The Nelson Years of 1793-1805

This period covers the fortunes of Horatio Nelson at Toulon, at Naples, where he first met Lady Emma Hamilton in 1793.

The siege of Calvi where Nelson lost the sight in his right eye, he then served under Admiral Hotham in the Gulf of Genoa, and was then exposed to a new commander, Sir John Jervis, and we find Nelson rocketing to fame as a national hero after the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, he is promoted to Rear Admiral and is also knighted.

The disaster at Teneriffe follows, where Nelson lost his right arm.

Home to England to recover, back to sea, and a return to the Mediterranean, his wonderful victory over the French Navy at Aboukir Bay or perhaps better known by the British as The Battle of the Nile.

A somewhat battered Naval hero returns in triumph to Naples and is reunited with Lady Emma Hamilton after a four year absence.

The Battle of Copenhagen is fought, and the Nelsonian years come to an end with his death at Trafalgar on the 21st of October 1805.

War with France
In 1793, Revolutionary France had declared war on Great Britain, this proved to be a blessing for Horatio Nelson.

He had been languishing " on the beach" for over 5 years, and was now called back into Naval service and given command of Agamemnon, a 64 gun ship of the line.

She had great sailing qualities, was both fast and manoeuvrable, orders now took this ship to the Mediterranean, where, with assistance from French Royalists, Toulon was captured.

There were insufficient troops to maintain a security ring around the port against the rising tide of armies of the Revolution.

Nelson was sent off to Naples on a diplomatic mission to try and secure reinforcements, the two Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily were ruled by King Ferdinand 1V, and Queen Maria Carolina, her mother was the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and her sister, Queen Marie Antoinette, was awaiting her fate from the guillotine in Paris.

Lady HamiltonNelson was hoping to achieve his mission through the 63 year old British Ambassador at Naples, Sir William Hamilton, and this was how he came to meet his  young and beautiful wife Lady Emma, and fall under her spell.

Nelson and Lady Hamilton came from different ends of the social spectrum. She was born Amy Lyon in Ness near Neston, Cheshire, her Father a blacksmith, and had a colourful background of having lived with several different men.

She had lived with a Baronet, who tired of her, and sent her packing. Next came Charles Greville, with whom she lived for a number of years in London. He literally passed Emma on to his Uncle, Sir William Hamilton, a widower, at that time the British Ambassador to the Court in Naples, they lived together for about five years, but, had been married for 3 years when Nelson came into her life.  

One can but imagine how the tongues at Court would have wagged, the aging Ambassador taking up with Emma, some forty or so years younger than him, and from such a different class and background.

Nelson sailed away, not to return to Lady Hamilton for another four years.

Even with reinforcements obtained from Naples, Toulon had to be abandoned, and Corsica was attacked, hoping to make it a British base.

It was at the seige of Calvi, that Nelson lost the sight in his right eye.

Under Admiral Hotham, in 1795, Nelson engaged French ships in the Gulf of Genoa, and captured two of them, in a letter to his wife Fanny, he railed against his Admiral for refusing to chase after the fleeing French Ships.

Hotham was replaced, and Nelson now came under the command of a fighting Admiral more in Nelson's own mould, Sir John Jervis, now over 60 years of age, who had, 40 years earlier fought with General Wolfe at Quebec.

When I joined the Royal Australian Naval College in January of 1936, the different College entry each year took the name of a famous seaman, and I became one of twelve cadets of the Jervis Year.

Admiral Jervis also appointed Nelson in the acting rank of Commodore (between the rank of Captain and Rear Admiral)

Agamemnon had served Nelson well, but his ship together with her crew were in dire need of a refit and leave, and she was sent home to England.

3 Nelson shifted his Commodore's pennant to the Captain, a 74 gun third rate ship of the line.

In 1797, on St.Valentine's Day, off Cape St.Vincent, although Jervis had but 15 sail of the line available, he took on 27 Spanish vessels.

Largely through Nelson's initiative, although strictly disobeying orders, 4 Spanish ships were captured, and, an attempt by the Spanish Fleet to link up with their French allies was thwarted.

Jervis was created an Earl, and took as his title the site of this battle, Nelson too was recognised, being promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue, and given a knighthood, he became Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, and on his way to becoming a Naval hero and a revered household name in Great Britain.

Disaster at Teneriffe
In July of 1797, Nelson was flying his flag in Theseus, in command of an inshore squadron that was blockading the Spaniards in Cadiz. Thirty Spanish ships were holed up in Cadiz, and a further ten were expected to arrive from the Mediterranean.

Nelson had only twenty ships at his disposal, but Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson became perhaps somewhat over confident, he had received intelligence that a Spanish ship carrying gold bullion had arrived at the port of Santa Cruz on the Island of Teneriffe. He now planned "to cut her out" from this very strongly defended harbour, and set sail with four ships of the line, three frigates, and a cutter to carry out this task.

The planned night attack went sadly awry, both strong currents and high winds put paid to the Admiral's bold plans, his landing parties had to withdraw from the fierce resistence of the alerted defences. Nelson never one to give up easily, and used to success, decided to again attack on the following night, and also that he would lead the attack, an almost fatal decision.

