Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Death of a Hero part 1/2

On the morning of the 21st of October 1805, the English fleet were in sight of the Combined Fleet of France and Spain.  Following Nelson's tactics, which he had planned long ago and told all his Captains, calling it the 'Nelson Touch', his fleet of 27 ships approached the enemy fleet of 33 in two lines, perpendicular to the enemy's single line.  Nelson insisted on staying at the head of his line, in the Victory - when the captain of another ship tried to pass, thinking to protect his Commander-in-Chief - Nelson hailed him and sent him back.  As always, Nelson was not afraid to lead his fleet from the forefront.

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

As the Victory approached the flagship of the French Admiral, the Bucentaure, it became clear that there was not enough space between it and either the French Redoutable, or the giant four-decked Spanish ship Santisima Trinidad, so one of them would have to be rammed out of the way to allow Victory to pass.  Hardy asked which one, to which Nelson replied that it didn't make any difference, so he should just pick one.  

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

However, knowing that he could never train his crew to a standard of gunnery to match the British, the Captain of the Redoutable, Jean-Jacques-Etienne Lucas, had trained them in musketry and in boarding, aiming to overwhelm the crews of the ships he could get close to that way and take possession of them.  He had some of the finest musketeers in the French navy, and he placed them in the rigging of the Redoutable so they could clear the decks of the Victory from there. 
'The Hero of Trafalgar' by William Hersman Overend

Meanwhile, Nelson continued to pace the Victory's quarterdeck with Hardy by his side, with bullets and splinters flying around them, gun smoke smothering them, amidst the din of gunfire and the screams of the wounded and dying and the smell of gunpowder and blood.  As always, he wore his four orders, like four big glistening stars, on his uniform.  Earlier, an attempt had been made to persuade him not to wear them, for fear that they would stand out like a beacon, attracting the attention of the enemy.  But Nelson would hear nothing of it.  He wanted to be on display, he wanted his resolve to be seen - by the men who served him.  They adored him, and seeing his small, frail, half-mutilated but fully-uniformed frame up on the most exposed part of the ship, calmly and resolutely putting himself in danger, helped to raise their morale and courage so they would fight their hardest for him.  And if that meant putting himself at greater risk, then he did so unflinchingly.

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

Countdown to Trafalgar: Nelson's Final Diary Entry, 21st October 1805, his 'Trafalgar Prayer'

'Trafalgar Dawn' by Graeme Lothian

(as always, I've tried to write this out exactly as it appears in the diary itself.)

Monday Oct 21st 1805
At day light saw the Enemys Combined Fleet from E to ESE bore away made the Signal for order of sailing and to prepare for Battle the Enemy with their heads to the Southward, at 7 the Enemy wearing in succession, May the Great God whom I worship Grant to my Country and for the benefit of Europe in General a great and Glorious Victory, and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it, and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet, for myself individually I commit my Life to Him who made me, and may his blessing light upon my Endeavours for serving my Country faithfully.  To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is Entrusted to me to Defend.
amen, amen, amen.

Countdown to Trafalgar: Nelson's Private Diary, October 18th - 20th 1805

Friday Oct 18th fine Weather Wind Easterly the Combined fleets cannot have finer Wt. to put to Sea. 

Saturday Oct 19th fine Wt. Wind Easterly at ½ pt: 9 the Mars being one of the look out Ships made the Signal that the Enemy were coming out of Port made the Signal for a general Chase SE.  Wind at South Cadiz bearing ESE by Compass distance 16 Leagues.  At three the Colossus made the Signal that the Enemy fleet was at Sea in the Evening made Sigls to Observe my motions during the night, for the Britannia Prince & Dreadnought they being heavy sailers to take Stations as Convenient and for Mars, Orion Bellisle Leviathan, Bellerophon & Polyphemus to go ahead during the Night and to carry a light Standing for the Streights Mouth

