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Who was Horatio Nelson?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Horatio Nelson, Viscount (1758-1805), son of a Norfolk clergyman, joined the Navy as a midshipman at the age of twelve. In his early years he saw service in the West Indies, the Arctic and the East Indies ; though slight of build and delicate looking, he was a captain of a frigate at the age of twenty and already known to his superiors as a brave and dashing officer. He served for several years in the West Indies, where he married Frances Nesbit. a widow, in 1787, and afterwards spent five years on half-pay ashore in Norfolk.

On the outbreak of the war with France in 1793 he was given command of the battleship Agamemnon, and in operations against Corsica he lost his right eye. Serving under Admiral Jervis at the Battle of Cape St Vincent Nelson carried out a brilliant maneuver that led to the rout of the Spanish fleet, but not long afterwards he lost his right arm during an expedition against Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands (1797). When Napoleon sailed for Egypt, Nelson swept the Mediterranean in search of him and eventually found the French fleet at anchor in Aboukir Bay, near Alexandria. He boldly sailed into the Bay at night to destroy the fleet and put an end to Napoleon's dream of an eastern empire.

During two years in command of a squadron in the Mediterranean Nelson fell deeply in love with Lady Hamilton, wife of the British Ambassador at Naples. His love for her, disapproved of by a great many people, lasted to the end of his life. In 1801 at Copenhagen Nelson, with Sir Hyde Parker, destroyed the Danish f1eet to prevent powerful forces joining Napoleon; then, after the Peace of Ami ens (1802), he was able to enjoy his first rest ashore for years.

A year later, when war broke out again, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, hoisting his flag in the Victory, in which he was engaged in a long blockade of Toulon. The French fleet escaped in March 1805, sailed to the West Indies and returned to Cadiz; Nelson, having conducted a long chase in vain , came back to England, but learning the whereabouts of the enemy fleet he re-embarked on the Victory and arrived off Cadiz on 28 September. At last the combined French and Spanish fleets emerged and on 21 October 1805 Nelson brought them to battle off Cape Trafalgar. Just before the action he sent his famous signal, 'England expects that every man will do his duty'. During the hard-fought battle he was fatally wounded, but lived long enough to know that he had won a complete victory. His last words were 'Thank God, I have done my duty'. He was carried home in the battered Victory to be buried in St Paul's Cathedral to the profound sorrow of his sailors and of the nation.


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