But, the Spaniards were ready, guns loaded with grape shot and cannister covered the harbour, and both side beaches flanking the approach route. Nearing the shore, Nelson was cut down by grape shot, his right elbow shattered, the cutter sank, and about three hundred men fought their way into the town, but were forced to surrender.

Nelson was promptly returned to his flagship, where he had to undergo the amputation of his right arm. The British force had to withdraw, the action a disaster, two hundred officers and men had been killed, wounded or were missing. Return of the British prisoners was negotiated amicably with the Spanish Commander, and they rejoined their ships. A contemporary report indicated that Nelson said, "Thank you," for this action by sending a cask of beer plus a cheese to the Spaniard, who responded by giving Nelson two flasks of local wine, all very civilized.

Nelson was sent home and after a four year absence he arrived in England in September of 1797.

But, this total disaster at Teneriffe could well have put an end to Nelson's career, but, his hero status saved him from blame for this rather ill considered plan, and defeat.

He received his knighthood from the King, and then spent the following seven months in convalescence.

Back to Sea
In November 1797, Nelson returned to the Fleet of Lord St.Vincent.

The French were reported to be breaking out of Toulon, to roam the Mediterranean, and it was decided that Nelson would command the British Fleet to seek them out there and bring them to action, in an endeavour to curtail their ambitions in that sphere of influence.

Egypt and Napoleon
Alexander the Great was born in 356 B.C. his  Mother, Olympus, and his Father, Philip. When only twenty four, he invaded Egypt in 332 B.C. founded, and named Alexandria after himself.

It became an important city of the ancient world, Ptolemy, a Greek general ruled the city after the death of Alexander the Great, and it was Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies who used her charms to bring both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony to heel. It was after she died that Egypt became a province of Rome.

The Muhammeds took control of Alexandria and it remained part of the Caliphate under the Sultan of Constantinople until the arrival of Napoleon.

The example set by Alexander was followed by Napoleon 2,130 years later on the 1st. of July in 1798, when, after his success in Italy, he now turned his attention and his army to invade Egypt with 40,000 troops.

He landed his army somewhat west of Alexandria, marched on that city and went on to capture it.

Although Napoleon Bonaparte was a brilliant land commander, he never really came to grips with sea warfare, and  the tactical or strategic use of ships and fleets.

John Terraine in his Business in Great Waters- the U-Boat Wars 1916-1945 makes this comment, "Hitler has sometimes been likened to Napoleon, both failed to totally grasp the matter of sea and Naval warfare."

When Napoleon landed in Egypt he believed his French Admirals and their ships were masters of the Mediterranean, Malta had fallen to the French, however, to his peril, he did not accept that the Royal Navy was still the most powerful and maintained the best Fleet afloat.

Napoleon's wider horizons stretched to the East, he thought about controlling the pathway to India, and even hankered about wresting that territory from the British, one of his maxims read: "Imagination governs the world."

In contrast to Bonaparte, Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson was totally single minded in commanding his British Fleet of ships in the Mediterranean . His sole aim over a three month period, to seek out the opposing French Fleet, bring it to battle and defeat it. Such an action would then put paid to any grandiose plans of conquest that might occupy the mind of the brilliant General Napoleon Bonaparte.

We must now back track to Sir Horatio Nelson, before he could bring any plan to destroy the French Fleet in the Mediterranean to fruition, he firstly had to find his enemy.

The French proved to be most elusive, although on the 28th. of May in 1798, Sir William Hamilton at Naples had learned from General Sir John Acton that the French Fleet plus an army, all under Bonaparte's command, were destined for Egypt, where the French had hopes to land to establish a colony.

This information was despatched by the British Ambassador to London, naturally at that time, communications were slow, no mobile or other telephones, nor any fax facilities were available. One tends to take our instant communication ability to quickly pass a message to any part of our universe for granted, no such luxury was available to Britain's intelligence services scattered around the world in the latter part of the 18th. century.

But, and it is a big but, Nelson was not given this information, had he been included in the address of this despatch, it would no doubt have increased the odds of him locating the French Fleet.

In early June, Nelson's fleet arrived off Naples, but he kept his ships well off shore, to ensure that his Fleet was kept from both prying and hostile eyes.

He sent Captain Troubridge, his second in command, in the small vessel Mutine, to proceed into Naples' harbour, and then contact the British Ambassador, Sir William Hamiliton.

Meeting the Ambassador, Troubridge was quickly taken to meet with General Sir John Acton, who wrote orders directing Governors of all Sicilian ports to supply "The King's ships with all sorts of provisions."

Unaccountably, the subject of the French making for Egypt was neither brought up or discussed. But the fact that Malta was under attack from the French was aired. After but two hours ashore, Troubridge returned to the Fleet, and reported to his Admiral.

Nelson reasoned that if the French were at Malta, Sicily could well be their next target, and he lost no time in shaping a course for Malta.

He proceeded via the Straits of Messina where pilots navigated the British ships safely through this area on June 20.

When passing the South East corner of Sicily on the 22nd. of June, the Defence sighted four ships, Leander was despatched to investigate them. In the meantime Captain Hardy had stopped a passing brig, and learned from her Captain that the French had indeed taken Malta, left behind a military garrison, and then sailed their Fleet, but its destination was unknown.

This information was quickly passed on to Nelson, placing him in an absolute quandry, which way had the French gone?