Sunday Oct 20th 1805
Fresh Breezes SSW and rainy.  Communicated with Phoebe, Defence and Colossus, who saw near forty sail of ships of War outside of Cadiz yesterday evening, but the wind being Southerly they could not get to the Mouth of the Straits.  We were between Trafalgar and Cape Spartel.  The frigates made the signal that they saw 9 sail outside the Harbour; gave the Frigates instructions for their guidance, and placed Defence, Colossus and Mars between me and the Frigates.  At noon fresh gales and heavy rain, Cadiz NE 9 Leagues.  In the afternoon Captain Blackwood telegraphed that the Enemy seemed determined to go to the Westward; and that they shall not do if in the power of Nelson and Bronte to prevent them.
at 5 Telegraph’d Capt. Bd. that I rely’d upon his keeping sight of the Enemy at 5 o’Clock Naiad made the signal for 31 Sail of the Enemy NNE.  The frigates and Look out Ships kept sight of the Enemy most admirably all night and told me by Signals which tack they were upon.  At 8 We wore & stood to the SW and at 4am wore and stood to the NE.

From the National Archives, catalogue reference PROB 1/22

I love these entries.  You can really get a feel for Nelson's excitement and tension, from the harder press of his pen upon the paper.  

Trafalgar Week at HMS Hinchinbrook

I'm a little late posting this, but that doesn't make it less relevant!  Over at http://hmshinchinbrook.weebly.com/ , they posted an interesting article each day during Trafalgar Week, relating of course to Nelson and the battle.  Go and have a look!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Countdown to Trafalgar: Nelson's Private Diary, October 15th - 17th 1805

Tuesday Oct 15th fine Wt Westerly sent Renommee & L’aimable to Gibraltar & Malta and the transpt to Gibt Adl Louis is order’d to see the Convoy above Cartagena & the frigates to escort them to Malta.  all night mode. Breezs. Westerly

Wednesday Oct 16th
Modte: Breezes Westerly all the forenoon Employd forming the fleet into the order of Sailing at noon fresh Breezes WSW & Squally in the Evening fresh gales Enemy as before, by Sign: from Weazel.

Thursday Oct 17th 1805
Mode: Breezes NWerly Sent Donegal to Gibraltar to get a ground Tier of Casks.  Receivd accounts by the Diligent Store Ship that Sir Richd. Strachan has supposed in Sight of the French Rochford Squadron which I hope is true.  At Midnight the Wind came to the Eastward.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Countdown to Trafalgar - Nelson's Private Diary, October 8th - 15th 1805

Tuesday Oct 8th
Fresh Breezes Easterly.  Royal Sovereign in sight to Leeward at 4pm she joined, sent the Naid off Cadiz.  Eurydice captured a Spanish Privateer.

Wednesday Oct 9th
Fresh Breezes Easterly receiv’d an account from Capt. Blackwood that the French ships had all bent their Topgt sails sent the Pickle to him with orders to keep a good look out.  Sent adl. Collingwood the Nelson Touch.  At night Wind Westerly

['The Nelson Touch' was the name Nelson gave his plan for the upcoming battle.  On October 1st, he wrote to Emma Hamilton telling her of his officers' reaction to it: "...when I came to explain to them the Nelson touch, it was like an electric shock.  Some shed tears, all approved - 'it was new, it was singular, it was simple!' and, from Admirals downwards, it was repeated - 'It must succeed, if ever they will allow us to get at them!'"]

Thursday Oct 10th 1805
Fine Wr: Wind Westerly receiv’d an account that the Enemy are ready for Sea and at the very harbours Mouth.  Bellisle made her number at noon Bellisle joind from Plyh: in the Evening the Renommee frigate & Confounder Brig sent the Aetna & Confounder to Gibraltar.  All night very fresh Breezes NW & Rain.

Friday Oct 11th fresh Breezes NW.

Sunday Oct 12th fresh Breezes NWesly keeping to the Westward Renomee Joined.

