Admiral Lord Nelson
Posted: 16 March 2011 in Military Leaders
Tags: american war of independence, battle of trafalgar, horatio nelson, north west passage, royal navy
Horatio Nelson

Admiral Lord Nelson

Horatio Nelson was born on 29 September 1758, at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk. His father, Rev Edmund Nelson, was the local rector of All Saints’ Church. His mother, Catherine Suckling, was related to Sir Robert Walpole, the man generally credited with being Britain’s first prime minister. Nelson entered the navy in 1771, through the good offices of his maternal uncle and naval officer, Maurice Suckling.

After being educated at the Royal Grammar School in Norfolk, and then at Paston School in North Walsham, Nelson joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of twelve. He was given his first posting aboard HMS Raisonable, which his uncle commanded. At the time it was expected that Britain would soon be at war with Spain, but when the war failed to materialise Maurice Suckling was transferred to command another ship. So as to gain some experience at sea, his uncle arranged for Nelson to serve on board a merchantman, which was about to undertake a fourteen month voyage to the West Indies.

Two years later, HMS Carcass sailed for the Arctic, with Nelson on board, in search of the (non existent) north west passage to India. According to a possibly apocryphal story, during this trip Nelson gave chase to a polar bear, whilst the ship was stranded in the ice, and almost got himself killed, when he shot it, but failed to kill it. After the Carcass had failed to navigate the arctic ice flows, she returned to Britain in September. Maurice Suckling, by now a very senior figure in the British navy, was able to arrange for his nephew to join HMS Seahorse, which was shortly to sail for the East Indies. Nelson was in the East Indies, gaining his first experience of action whilst he was there, until September 1776, when he arrived back in Britain after suffering a bout of Malaria. Again largely thanks to the influence of his uncle, Nelson was promoted to the rank of acting lieutenant, and found a place aboard a navy ship, preparing to escort a merchant fleet to Gibraltar. The round trip was completed in May of the following year, and, upon his return, Nelson took his lieutenant’s exam, with the same Maurice Suckling as one of the examiners.

Having passed the exam, he was appointed second lieutenant aboard HMS Lowestoffe, which was shortly to see action in the American War of Independence. In May he sailed for the Caribbean, where he was promoted again, becoming captain of HMS Hitchingbroke in 1779. Spain had joined France in supporting the American rebels, and the Hitchingbroke, along with a number of other ships, was given orders to attack and capture a Spanish fortress in Nicaragua. The fortress was successfully taken, but after the battle Nelson again fell ill from Malaria, and had to return to England. In August 1781 he was given command of HMS Albemarle, and spent the remainder of the American War of Independence off the coast of North America, taking part in several actions.

After the end of the American war Nelson served in the Caribbean, helping to enforce a law designed to restrict trade between British colonies and other countries. During this time he met Frances Nisbet, a widow previously married to a doctor. They married on 11 March 1787, and in 1788 Nelson, with his new wife, returned to England – eventually settling in Norfolk where he had been born. No longer on active service, Nelson found himself on half pay, and repeated attempts to obtain a command failed. His uncle, whose influence he had formerly been able to rely upon in such matters, had died ten years previously. However, in January 1793 the French solved his financial problems for him, when they declared war on Britain.

By 1798 French armies had conquered much of Europe, with only Britain as unfinished business. France did not have a fleet powerful enough to attack Britain directly, so instead Napoleon led an expeditionary force to Egypt, with the stated intention of disrupting British communication with India. Although the campaign was initially successful, in August 1799 Nelson encountered the French fleet anchored at Aboukir Bay, and destroyed all but two of the French warships in the Battle of the Nile, leaving Napoleon stranded in Egypt.

British tactics during the war with France consisted largely of blockading ports under French control, and seizing the cargo of any merchant vessel destined for a French port. Not surprisingly, this made Britain very unpopular with neutral countries, so Napoleon was able to persuade Russia, Sweden and Denmark to join him in an alliance against Britain. In response, a fleet of British war ships sailed for the Baltic, and on 2 April 1801 Nelson entered Copenhagen harbour, destroying most of the ships he found there. Subsequently Denmark, Sweden and Russia made their peace with Britain.

HMS Victory

Nelson's Flagship, HMS Victory

In 1804 the French were planning an invasion of Britain, but did not have sufficient naval power to guarantee success, so in December Napoleon persuaded Spain to join him in an alliance against Britain. Some months later, the Spanish and French fleet joined forces at Cadiz, but, unknown to them, the port was under observation by the British. Reinforcements were summoned, and Nelson arrived at the end of September. On 19 October the combined French and Spanish fleets leaft port, and were pursued by Nelson until battle was joined off Cape Trafalgar, on 21 October 1805. After five hours most of the French and Spanish ships had been either captured or destroyed, and French plans for an invasion of Britain were postponed indefinitely.

However, Nelson is dead, having been killed by a French sniper. His body was taken back to Britain, and accorded a state funeral. Nelson’s coffin was given a huge military escort to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and today he lies buried in the crypt of the Cathedral.

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1 Response to Admiral Lord Nelson
  • Muhammad Adnan says:

    Very good and comprehensive.
    Thanks for great info.

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