Fleet in 1803.

11. NELSON'S WAS SHOT BY A SNIPER DURING A SEA BATTLE. Nelson was killed by a sniperís bullet during the Battle of Trafalgar. Sniperís bullet? Yesówhen Nelsonís 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 Nelsonís wound was fatal, the great commander held on long enough to know that British forces would prevail. The victory was huge. Twenty ships of Napoleonís combined French and Spanish navies were captured. No British ship ó not even the imperiled HMS Victory ó was lost. Napoleonís navy was ruined. The British Navy emerged from Trafalgar to become the unchallenged sword of the worldís only superpower for the next 100+ years.

12. NELSON'S LAST REQUEST WAS TO BE KISSED BY A MAN. Nelsonís last wordsóspoken to the Victoryís commander, Captain Thomas Hardyówere, "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 Nelsonís 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 Nelsonís remains received a full state funeral and were laid to rest in the crypt of St. Paulís Cathedral directly beneath the middle of the cathedralís great dome. (The Duke of Wellington would be placed nearby after his death.) You can visit Nelsonís tomb at St. Paulís 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. Paulís Cathedral is approximately 10 minutes by Route 100 bus from Home at Firstís Apartments at St. Katharineís 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 First’s lodgings in the southern Cotswolds and London. From the southern Cotswolds, drive approximately 100 minutes southeast to Portsmouth Harbour (parking £4-£6). Trains depart Londonís Waterloo half-hourly throughout the day on the 90-110 minute journey to Portsmouth Harbour. Round-trip fares from £35/person.

 
Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, in dry dock at Portsmouth Harbour. HMS-Victory.com website photo.
Nelson's flagship, HMS
Victory in dry dock at
 Portsmouth Harbour.
HMS-Victory.com photo
 

 

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