Wrote Ly: Hn:
Sunday Oct 13th 1805
Fine Weather Agamemnon joined from England having fallen in with the French Squadron off Cape Finistr. consisting of 1 Three decker and 5 Two deck’d Ships and had a narrow Escape from Capture.
L’aimable also joined who had likewise been chased Prince of Wales Sailed for England.

[the Prince of Wales, a ship, not the actual prince! carried Vice Admiral Robert Calder back to England to be disciplined after his failure to do everything he could to attack the French fleet at Cape Finisterre in July.  She was a 98-gun ship and was desperately needed by Nelson and his outnumbered fleet, but Nelson took pity on him and granted Calder's request to return to England in his flagship, rather than in a frigate, and thus retain some dignity.]

Monday Oct 14th
Fine Weather Westerly Wind sent Amphion to Gibraltar & Algiers Enemy at the Harbours Mouth placed Defence & Agamemnon from Seven to Ten Leagues West of Cadiz and Mars & Colossus five Leagues East from the fleet whole station will be from 15 Lgs: to twenty West of Cadiz and by this Chain I hope to have a constant communication with the frigates off Cadiz.

Tuesday Oct 15th fine Wt Westerly sent Renommee & L’aimable to Gibraltar & Malta and the transpt  to Gibt Adl Louis is order’d to see the Convoy above Cartagena & the frigates to escort them to Malta.  all night mode. Breezs. Westerly

From the National Archives, catalogue reference PROB 1/22

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Countdown to Trafalgar: Nelson's Private Diary October 1st to 7th 1805

Tuesday Oct 1st fine Wt. Adl Louis’ Squadron joined with Thunderer & Endymion with sprung masts.  Sent Aetna to cruize under Cape St. Marys Pickle joined from Plymouth.

Wrote Ly. Hn.
Wednesday Oct 2nd
Fine Wt: westerly sent Thunderer to Gibr. Sarda. Palermo & Naples.  Sent Canopus, Tigre, Spencer Queen, Zealous to Gibr & Tetuan for water & provn.  Sent the Nimble to England all night fine weather.

Thursday Oct 3rd 1805
Fine Weather.  Sent Eurydice to Cruize under Cape St. Marys

Friday Oct 4th
Fine Weather Wind Easterly several Ships of War in sight to the Southward which proved to be Adml. Louis’ Squadron.

Saturday Oct 5th
Fine weather, Bittern joined with 2 transports from Gibr, laying too clearing transports.

Sunday Oct 6th
Mode. Breezes ESE clearing transports in the night fresh breezes Easterly.

Wrote Ly. H.
Monday Oct 7th 1805
Fresh Breezes & a hasty sea joined the Amphion with a transport from Lisbon Naid & Niger with transports from Gibraltr. Sent the Bittern to Lisbon with the Gibr. Mail at noon mode. Breezes & a swell from the Eastward all night fresh Gales Easterly.

From  The National Archive, Catalogue reference PROB 1/22

'Adl. Louis': Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Louis.  As a Captain, he had been one of Nelson's 'Band of Brothers' at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

'Gibr.' - Gibraltar.  Sometimes Nelson used this to mean Gibraltar the place, sometimes Gibraltar the ship.
'provn.' - provisions
'Sarda.' - Sardinia

Queen: a 98-gun ship
Canopus, Tigre: 80-gun ships
Thunderer, Spencer: 74-gun ships
Zealous: a 64-gun ship
Amphion, Endymion, Eurydice, Naiad, Niger: Frigates.
Aetna: a bomb vessel.
Bittern: a sloop.
Nimble,Pickle: cutters.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Countdown to Trafalgar: Nelson's Private Diary September 14th - 30th 1805

Saturday Sept 14th 1805
At Six o’Clock arrived at Portsmouth and having arrainged all my business Embarked at the Bathing Machines with Mr Rose and Mr Canning at 2 got on board the Victory at St Helens who dined with me preparing for sea.

Saturday Sept 15th 1805
At day Weighed with Light air Northerly at 6 was obliged to anchor at 8 weighed all day Light breezes at sun sett off Christ church all night Light Breezes & very foggy Euryalus in Company.