Nelson thought the French had not made for Sicily, otherwise the people of Messina  would have been aware of their presence, and so informed him as he passed that way. No! the French must have sailed east with Egypt their goal.

The western end of the Mediterranean was the stamping ground of the British Fleet, but anywhere east of Malta was virtually in uncharted waters.

To check on his reasoning, Nelson summoned his senior Captains to come aboard his flagship, and the possibility of the French being at Alexandria was discussed.

This possibility of its loss to the French could indeed pose a serious threat to British interests in India, and Nelson resolved to press on with all speed eastwards, the wind fortunately emanating from the west blowing behind the British ships.  The four ships previously sighted were not overtaken, and they had been reported as Frigates.

Nelson called off this chase, not wanting to split up his ships, particularly if he was about to come to battle with his enemy the French.

Egypt was his priority, but, unknown to him, these Frigates were actually an outlying segment of Napoleon's large Fleet.

By June 28, the port of Alexandria was in sight, Hardy having been sent ahead to warn the British Consul what was in train, and to ascertain if there were any news about Bonaparte.

Hardy could not meet the Consul as he was away on leave, and had been away over the last three months, in his stead, the Vice Consul, a non Englishman, proved to be quite useless, he could offer no objective intelligence about the French who were not in Alexandria harbour.

Hardy rejoined the fleet the next day, and Nelson sailed on the last day of June to seek out the French, setting his fleet on an easterly course.

Within another 25 hours after Nelson had left Alexandria, the French fleet  arrived and prepared to invade with their army.

One must pose the questions: Why did Sir William Hamilton neglect to pass on to the British Admiral the information given to him about Napoleon and his possible invasion of Egypt? and, why was Nelson in such a hurry to leave Alexandria?

If he had waited a little longer, and secondly had Hamilton told him that it was reported that Bonaparte had sailed from France with Egypt as a possible destination, no doubt Nelson would have waited at Alexandria, then the course of history may have been changed.

The French Army may well have been defeated even before they had a chance to get ashore and carry out their invasion, but then isn't life in general, and the way history unveils often dependent upon a big IF?

Nelson decided that the French could be at Sicily, if so, they would no doubt be ashore and in control. It took another three weeks to sail there, only to find once more the elusive Napoleon and his fleet, were not there, but worse still, they were reported as having sailed a month earlier to the south east.

To his chagrin, Nelson now realised his first guess of Alexandria being the likely destination of the French was probably correct. No doubt this caused the Admiral to regret that he did not stay longer at Alexandria, and that he had not been so impatient to go off to Sicily.

The British Fleet now turned about, and once more set off for Egypt.

Nelson was now a worried Fleet Commander, contemporary reports indicate he was in a state of nervous tension, he was not sleeping well, but the long chase did have its upside. It had served to mould his ships into an integrated fighting force, aboard his flagship Vanguard, Nelson met frequently with his Captains, his Band Of Brothers, to discuss tactics, so that all likely events when meeting up with the enemy were canvassed. His Captains certainly knew just what their Admiral expected from each and all of them.

But, back to Napoleon, he had put his troops ashore on the 1st. day of July, at the Bay of Marabout, some 7 miles to the west of Alexandria, then marched on that city to capture it after only token resistence the following day.

Bonaparte now proclaimed:

"The beys who govern Egypt have long insulted the French nation, and injured its merchants; the hour of their punishment has arrived. Far too long this rabble of slaves bought in Georgia and Caucasia have tryannised over the most beautiful part of the world; but God, from whom all depends, has ordered their empire shall cease.... The Egyptians will be called upon to hold all offices; the wisest and most learned and most virtuous will govern and the people will be happy."

In Roman times this city had supported a population of 300,000 people, but had  declined now to only 6,000. Alexandria was but a mere shadow of its former glorious past.

Admiral Brueys was in charge of the French Fleet, he had been born at Languedoc in the south of France in 1753, and at age 13 had joined the Marine Royale. It was as a Lieutenant that he first fought against the British in the West Indies in 1780, and in 1784 gained his first command as Captain of a small dispatch vessel. In 1792 he took command of a 74 gun ship, but was later retired from the service.

A change of Government found him recalled to the Navy, and in 1796 Brueys was promoted to Rear Admiral, Bonaparte as Minister of Marine gave him command of a Corfu squadron, and he took part in the Italian campaigns.

In 1798 he was promoted to Vice Admiral and given command of the Naval side of the expedition to Egypt.

After the troops had been landed at Marabout and Alexandria had fallen, Brueys was in favour of taking his ships to Corfu, there he felt he would be safe, and could also be a threat to both Austria and Sicily, but Napoleon would not countenance such a move. He wanted his ships close by, he had not really given up on his grand scheme of invading England, and as C in C in Egypt, he considered that Brueys and his ships should be under his immediate command.

There were very few safe harbours along the Egyptian coast, apart from Alexandria or a  partly sheltered anchorage at Aboukir. Napoleon councilled Brueys to take his fleet into the safety of Alexandria harbour, where he could gain protection from the forts and land batteries, in fact he ordered his Admiral to seek the shelter of the port on the 3rd. of July.

