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Nelson in the News

Who Was Nelson?


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Copyright Vicki Singleton 2013


Nelson's life and career in chronological order.


  1758 Horatio Nelson, known to his family and friends as Horace, is born in Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk to the parson Edmund Nelson and his wife, Catherine.  
1767 Nelson's mother dies.  Horatio is just 9 years old. Catherine Nelson
Catherine, Nelson's mother
1771 January - Aged 12, Nelson joins the Raisonnable, as a midshipman, thanks to his uncle and captain of the ship, Maurice Suckling

August - Travels to the West Indies in a merchant ship.
Maurice Suckling
Captain Maurice Suckling
1773 June - Aboard the Carcass, Nelson joins an expedition to the Arctic.  Famously encounters a polar bear, but the story of him fighting it is probably exaggerated.

October - Joins the Seahorse and travels to the East Indies.
Carcass with Racehorse
Carcass and Racehorse stuck in ice
1776 March - Catches malaria and returns to England to recuperate.  
1777 April - Nelson passes his lieutenant's exam.

December -Joins the Lowestoffe under Captain William Locker, and heads to the West Indies.
William Locker
Capt. William Locker
1778 September - Joins the Bristol as first lieutenant.

December - Becomes commander of the Badger brig.
1779 June - Promoted to captain of the Hinchinbrook. Nelson by Rigaud 1781
Capt. Nelson, 1781
1780 Leads the Nicaraguan expedition to capture the Spanish Fort San Juan.  But the expedition ends disastrously, with almost the whole of Hinchinbrook's crew falling ill and dying.  Nelson himself nearly dies, and returns to England.
1781 October - Takes command of the frigate Albemarle.
1782 Visits Quebec.  Whilst there, he meets Alexander Davison, who would become a life-long friend.  He also falls head over heels in love, but Davison persuades him from asking the young lady to marry him.
1783 The War of American Independence ends.

Nelson returns to England.  Later, he visits France with the intention of learning the language.  He falls in love and tries to borrow money in order to finance a marriage.  But, unsuccessful in his endeavour, he returns to England.
1784 March - Is appointed captain of the Boreas and sails to the West Indies.  His task here is to suppress newly-illegal trade with the Americans, but takes this duty so seriously that he almost lands himself in trouble.  This is probably one of the least successful commands in his career. Boreas
1785 May - Meets Frances Nisbet at Nevis and begins courting her. Frances Nisbet
Nelson's wife, Frances
1786 December - Appointed aide-de-camp to Prince William Henry.  Although this appointment leads to some controversial decisions on Nelson's part, he and the prince become good friends.
1787 March 11th - Marries Frances Nisbet.

December - Returns to England and lives with his wife in Norfolk on half pay.  But he longs to be back at sea and frequently writes to the Admiralty to request a post.  Unfortunately, since the American war ended there are very few posts available.
1793 The French Revolution begins

January - Nelson is given command of the 64-gun Agamemnon.  This would prove to be one of his favourite commands, and many of Agamemnon's crew would follow him to later ships.

June - Nelson is in the Mediterranean under overall command of Admiral Lord Hood.

September - Meets Sir William and Lady Emma Hamilton at Naples. 
1794 Takes part in the sieges of Corsica, Bastia and Calvi. 

July 12th - A shot sprays sand and stones into Nelson's face.  His right eye is irreparably damaged and he is left partially blind for life.
1795 March 12th - With Vice-Admiral Hotham's fleet at the Battle of Genoa.  Nelson helped to capture Ça Ira.

July 7th - Agamemnon came across the French fleet and was chased.

July 13th - Again under Vice-Admiral Hotham's fleet, fought at the Battle of Hyères Islands.
William Hotham
Vice-Admiral Hotham
1796 March - Nelson is promoted to commodore.

June - With the Agamemnon needing to return home for repairs, Nelson asks for, and is granted, command of the 74-gun Captain.  He then assists with the evacuation of Leghorn.

December - In the wake of the Spanish and French fleets combining to form a superior force, Admiral Jervis sends Nelson, in the frigate Minerve, along with the Blanche, to evacuate British troops from Porto-Ferrajo on the island of Elba.  On the way there, they defeat two Spanish frigates, but Nelson is forced to give up his prize when more Spanish ships appear.
1797 February 14th - The Battle of Cape St Vincent

Nelson distinguishes himself by wearing out of the line of battle and bearing down on the Spanish fleet with just one other British ship, the Culloden.  He captures the Spanish San Nicolas, personally leading the boarding party.  Then, in a unique move, he jumps from the San Nicolas to the San Josef and captures that ship, too.  The move was later nicknamed 'Nelson's patent bridge for boarding first rates'.  Nelson is injured by a large piece of debris striking his stomach.  He describes it as no more than a 'bruise', but in fact he suffered internal injury that would trouble him for the rest of his life.

