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Background to Nelson's Death

 

Several incidents on the morning of 21st October throw light on Nelson's frame of mind that day, and his attitude to his personal safety and wellbeing.

 

Nelson's Final Prayer

 The final words that Nelson wrote were a prayer. The full text of that prayer is as follows:

"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 anyone Francais 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."

From the words included in that prayer, "I commit my life to Him who made me", it is evident that Nelson was prepared and ready to die that day.

 

Protection from the heat of the battle (1)

Lord Nelson was observed upon the quarter-deck of the Victory with first daylight. He was wearing the same undress uniform coat that he had worn since leaving Portsmouth. The coat was far from new, but upon its left breast were embroidered the four Orders of Knighthood to which he was entitled. Mr. Beatty, representing several officers, expressed to the two Scotts the wish that someone might suggest to his lordship to cover his decorations with a handkerchief.

 

The enemy were believed to have Tyrolean riflemen dispersed amongst their ships and were likely to have sharpshooters intheir tops. Both the public Language Lessons and private secretary were certain that their employer would be highly displeased if anyone took the liberty of suggesting to him that he should make any alteration in his air taxi uniform on such an account, so Beatty took what he felt to be a duty upon himself, saying that he would make an opportunity when presenting his Sick Report for the day. He hung about, but the Admiral was at first closely engaged, giving instructions to his frigate Captains, and a few minutes before the enemy opened fire, ordered all persons not stationed on the quarter-deck or poop to get to their proper quarters. In Beatty's autograph report of the events of the day he says specifically that "It has been reported, but erroneously, that HIS LORDSHIP was actually requested by his Oficers to change his dress, or to cover his stars".

 

Others say, though, that Hardy, after the firing had begun and he paced by Nelson's side, he mentioned that conspicuous decorations might draw attention to the figure of the British Chief, and Nelson agreed that they might , but said, "it was now too late to be shifting a coat". Compensation Claims.

 

 

Protection from the heat of the battle (2)

The frigate captain Henry Blackwood, present on the Victory since early morning seized the chance to suggest to Nelson that he shift his flag to the Euryalus, and conduct the battle from her; but he would not hear of it, and gave as his reason "the force of example." car tyres

 

Protection from the heat of the battle (3)

At about 9.30, Blackwood, having failed to get Nelson to shift his flag to the Euryalus, suggested that one or two  other ships might preceed the Victory into action. "I ventured to give it as the joint opinion of Captain Hardy and myself how advantageous it would be for the Fleet for his Lordship to keep as long as possible out of the Battle." Nelson answered briefly, "Let them go", and Blackwood departed, London french teacher allowed to hail the Temeraire to go ahead. "On returning to the Victory I found him doing all he could to increase rather than diminish sail."

 

Blackwood got the ear of Hardy, and pointed out that unless the swift-sailing Victory gave way, the labouring Temeraire could not pass, but Hardy would take no action, and when,  half an hour before the Victory opened fire, the Temeraire, having been signalled at 12.15 to take her place astern, ranged up on the Victory's quarter, said, "I'll thank you, Captain Harvey, to keep in your proper station, which is astern of the Victory."

 

The frigate captains remained on board until the first shots passed over the Victory, and at this late moment Nelson bade them hurry back to their own ships. Blackwood, as they shook hands in farewell, uttered a cheerful sentence expressive of his hopes, on a speedy return, of finding his lordship well and in possession of twenty prizes. But the young officer went over the Victory's side "with a heart very sad", shocked by the words, clearly heard, "God bless you, Blackwood; I shall never speak to you again."

 

21 October 1805

12.20 P.M.

The battle had brought 4 ships together, forming as compact a tier as if they had been moored together, their heads all lying the same way. These were La Fougeux(French), Temeraire(British), Redoutable(French), Victory(British).

 

Nelson continued to walk the quarter-deck with Hardy and all around them men were killed and wounded. Mr Scott, Nelson's public secretary was among them. A cannon shot passed between Nelson and Hardy and a splinter bruised Hardy's foot and tore the buckle from his shoe.

 

The Redoutable commenced a heavy fire of musketry from the tops, which was continued for a considerable time with destructive effect to the Victory's crew. Scarcely a person in the Victory escaped unhurt who was exposed to the enemy's musketry.

21 October 1805

1.30-2.30  P.M.