Two natural harbours were in existence at Alexandria, to the west, the Old Port, whilst to the east the New Port stood. The latter was too shallow for the French fleet, but the Old Port did have possibilities of providing safety for their vessels. Ship's boats were sent off to survey the approaches, and three channels were found, leading into the harbour, but the maximum depth of water was only 5 fathoms or 30 feet, too shallow for a ship of L'Orient's draught. She would have to land stores and guns to reduce her draught, and ships of the fleet could only enter at the rate of two per day. Of course it would then only be possible to exit the port at the same rate, and Brueys did not fancy having his ships bottled up in such a way, that if Nelson arrived, his blockading ships would provide the cork to lock up the French ships in the Old Port.

It took a week to come to this decision, and the French moved to anchor in Aboukir Bay, 9 miles to the east, where they lay over the next three weeks.

By noon on the 1st of August, Nelson was again off Alexandria, the harbour crowded with shipping, at last it was French ships there.

One of the mast head lookouts aboard a leading ship reported: "An awesome array of tall masts to the east." The French Fleet lay at anchor across the mouth of Aboukir Bay, drawn up in a defensive position.

In typical Nelsonian fashion Sir Horatio said: "By this time tomorrow, I shall have gained a Peerage or Westminster Abbey."

No doubt Brueys felt safe, his transports protected by the guns of Alexandria, his ships of war in an impregnable situation at Aboukir, his flanks protected by shoals, the fleet supported by guns on shore. Amongst his ships were three 80 gun vessels, and L'Orient, his flag ship mounted some 120 guns, he could have had little idea that his end was nigh!

After searching for the French for over a three month period, this sighting of the enemy was greeted in Nelson's ships with enthusiasm. According to Berry: "The  utmost joy seemed to animate every breast on board the squadron at the sight of the enemy; and the pleasure which the admiral himself felt was perhaps more heightened than that of any other man."

Nelson now had to decide whether to attack or to wait until tomorrow, his squadron was stretched out over up to 12 miles, he had about two hours sailing to reach Aboukir Bay, and already it was 1430, or 2.30PM, he had less than 4.5 hours to sunset. Many Naval Commanders would have had no hesitation in deciding to wait until the next day to attack, but not Nelson, he did not hesitate, the wind was favourable, and he did not wish to give the French some further 10 hours to prepare for battle.

At about 1500 (3PM) Nelson ordered his ships to turn to port and make for Aboukir Bay.

The French Admiral had ordered his ships to anchor in a line from the north west to the south east, some 2 miles south east of Aboukir Island, but inadequate knowledge of the nature of the bottom led some ships to be placed too far from the shore.

The flagship L'Orient was placed in the centre, with an 80 gun ship ahead and astern of her to provide added protection, there was a distance between ships of 175 yards, and the line was some two miles in length. It was thought that Nelson would at first attack the French rear and centre, but not their van. The head of the line was the French Spartiate, anchored in 42 feet of water, but Bueys considered this was too far from the shore, and ordered Guerrier and Conquerant to anchor ahead of her with 30 feet under their keels.

The head of the line now ran about due west, with the tail trailing away from the south east.

Placing the 50 year old Guerrier at the head of the line reinforced Buey's belief that the van would not be the first target for Nelson and his gunners, so this old ship with a reduced armanent would be in a relatively safe position, partly protected by the fort, and the shoal waters close by.

Conventionally, the British head of the line would make for the rear of the French ships, and one enemy ship would be expected to place itself alongside each of the French ships. Ships in the van could not escape past the British at the French centre and rear, thus the van could be expected to be the last under attack.

But then, Nelson was not your normal Naval fighting admiral, one should expect the unexpected, and that is what was delivered by the British squadron. By 1550 (3.50PM) his ships had rounded the shoal at the western end of Aboukir Island, and were within 3 miles from the French. The Zealous on Vanguard's port side was asked if he believed it was safe to be so close to the shore. Hood, her Captain responded to Nelson: " We now have 11 fathoms (66 feet) water and if the Admiral will give me leave I will lead in, making known my soundings by signal and bring the van ship of the enemy to action."

Nile map of British fleet

The flagship gave up the race, and Berry, her Captain, ordered Theseus, who was straining to forge ahead, to stay with Vanguard and give them support.

At 1730 (5.30PM) Nelson hoisted a signal to form line of battle "as convenient."

Meantime, both Goliath and Zealous were straining for the lead, Hood had shortened sail to stay close by his Admiral, but was let loose by Nelson, but too late to be the first British ship to reach the enemy. Foley in Goliath was the first to round Aboukir Island, he was using a French atlas which was accurate, whilst Hood made use of an English one which in the event proved to be incorrect, it was lucky he had surrendered the lead to his fellow Captain Foley.

This was the danger period for the British ships, they were approaching the enemy virtually at a 90 degree angle, and were exposed to broadside gunfire, but their own armament had limited firepower from their bows, which structually was one of the weakest parts of a vessel.  

Bueys did not think that Nelson would attack at night, and it was 1700 (5PM) before he decided that he was wrong, and that his ships were now under threat.

He ordered his ships to set their topgallant yards, just in case they needed to get under way, but then changed his mind, and doomed his fleet, by committing them to fight the British whilst at anchor.

The small French brigs Alert and Railleur were sent off to try and lure the British to follow them into shallow water, where the British ships would surely go aground, and the shallow draught brigs would cope with the reduced depth of water, but no, the British ships merely ignored the French brigs.

