On 29th September 1758, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson was born to Reverend Edmund Nelson and Catherine Suckling, in a rectory at Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk. He was the middle son of a family of five boys and three girls.
His father Edmund was a rector of the parish church All Saints. Catherine was related to the late Sir Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister. He was named after his godfather, Lord Horatio Walpole. Her eldest brother Maurice Suckling was a Royal Naval Captain.
Young Horatio’s schooling was in Norfolk, the Royal Grammar Norwich, Downham Market, and Sir William Paston’s School. His schooling ended during April 1771.
26th December 1767, Horatio’s mother, Catherine Nelson died suddenly, aged 42. She had left her eight children to the care of her inadequate husband.
Military career in the Royal Navy
24th April 1771, Nelson aged 12 started in the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman and coxswain on HMS Raisonnable, a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line. He was under the command of Captain Maurice Suckling, his uncle. A midshipman was assigned to him in order to give officer training.
25th July 1771, he gained further experience at sea onboard the merchant ship Mary Anne. It departed the Medway, Kent for Jamaica and Tobago. The ship returned to Plymouth a year later on 7th July 1772.
1773, the 14 year old Midshipman Nelson’s next adventure was onboard a man-of-war as part of an expedition to discover a route to the Pacific via the Arctic.
1775, he was appointed Midshipman on HMS Seahorse, a 24-gun sixth-rate frigate. During the voyage to the East Indies, he contracted malaria. Nelson boarded the first ship to sail home to England.
April 1777, the 18 year old Midshipman Nelson had the call to London, he passed an examination for a commission as Lieutenant.
Lieutenant Nelson was posted to HMS Lowestoffe, a 32-gun fifth-rate frigate. He sailed to Jamaica to search for American ships illegally trading with the British colonies. He proved his bravery by the taking of an American ship.
Captain Horatio Nelson
11th June 1779, the 21 year old Nelson was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain on the frigate HMS Hinchinbrook, a 28-gun sixth-rate frigate.
3rd February 1780, Battle of Fort San Juan – Nelson onboard HMS Hinchinbrook gave naval support at Lake Nicaragua. However, the mission was a disaster, with the boats running aground and vital supplies and ammunition lost . He suffered a return of malaria that had nearly killed him before. Nelson returned to England, and travelled to Bath where he made a full recovery by early 1782.
November 1782, Nelson joined Rear-Admiral Lord Samuel Hood’s squadron off New York. Prince William, son of King George III and future King William IV was midshipman onboard flagship HMS Barfleur.
William IV later described Nelson as “the merest boy of a Captain I ever beheld. His dress was worthy of attention. He had on a full laced uniform, with unpowdered hair that had been tied in a stiff hessian tail of extraordinary length. The old fashioned flaps on his waistcoat added to the general quaintness of his figure and produced an appearance which particular attracted my notice. I had never seen anything like it before.” The Prince added, “There was something irresistibly pleasing in his address and conversation when speaking on professional subjects that showed he was no common being.” Nelson and the Prince became firm friends.
Rear-Admiral Hood transferred Nelson to HMS Albemarle, a 28-gun sixth rate frigate. He set sail to Jamaica in the West Indies, initially to patrol the area for the French ships.
8th March 1783, Battle of Grand Turk – Nelson onboard HMS Albemarle arrived at the Turks Islands along with HMS Tartar, HMS Drake. He lead 167 seamen and marines to attack a French garrison. After several hours the assault was called off due to the French being too heavily entrenched.
1784, Captain Nelson was given the command of HMS Boreas, a 28-gun sixth-rate frigate. He was to enforce the Navigation Acts in the area of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.
Frances Nisbet of Nevis
Nelson was stationed on the Island of Nevis, the birth place of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804). Nelson met and fell in love with Frances ‘Fanny’ Nisbet. She was a widow to a plantation-owner, and had a young son, named Josiah.
A number of American trade ships were seized in the Caribbean under the command of Nelson. It eventually led to him becoming sued for illegal seizure. Consequently, merchants on the Island of Nevis supported the American claim, and he became at risk of imprisonment. Nelson isolated himself onboard HMS Boreas for eight months, until the courts had ruled in his favour.
11th March 1787, After a two year courtship, Nelson and Frances were married at Montpelier Estate on the island of Nevis. The marriage had been registered at Fig Tree Church in St John’s Parish.