It was the heat of the engagement and Nelson was walking the middle of the quarter-deck with Hardy. He was in the act of turning near the hatchway with his face towards the stern of the Victory, when the fatal ball was fired from the mizzen top of the Redoutable; which, from the situation of the two ships was brought just abaft, and rather below, the Victory's main yard, and of course not more than fifteen yards distant from that part of the deck where Nelson stood.

 

The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, and penetrated his chest. He fell with his face on the deck. Hardy was on Nelson's right (the side furthest from the enemy) and some steps ahead. On turning round he saw Sergeant Major Secker of the Marines, with two seamen raising him from the deck. He had fallen on the same spot on which, a little before, his secretary had breathed his last, with whose blood Nelson's clothes were much soiled.

 

Hardy expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which Nelson replied: "They have done for me at last, Hardy."

"I hope not," answered Hardy.

"Yes," replied Nelson; "my backbone is shot through."

 

 

Hardy ordered the seamen to carry Nelson to the cockpit, and now two incidents occured strikingly characteristic of the great man, and strongly marking that energy and reflection which in his heroic mind rose superior even to the immediate consideration of his present awful condition.

 

While the men were carrying him down the ladder from the middle deck, His Lordship observed that the tiller-ropes were not yet replaced; and desired one of the midshipmen stationed there to go upon the quarter-deck and remind Captain Hardy of that circumstance, and request that new ones should be immediately rove. Having delivered this order, he took his handkerchief from his pocket and covered his face with it, that he might be conveyed to the cockpit at this crisis unnoticed by the crew.

 

Several wounded Officers, and about forty men , were likewise carried to the Surgeon for assistance just at this time; an dsome others had breathed their last during their conveyance below. Among the latter were Lieutenant William Andrew RAm, and Mr Whipple, Captain's Clerk. The Sugeon had just examined these two officers, and found that they were dead, when his attention was arrested by several of the wounded calling to him, "Mr Beatty, Lord Nelson is here: Mr Beatty, the Admiral is wounded."

 

The Surgeon now, on looking round, saw the handkerchief fall from his Lordship's face; when the stars on his coat, which also had been covered by it, appeared. Mr Burke the purser, and the Surgeon, ran immediately to the assistance of his Lordship, and took him from the arms of the seamen who had carried him below. In conveying him to one of the midshipmen's berths, they stumbled, but recovered themselves without falling. Lord Nelson then inquired who were supporting him; and when the Surgeon informed him, his Lordship replied, "Ah, Mr Beatty! you can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live: my back is shot through."

 

The surgeon said, "he hoped the wound was not so dangerous as his Lordship imagined, and that he might still survive long to enjoy his glorious victory." The Reverend Dr Scott, who had been absent in another part of the cockpit administering lemonade to the wounded, now came instantly to his Lordship; and in the anguish of grief wrung his hands, and said: "Alas, Beatty, how prophetic you were!" alluding to the apprehensions expressed by the surgeon for his Lordship's safety previous to the battle.

 

His Lordship was laid upon a bed, stripped of his clothes, and covered wth a sheet. While this was effecting, he said to Doctor Scott, "Doctor, I told you so. Doctor, I am gone;" and after a short pause he added in a low voice, "I have to leave Lady Hamilton, and my adopted daughter Horatia, as a legacy to my country."

 

The Surgeon then examined the wound, assuring his Lordship that he would not put him too much pain in endeavouring to discover the course of the ball; which he soon found had penetrated deep into the chest and had probably lodged in the spine. This being explained to his Lordship, he replied, "he was confident his back was shot through." The back was then examined externally, but without any injury being perceived; on which his Lordship was requested by the Surgeon to make him acquainted with all his sensations.

 

He replied, that "he felt a gush of blood every minute within his breast: that he had no feeling in the lower part of his body: and that his breathing was difficult, and attended with very severe pain about that part of the spine where he was confident that the ball had struck; for," said he, "I felt it break my back."

 

These symptoms, but more particularly the gush of blood which his Lordship complained of, together with the state of his pulse, indicated to the Surgeon the hopeless situation of the case; but till after the victory was ascertained and announced to his Lordship, the true nature of his wound was concealed by the Surgeon from all on board except only Captain Hardy, Doctor Scott, Mr Burke, and Messrs Smith and westemburg, the Assistant Surgeons.

