The life of Nelson

In October we welcomed Susan and Ivan, volunteers at the Norfolk Nelson Museum on South Quay in Great Yarmouth. They brought a good display of pictures relating to Nelson, with postcards and booklets which members were able to purchase. 

Susan began to tell us of Horatio Nelson, born in 1758 at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk.  His father was the Parson and the church is well worth a visit. Horatio was one of 8 children, his mother died when he was only nine.  His Uncle, Maurice Suckling, signed him up to the Merchant Navy when he was only twelve, working on the Lighters on the Thames, loading and unloading ships. 

Although a sickly child, often contracting fevers and suffering sea sickness, he fell in love with the navy life.  We were also told that he had no head for heights, not a good thing back in the 1700’s.  Nevertheless he had no fear. He quickly rose through the ranks and became a captain at the age of 20.

We all smiled at the fact that Nelson was definitely a ladies man.  He fell madly deeply in love with Mary Simpson whom he met in Quebec in 1781, then in 1783 in St. Omer he met Elizabeth Andrews, a Clergyman’s daughter who turned down his proposal.  He became close to the Antigua dockyard Commissioner’s wife Mary Moutray before eventually, in 1785, meeting Frances Nisbet whom he married in 1787 at Nevis.  Then a love interest with opera singer Adelaide Correglia in 1796, and finally, in 1798, an affair with the great love of his life, Emma Hamilton, that was to last the rest of his life. They had a daughter whom they named Horatia, but spending so much time at sea meant that Nelson had little time with her. 

Horatia was born in 1803, married Rev. Philip Ward and went on to have 10 children, the first named Horatio Nelson. Horatia died in 1881.

So who was this man, small in stature who rose to Admiral during the Napoleonic wars? A much loved leader among seaman of the Royal Navy, he fought side by side with his crew. His method of command became known as ‘the Nelson touch’.  He had courage, commitment and charisma, together with a dry sense of humour.

In 1801 the battle of Copenhagen was being fiercely fought. When the Commander-In-Chief signalled the fleet to retreat.  Nelson put the telescope to his blind eye and said ‘I really did not see the signal’. The rest of the fleet copied and disobeyed orders. The battle continued, the British were victorious. The saying ‘to turn a blind eye’ was born and is still used today.

The noise of battle, of guns, smoke, in the confines of those wooden ships must have been terrifying. Young men lost limbs with no anaesthetics. Nelson lost his arm at Copenhagen after being shot in the elbow, apparently only taking 1 ½ minutes to remove a limb with little more than a saw.  Nelson would turn his ships to the enemy so close that the guns would begin to penetrate the wooden hulls.

Nelson visited Great Yarmouth three times during his life and said, ‘I am myself a Norfolk man and glory in being so’, never forgetting his roots. He often appointed Norfolk men to serve under him.  He was granted the Freedom of the Borough. When he visited the first Naval Hospital in Yarmouth it was recorded that, ‘He stopped at every bed and to every man had something kind to say’.

We were left in no doubt that Lord Horatio Nelson was a great man, a great strategist, ruthless and brave but he also had empathy with his men and especially with the ladies. He finally fell during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 on his beloved ship HMS Victory.  He was brought back to London in a barrel full of brandy to preserve his body and was buried with much ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

To finish, a few lines from Nelson himself: “My greatest happiness is to serve my gracious King and country and I am envious of glory; for if it to be a sin to covet glory I am the most offending soul alive”.

Janet Edwards

                (cc licence)

(Above: Young Nelson in 1781 (John Francis Rigaud, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.  Caird Fund)
(Below: Horatio Nelson by By Lemuel Francis Abbott, National Maritime Museum website)

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