May 27th - Nelson is awarded Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath, promoted to Rear-Admiral, and given command of the Theseus. 

July 24th - Nelson leads an attack on Santa Cruz, Tenerife.  It fails disastrously, after strong winds push his boats back and the Spanish, alerted to the attack, fire heavily upon the British.  They suffer many losses, and Nelson is shot in his right arm, above the elbow.  The wound is so severe that he nearly dies from loss of blood, but his life is saved by his stepson, Josiah Nisbet, stemming the flow with a tourniquet.  His arm is amputated almost immediately. He returns to England and spends several long and painful months recovering from the devastating injury.

Nelson receiving the surrender of the San Josef
1798 March - Having recovered somewhat and learnt to live without his arm, Nelson hoists his flag in the Vanguard and returns to the Mediterranean.  Earl St Vincent gives him command of a detached squadron.

July - Searches for Napoleon's fleet, but lack of intelligence and frigates (which he calls the 'eyes of the fleet', and the lack of which he complains of bitterly) to scout ahead, he accidentally overtakes them and reaches Alexandria only to find the port empty.  He doubles back, and then back again, and finds the French at the mouth of the Nile, anchored in Aboukir Bay.  

1st August - The Battle of the Nile
Wasting no time, Nelson orders an immediate attack, despite the fact that night is approaching.  Nelson's captains (his 'Band of Brothers') manage to skilfully slip up the French line between the ships and the shore, and fight at close range.  The French are annihilated, the flagship Orion blows up, and only two ships escape.  However, Nelson suffers a head wound which will plague him with severe headaches for quite some time.

The battle earns Nelson the title of Baron Nelson of the Nile.

September - Arrives at Naples and stays with the Hamiltons to recover from his injury.  Controversially, he ends up staying there for over year, involving himself in the politics of Naples and famously beginning an affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton.

December 23rd - 26th - Nelson pushes for a Neapolitan attack on Rome but, when it fails and the French counter attack, he has to evacuate the royal family to Palermo.

Captain Edward Berry catches Nelson falling after being struck in the head by flying debris
1799 January 23rd - the French capture Naples.

June - Assists in the recapture of Naples but receives criticism by the British for his handling of the situation, not least because of his treatment of the rebels and the execution of Commodore Carracciolo.  Nevertheless, the King of Naples and Sicily gives him the Dukedom of Bronte.  For the rest of his life, Nelson will sign his letters 'Nelson & Bronte'. 

August - Nelson is made a Knight of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent by the Turkish Sultan Selim III.

The Order of the Crescent
1800 April - King Ferdinand awards Nelson with the Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit.

June - Returns overland to England with the Hamiltons, and is greeted as a hero everywhere he goes.  It becomes clear to most people that he and Emma are in a relationship, and she is pregnant with his child.

November 6th - Arrives at Great Yarmouth in England.

Emma, Lady Hamilton
1801 Nelson seems to believe that he can keep both his wife and his mistress, despite his affair being a very public one.  Eventually, however, he separates from Frances.

January 1st - Nelson is promoted to Vice-Admiral.

January 13th - Hoists his flag in the San Josef, the ship he captured at Cape St Vincent.

January 30th - Emma gives birth to the couple's daughter, Horatia.

March 12th - Hoists his flag in the St George, and joins the Baltic fleet as second in command under Admiral Hyde Parker.  Sub-ordination to Hyde Parker doesn't suit him, and he is frustrated by his superior's cautiousness.

April 2nd - The Battle of Copenhagen
The battle is intended to force Denmark to leave the Armed Neutrality of the Baltic states, which has been affecting British trade.  It is fought against a line at anchor, as at the Nile, but this time the enemy fleet are defended by shore batteries.  The British fleet are split into two squadrons, and Nelson leads his into close action while Hyde Parker's remain at a distance.  During the battle, Hyde Parker signals for Nelson to withdraw, a signal which Nelson avoids by raising his telescope to his blind right eye and declaring "I really do not see the signal!".  The British are eventually victorious, but Nelson describes it as the bloodiest battle he has ever seen.