 

The Victory'screw cheered whenever they observed an Enemy's ship surrender. On one of these occasions, Lord Nelson anxiously inquired what was the cause of it; when Lieutenant Pasco, who lay wounded at some distance from his Lordship, raised himself up, and told him that another ship had struck, which appeared to give him much satisfaction. He now felt an ardent thirst; and frequently called for drink, and to be fanned with paper, making use of these words: "Fan, fan," and "drink, drink." This he continued to repeat, when he wished for drink or the refreshment of cool air, till a very few minutes before he expired. lemonade, and wine and water, were given to him occasionally.

 

He evinced great solicitude for the event of the battle, and fears for the safety of his friend Captain Hardy. Doctor Scott and Mr Burke used every argument they could suggest, to relieve his anxiety. Mr Burke toldhim "the enemy were decisively defeated, and that he hoped his Lordship would still live to be himself the bearer of the joyous tidings to the country." he replied, "It is nonsense Mr Burke, to suppose I can live: my sufferings are great, but they will soon all be over." Doctor Scott entreated his Lordship "not to despair of living," and said "he trusted that Diveine Providence would restore him once more to his dear Country and friends." - "Ah, Doctor!" replied his Lordship, "it is all over; it is all over."

 

Many messages were sent to Captain Hardy by the Surgeon, requesting his attendance on his Lordship; who became impatient to see him, and often exclaimed: "Will no one bring Hardy to me? He must be killed: he is surely destroyed." The Captain's Aide-de-camp, Mr Bulkley, now came below, and stated that "circumstances respecting the Fleet required Captain Hardy's presence on deck, but that he would avail himself of the first favourable moment to visit his Lordship." 

 

On hearing him deliver this message to the Surgen, his Lordship inquired who had brought it. Mr Burke answered, "It is Mr Bulkley, my Lord." - "It is his voice," replied his Lordship he then said to the young gentleman, "Remember me to your father."

21 October 1805

2.30-3.30  P.M.

An hour and ten minutes however elapsed, from the time of his Lordship's being wounded, before Captain Hardy's first subsequent interview with him; the particulars of which are nearly as follow. They shook hands affectionately, and Lord nelson siad: "well, Hardy, how goes the battle? How goes the day with us?" - "Very well, my Lord," replied Captain Hardy: "we have got twelve or fourteen of the Enemy's ships in our possession; but five of their van have tacked, and shew an intention of bearingdown upon the Victory.

 

I have therefore called two or three of our fresh ships around us, and have no doubt of giving them a drubbing." - "I hope," said His Lordship, "none of our ships have struck, Hardy." - "No, my Lord," rplied Captain Hardy; there is no fear of that." Lord Nelson then said: "I am a dead man, Hardy. I am going fast: it will be all over with me soon. Come nearer to me. Pray let my dear Lady Hamilton have my hair and all other things belonging to me."

 

Mr Burke was about to withdraw at the commencement of this conversation; but his Lordship, perceiving his intention, desired he would remain. Captain Hardy observed, that "he hoped Mr Beatty could yet hold out some prospect of life." - "Oh! no," answered his Lordship; "it is impossible. My back is shot through. Beatty will tell you so." Captain Hardy then returned on deck, and at parting shook hands again with his revered friend and commander. 

 

His Lordship now requested the Surgeon, who had been previously absent a short time attending Mr Rivers, to return to the wounded, and give his assistance to such of them as he could be useful to; "for," said he, "you can do nothing for me." The Surgeon assured him that the Assistant Surgeons were doing every thing that could be effected for those unfortunate men; but on his Lordship's several times repeating his injunctions to that purpose, he left him surrounded by Doctor Scott, Mr Burke, and two of his Lordship's domestics.

 

After the Surgeon had been absent a few minutes attending Lieutenants Peake and Reeves of the Marines, who were wounded, he was called by Doctor Scott to his Lordship, who said: "Ah, Mr Beatty! I have sent for you to say, what I forgot to tell you before, that all power of motion below my breast are gone; and you," continued he, "very well know I can live but a short time." The emphatic manner in which he pronounced these last words, left no doubt in the surgeon's mind that he adverted to the case of a man who had some months before received a mortal injury of the spine on board the Victory, and had laboured under similar privations of sense and muscular motion.