July 1788, Nelson returned to England with his wife Frances. HMS Boreas was paid off due to England being in peacetime with France, which meant that Nelson would be on half-pay. He spent this time living at the parsonage at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk. The parsonage itself had been two large cottages, knocked together. The building had been bitterly cold during winter months, and would be demolished in 1802. He spent time travelling around the local villages, and at times Norwich.
To keep Nelson busy during peacetime, he dug out a pond in the shape of a man-of-war on a plot of land that adjoined the rectory in Burnham Thorpe. The pond filled with water from the nearby River Burn. The man-of-war pond can still be seen today.
21st January 1793, King Louis XVI of France was executed during the French Revolution bringing unrest throughout Europe. Nelson was recalled to the Royal Navy; before he left he had a farewell party in the Plough Inn, now called the Lord Nelson at Burnham Thorpe.
Captain Nelson of HMS Agamemnon
Nelson was appointed Captain of HMS Agamemnon, a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line. He boarded the ship at Nore, in the Thames Estuary to sail to the Mediterranean to meet up with Vice-Admiral Hood.
Vice-Admiral Hood despatched Nelson to Naples in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, to gain the support of King Ferdinand IV. Nelson met with the British Ambassador Sir William Hamilton and his wife Emma. Lady Hamilton had the ear of the King of Naples, the meeting had been successful. Nelson was promised 4,000 troops reinforcements for the Siege of Toulon.
12th July 1794, Invasion of Corsica – a safe anchorage for Vice-Admiral Hoods fleet was required, Corsica had become the obvious choice. A landing party had been sent ashore to capture strongholds at Calvi, while Nelson was in charge of one of the forward batteries. During the Siege of Calvi, a shell hit a nearby sandbag resulting in stones and sand striking Nelsons face. He soon had a bandage around his wound and returned back into action. On the 18th July 1794, Nelson was amongst the British troops that stormed and captured the main French defensive position. The injury from the blast had left him blind in his right eye.
14th March 1795, Battle of Genoa – a French fleet of 14 ships of the line were chased down by 13 British ships of the line. The Ca Ira, an 80-gun French ship, lost her fore and main topmasts during a collision with another French ship, the Victoire. HMS Inconstant and Nelsons ship HMS Agamemnon fired upon Ca Ira for two-and-half hours, until the arrival of two French ships. HMS Agamemnon suffered casualties and considerable damage.
During the following day, Nelson took possession of the French ship Censeur after the British ships had attacked it towing the battered Ca Ira. The French abandoned their plan to invade Corsica.
13th July 1795, Battle of the Hyeres Islands – out of 23 British ships, HMS Agamemnon was one of the few to engage the enemy, sinking the French ship Alcide. HMS Agamemnon and the damaged HMS Cumberland had manoeuvred ready to attack a French 80-gun ship. Admiral Hotham signalled a retreat, allowing the French ships to escape into the Gulf of Frejus.
Commodore of the Mediterranean fleet
11th March 1796, Nelson was promoted to Commodore by Admiral Sir John Jervis. He now had command over the ships blockading the French south coast.
31st May 1796, a Royal Navy squadron under the command of Nelson, captured a seven-vessel French convoy. They were taking supplies to St Pierre d’Acena for the siege of Mantua along the coast from Menton to Vado in the Mediterranean.
June 1796, HMS Agamemnon was sent back to Britain for repairs. Nelson said “Agamemnon had been the finest ship I ever sailed in”.
10th June 1796, Nelson transferred his pennant to HMS Captain, a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line.
July 1796, Nelson oversaw the occupation of Elba, also the evacuation of the garrison at Elba later in the year. He then sailed for Gibraltar, capturing the Spanish frigate Santa Sabina.
Battle of Cape St Vincent
14th Feburary 1797, Battle of Cape St Vincent – a British force of 15 ships with Nelson onboard HMS Captain engaged the Spanish fleet of 27 ships off the Cape of St Vincent. Nelson saw that the Spanish fleet would escape, he broke line to block their path. Admiral Jervis realised what Nelson appeared to be doing and ordered the rest of the British ships to follow suit.
HMS Captain came under fire from as many as six Spanish ships, the ship came almost uncontrollable with the wheel shot away. HMS Captain gave a larboard broadside on the Spanish ship San Jose. The foremast of HMS Captain was destroyed during the battle, Nelson ran his ship alongside the San Jose.
