VED from VICTORIA INSTITUTIONS
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!
Incident - Nelson’s death
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was one of England’s most heroic figures. He was a flag officer famous for his participation in the Napoleonic Wars. He died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
In the Battle of Trafalgar, he was to meet the combined French and Spanish fleet. Nelson prepared diligently for weeks for the coming battle. He dined with his captains, to ensure that their minds were fully synchronised with his plan of action. The plan of action was ingenious.
He was on HMS Victory. On the 21st of October, Nelson gave command to approach the enemy fleet; his own ship went in front. He went below and made his will. After coming up for a brief inspection, he went back again for a moment of prayer. Numerically, England was in a negative position, but he was superbly sure of victory.
Coming up, Nelson went to HMS Victory’s signal lieutenant John Pasco and said thus: Mr Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet “England confides that every man will do his duty”. You must be quick, for I have one more signal to make, which is for close action.
However, Pasco told him that it would be wise to change the word ‘confides’ to that of ‘expects’, for the word ‘expects’ is in the Signal Book and could be signalled by the use of a single flag; whereas the word ‘confides’ would require a more time to signal. Nelson agreed, and thus came out Nelson’s famous command:
England expects every man will do his duty!
As the enemy fleet came near, it was suggested by the ship’s captain that it would be safer to remove the decorations from his coat. For these things could easily identify him to enemy sharpshooters. However he declined to do so, saying that these were ‘military orders’, and that he did not fear to display them to the enemy.
Next came a suggestion from Captain Henry Blackwood of HMS Euryalus to come to his ship so that he can observe the battle better from a safer place. This Nelson declined. He also declined to allow this ship to go in front.
As the distance with the enemy ships lessened, their shots started hitting with more precision. Nelson’s secretary John Scott was cut into two by a cannonball. Then another person took over that position, but he was also killed more or less immediately. One cannon ball killed eight marines.
HMS Victory was in the enemy line. The Captain Hardy of the ship asked Nelson which ship to attack first. Nelson asked him to take his pick. He aimed for the 80-gun French flagship Bucentaure. Victory came under rapid fire from the 74-gun Redoutable and the 140-gun Santisima Trinidad. Moreover, snipers from the enemy side continually fired onto Victory’s deck. However, both Nelson as well as Hardy walked around directing the battle.
Suddenly Captain Hardy noticed that Nelson was not standing. He saw Nelson in a knelt down position, trying to support himself with his hands, and then falling to one side. When Hardy ran to him, Nelson said, ‘Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last... my backbone is shot through.’
He had been hit at a range of 50 feet. His lung was pierced, and the bullet was in the base of his spine.
As he was being carried down, he asked them to wait, as he gave some direction to a midshipman on the handling of the tiller. He told his surgeon, ‘You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through.’
He asked for Captain Hardy several times. After more than one hour, Hardy came down with the news that a number of enemy ships had surrendered. Later, his steward Beatty heard him murmur, ‘Thank God I have done my duty’. His last words were recorded by his chaplain Alexander Scott as ‘God and my country’.
Nelson died at 4: 30, around three hours after he was shot.
The King was in tears, when he heard the news. He said, ‘We have lost more than we have gained.’
The Times wrote thus:
We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.
The first formal mark of respect was given by the sailors of Vice Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which gave a formal salute on hearing the news of his death.
Author: Somerset Maugham
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Incidence: Nelson’s death
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