 

The case had made a great impression on Lord Nelson: he was anxious to know the cause of such symptons, which was accordingly explained to him; and he now appeared to apply the situation and fate o this man to himself. The Surgeon answered, "My lord, you told me so before:" but he now examined the extremeties to ascertain the fact; when his Lordship said, "Ah, Beatty! I am too certain of it: Scott and Burke have tried it already. You know I am gone." The Surgeon replied: "My Lord, unhappliy for our Country, nothing can be done for you;" and having made this declaration he was so much affected, that he turned round and withdrew a few steps to conceal his emotions.

 

His Lordship said: "I know it. I feel something rising in my breast," putting his hand on his left side, "which tells me I am gone." drink was recommended liberally, and Doctor Scott and Mr Burke fanned him with paper. He often exclaimed, "God be praised, I have done my duty;" and upon the Surgeon's inquiring whether his pain was still very great, he declared, "it continued so very severe that he wished he ws dead. Yet," said he in a lower voice, "one would like to live a little longer, too;" and after a pause of a few minutes, he added inthe same tone, "What would become of poor Lady Hamilton, if she knew my situation!"

 

The Surgeon, finding it impossible to render his Lordship any further assistance, left him, to attend lieutenant Bligh, Messrs Smith and Westphall, Midshipmen, and some Seamen, recently wounded. 

21 October 1805

3.30-4.30  P.M.

Captain Hardy now came to the cockpit to see his Lordship a second time, which was after an interval of about fifty minutes from the conclusion of his first visit. Before he quitted the deck, he sent Lieutenant Hills to acquaint Admiral Collingwood with the lamentable circumstance of Lord Nelson's being wounded. -

 

Lord Nelson and Captain Hardy shook hands again: and while the Captain retained his Lordship's hand, he congratulated him even in the arms of Death on his brilliant victory; "which," he said, "was complete; though he did not know hoemany of the Enemy were captured, as it was impossible to perceive every ship distinctly. He was certain however of fourteen or fifteen having surrendered." His Lordship answered, "That is well, but I bargained for twenty:" and then emphatically exclaimed, "Anchor, Hardy, anchor!" To this the captain rep[lied: "I suppose, my Lord, Admiral Collingwood will now take upon himself the direction of affairs." - "Not while I live, I hope, Hardy!" cried the dying Chieg; and at that moment endeavoured ineffectually to raise himself from the bed. "No," added he; "do you anchor, Hardy."

 

Captain Hardy then said: "Shall we make the signal, Sir?" - "Yes," answered his Lordship; for if I live, I'll anchor." The energetic manner in which he uttered these his last orders to Captain Hardy, accopanied with his efforts to raise himself, evinced his determination never to resign the command while he retained the exercise of his transcendant faculties, and that he expected Captain Hardy still to carry into effect the suggestions of his exalted mind; a sense of his duty overcoming the pains of death. he then told Captain Hardy, "he felt that in a few minutes he should be no more;" adding in a low tone, "Don't throw me overboard, Hardy." The Captain answered: "Oh! no, certainly not." - "Then," replied his Lordship, "you know what to do: and," continued he, "take care of my dear lady Hamilton, Hardy; take care of poor Lady Hamilton. Kiss me, Hardy."

 

The Captain now knelt doen, and kissed his cheek; when hos Lordship said, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God, I have done my duty." Captain Hardy stood for a minute or two in silent contemplation: he then knelt down again, and kissed his Lordship's forehead. His Lordship said: "Who is that?" The Captain answered: "It is Hardy;" to which his Lordship replied, "God bless you, Hardy!" After this affecting scene Captain Hardy withdrew, and returned to the quarter-deck, having spent about eight minutes in this his last interview with his dying friend.

 

Lord Nelson now desired mr Chevalier, his Steward, to turn him upon his right side; ehich being effected, his Lordship said: "I wish I had not left the deck, for I shall soon be gone." he afterwards became very low; his breathing was oppressed, and hios voice faint. He said to Doctor Scott, "Doctor, I have not been a great sinner;" and after a short pause, "remember, that I leave Lady Hamilton and my Daughter Horatia as a legacy to my Country: and," added he, "never forget Horatia."