The two fleets were fairly evenly matched, the French having 13 ships of the line, in all mounting 1026 guns, and Nelson had the same number of ships of the line, plus Leander, a 50 gun ship, the British mounted 938 guns. In addition, the French had 4 frigates, two with 40 guns, and two with 36, Nelson had long bemoaned the fact that his Squadron was bereft of any versatile frigates. Two brigs, already mentioned, three bomb ships for shore bombardment and a number of small gunboats completed the French fleet.

To identify his ships in the forthcoming battle, Nelson ordered them to rig four lanterns to be hung vertically from the mizzen mast.

The stage was set
George Elliot, was Foley's signal midshipman, and he describes the position as Goliath leading the British line, approaches the French ships at anchor:

"When we were nearly within gun-shot, standing as aide-de-camp close to the captain, I heard him say to the master that he wished he could get inside of the leading ship of the enemy's line. I immediately looked for the buoy on her anchor, and saw it apparently at the usual distance of a cable's length (240 yards)*, which I reported; they both looked at it, and agreed there was room to pass between the ship and her anchor (the danger was, the ship being close to the edge of the shoal), and it was decided to do it .... I heard Foley say, that he would not be suprised to find the Frenchman unprepared for action on the inner side."

* A cable's length was a distance of 200 yards, when I held a watch keeping ticket as an executive officer in the Royal Australian Navy , and not 240 yards as reported here.

Ship Name Captain
Goliath Thomas Foley  
Zealous    Samuel Hood  
Audacious Thomas Gould
Orion James Saumarez
Theseus Ralph Miller
*Vanguard  Edward Berry
Minotaur Thomas Louis
Defence John Peyton
Bellerophon Henry Darby
Leander Thomas Thompson
Swiftsure Benjamin Hallowell
Alexander Alexander Ball 
**Majestic  George Westcott
Mutine Thomas Hardy
***Culloden Thomas Troubridge
*    Vanguard Nelson's Flagship.
**  Mutine was only a brig, and was considered too small to play any part in this battle.
*** Culloden did not take part in the action, as she ran aground.

With Zealous close behind Goliath, Hood was totally unprepared for Foley's action, as the French van ship was in only 5 fathoms (30 feet) of water, he expected both Goliath and Zealous to run aground on the shoals close by, but, fortunately this did not happen.

In addition to Goliath and Zealous, three other British ships, Orion, Audacious and Theseus all followed to attack the French ships from the inner side, these five ships all had the French on their port side, whilst Nelson in Vanguard, and the remainder of his attacking ships all approached the French, having them on their starboard side. The French were thus trapped in a British nut cracker, with both jaws closing fast on their quarry.

The French were pounded, but once again Nelson sustained a wound, at about 2030 (8.30PM) he was struck on the forehead by a shot fired from the Spartiate, causing a wound over his right eye, and a flap of skin fell over his good eye, he could not see and proclaimed: I am killed: remember me to my wife." He was taken below, the wound dressed, but his life was not in any real danger.

Aboard the L'Orient, the French flagship, things were not going well, Swiftsure took up a position just off her bows, and Alexander, placed herself aft, from here she attacked the Frenchman through her stern so that shot travelleled the whole length of the decks, with a devastating effect. Admiral Brueys had sustained a head and arm wound early in the battle, he now received a belly wound which almost cut him in half. Although demanding to stay on deck, he died within a quarter of an hour.

L'Orient was fiercely on fire, and close to 2330 (11.30PM) she exploded with a roar that was heard many miles away.

By 0500 (5.AM) firing had stopped and it was all over, a total victory to Nelson, his Captains, their crews and ships. With the coming of dawn,"the whole bay was a dreadful sight, covered with dead bodies, mangled, wounded, and scorched...."

Shattered, dismasted ships filled the bay
Of the 13 French ships that had stood to for this battle, but two survived, their Captains slipped their cables, and joined by two frigates made their escape to the open sea, with the British ships unable to chase them.

The route to India was now safe, Napoleon had suffered a mortal blow, 5,000 sailors had died, his fleet destroyed, now he was stranded with his army in Egypt. 

Two small, but fast ships with despatches were sent home with the glad news of Nelson's resounding victory.

Nelson sailed his ships to Naples for repairs, and one must suggest, to again meet up with the Hamiltons, and in particular with Lady Emma!

When the news of Nelson's victory reached the outside world, it had a huge impact!

The wife of Lord Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote a letter to the Victor of the Nile:

"Joy, Joy, Joy, to you, brave, gallant, immortalised Nelson! May that great God, whose name you so valiantly support, protect and bless you to the end of your career. Such a race was never run.... This moment the guns are firing, illuminations are preparing, your gallant name is echoed from street to street, and every Briton feels his obligations to you weighing him down."

Lady Emma Hamiliton, describes Queen Maria Carolina's reactions:

"How shall I describe the transports of the Queen? T'is not possible. She fainted, cried, kissed her husband, her children, walked franic round the room, cried, kissed and embraced any person near her exclaiming: Oh, brave Nelson! Nelson, what do we owe you, Oh, victor, saviour of Italy."

It was a slow journey to Naples, but Nelson finally anchored off Naples, on the 2nd. of September. A boat came alongside with the Hamiltons aboard, and they joined him.

He wrote to Fanny, who must be starting to wonder what the future with her Hero husband might hold both for her and their children.