Nelson personally lead a boarding party across the San Jose, he then boarded the adjoining San Nicolas. Nelson took the surrender from the Spanish Captain. The Spanish Admiral, Don Francisco Javier Winthuysen y Pineda was lying mortally wounded on the deck. Using one enemy vessel as a ‘stepping stone’ to capture another became later known as ‘Nelson’s patent bridge for boarding first rates‘.
17th May 1797, Nelson became Knight of the Bath for his victory at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.
Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson of the Blue ensign
20th May 1797, Horatio was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral of the Blue Ensign. He was appointed to HMS Theseus as his flagship, a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line.
27th May 1797, Assault on Cadiz – Nelson had orders to lie off Cadiz, and monitor the Spanish fleet. On 3rd July 1797, he led an amphibious assault which ended up in hand-to-hand combat. Nelson came close to being cut down, however he had been saved twice by Seaman John Sykes who took the blows. Nelson’s raiding force had captured the Spanish ship.
24th July 1797, Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – After two failed attempts, Nelson lead a night attack on the port of Santa Cruz. Several of the boats failed to land, but Nelson’s reached its landing point. Consequently, the landing parties came under fire from the defensive Spanish with gunfire and grapeshot. Nelson was shot in the right arm by a musket ball as soon as he stepped ashore. The battle ended in a British defeat, with a quarter of the landing force dead or wounded.
Nelson refused help to board HMS Theseus saying “Let me alone! I have got my legs left and one arm.” Surgeon Eshelby saw that his humerus bone was shattered in multiple places, leaving no other option but to amputate the right arm just above the elbow.
1st September 1797, He had sailed back to England onboard HMS Seahorse. On his arrival at Spithead, he had been met with a hero’s welcome. Nelson received medical attention concerning his amputated arm in London. While in London, he was given the Freedom of the City of London and a pension of £1,000 a year.
After a long convalescence, Nelson returned to active service. He was given the command of HMS Vanguard, a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line. He was dispatched to Cadiz to reinforce the Mediterranean fleet.
1st August 1798, Battle of the Nile – Just before sunset, Nelson attacked a French fleet at Aboukir Bay. The French had been caught by surprise becoming totally overwhelmed and suffering a devastating defeat. During the battle Nelson was wounded on the forehead. As the sun was fading, Nelson was on deck with a bandage around his head. He watched as the French flagship L’Orient blew up in a deafening explosion. The French defeat of the Battle of the Nile was a major blow to the ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte.
For the victory at the Battle of the Nile, the British Government created him the title of Baron Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk.
22nd September 1798, Nelson arrived at the Bay of Naples on his flagship HMS Vanguard. The ship was in need of new masts and a bowsprit. The triumphant Nelson had been given a hero’s welcome at Naples. Sir William Hamilton invited Nelson to stay his house. Lady Emma Hamilton saw his battered features and exclaimed, “Oh God, is it possible!”. Lady Emma saw to Nelson’s wounds, nursing him back to health.
Nelson had fallen in love with Lady Emma, and news of the relationship had reached London, and the Admiralty. Nelson was requested to leave Naples but he refused, he had become besotted with Lady Emma.
November 1800, Nelson landed at Great Yarmouth, having been ordered back by the Admiralty. He had travelled across Europe while being accompanied by the Hamiltons. Nelson had dreaded returning back to England to see his devoted wife. When he eventually met with Frances, her fears were confirmed and the couple parted, never to meet again. Lady Emma became pregnant with Nelson’s child.
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson of the Blue ensign
1st January 1801, Nelson was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral. He had also become second-in-command of the Channel Fleet defending the waters of the English Channel.
29th January 1801, Lady Emma gave birth to their daughter, Horatia.
Nelson now had the command of HMS St George, a 98-gun second rate ship of the line. He then joined Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s Baltic fleet as second-in-command.
30th March 1801, early in the morning the British fleet sailed for the narrow neck between Kronborg Castle, Elsinore and Sweden, into the Sound. Due to the shallowness of the channel, Nelson had transferred from HMS St George to the shallower 74-gun HMS Elephant. HMS Monarch lead, followed by Nelson onboard HMS Elephant and the rest of the fleet. Once cleared, they anchored off the Swedish island of Hven.
2nd April 1801, Battle of Copenhagen – the advancing British fleet was fired upon by the shore batteries and the Danish fleet. Admiral Parker raised the flag to discontinue the action, at this point the signal was pointed out to Nelson. However, Nelson raised his telescope to his blind eye and said “I really do not see the signal!”. Nelson turned the three-hour battle from a near disaster into a British victory. Nelson expected a reprimand for disobeying orders, but Admiral Parker embraced him with open arms.