 

His thirst mow increased; and he called for "Drink, drink," "Fan, fan," and "Rub, rub:" addressing himself in the last case to Doctor Scott, who had been rubbing his lordship's breast with his hand, form which he found some relief. These words he spoke in a very rapid manner, hich rendered his articulation difficult: but he every now and then, with evident increase of pain, made a greater effort with his vocal powers, and pronounced distinctly these last words: "Thank God, I have done my duty;" and this great sentiment he continued to repeat as long as he was able to give it utterance.

 

His Lordship became speechless in about fifteen minutes after Captain Hardy left him. Doctor Scott and Mr Burke, who had all along sustained the bed under his shoulders (which raised him in nearly a semi-recumbent posture, the only one that was supportable to him), forbore to disturb him by speaking to him; and when he had remained speechless about five minutes, his Lordship's Stward went to the Surgeon, who had a short time been occupied with the wounded in another part of the cockpit, and stated his apprehensions that his Lordship was dying. The Surgeon immediately repaired to him, and found him on the verge of dissolution.

 

He knelt down by his side, and took up his hand; which was cold, and the pulse gone from the wrist. On the Surgeon's feeling his forehead, which was likewise cold, his Lordship opened his eyes, looked up, and shut them again. The Surgeon again left him, and returned to the wounded who required his assistance; but was not absent five minutes before the Steward announced to him that "he believed his Lordship had expired."

 

21 October 1805

4.30  P.M.

The surgeon returned, and found that his report was but too well founded: his Lordship had breathed his last, at thirty minutes past four o'clock: at which period Doctor Scottwas in the act of rubbing his Lordship's breast, and Mr Burke supporting the bed under his shoulders.

 

Thus died this matchless Hero, after performing, in a short but brilliant and well-filled life, a series of naval exploits unexampled in any age of the world. None of the sons of Fame ever possessed greater zeal to promote the honour and interest of his King and Country; none ever served them with more devotedness and glory, or with more succesful and important results. His character will for ever cast a lustre over the annals of this nation, to whose enemies his very name was a terror. In the battle off Cape St Vincent, though then in the subordinate station of a Captain, his unprecedented personal prowess will long be recorded with admiration among his profession.

 

The shores of Aboukir and Copenhagen subsequently witnessed those stupendous achievements which struck the whole civilised world with astonishment. Still these were only preludes to the Battle of Trafalgar: in which he shone with a majesty of dignity as far surpassing even his own former renown, as that renown had already exceeded every thing else to be found in the pages of naval history; the transcendantly brightest star in a galaxy of heroes. His splendid example will operate as an everlasting impulse to the enterprising genius of the British navy.

 

From the time of his Lordship's being wounded till his death, a period of about two hours and forty-five minutes elapsed; but a knowledge of the decisive victory which was gained, he acquired of Captain Hardy within the first hour-and-a-quarter of this period. A partial cannonade, however, was still maintained, in consequence of the Enemy's running ships passing the British at different points; and the last distant guns which were fired at their van ships that were making off, were heard a minute or two before his Lordship expired.

 

22 October 1805

On the day after the battle, as soon as circumstances permitted the Surgeon to devote a portion of his attention to the care of Lord Nelson's honoured Remains, measures were adopted to preserve them as effectually as the means then on board the Victory allowed. On the Surgeon's examining the nature of the wound, and the course of the ball, a quantity of blood was evacuated from the left side of the breast: none had escaped before. The ball was traced by a probe to the spine, but its lodgement could not at that time be discovered. There was no lead on board to make a coffin: a cask called a leaguer, which is of the largest size on shipboard, was therefore chosen for the reception of the body; which, after the hair had been cut off, was stripped of the clothes except the shirt, and put into it, and the cask was then filled with brandy.

 

(Brandy was recommended by the Surgeon in preference to rum, of which spirit there was plenty on board. This circumstance is here noticed, because a very general but erroneous opinion was found to prevail on the Victory's arrival in England, that rum preserves the dead body from decay much longer and more perfectly than any other spirit, and ought therefore to have been used: but the fact is quite the reverse, for there are several kinds of spirit much better for that purpose than rum; and as their appropriateness in this respect arises from their degree of strength, on which alone their antiseptic quality depends, brandy is superior. Spirit of wine, however, is certainly by far the best when it can be procured.)

 

23/27 October 1805

In the evening after this melancholy task was accomplished, the gale came on with violence from the south-west, and continued that night and the succeeding day without abatement. During this boisterous weather, Lord Nelson's Body remained under the charge of a sentinel on the middle deck.

