The other line, led by Admiral Collingwood in his ship the Royal Sovereign, met the enemy first. Half an hour later, the Victory crashed through the enemy line. The British ships had been instructed not to fire a shot until they had broken the line, to save their energy at a time when most of the shots would not have been effective, so it was a tense approach, particularly with the lack of wind making it painfully slow progress. Victory was shot at by four enemy ships without being able to reply.
During this time, Nelson stood on the quarterdeck with Captain Hardy, and his secretary John Scott. Within minutes, Scott was split in half by a cannon ball, and his body was thrown overboard (his blood stained Nelson's socks - see the picture below in my previous entry about visiting the National Maritime Museum). Eight marines were killed by a single shot, so Nelson ordered their captain to spread them out more. Another shot hit the deck between Nelson and Hardy, sending a splinter flying up to hit Hardy's shoe. After looking at each other to make sure the other wasn't hurt, Nelson commented that he had never seen such courage as in the Victory's crew that day.
|Victory about to break the enemy line, by Bill Bishop|
So Victory collided with the Redoutable, and the momentum carried them both out of the line, locked together. Victory had taken a lot of damage to her rigging and her wheel was broken, so she was virtually unmanageable. But now she could get a broadside alongside the Bucentaure, and so the British gunners got to work, their skills, training and discipline far superior to the French.
|Captain Jean-Jacques-Etienne Lucas of the Redoutable|
|'The Hero of Trafalgar' by William Hersman Overend|
But at 1.15pm, while the crews of the battered ships fought to board each other, Captain Hardy turned to pace back across the quarterdeck, and suddenly realised that his friend was no longer beside him. He turned, and saw Nelson collapsed, holding himself up with his arm before that crumpled, and then supported by three seamen. Running to him, Hardy said that he hoped he hadn't been too badly hurt. Nelson replied,
"They have done for me at last... my backbone has been shot through."
To be continued...
|The Fall of Nelson, by Denis Dighton|