19th May 1801, for the victory at the Battle of Copenhagen, he became Viscount Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk.
1st July 1801, Nelson returned back to England, and stayed at ‘Merton Place’ a country estate in Merton, Surrey that he had previously purchased. He spent a few periods of leave with Emma and her now frail husband. Nelson’s infant child Horatia came to be cared for by a nurse, until Sir William Hamilton’s death in April 1803.
4th August 1801, he received the title of Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the County of Norfolk.
22nd October 1801, the Treaty of Amiens gave peace between the British and French. During the peacetime, Nelson toured England and Wales in the company of the Hamiltons. People would hail Nelson a hero in the towns that he visited, he was much loved and often at the centre of celebrations.
18th May 1803, England had declared war on France, and Nelson was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. He had been given the command of HMS Victory as his flagship, a 104-gun first-rate ship of the Royal Navy.
20th May 1803, he left Portsmouth and boarded HMS Victory, moored at Spithead. They set sail to Toulon, along with HMS Amphion, a 32-gun fifth rate frigate.
July 1803, Nelson arrived off Toulon, where he spend a considerable amount of time blockading the French with his Mediterranean fleet.
Lord Nelson, Vice-Admiral of the White ensign
23rd April 1804, Nelson was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White ensign while still at sea.
4th April 1805, as Nelson had been passing Majorca. A report that Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve and his French fleet had escaped from the blockade at Toulon during a storm. The French sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar and headed for the West Indies. Nelson gave chase across the Atlantic. After searching the Caribbean, the French fleet could not be found. He returned to Gibraltar at the end of July, then travelled to England.
Crowds of people came out to see the arrival of Nelson. He briefly stayed in London before travelling to Merton in August to see Lady Emma.
2nd September 1805, while at the tranquillity of Merton Place, Nelson received news from Captain Henry Blackwood. The French and Spanish fleets had now combined, anchored at Cadiz.
12th September 1805, Nelson was given command of the fleet blockading Cadiz. While at the office of the Secretary for War, Nelson met Major-General Arthur Wellesley who had been there to request a new assignment. They had a discussion on the state of the colonies and geopolitical situation, it would be the only time the two great leaders would meet.
14th September 1805, He arrived early morning at Portsmouth, had breakfast with friends at the George Inn, High Street. The last walk that Nelson took on English soil had been when he left the George Inn via the back door onto Penny Street, trying to avoid the crowds that had gathered. He briefly met his sister Catherine Matcham, she had stayed at a house at the east end of Green Row (now Pembroke Road). He crossed Governor’s Green, passed through King William’s Gate, on to the beach at Spur Redoubt.
A crowd had gathered cheering him off as he left on a barge, Nelson acknowledged by raising his hat. It was reported that he said “I had their huzzas before, I have their hearts now.” He boarded his flagship HMS Victory that had been moored just off Spithead.
28th September 1805, Nelson arrived at Cadiz, taking over the fleet from Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. He spent the following weeks preparing a plan for an anticipated battle. Nelson had decided to split the British fleet into two squadrons in order to cut the enemy line in several places.
Battle of Trafalgar
21st October 1805, Battle of Trafalgar – at 4am Nelson ordered HMS Victory to turn towards Admiral Villeneuve’s Franco-Spanish fleet of 33 ships. He had been confident of success with 27 ships, he briefly returned to his cabin to write a final prayer.
He told the Signal-Lieutenant John Pasco to send the signal ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’. The Captain of HMS Victory suggested to Nelson that he should remove the decorations on his coat, so that he would not be identified by enemy sharpshooters. Nelson said that he did not fear to show his military decorations.
The Captain Henry Blackwood of HMS Euryalus suggested that Nelson observe the battle from his ship, Nelson turned the offer down, in order to lead the line into battle.
HMS Victory came under fire, initially a cannonball struck and killed Nelson’s secretary. The ship’s wheel had been shot away and a number of marines killed. Nelson was standing with Captain Hardy on the quarterdeck in the thick of the battle. Nelson gave to order to move across the stern of the 80-gun French flagship Bucentaure. Consequently, HMS Victory came under fire from the 74-gun Redoutable, just off the stern of Bucentaure.
1pm, enemy sharpshooters began shooting onto the deck of HMS Victory, where Nelson and Captain Hardy were giving orders.