The cask was placed on its end, having a closed aperture at its top and another below; the object of which was, that as a frequent renewal of the spirit was thought necessary, the old could be drawn off below and a fresh quantity introduced above, without moving the cask, or occasioning the least agitation of the Body. On the 24th there was a disengagement of air from the Body to such a degree, that the sentinel became alarmed on seeing the head of the cask raised; he therefore applied to the Officers, who were under the necessity of having the cask spiled to give the air a discharge.

After this, no considerable collection of air took place. The spirit was drawn off once, and the cask filled again, before the arrival of the Victory at Gibraltar.

 

28 October 1805 to

4 November 1805

Victory arrived at Gibraltar on October 28th, where spirit of wine was procured; and the cask, shewing a deficit produced by th Body's absorbing a considerable quantity of the brandy, was then filled up with it. Five days were employed in repairing the damage sustained by the ship, erecting jury-masts, fitting her rigging, and completing her for the voyage to England.

 

In the meantime, Collingwood had named the frigate Euryalus for the duty of taking Nelson's body home.; and when this was known the Victory came nearer to mutiny than at any other time in her career. As one of the marines put it, "they wanted to take Lord Nelson from us, but we told Captain as we brought him out we would bring him home; so it was so."

 

Another account says that the crew "remonstrated by the boatswain's mate against the removal, on the ground that could not be resisted; he said the noble admiral had fought with them, and fell upon their own deck; that if, being put aboard a frigate, his body should fall into the hands of the enemy, it would make their loss doubly grievous to them; and therefore that they were one and all resolved to carry it safely to England, or go to the bottom with it themselves."

 

Collingwood was much moved by the men's devotion to his friend and agreed to let the Victory take her admiral home. She thus wore his flag at half-mast for two months more.

 

5 November 1805 to

4 December 1805

Due to adverse winds and tempestuous weather, the journey from Gibraltar to England took almost five tedious weeks. During the voyage it was thought proper to draw off the spirit fromthe cask containing Lord Nelson's body, and renew it; and this was done twice. On these occasions brandy was used in the proportion of two-thirds to one of spirit of wine.

 

4 December 1805 to

11 December 1805

At length the Victory arrived at Spithead: and as no instructions respecting his Lordship's Remains were received at Portsmouth while the ship remained there, and orders being transmitted to Captain Hardy for her to proceed to the Nore, the Surgeon represented to him the necessity of examining the state of the Body; common report giving reason to believe that it was intended to lie in state at Greenwich Hospital, and to be literally exposed to the public.

 

On 11th of December Lord Nelson's Body was taken from the cask in which it had been kept since the day after his death. On inspecting it externally, it exhibited a state of perfect preservation, without being in the smallest degree offensive. There were, however, some appearances that induced the Surgeon to examine the condition of the bowels; which were found to be much decayed, and likely in a short time to communicate the process of putrefaction to the rest of the Body: the parts already injured were therefore removed. It was at this time that the fatal ball was discovered: it had passed through the spine, and lodged in the muscles of the back, towards the right side, and a little below the shoulder-blade.

 

A very considerable portion of the gold-lace, pad, and lining of the epaulette, with a piece of the coat, was found attached to the ball: the lace of the epaulette was as firmly so, as if it had been inserted into the metal while in a state of fusion.

 

The remains were wrapped in cotton vestments, and rolled from head to foot with bandages of the same material, in the ancient mode of embalming. The Body was then put in a laden coffin, filled with brandy holding in solution camphor and myrrh. (The stock of spirit of wine on board was exhausted; and from the sound state of the Body, brandy was judged sufficient for its preservation.)  

 

This coffin was inclosed in a wooden one, and placed in the afterpart of his Lordship's cabin.

The Surgeon's report

The following is the professional Report on His Lordship's wound and death, made by the Surgeon on this occasion:

His Majesty's Ship Victory, at Sea,

11th December, 1805

About the middle of the action with the Combined Fleets on the 21st of October last, the late illustrious Commander in Chief Lord Nelson was mortally wounded in the left breast by a musket-ball, supposed to be fired from the mizen-top of La Redoutable French ship of the line, which the Victory fell on board of early in the battle. His Lordship was in the act of turning on the quarter-deck with his face towards the Enemy, when he received his wound: he instantly fell; and was crried to the cockpit, where he lived about two hours. On being brought below, he complained of acute pain about the sixth or seventh dorsal vertebra, and of privation of sense and motion of the body and inferior extremeties.

