HORATIO NELSON, son of the Reverend Edmund Nelson, Rector of Burnham-Thorpe, in the county of Norfolk, and Catherine his wife, daughter of Doctor Suckling, Prebendary of Westminster, whose grandmother was sister to Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford.
I was born September 29, 1758, in the Parsonage-house; was sent to the high school at Norwich, and afterwards removed to North Walsham; from whence, on the disturbance with Spain relative to the Falkland Islands, I went to sea with my uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, in the Raisonnable, of 64 guns. But the business with Spain being accommodated, I was sent in a West-India ship belonging to the house of Hibbert, Purrier, Horton, with Mr. John Rathbone, who had formerly been in the Navy, in the Dreadnought, with Captain Suckling. From this voyage I returned to the Triumph, at Chatham, in July, 1772; and, if I did not improve in my education, I came back a practical seaman, with a horror of the Royal Navy, and with a saying then constant with seamen, "Aft the most honour; forward the better man!" It was many weeks before I got in the least reconciled to a man-or-war, so deep was the prejudice rooted; and what pains were taken to instil this erroneous principle in a young mind! However, as my ambition was to be a seaman, it was always held out as a reward, that if I attended well to my navigation, I should go in the cutter and decked long-boat, which was attached to the commanding officer's ship at Chatham. Thus by degrees I became a good pilot, for vessels of that description, from Chatham to the Tower of London, down to the Swin and the North Foreland, and confident of myself amongst rocks and sands, which has been many times since of great comfort to me. In this way I was trained, till the expedition towards the North Pole was fitted out; when although no boys were allowed to go in the ships (as of no use), yet nothing could prevent my using every interest to go with Captain Lutwidge, in the Carcass; and as I fancied I was to fill a man's place, I begged I might be his cockswain: which, finding my ardent desire for going with him, Captain Lutwidge complied with, and has continued the strictest friendship to this moment. Lord Mulgrave, whom I then first knew, maintained his kindest friendship and regard to the last moment of his life. When the boats were fitting out to quit the two ships blocked up in the ice, I exerted myself to have the command of a four-oared cutter raised upon, which was given me, with twelve men; and I prided myself that I could navigate her better than any other boat in the ship.
On our arrival in England, being paid off, October 15, I found that a squadron was fitting out for the East Indies; and nothing less than such a distant voyage could in the least satisfy my desire of maritime knowledge. I was placed in the Seahorse, of 20 guns, with Captain Farmer, and watched in the fore-top; from whence in time I was placed on the quarter-deck, having, in the time I was in this ship, visited almost every part of the East Indies, from Bengal to Bussorah. Ill-health induced Sir Edward Hughes, who had always shown me the greatest kindness, to send me to England in the Dolphin, 20 guns, with Captain James Pigot, whose kindness at that time saved my life. This ship was paid off at Woolwich, on the 24th September, 1776. On the 26th, I received an order from Sir James Douglas, who commanded at Portsmouth, to act as lieutenant of the Worcester, 64, Captain Mark Robinson, who was ordered to Gibraltar with a convoy. In this ship I was at sea with convoys till April 2nd, 1777, and in very bad weather; but although my age might have been a sufficient cause for not entrusting me with the charge of a watch, yet Captain Robinson used to say, "he felt as easy when I was upon deck, as any officer in the ship."
On the 8th of April, 1777, I passed my examination as a lieutenant, and received my commission the next day, as second lieutenant of the Lowestoffe frigate, of 32 guns, Captain (afterwards Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital) William Locker. In this ship I went to Jamaica; but even a frigate was not sufficiently active for my mind, and I got into a schooner, tender to the Lowestoffe. In this vessel I made myself a complete pilot for all the passages through the Keys, islands situated on the north side Hispaniola. Whilst in this frigate, an event happened which presaged my character; and as it conveys no dishonour to the officer alluded to, I shall relate it.
Blowing a gale of wind, and very heavy sea, the frigate captured an American letter-of-marque. The first lieutenant was ordered to board her, which he did not do, owing to the very high sea. On his return, the captain said, "Have I no officer in the ship who can board the prize?" On which the master ran to the gangway, to get into the boat, when I stopped him, saying, "It is my turn now; and if I come back it is yours." This little incident has often occurred to my mind; and I know it is my disposition, that difficulties and dangers do but increase my desire of attempting them.
Sir Peter Parker, soon after his arrival at Jamaica, 1778, took me into his own flag-ship, the Bristol, as third lieutenant, from which I rose by succession to be first. Nothing particular happened whilst I was in this ship, which was actively employed off Cape François, being the commencement of the French war.