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson fatal wound
1:30pm, a marksman from the Redoutable fired from 50 feet. Nelson fell to his knee, then fell to his side. The bullet entered his shoulder, passed through the spine and stopped just below the right shoulder blade.
He said “Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last… my backbone is shot through”. Nelson was carried below to the surgeon William Beatty. He said to the surgeon “You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through”. Nelson was made as comfortable as possible.
2:30pm, Captain Hardy came below deck, he informed Nelson that a number of the enemy ships had surrendered. Nelson said “take care of poor Lady Hamilton”, then said “Kiss me, Hardy”. Hardy knelt and kissed Nelson on the cheek. He then stood for a minute or two before kissing him on the forehead. Nelson asked, “Who is that?”, and on hearing that it was Hardy, he replied “God bless you, Hardy”.
Beatty heard Nelson murmur, “Thank God I have done my duty”, and when he returned, Nelson’s voice had faded and his pulse was very weak.
4:30pm, Nelson’s last words were “God and Country”, he then took his last breath. Nelson died of his wounds three hours after he was shot. On his death, he had reached the age of 47. Nelsons body was placed in a cask of brandy, mixed with Camphor and myrrh in order to preserve his body. The cask was then tied to the mainmast and placed under guard.
HMS Victory was towed to Gibraltar, Nelson’s body placed in a lead-lined coffin that had been filled with spirits of wine.
HMS Pickle, a schooner, carried Vice-Admiral Collingwood’s bittersweet report of the British victory at Trafalgar.
Britian in mourning
The whole nation went into mourning on the news of the death of Britain’s naval hero.
23rd December 1805, on arrival back to England, his body was taken to the Royal Hospital of Greenwich in London. Nelson’s wishes had been that his body to be placed in a coffin made from the mast of the French ship L’Orient. The L’Orient was destroyed during his famous victory at the Battle of the Nile.
5th January 1806, Nelson’s body lay in state within the Painted Hall at Greenwich for three days. More than 15,000 people came to pay their respects to their seafaring hero, with many more having to be turned away.
8th January 1806, the coffin was taken along the River Thames aboard a barge to Whitehall, while spending the night at the Admiralty. Nelson’s chaplain, Alexander Scott, had been in attendance.
Funeral of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson
9th January 1806, at 11am the Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Peter Parker, led the state funeral procession that consisted of 32 Admirals, more than 100 Captains, and an escort of 8,000 soldiers.
Nelson’s funeral car had a carved imitation of the head and stern of HMS Victory, and was surrounded with decorative plates of the military arms of Nelson’s honours. It also included appropriate emblematical devices with appropriate mottos.
The cortège travelled from the Admiralty, through the streets of London. The route was lined with 20,000 volunteers to hold back the large crowds of people who were paying their respects. The cortège stopped at St Paul’s Cathedral, which would become the final resting place.
The emotional service at St Paul’s took four hours, honouring the man who had delivered his country from a foreign threat. Thousands that attended watched as Nelson’s coffin was lowered down into a sarcophagus within the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
It had been intended that the service ended with the sailors folding and placing the Union Flag from HMS Victory into the sarcophagus. However, the sailors tore it into fragments with each taking a piece as a memento of Nelson.
Lady Emma Hamilton’s lavish spending had made her bankrupt, consequently she fled to Calais in June 1814. Emma fell ill with jaundice and died penniless in a rented room with 13 year old Horatia by her side on 15th January 1815.
Horatia soon learnt Nelson had been her real father. However, she did not publicly acknowledge that Lady Emma had been her mother. She lived a peaceful and happy life and died 6th March 1881, aged 81.
HMS Victory was considered by the Admiralty too old and in too great a disrepair to stay as a first-rate ship. In November 1807 the ship became relegated to second-rate, then during 1811 became a troopship. In 1812 HMS Victory was relocated to Portsmouth as a floating depot, then from 1813 to 1817 a prison ship. After having extensive structural work, the ship was once again a first-rate battleship.
January 1824, HMS Victory became the Port Admiral’s flagship for Portsmouth Harbour. The Admiralty issued orders for the ship to be broken up during 1831, however this led to a public outcry. Initially a number of visits from the public and royals over the years led to the Victory being restored, and given a permanent location within a drydock in Portsmouth.
Every year since the death of Nelson, a special ‘Sea Service’ is done on the Sunday closest to Trafalgar Day and wreaths are laid at Nelsons tomb.