 

His respiration as short and difficult; pulse weak, small, and irregular. He frequently declared his back was shot through, that he felt every instant a gush of blood within his breast, and that he had sensations which indicated to him the approach of death. In the course of an hour his pulse became indistinct, and was gradually lost in the arm. His extremities and forehead became soon afterwards cold. He retained his wonted energy of mind, and exercise of his faculties, till the last moment of his existence; and when the victory as signal and decisive was announced to him, he expressed his pious acknowledgements, and heart-felt satisfaction of the glorious event, in the most emphatic language.

 

He then delivered his last order with his usual precision, and in a few minutes afterwards expired without a struggle.

"Course and site of the Ball, as ascertained since death."

The ball struck the fore part of his Lordship's epaulette; and entered the left shoulder immediately before the processus acromion scapulae, which it slightly fractured. It then descended obliquely into the thorax, fracturing the second and third ribs; and after penetrating the left lobe of the lungs, and dividing in its passage a large branch of the pulmonary artery, it entered the left side of the spine between the sixth and seventh dorsal vertebrae, fractured the left transverse process of the sixth dorsal vertebra, wounded the medulla spinalis, and fracturing the right transverse process of the seventh vertbra, made its way from the right side of the spine, directing its course through the muscles of the back; and lodged therein, about two inches below the inferior angle of the right scapula. On removing the ball, a portion of the gold-lace and pad of the epaulette, together with a small piece of his Lordship's coat, was found firmly attached to it."

"W. BEATTY."

 

11 December  to

19 December 1805

The Victory sailed from Spithead to the Dover Roads and then on to the Downs. During all this time Chaplain Scott, distracted with grief for hi friend and hro, watched beside Nelson's body.

19 December 1805

The famous L'Orient coffin given to Nelson after the Nile had been lined with satin, and it was sent down to Woolwich.

21 December 1805

The leaden coffin was opened, and the Body taken out; when it was found still in most excellent condition, and completely plastic. The features were somewhat tumid, from absorption of th spirit; but on using friction with a napkin, they resumed in a great degree their natural character. All the Officers of the ship, and several of his Lordship's friends, as well as some of Captain Hardy's, who had come on board the Victory that day from the shore, were present at the time of the Body's being removed from the leaden coffin; and witnessed its undecayed state after a lapse of two months since death, which excited the surprise of all who beheld it. This was the last time the mortal part of the lamented hero was seen by human eyes; as the Body, after being dressed ina shirt, stockings, uniform small-clothes and waistcoat, neckcloth, and night-cap, was then placed in the shell made from L'Orient's mast, and covered with the shrouding. This was inclosed in a leaden coffin; which was soldered up immediately, and put into another wooden shell.

 

23 December 1805

The coffin was sent out of the Victory into Commissioner Grey's yacht, which was hauled alongside for that purpose. On the coffin being lowered from the Victory, the flag of the vice-admiral, which had been flying at half-mast high ever since the battle, was struck and immediately sent on board the yacht, where it was again hoisted in the same funereal manner.

 

In this vessel the revered Remains, covered in an ensign, were conveyed to Greenwich Hospital; attended by the Reverend Doctor Scott, and Messrs Tyson and Whitby.

All the way up the river ships lowered their colours to half mast, bells were tolled and the forts at Tilbury and Gravesend fired minute guns.

 

The public mood

All Britain was in mourning. Black was seen everywhere: even furniture was inlaid with ebony in permanent mourning for England's greatest hero, while table-cloths and china bore portraits of Nelson and were bordered with black. navy blue ribbons were hawked in the streets from door to door, each bearing the name of Nelson and his ship, sometimes with Trafalgar added.

Never has equally widespread and sincere national sorrow been known; the mourning for Nelson was wholly without parallel and is never likely to be repeated. From the royal family to the humblest citizen men and women felt thay had suffered the loss of an irreplaceable friend and protector; it is recorded that children who had never seen him burst into tears as if for a parent when told that Admiral Nelson was killed. The king was greatly affected by Nelson's death, and it was he who proposed that the fatal battle should be named Trafalgar.

