Biography of Viscount Horatio Nelson

Horatio Nelson

Horatio Nelson was a famous naval commander known for his forthright style who died at the moment of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

When and Where was he Born?

29th September 1758. Burnham-Thorpe, Norfolk, England.

Family Background:

Horatio Nelson was the sixth of eleven children of the village Rector, Edmund and his wife Catherine. She was descended from Sir Robert Walpole who had been Prime Minister earlier in the century. When she died her brother Captain Maurice Suckling agreed to take him to sea. Suckling later rose to Comptroller of the Royal Navy.

Nelson Signpost
Nelson’s Birthplace in Burnham Thorpe was demolished in 1803 
before the Battle of Trafalgar but the village still proudly records 
the birth of its most famous son (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Education:

The Paston School, North Walsham, Norfolk. The Royal Navy. (Passed the examination to become Lieutenant in 1777).

Timeline of Lord Nelson:

1773: Nelson joined a scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean. He also sailed on active service to the West Indies and became involved in the American Wars of Independence.

1779: He was promoted to Captain aged 20, given the command of a Frigate and took part in the struggle against Spanish settlements in Nicaragua. The British force at this time was almost wiped out by Yellow Fever.

1783: He returned to England at the end of the American Revolution.

1784: Nelson commanded a frigate to the West Indies to help enforce the Navigation Act against American Ships who were still trading using British privileges. In so doing he made enemies with local merchants and the British authorities.

Dry Dock, Chatham
Dry Dock at Chatham Historic Docks where H.M.S Victory was built
 in the middle of the 18th Century. 
Now home to H.M.S Cavalier, a World War Two Frigate (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1785: Nelson visited the Island of Nevis in the West Indies during March and met and proposed to Frances Nisbet, the widow of a local doctor.

1787: He married Frances and returned with his new bride to Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk. As he was not in command of a ship he was reduced to half pay.

1793: In January within a few days of the execution of King Louis 16th of France he was given command of the 64 Gun ship Agamemnon. He set sail for the Mediterranean. Assigned to the defence of the port of Toulon against the revolutionaries including Napoleon Bonaparte. Early efforts failed and he was dispatched to Naples to collect re-enforcements. Owed much success in this to Sir William Hamilton and his wife Emma who was in the Queen of Naples’s confidence. After the fall of Toulon the British commander Lord Hood moved his base to Corsica. Nelson was sent ashore to assist in the capture of Bastia and Calvi and was blinded in the right eye from splinters from some French shot.

1794: Hood was replaced as commander by Admiral William Hotham and then Sir John Jervis who was an attacking commander more to Nelson’s liking. Nelson quickly gained the confidence of Jervis. The British were forced to retreat to Gibraltar and the Tagus. At the Battle of Cape St. Vincent Nelson held the two Spanish squadrons apart and boarded two Men O’ War. This action earned him a Knighthood. He was promoted to Rear Admiral by seniority. His first action in command of a major independent force was disastrous During his assault on Tenerife a grape shot shattered his right elbow and his arm had to be amputated back on board his flagship.

1798: In the Spring Nelson was fit enough again to rejoin Jervis (who had now become the earl of St. Vincent) sailing in HMS Vanguard. He pursued the French fleet towards Egypt. He caught up with it in the harbour at Alexandria near the mouth of the river Nile. The battle raged all night and he all but annihilated the French squadron. He was awarded a Baronetcy for this action. He then made his way back to Naples for repairs where he was given a heroes welcome. Emma Hamilton stage-managed a huge 40th Birthday party for him with 1,800 guests He encouraged King Ferdinand of Naples to ally with Great Britain, Austria and Russia against the French and to try and recapture Rome. After early successes the French counter-attack drove him back to Naples, which then fell. Nelson helped evacuate the royal family to Sicily and at Palermo it became obvious that his infatuation with Emma Hamilton was undeniable.

1799: Nelson supported King Ferdinand’s successful re-capture of Naples. Lord Keith who had replaced St. Vincent as commander of the British ordered him to Minorca but he refused arguing that the threat from the French was towards Naples. The Admiralty ordered him back to Britain annoyed both with his disobedience and his acceptance of the Dukedom of Bronte (In Sicily) from the King of Naples.