Wrote Ly. Hn.
Monday Sept 16th first part Light Breezes & very foggy at noon fresh Breezes Westerly in the Evening off the Berry head 4 miles.  All night fresh Breezes Westerly.

Wrote Ly H
Tuesday Sept 17th fresh Breezes WSW at 9 abreast of Plyo. sent in Euryalus to call out the Ajax and Thunderer all night standg to the Westward Wind from SW to SSW.

Wrote Ly H
Wednesday Sept 18 first part light Breezes & heavy western swell Wind South Lay too for the Ajax and Thunderer Lizard North at noon they joined made all possible Sail all night Breezes vble from SE to SSW swell from the Westward.

Thursday Sept 19th first part fresh gales & heavy sea at noon hard gales at SW at 6 hard Rain wind at NW all night heavy sea & fresh breezes

Wrote Ly Hn
Friday Sept 20th modte Breezes WSW & heavy Sea at 9 Saw a Squadron of Ships of War at 11 passed the Squadron of Rear Adl Stirling consisting of 5 Sail of the Line and one frigate At noon Wind WSW Saw a frigate to Windward which made the private signal at 2 Spoke the Decade carrying the flag of Rear Adl Sir Richd Bickerton Capt Stuart came on board gave him orders for his farther proceeding.  Fresh gales at 3 reeft the Courses.  All night very fresh gales from the NW which came on with heavy rain at 9 oClock

Saturday Sept 21st 1805
Fresh gales all day at NNW at night wind at North & NE heavy swell.

Sunday Sept 22nd Modte Breezes at NE & heavy swell from NW at 1 o'Clock saw a Convoy of 7 Sail under a Vessel of War in the SE quarter at 6 o Clock Euryalus made the Signal that a Vessel was reconnoitering in the East quarter all night fresh gales at East to ESE.

Monday Sept 23rd Fresh gales EbS at 6 o’Clock abreast of Cape Finisterre 17 Lgs at noon modte Wr in Lat 42o: 25N all night fine weather wind Easterly.

Tuesday Sept 24th modte Breezes SE at noon in Lat 4o: 05 No: 3pm Light airs South in the Evening wind Northerly Light Breezes all night at NE and a swell from the NW

Wrote Ly H
Wednesday Sept 25th 1805
Light airs Southerly saw the Rock of Libra SSE 10 Leagues at Sunsett the Capt. of the Constance came onboard sent my letters for England by him to Lisbon and wrote to Capt Sutton & the Consul the Enemys fleet had not left Cadiz the 18th of this month therefore I yet hope they will wait my arrival.

Monday Sept 26th Light airs at NW all day Rock of Lisbon in sight to the NNE 13 or 14 Lgs.  At 4 o’Clock sent Euryalus to join Vice Adl. Collingwood with my orders to put himself under my Command considering myself as within the Limits of my Command all night Light Breezes at NW.

Friday Sept 27th 1805 at day light Cape St. Vincent SEbS by Compass 6 leagues saw a Sloop of War or Small frigate East 5 or 6 miles called her in she proved to be the Nautilus Sloop from Vice Ad. Collingwood bound to England with dispatches at noon abreast of Lagos Bay fresh Breezes NW at 1am brought too fresh Breezes NWbN.

Saturday Sept 28th 1805
Fresh Breezes at NNW at daylight bore up & made sail at 9 saw the Aetna Cruizing at noon saw nine Sail of ships of War bearing East Latde. 36: 32 N at one saw Eighteen Sail nearly Calm in the Evening joined the fleet under Vice Admiral Collingwood saw the Enemys fleet in Cadiz amounting to 35 or 36 Sail of the Line.

Sunday Sept 19th fine Weathr gave out the necessary orders for the fleet sent Euryalus to watch the Enemy with the Hydra off Cadiz.

Monday Sept 30th fine weather Wind Easterly.

From the National Archive, catalogue reference PROB 1/22