"The scene in the boat was terribly affecting, up flew her Ladyship, and exclaiming Oh God! is it possible? fell into my arms more dead than alive. Tears however soon set matters to rights, when alongside came the King....."

Nelson now followed on

"I hope one day to have the pleasure of introducing you to Lady Hamilton. she is one of the best women in the world. How few could have made the turn she has. She is an honour to her sex, and proof that even reputations may be regained."

It would appear to be the beginning of the end for their marriage.

Battle of the NileNelson always conscious of his own ego, expected his victory would find him made a Viscount, but he had to settle for membership in the lowest order of British nobility.  He was created Baron Nelson of the Nile, and Burnham Thorpe. (his birthplace in Norfolk, England )

Amongst the gifts that were heaped upon Nelson, two are worthy of recording: The first was arranged by one of his Captains, one of "His Band of Brothers," it was a coffin, fashioned by a ship's carpenter, from a piece of L'Orient's mast which had been recovered from Aboukir Bay, the second, was a diamond plume of triumph from the Sultan of Turkey. It was worn in his cocked hat, and the centre revolved, powered by a clock-work mechanism.

France had been successful in their invasion of Italy, they had entered Rome, and  France had been successful in her invasion of Italy, Rome had been entered and the Pope deposed. Naples however was yet to be captured.

Nelson now meddled in politics, he prevailed upon the King of Naples to join with Britain, Russia and Austria to throw out the French, and led by an Austrian general, the Neapolitans marched upon Rome which they took, but any victory was short lived, it lasted but one week, as the French rallied and soon had the King and his army in full retreat.

Now, Nelson who had encouraged the King to undertake this rather foolhardy mission, was forced to rescue the Royal family to prevent their capture. His ships embarked the Royal family, plus the Hamiltons, and sailed for Palermo, they ran into a severe storm, causing Nelson to comment: "It blew harder than I have ever experienced since I have been at sea." The youngest Royal child became critically ill, and died in the arms of Lady Emma.

Naples fell to the French, and King Ferdinand asked Nelson to take his ships there, and force the French to surrender.

In the flight from Naples, Sir William Hamilton had to leave many of his private treasures behind, he had already taken the precaution of sending other private effects home to England in Colossus, in which wounded sailors from the Battle of the Nile were also embarked. However, to no avail, this ship was lost, when it grounded on the 10th. of December, on the Isles of Sicily.

It was here at Palmero that Nelson mentally and physically felt in the doldrums. He was having a reaction to his three months of chasing around the Mediterranean after the French fleet, the loneliness of Naval command, then his great victory over the French, his belief that his victory had not received the rewards that he thought should have flowed to him.

Nelson was obviously ripe for the ministrations that were very much available from Lady Emma Hamilton, it is at this stage of the relationship between Nelson and her Ladyship, that it probably became a physical one.

St. Vincent had been replaced by Lord Keith as Nelson's Commander in Chief, and Keith believed that Minorca was liable to be attacked by the French, and he ordered Nelson to meet him there with every available ship. But, the French were still holding out in Malta. Nelson, now made a major error of judgement, he refused to obey Keith's order, no doubt swayed by his infatuation with Lady Hamilton, and the fact that King Ferdinand had bestowed upon him the Dukedom of Bronte, plus an estate in Sicily. He refused to leave his friends, informing Lord Keith he believed that there was more danger to Naples than to Minorca, events proved him right, but to disobey the lawful command of ones' C in C is not easily forgotten nor forgiven.

Napoleon in Egypt
Almost a year on from his invasion of Egypt, Napoleon decided he would return to France, and issued this proclamation:

"In view of the news from Europe I have decided to leave for France. I leave general Kleber in command of the army. The army will soon have news of me; I can say no more. It is hard for me to leave the soldiers to whom I am most attached; but it be only for a time, and the new commander-in-chief has the confidence of the government and myself."

On the 22nd. of August 1799, Napoleon boarded the frigate Muiron, in company with a second frigate Carriere, and sailed for home. It was not until the 7th of October that France was sighted, and the following day Napoleon landed at Frejus, he had been away about 17 months, and now left for Paris.   In his report to the Directory in Paris about the debacle at Aboukir Bay, he placed the blame for this defeat squarely upon the dead Vice Admiral Brueys, he wrote that he had ordered the Admiral to take his ships into Alexandria harbour to discharge both stores and ammunition, and then to sail to the safety of Corfu. He made no mention of the choice of anchoring in Aboukir Bay, which Brueys had elected to do.

In general, dead men tell no tales, but in particular a dead Admiral is no exception.

As an illustration in hypocrisy, Napoleon had written a letter to the widow of Admiral Brueys, in which he had praised her dead husband for his conduct in this battle.

Nelson embarked the Hamiltons in Foudroyant, to cruise off Malta, and his guests hoped to witness their hero gain the capitulation of the French. The ship lay at anchor, too close to Valetta, and the French fired a ranging shot which hit the fore topmast, the French Governor refused to surrender, and Nelson, now fearful for the safety of his guests; was forced to abandon his plan of liberation, and order the return to the sanctity of Palmero. As a result, Nelson received a very cold letter from the First Lord of the Admiralty.