On the 8th of December, 1778, I was appointed commander of the Badger brig; and was first sent to protect the Mosquito shore, and the Bay of Honduras, from the depredations of the American privateers. Whilst on this service, I gained so much the affections of the settlers, that they unanimously voted me their thanks, and expressed their regret on my leaving them, entrusting me to describe to Sir Peter Parker and Sir John Dalling their situation, should a war with Spain break out. Whilst I commanded this brig, H.M.S. Glasgow, Captain Thomas Lloyd, came into Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the Badger was lying: in two hours afterwards she took fire by a cask of rum; and Captain Lloyd will tell you, that it was owing to my exertions, joined to his, that her whole crew were rescued from the flames.
On the 11th of June, 1779, I was made post in the Hinchinbrook: when, being at sea, and Count d'Estaing arriving at Hispaniola with a very large fleet and army from Martinico, an attack on Jamaica was expected. In this critical state I was, by both admiral and general, entrusted with the command of the batteries at Port Royal; and I need not say, as this place was the key to the whole naval force, the town of Kingston, and Spanish Town, the defence of it was the most important post in the whole island.
In January, 1780, an expedition being resolved on against St. Juan's, I was chosen to direct the sea part of it. Major Polson, who commanded, will tell you of my exertions; how I quitted my ship, carried troops in boats an hundred miles up a river, which none but Spaniards, since the buccaneers, had ever ascended: it will then be told how I boarded, if I may be allowed the expression, an outpost of the enemy, situated on an island in the river; that I made batteries and afterwards fought them, and was a principal cause of our success. From this scene I was appointed to the Janus, 44, at Jamaica, and went to Port Royal in the Victor sloop.
My state of health was now so bad, that I was obliged to go to England in the Lion, the Honourable William Cornwallis, captain; whose care and attention again saved my life. In August, 1781, I was commissioned for the Albemarle; and, it would almost be supposed to try my constitution, was kept the whole winter in the North Sea. In April, 1782, I sailed with a convoy for Newfoundland and Quebec, under the orders of Captain Thomas Pringle. From Quebec, during a cruise off Boston, I was chased by three French ships of the line, and the Iris frigate; as they all beat me in sailing very much, I had no chance left, but running them amongst the shoals of St. George's bank. This alarmed the line-of-battle ships, and they quitted the pursuit; but the frigate continued, and at sunset was little more than gunshot distant: when, the line-of-battle ships being out of sight, I ordered the main-topsail to be laid to the mast; on this the frigate tacked and stood to rejoin her consorts.
In October I sailed from Quebec with a convoy to New York, where I joined the fleet under the command of Lord Hood; and in November I sailed with him to the West Indies, where I remained till the peace; when I came to England (being directed in my way to attend H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence, on his visit to the Havannah), and was paid off at Portsmouth, on July 3rd, 1783. In the autumn I went to France, and remained there till the spring of the year 1784; when I was appointed to the Boreas frigate, of 28 guns, and ordered to the Leeward Islands station.
This station opened a new scene to the officers of the British Navy. The Americans, when colonists, possessed almost all the trade from America to our West India Islands, and on the return of peace they forgot, on this occasion, that they became foreigners, and of course had no right to trade in the British Colonies. Our governors and custom-house officers pretended, that by the Navigation Act they had a right to trade; and all the West Indians wished what was so much for their interest.
Having given governors, custom-house officers, and Americans, notice of what I would do, I seized many of their vessels, which brought all parties upon me; and I was persecuted from one island to another, so that I could not leave my ship. But conscious rectitude bore me through it; and I was supported, when the business came to be understood, from home; and I proved (and an act of parliament has since established it) that a captain of a man-of-war is in duty bound to "support all the maritime laws, by his admiralty commission alone, without becoming a customhouse officer.
In July, 1786, I was left with the command till June, 1787, when I sailed for England. During the winter H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence visited the Leeward Islands in the Pegasus frigate, of which he was captain; and in March this year I married Frances Herbert Nisbet, widow of Dr. Nisbet, of the island of Nevis; by whom I have no children.
The Boreas being paid off at Sheerness, on November the 30th, I lived at Burnham-Thorpe, county of Norfolk, in the Parsonage-house. In 1790, when the affair with Spain, relative to Nootka Sound, had nearly involved us in a war, I made use of every interest to get a ship, ay, even a boat, to serve my country, but in vain;there was a prejudice at the Admiralty evidently against me, which I can neither guess at, nor in the least account for.
On the 30th of January, 1793, I was commissioned in the handsomest way for the Agamemnon, 64 guns, and was put under the command of that great man and excellent officer, Lord Hood, appointed to the command in the Mediterranean. The unbounded confidence on all occasions placed in me by his lordship, will show his opinions of my abilities; having served in the command of the seamen landed for the sieges of Bastia and Calvi.