1800: Nelson returned slowly overland to London with the Hamiltons where he received a hero’s welcome. He had a bleak reunion with his wife for one month until he went back to the Hamiltons. Because of his affair he had became a figure of fun in society and was snubbed by the King of England. He was appointed second in command to the elderly Admiral Sir Hyde Parker who was to command an expedition to the Baltic. Shortly before sailing Emma gave birth to a girl (Horatia) and he made arrangements for concealing its parentage.

1801: Parker’s fleet sailed for Copenhagen. Nelson bypassed the shore batteries by taking low draught ships along a shallow channel. He ignored Parker’s signal to disengage after heavy loses and finally went on to be victorious. Parker was succeeded by Nelson himself who had now become a Commander-in-Chief and given a Home Command. He planned a failed attack on Boulogne and his second attempt was cancelled due to the signing of the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802.

1802: Nelson returned to Merton Place near London, which Emma had bought, on his instructions for them both to live in. Hamilton was not happy but was powerless to do anything about it

Nelson Statue, Birmingham
The first statue in Great Britain commemorating Nelson after the Battle of Trafalgar 
was erected in Birmingham. 
This was paid for by public subscription to a design 
by the sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1803: Hamilton dies with his wife and her lover at his side. In May Nelson was given a command in the Mediterranean Sea with HMS Victory as his flagship. Although technically at peace it was known that Napoleon was threatening further war. Nelson blockaded Toulon to prevent the French ships at Brest and in the Atlantic joining forces. Spain declared war and Nelson kept an eye on the Spanish ships based at Cadiz and Cartagena.

Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London. 
Erected between 1840 and 1843
 (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1805: In March the French commander Villeneuve’s ships broke out of Toulon under cover of bad weather. The British gave chase and inflicted some damage on the fleet, however failing to win control of the English Channel and fearing an invasion of Britain by Napoleon Nelson headed south to Cadiz where Villeneuve’s fleet had taken sanctuary. He then went to Gibraltar to make dispositions for the blockade of Cadiz and then returned to England to plan his campaign. On October 20th Villeneuve sailed out of Cadiz harbour at dawn. On the next day Nelson formed two divisions, one led by himself and one led by Admiral Collingwood. The British sailed straight at the combined French and Spanish fleets effectively cutting them in two. Victory was thus assured at the Battle of Trafalgar, however at the height of battle Nelson was shot by a French sniper from the rigging of the Redoubtable and hit in the shoulder and chest. Taken below decks he later died of his wounds. Rather than be buried at sea his body was put into a barrel of spirits to preserve it and taken back to England for a hero’s welcome and triumphal burial at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Nelson's Coffin Marker
Plaque at the spot where Horatio Lord Nelson’s body lay in state in the 
Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich (copyright Anthony Blagg)

When and Where did he Die?

21st October 1805. Shot by a French sniper at sea off Cape Trafalgar, Spain during the famous battle.

Age at Death:

47.

Marriage:

March 1787 to Frances Nisbet a widow with a five year old son Josiah on the Isle of Nevis.

Site of Grave:

St. Paul’s Cathedral crypt beneath the Dome, London, England.

Horatio Nelson's Grave
Nelson’s Grave Monument, 
St Paul’s Cathedral, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

AVON:

Lodged for a year at No 2 Pierrepont Street, Bath.

LONDON:

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. (Uniform worn at Trafalgar complete with bullet hole and blood on display).

The Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich has a plaque commemorating Nelson’s lying in state there and there is a small museum next to it which has the original table which carried the coffin.

HAMPSHIRE:

H.M.S. Victory, Royal Naval Dockyard, Portsmouth. (Nelson’s Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar).
Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth Dockyards.

KENT:

Historic Dockyards, Chatham where H.M.S Victory was built.

NORFOLK:

Burnham Thorpe, the place of Nelson’s birth, is still an isolated village. The actual building was demolished in 1803 before his victory at Trafalgar.

Maritime Museum, Great Yarmouth.

TEESSIDE:

Hartlepool Historic Dock, part of Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience has the preserved ship H.M.S Trincomalee floating in it’s harbour. Although built after Trafalgar it was constructed to the same design as all of Nelson’s frigates and visitors can experience the cramped conditions below decks.

HMS Trincomalee
H.M.S Trincomalee at Hartlepool Historic Dockyard. A restored example of a Nelsonic type Frigate. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

SCOTLAND:

Royal Yacht Britannia has a button off Nelson’s coat in the Wardroom and a portrait of him outside the Queen’s bedroom. There is also a bust in the Chief Petty Officer’s Mess.

WALES:

Nelson Collection at the Monmouth Museum, Monmouth.