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Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served
 
 

The Battle of the Nile

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Mutiny

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Read Nelson's despatch about the attack on Cadiz

Mutinies in Royal Navy ships between May and June 1797 at the Nore and Spithead threatened to undermine Britain’s war efforts. Many of these ships were sent to serve in St Vincent’s Mediterranean fleet that set about restoring discipline on them. Nelson was ordered on 27 May 1797, in his flagship, HMS Theseus - which had been one of the mutinous ships - off Cadiz to blockade the Spanish fleet there. On 3 July 1797 Nelson led an attack of bomb vessels on Cadiz. The vessels met fierce resistance. Nelson’s own vessel was boarded. His coxswain, John Sykes, saved Nelson’s life by parrying a cutlass blow with his arm. Nelson remarked that ‘my personal courage was more conspicuous than at any other period of my life’ [Nicolas, Volume 2, page 405].

Mutinous behaviour then broke out on HMS St George off Cadiz. St Vincent acted decisively and had four mutineers arrested and court-martialled during 7-8 July 1797. They were sentenced to death. However, their execution fell on a Sunday, which was opposed by senior officers because of its religious significance. St Vincent ordered that it should go ahead. Nelson congratulated St Vincent on his decisiveness, saying ‘had it been Christmas Day instead of Sunday, I would have executed them’ (Morriss, page 77).

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Extract from Nelson’s journal on board HMS Theseus for 25 July 1797

 

Picture from the Illustrated London News of 1905 showing the engagement that lost Nelson his right arm

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Extract from HMS Theseus medical officer’s journal for 25 July 1797 relating to the amputation of part of Nelson’s right arm

St Vincent and Nelson turned their attention to the possibility of capturing a Spanish treasure ship expected to arrive in Tenerife. Plans to attack Tenerife were authorised by St Vincent in mid-July. Nelson was to lead seven ships and land 1,000 men at Santa Cruz. A surprise attack by British troops was foiled on 21 July 1797. However, Nelson persisted and planned a second assault on 24 July which he would himself lead at immense personal risk. This time the attack focused on the harbour. The 1,000 men who landed were met with heavy fire from local defences. Nelson’s right elbow was hit. Josiah, his stepson, applied a tourniquet to his arm. Nelson returned to HMS Theseus to have his arm amputated by the ship’s surgeon Thomas Eshelby. Officers of the remaining British troops negotiated a surrender with the Spanish and returned to their ships. Of the original 1,000 men 153 had died, many of them drowned. Dejected at this failure and by the loss of his right arm, Nelson wrote to St Vincent on 27 July 1797 that ‘I am become a burthen to my friends and useless to my Country… When I leave your command, I become dead to the world… I hope you will be able to give me a frigate to convey the remains of my carcase [body] to England (Nicolas, Volume 2, pages 434-35).

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View Nelson's despatch to Sir John Jervis about the attack on Santa Cruz

 

Extract from HMS Seahorse medical officer’s journal for 20 August 1797 relating to the medical treatment Nelson was receiving due to the loss of his right arm

Nelson returned to England on HMS Seahorse to his wife whom he had not seen for over four years. Fanny nursed him back to health, although his wound did not completely recover and gave him great pain. Nelson was publicly fêted as the hero of St Vincent. He was invested with the Order of the Bath by the king on 27 September 1797. The First Lord of the Admiralty’s wife, Lady Spencer, on meeting Nelson described him as being ‘a most uncouth creature…He looked so sickly it was painful to see’ (Morriss, page 81). Nelson, although happy to be with his wife, longed to serve at sea again.

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Letter from Nelson to Evan Nepean, Secretary to the Admiralty, dated 1 September 1797. One of the first letters he wrote with his left hand after having his right arm amputated.

 

Memorial to the King sent by Nelson for a pension

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