After the battle, Nelson plays a pivotal role in smoothing over relations and talks with the Crown Prince of Denmark.

May 16th - Hyde Parker is recalled to England and Nelson is made commander-in-chief of the Baltic fleet.  But by this time, he is feeling ill and wants to go home to his lover and daughter.

June - Nelson returns to England.

July 27th - Much to Nelson's annoyance, the Admiralty promptly sends him to sea again, this time to oversee the anti-invasion operations in the Channel.  He doesn't think that the position requires an officer of such high rank as a vice-admiral and begins to suspect that the Admiralty want to keep him at sea to avoid the embarrassment caused by his relationship with Emma when he was on shore.  But it's more likely that it was seen that his presence would boost the morale of a nation increasingly afraid of an invasion by Bonaparte.

August 15th - Launches a boat attack against the French invasion forces gathering at Boulogne.  It ends disastrously and results in the death of one of his favourite protegés, Edward Parker, who he thought of as a son.

September - Emma finds a home for them at Merton Place, situated between London and Portsmouth, and Nelson immediately buys it.

He is made a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim.

October 1st - Britain and France sign an armistice

October 22nd - Nelson returns to Merton.
Horatia Nelson

'Turning a blind eye'
1802 March 28th - Treaty of Amiens

April 26th - Nelson's father, Edmund, dies.

July - August - Nelson and the Hamiltons tour the south-west of England, and the Midlands.  Nelson is greeted with adulation everywhere he goes.
1803 April 6th - Sir William Hamilton dies, with Nelson and Emma both at his bedside.

May 16th - The Napoleonic War begins

May 18th -
Having been appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean station, Nelson boards his new flagship, Victory.

July 6th - Begins the blockade of the French at Toulon.
1804 Continues the blockade throughout the year, and forges diplomatic relations with other Mediterranean states.  
1805 April - July - The French fleet escape from Toulon and join with the Spanish at Cadiz to form the Combined Fleet of France and Spain.  Nelson chases them to the West Indies and back, protecting British trade in the process.

April 18th - Returns to Merton on leave.

September 14th - Boards Victory for the final time.  He sails to Cadiz to join Vice-Admiral Collingwood's fleet there, which has been reinforced since Nelson left.

October 21st - Battle of Trafalgar

The Combined Fleet come out of Cadiz.  Nelson issues the 'Nelson Touch' - his battle plan - to his captains.  They sail in two columns directly facing the enemy broadsides, and break through the line in two places.  Nelson flies his famous signal "England expects that every man will do his duty" and then his final signal, for close action.  He trusts his captains implicitly, allowing them to choose their own targets.  Victory locks with the French Redoutable and is very badly damaged, eventually unable to be manoeuvred. 

At about 12.30pm, Nelson is shot by a sniper in the Redoubtable's mizzenmast.  The single musket ball enters his left shoulder, pierces a lung and an artery, and lodges in his spine. He is carried below decks to the surgeon but nothing can be done.  He lives for a further three hours, long enough to know he secured a victory.  Upon hearing of the victory, he utters what were probably his last words - "Thank God I have done my duty" - before passing peacefully away.

October 21st - 26th - William Beatty, the ship's surgeon, preserves Nelson's body in a barrel lashed to Victory's mast. 

An incredibly violent storm strikes.  Nelson, with his extended knowledge of the weather patterns in the area, had predicted it, and had issued orders for the fleet to anchor after the battle.  But Collingwod, upon assuming command after Nelson's death, chooses to ride it out instead.  The storm devastates the fleet and 14 ships are lost.  Only one ship had been lost during the battle itself.  It's possible that the outcome would have been very different had the fleet anchored.
England Expects
'England Expects'

Death of Nelson
The Death of Nelson
1806 January 9th - Nelson's funeral.  After laying in state in the Painted Hall in Greenwich, a grand procession carries him up the Thames and then through the streets to St Paul's Cathedral.  He is interred in the crypt beneath the cathedral in an ornate, multi-layered tomb comprising the coffin that had been made for him out of the Orion's mast after the Battle of the Nile, and a sarcophagus that had been made for Cardinal Wolsey that Henry VIII had not allowed him to have.  The tomb can be visited to this day.  Nelson's body is not in the fancy sarcophagus perched on the top, but in the stone base. Tomb
Nelson's tomb