25 December 1805

In the middle of Christmas night 1805, the body arrived off Greenwich hospital.

It was one of the Victory's old admirals who received Nelson's body at Greenwich. Lord Hood, now eighty-one, was Governor of the Hospital, and to him fell the sad duty of supervising this tribute to his favourite captain of Corsican days.

The coffin was placed in a private room until January 4th.

 

5 January to

7 January 1806

From Sunday 5th January to Tuesday 7th, the body lay in state in the funereally draped Painted Hall and a final, magnificently decorated black outer coffin.

Admission on these three days was between the hours of 9 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. Precede by the Princess of Wales, nearly 100,000 people were said to have filed through the vast, heavily ornamented mourning chamber.

 

On  the 7th a selected group of seamen and marines from the Victory arrived at the hospital. Lord Hood received them at the north gate near the river, amidst the greetings and acclamations of their countrymen: the honourable scars which they bore were viewed with gratitude, and the Governor gave his orders that they should be admitted into the Painted Hall, to show them how England honoured the hero who had done his duty. During this affecting scene no strangers were admtted.

 

8 January 1806

On the morning of the 8th, a procession assembled, the barges and boats stretching almost two miles down the river to Woolwich. The state barge of Charles II, given in charge to its brave and faithful crew of men from the Victory, was rowed, carrying the body of Nelson, up to Westminster. Kept back by lanes of armed Guards, Volunteers, and Pikemen, local people were hurt as they pressed to get a view of the embarkation. Favoured by a flood tide, but against a hard south-westerly wind, the procession rowed up-river to reach the Whitehall steos in two hours. There the body was processed to the Admiralty.

 

 

 9 January 1806

 

A.M.

 

On the morning of Thursday 9th one hundred and sixty carriages assembled in Hyde Park. Entry was limited by ticket. The marshalled coaches snaked across Piccadilly into St James Park, through Horse Guards to the Admiralty. All the regiments quartered within a hundred miles of London and which had served in Egypt after the Nile, together with a battery of artillery, formed up in St James Park.

 

The body was carried on a funeral car "having in its front and back a carved representation of the head and stern of his Majesty's ship the Victory."

 

To the toll of minute guns, at midday the procession moved off, preceded by companies of light dragoons, infantry, cavalry, artillery and grenadiers. They were followed by pensioners from Greenwich Hospital, and seamen and marines of the Victory, walking in pairs in their ordinary clothes, black neck handkerchiefs and stockings, with crape in their hats. Naval officers, officials, ministers, noblemen and princes followed, the Prince of Wales last and nearest to the coffin. Family and close officers, including Captain Hardy followed.

 

At Temple Bar the procession was met by the Lord Mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, and members of the Common Council of London. By the time the head of the column reached St Paul's its tail had still not left Whitehall. The route was packed with crowds, who behaved with deep, solemn reverence. The only sound to be heard resembled the quiet murmuring of the sea as men respectfully removed their hats.

 

 

 9 January 1806

 

P.M.

Six officers from the Victory waited at St Paul's with the bannerols of Nelson's family.

There were 32 admirals amd more than a hundred captains present.

 

Every prince of the royal family was also present. When the Duke of Clarence ascended the steps of St Paul's he suddenly stopped and took hold of the colours that were borne by the Victory's men, and after confering with one of the gallant Tars, he burst into tears. On the entrance of the tattered flags within the Communin rails, the Prince of Wales, after confering with the Duke of Clarence, sent and requested that they might be brought as near the grave as possible, and on observing them, although at some distance, the tears fell from his Royal Highness.

 

The funeral service lasted from just after 1 p.m. until about 6 p.m.

 

 

The solemnity was enhanced by the necessity, as evening approached, of lighting the cathedral with candles; beneath the great dome a chandelier of 130 lamps created a brilliant focus.

 

There was an excellent contrivance for letting the body down into the grave. A bier rose from the oblong aperture under the dome for the purpose of supporting the coffin. This bier was raised by invisible machinery, the apparatus being totally concealed below the pavement of the church.

 

As the coffin sank to its last resting place the seamen of the victory took from it the bloodstained and shot-torn Trafalgar flag, and rent it into fragments to be treasured as heirlooms by their families.

Once lowered into the crypt it was housed in the sarcophagus once intended for Cardinal Wolsey.

 

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