Santa Cruz,



(21/25 July 1797)


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The background to the action

No sooner was the Battle of Cape St Vincent won on February 14th 1797  than Nelson was sent with a small squadron to intercept the Viceroy of Mexico who was suposed to be approaching Cadiz with a cargo of gold reputed to be worth 6 or 7 million pounds.

There was no interception and intelligence revealed that because of their fear of the British fleet the treasure ships had not actually sailed from Central America.

In the meantime a young lieutenant Thomas Hardy had succesfully cut out a French brig from the harbour at Santa Cruz, Tenerife. This gave the idea that another merchant ship may be sheltering there and if not that the town could be taken. Such action would srike a severe blow against the Spanish.

14 July 1797 Nelson, was given his orders to take possession of the town of Santa Cruz by a sudden and vigorous assault. 
15 July 1797

Nelson set sail on the thousand mile voyage from Cadiz to Tenerife. He had with him three ships of the line, three frigates, and a cutter. His captains included Ralph Miller, Thomas Troubridge, Sam Hood, Thomas Waller, Richard Bowen and Thomas Fremantle.

A fourth frigate and a bomb vessel joined them en route

17/20/21 July 1797

The captains were summoned for conferences. 

The plan of attack was that the frigates would close in after dark and land troops to attack the heights and batteries to the north-east of the town. The bomb vessel would open fire on the town itself. At dawn the ships of the line would close in, ready to fire on the town. Unless the merchant ship and her cargo and all treasure or bullion elsewhere in the town was surrendered, the town would be destroyed by bombardment.

21/22 July 1797 A landing was attempted. However, the frigates met with unexpected strong currents and failed to get within a mile of their landing point. They were spotted from the shore and had no choice but to withdraw. Nelson ordered a second attempt and this time the exhausted men reached the shore. However they had neither the men nor the energy to attempt a full frontal attack on the fortifications and at dusk Troubridge ordered the men back to the boats.  
23/24 July 1797

Nelson summoned his captains to a conference and gave them the surprising news that he had decided upon a direct assault on Santa Cruz by night. Nelson had decided to attack the enemy forces tthrough the centre, going directly for the mole and the central castle of San Cristobal where the Spanish general staff were to be found. 

Nelson himself would command the attack, leading one of six divisions of boats, the other five being commanded by post-captains: Troubridge, Miller, Hood, Waller and Thompson.

24 July 1797


The British sailors and marines rendezvoused around the Zealous where they were formed into six divisions and roped together. Then, with their oars muffled, they began the 2-mile row to the mole

25 July 1797

02:00 A.M.

The landing party was at half a cannon-shot distance - some 300 metres - from the harbour without having been detected.

The battle was waged on 5 fronts, the mole, the area around the Plaza de la Pila, the Santos gully, the beach of the Carnicerias, and the Monastery of Santo Domingo.

Nelson's Arm

At the point of landing Nelson reeled and staggered back into the boat. He grabbed his sword with his left hand, his right arm pumping blood, and he collapsed, Josiah (his stepson) catching him as he fell. "I am a dead man," he muttered as Josiah laid him on the bottom-boards, tore the black silk stock from his own neck and tied it as a tourniquet around the arm above the wound. Josiah saw that the admiral's life depended on an immediate return to the ship and a surgeon.

Men were struggling in the water and Nelson insisted that whatever the risk they must be saved.

He refused to be taken onboard the Seahorse because of the distress it would cause Betsey Fremantle so the barge sheered away to find the Theseus.

His right arm dangled by his side while, with his left he jumped up the ship's side.

"Let me alone," the wounded admiral cried, "I have yet my legs left and one arm. Tell the surgeon to make haste and get his instruments - I know I must lose my right arm , so the sooner it is off the better."