His lordship in October, 1794, left the Mediterranean to Admiral Hotham, who also honoured me with the same confidence. I was in the actions of the 13th and 14th of March, 1795, and 13th of July in the same year. For the share I had in them I refer to the Admiralty letters. I was then appointed by Admiral Hotham to co-operate with the Austrian general, De Vins, which I did all the time Admiral Hotham retained the command, till November; when he was superseded by Sir John Jervis, now Earl Vincent.
In April, 1796, the commander-in-chief so much approved my conduct, that he directed me to wear a distinguishing pendant. In June I was removed from the Agamemnon to the Captain, and on the 11th of August had appointed a captain under me. Between April and October, 1796, I was employed in the blockade of Leghorn, taking Porto Ferrajo, the island of Caprea, and finally in the evacuation of Bastia: when, having seen the troops in safety to Porto Ferrajo, I joined the admiral in St. Fiorenzo Bay, and proceeded with him to Gibraltar; whence in December I was sent in La Minerve frigate, Captain George Cockburn, to Porto Ferrajo, to bring down our naval stores, etc. On the passage we captured a Spanish frigate, La Sabina, of 40 guns, 28 eighteen-pounders on her main deck, as will appear by my letter.
For an account of what passed from our sailing from Porto Ferrajo on the 29th of January, 1797, to the finish of the action on the 14th of February, I refer to the account published by Colonel Drinkwater. The king, for my conduct, gave me a gold medal, and the City of London a gold box.
In April, 1797, I hoisted my flag as Rear-Admiral of the Blue, and was sent to bring down the garrison of Porto Ferrajo; which service performed, I shifted my flag from the Captain to the Theseus on May the 27th, and was employed in the command of the inner squadron at the blockade of Cadiz. It was during this period that perhaps my personal courage was more conspicuous than at any other period of my life.
In an attack of the Spanish gunboats I was boarded, in my barge, with its common crew of ten men, cockswain, Captain Freemantle, and myself, by the commander of the gunboats; the Spanish barge rowed twenty-six oars, besides officers-thirty men in the whole. This was a service hand-to-hand with swords, in which my cockswain, John Sykes (now no more), twice saved my life. Eighteen of the Spaniards being killed, and several wounded, we succeeded in taking their commander. On the 15th of July, 1797, I sailed for Teneriffe ; for the event, I refer to my letter on that expedition. Having then lost my right arm, for this loss and my former services his Majesty was pleased to settle on me a pension of £1000 a year. By some unlucky mismanagement of my arm I was obliged to go to England, and it was the 13th of December, 1797, before the surgeons pronounced me fit for service. On the 19th of December the Vanguard was commissioned for my flag-ship. On the 1st of April, 1798, I sailed with a convoy from Spithead ; at the back of the "Isle of Wight, the wind coming to the westward, I was forced to return to St. Helen's, and finally sailed on the 9th of April, carrying a convoy to Oporto and Lisbon. I joined Earl St. Vincent off Cadiz, on April 29th; on the 30th I was ordered into the Mediterranean. I refer to the printed narrative of my proceedings to the close of the Battle of the Nile.
On the 22nd of September, 1798, I arrived at Naples, and was received as a deliverer by the king, queen, and the whole kingdom. October 12th, the blockade of Malta took place, which has continued without intermission to this day. On the 21st of December, 1798, his Sicilian Majesty and family embarked in the Vanguard, and were carried to Palermo in Sicily. In March, 1799, I arranged a plan for taking the islands in the Bay of Naples, and for supporting the Royalists, who were making head in the kingdom. This plan succeeded in every part. In May I shifted my flag, being promoted to be Rear-Admiral of the Red, to the Foudroyant, and was obliged to be on my guard against the French fleets. In June and July, 1799, I went to Naples, and, as his Sicilian Majesty is pleased to say, reconquered his kingdom, and placed him all his throne. On the 9th of August I brought his Sicilian Majesty back to Palermo, having been upwards of four weeks on board the Foudroyant.
On the 13th, his Sicilian Majesty presented me with a sword magnificently enriched with diamonds, the title of Duke of Bronte, and annexed to it the feud of Bronte, supposed to be worth pound;3000 per annum. On the arrival of the Russian squadron at Naples, I directed Commodore Troubridge to go with the squadron, and blockade closely Civita Vecchia, and to offer the French most favourable conditions, if they would evacuate Rome and Civita Vecchia; which terms the French general, Grenier, complied with, and they were signed on board the Culloden: when a prophecy made to me on my arrival at Naples was fulfilled; viz., That I should take Rome with my ships.
Thus may be exemplified by my life, that perseverance in any profession will most probably meet its reward. Without having any inheritance, or having been fortunate in prize-money, I have received all the honours of my profession, been created a peer of Great Britain, etc. And I may say to the Reader,
"Go Thou And Do Likewise."