Next to Lady Hamilton, Captain Hardy is probably the name most associated with Nelson, chiefly for the famous “Kiss me, Hardy,” that, according to William Beatty’s account of Nelson’s death, were among his last words.
|Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, painted four years after Trafalgar|
Hardy first served under Nelson’s command in 1793, as first lieutenant of the frigate Meleager. He transferred to the Minerve in 1796, with Captain Cockburn. In December that year, Nelson hoisted his broad pennant in her and, on the way to evacuate the garrison at Elba, encountered the Spanish Santa Sabina. She surrendered, and Hardy was sent with lieutenant Culverhouse to take the prize. During the night, they suddenly found themselves among the Spanish fleet. Hardy and Culverhouse in the Sabina drew the Spanish away so Nelson in the Minerva could escape, and fought until the prize was dismasted. They were taken prisoner but were almost immediately exchanged and rejoined the Minerve at Gibraltar.
In February 1797, the Minerve was chased by some Spanish ships when a man fell overboard. Hardy jumped in the jolly boat to rescue the man, but struggled to get back to the ship due to the strong current. Nelson reportedly cried, “By God, I’ll not lose Hardy! Back the mizen topsail!”. This move confused the Spanish who held back, perhaps thinking that the British had help on the horizon, but allowing the Minerve to pick up Hardy and the boat, and get away. Three days later, the Minerve participated in the Battle of Cape St Vincent.
In May 1797, Hardy commanded the boats of the Lively and Minerve and cut out the French brig Mutine from Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Lord St Vincent gave her command to Hardy, and in June 1798 he joined Nelson (now rear-admiral) and the squadron at Elba. He was present at the Battle of the Nile and became Nelson’s flag captain in the 74-gun Vanguard after Captain Edward Berry was sent to England with Nelson’s dispatches. As captain of the Vanguard and then of Foudroyant, Hardy remained with Nelson at Naples and Palermo until October 1799, when he was appointed to the frigate Princess Charlotte and returned to England. He saw Nelson grow closer to Emma, Lady Hamilton, and disapproved of the relationship, being loyal to Nelson's wife, Frances.
In 1801 Hardy was reunited with Nelson as captain in the San Josef and then the St George, in the Baltic. The night before the Battle of Copenhagen, Hardy sounded close up to the enemy ships, muffling his boat’s oars so as to remain undetected. Hardy returned to England with Nelson, and was given command of the 50-gun Isis.
In May 1803, Nelson set sail from Portsmouth for the Mediterranean and, having to leave Victory for Admiral Cornwallis off Brest, went into the frigate Amphion, then commanded by Hardy. When Victory later joined the fleet and Nelson transferred into her, he took Hardy with him as his flag captain. Hardy remained by Nelson’s side up until the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. He was one of the witnesses who signed the final codicil to Nelson’s will. After Nelson was shot, Hardy had to take command not only of his ship, but of the fleet, until word could get to Nelson’s second-in-command, Admiral Collingwood, and so had to organise the response to the threat of the French van apparently tacking to return to the battle. He reported twice to Nelson as the admiral lay dying, and on the second visit, Nelson asked him to kiss him farewell. Hardy obliged by kissing him once on the cheek, and again on the forehead. After the battle, Victory carried Nelson’s body back to England, and Hardy carried the banner of Emblems at his funeral.
In February 1806, Hardy was created a baronet, and in 1807 he married Anne Louisa Berkeley, with whom he had three daughters. He was made a Knight Commander of the Bath in January 1815, was promoted to rear-admiral in May 1825, and became a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath in September 1831. In November 1830 he became first sea lord on the board of Admiralty, but refused to become a member of parliament and instead focussed on a professional view of his duties, encouraging the introduction of steam warships. He left that post in April 1834 and became governor of Greenwich hospital, and was promoted to vice-admiral in January 1837. He died on 20th September 1839 and was buried in the hospital cemetery.