"It is no means my wish or intention to call you away from service but having observed that you have been under the necessity of quitting your station off Malta, on account of the state of your health, which I am persuaded you could not have thought of doing without such necessity, it appeared to me much more advisable for you to come home at once, than be obliged to remain inactive at Palermo....and I believe I am joined in opinion by all your friends here, that you will more likely to recover your health and strength in England than in an inactive situation at a Foreign Court."

Sir William Hamilton had been replaced as Ambassador, and the Hamiltons decided to return to England travelling overland, Nelson elected to accompany them, he had already spent 2 years in the Mediterranean.

Napoleon was again on the prowl in Europe, at Marengo, he had defeated the Austrians, thus putting Italy again in jeopardy of invasion, and the route would take Nelson in company with the Hamiltons,  close to enemy forces near Florence. Emma's mother Miss Cornelia Knight was also travelling as part of the entourage that slowly wended its away home, the journey by sea from Ancona to Trieste, then the route over some five months took them all to Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and on to Hamburg. On the 6th. of November 1800, the party finally sailed from Hamburg to land at Yarmouth.

With the Hamiltons in tow, Nelson finally met Fanny his wife in London, but within a month of coming home, the Nelson marriage was effectively all over.

Emma was pregnant, carrying Nelson's child.

It is interesting that Nelson's personal behavour and much publicised
affair with Lady Emma Hamilton did not effect his popularity with the average person in England, nor did it hamper his continued climb up the Naval ladder. In todays climate in the year 2001, there is no way such behavour would have been tolerated, if Lord Nelson had been alive today, I have no doubt he would have been asked for his resignation, times have indeed changed.

On New Year's Day 1801, Nelson was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue, and sent to join the Channel Fleet under his old Commander Lord St.Vincent.

In February he was appointed second in command of a fleet destined for the Baltic, to serve under Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, whom Nelson considered to be somewhat of an old "stick in the mud."

Napoleon had formed an alliance with Tsar Paul of Russia, with Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Prussia, all hostile to Britain.

At Torbay, Lady Emma had given birth to a daughter, the surviving baby of a twin birth, Nelson was beside himself at this news and proposed marriage, although both parties were still married.

Fanny, Nelson's wife, was dismissed with a final cold letter:

"Living, I have done all in my power for you, and if dead, you will find I have done the same: therefore my only wish is to be left to myself."

Nelson, having provided for his wife, now shut her completely out of his life, and behaved as if she did not exist at all. Fanny tried to rescue their marriage, but her last letter was returned to her, marked: "Opened by mistake by Lord Nelson, but not read."

Baltic Fleet sails
In March, the fleet for the Baltic sailed, in all, 53 ships, including 18 ships of the line. Nelson was critical of his Admiral, believing him to be too cautious, the Danish fleet was moored, with floating batteries in a solid line before Copenhagen. On April Fool's Day, Nelson in Elephant, safely passed the Copenhagen forts and anchored in the south, leaving Admiral Parker and his heavier ships to the north. The following morning, the wind blew from the South, and the Danish fleet was now under attack, three of Nelson's ships ran aground, the remaining nine stayed at anchor close to the Danes, all hidden behind the smoke from the furious engagement. Four miles further north, Parker was afraid that Nelson would lose this battle, and signalled for him to disengage from the action.

When this order was relayed to Nelson, he is reported to have told his Flag Captain:

"You know, Foley, I have only one eye, I have a right to be blind sometimes." Putting the glass to his blind eye, he said: " I really do not see the signal."

Within an hour the British broadsides prevailed.

Nelson sent ashore an ultimatum to the batteries at Trekroner, and his bluff worked, the Prince Regent of Denmark agreed to a cease fire. The Battle of Copenhagen was over, with 17 Danish ships out of 18, captured, sunk, or burnt out.

Parker was recalled, so now Nelson could at last hoist his flag as a Commander-in-chief.

In June, he was called home , and now, his long awaited Viscountcy was gazetted.

Nelson had little time ashore, he did get to meet his new daughter Horatia, and was then given command of all Naval defences between Orfordness and Beachyhead, as the possibility of a French invasion was still a threat.

Before a second attack against the French at Boulogne could be carried out, (the first attack had failed dismally, but Nelson had not been in charge at that time) the Peace of Amiens was signed in March of 1802.

Nelson had long yearned to own a farm, just out of London, and on his behalf, Lady Emma, purchased Merton Place, close to Wimbleton, it was handy to London, but an hours drive from the Admiralty.

Nelson arrived at Merton in October, and whilst the Hamiltons stayed there, the contents of this home were all Nelsonian.

At long last, Sir William appeared to be rather put out by his wife's role as mistress to Lord Nelson at his country seat at Merton. Although he did not seek a separation from her Ladyship, he noted:

"I am fully determined not to have more of the silly altercations that happen too often between us and embitter the personal moments exceedingly- there is no time for nonsense and trifling. I know and admire your talents and many excellent qualities, but I am not blind to your defects."

In the early spring of 1803, Sir William realised that he did not have long to live, and he moved to his house in London in Piccadilly, and died in the presence of both his wife and Lord Nelson.

New Appointment for Nelson
Nelson had now been ashore for 2 years, and the Admiralty announced the appointment of Vice Admiral Viscount Nelson to the command of the Mediterranean Fleet, and he hoisted his flag in Victory, in May of 1803.

Napoleon was once more full of his grandiose plans, Spain had joined France in declaring war against Britain, as Napoleon plotted his invasion strategy aimed at Britain.

The British blockade of Toulon was carried out month after month, with little to relieve the utter boredom. Of this period, Mahan, the American Naval historian wrote:  "They were dull, weary, eventless months, those months of watching and waiting of the big ships before the French arsenals. Purposeless they seemed to many, but they saved England, the world has never seen a more impressive demonstration of sea power in history. Those far distant, storm beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the domination of the world."

To digress but a moment, but those words of Mahan,could well have applied to the Royal Navy, as it stood and waited in concert with the Royal Airforce. Waiting for Hitler to invade Britain after Dunkirk, at the time when Britain with Canada, New Zealand and Australia stood alone against the might of Germany from September 1939 to December 1941. Europe already was living under the Nazi yoke, and the United States of America yet to commit to the cause of freedom.

By 1805, Napoleon had named himself the Emperor Napoleon, he was ready, or so he thought. His plan, to join the Spanish ships, break the British blockade, and sail to the West Indies, do some mischief there, then as a single combined fleet, sweep back across the Atlantic, and destroy the British fleet off Ushant, then, in command of the channel, cross this relatively small stretch of water, and invade England with 150,000 troops.

In Toulon, Admiral Villeneuve, who had escaped from Aboukir Bay, was in charge of the French fleet, he managed to break out whilst the British frigates had been driven from their watching station by a severe storm. Nelson thought they would make for Alexandria, and sailed his fleet there, but no Frenchmen in sight, he then, to his relief, learned that the bad weather had forced Villeneuve to return with his ships to Toulon.

In another 3 months, the French again broke out, but this time due to bad weather they were able to elude the British, and they passed Gibraltar.

Villeneuve took his 20 ships of the line to the West Indies, to be quickly followed by Nelson with his 12 ships of the line, making for Trinidad, but the French were not there, but at Martinique, now Villeneuve made for Europe once more.

Nelson despatched a fast frigate to warn the British Squadron off Ushant, and Villeneuve was intercepted and his ships damaged off Finisterre, but they made it back to Cadiz, joining up with the Spanish ships in that port.

Nelson now left his flagship for the first time in 2 years, and went ashore in Gibraltar, then returned to Portsmouth, and was reunited with Lady Hamilton at Merton.

Meantime, Villeneuve was bottled up in Cadiz with 34 ships, guarded by 25 British vessels under Collingwood.

Nelson managed just 25 days at home in Merton, with Emma, and their daughter Horatia, now 5 years old.

Again, Nelson embarked in Victory, and sailed off to take command of the fleet blockading Cadiz, arriving on the 28th. of September 1805, the next day he was 47, and 15 of his Captains dined with him to celebrate his birthday.

Napoleon sent orders to Cadiz for Villeneuve to break out with his ships and return to the Mediterranean, and on the 20th of October, 18 French ships, and 15 Spanish ships of the line left Cadiz making for the south west.

Nelson and his 27 ships of the line were all sailed to windward to prevent the French from escaping. As October 21st dawned, the combined French/Spanish fleet sighted Nelson's ships, and altered course northwards, the light winds hampered the fleets, both trying to sail into a battle formation, the British formed two divisions, one led by Collingwood, the second by Lord Nelson.

Just after noon, Victory was in action, she broke through the French line, steering between Bucenture and Redoutable, the former being Villeneuve's flagship, now Victory was locked alongside Redoutable, probably the most efficient fighting ship in the combined fleet. Her Captain, Jean-Jacques Lucas, was an expert in close combat, having specialist snipers operating in her topmasts, Nelson tended to wear his major decorations on his uniform, even in battle, so he stood out as an important officer on his quarterdeck, his Captain had suggested that Nelson should be prudent, and wear a plain uniform, but Nelson had indicated there was no time to worry about changing at this stage, an unfortunate decision for him. Perhaps his ego got the better of him, whilst pacing his quarterdeck with Hardy, Nelson was cut down by a sniper's shot, the musket ball penetrated his shoulder and chest, finishing up lodged against his spine, this Naval hero was mortally wounded.

Nelson was taken below for treatment, and Hardy came to report total victory to his dying Admiral, 15 French ships had surrendered.

At 1630 ( 4.30PM.) on the21st of October 1805, Nelson died.

His body was brought home for a Hero's state funeral, and the Nelson cult was born, to still be in existence today.

Emma Hamilton was hardly remembered, she lived another 10 years, to die at Calais, impoverished and alone.

Fanny Nelson survived another 25 years, whilst Nelson and Emma's daughter Horatia, married a clergyman, had a large family, and lived to the age of 81, it was reported that she was never really sure that Lord Nelson was her true father. But letters from Nelson to Lady Hamilton that were later published, were indeed proof of her parentage.

On each October 21st, the Anniversary of Trafalgar Day, Naval Officers around the world will raise their glasses and drink a toast to "The Immortal Memory." 

Nelson was a unique Naval Officer and Commander of Fleets, it is unlikely we will ever witness such an individual again.

Greenwich Naval Museum unearths Nelson's  Trafalgar Battle Plans scratched out on the back of a letter!

 Naval hero's artifacts net millions 22 October 2002


The British Ships and their Captains at the Battle of Aboukir Bay


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