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HORATIO NELSON was born in 1758. At twelve years of age he asked permission to go to sea with an uncle named Suckling; but as his uncle did not sail that year, he was sent in charge of a friend, on a voyage to the West Indies.
It was not many days before the sailor boy knew the name of every rope on the ship, and the use of each. He could "box the compass," that is, repeat the names of all the thirty-two points backwards and forwards, and could tell in what direction the ship was sailing. When he returned to England he was fonder of the sea than ever.
Some time after reaching home he heard that two ships of the navy were going to the North Pole, and he obtained permission to go with them.
The vessels after sailing far toward the north, were becalmed. The weather became very cold, and they were surrounded by great fields of ice.
One night, while they were frozen up in the ice fields, Nelson and one of his comrades stole away from their ship to attack a huge polar bear. Pretty soon they were missed; but although they were not far away a thick fog prevented those on board from seeing them The captain became alarmed, the signal for their return was fired, and Nelson, much disappointed; went back to the ship.
Fortunately, a wind soon sprang up from the east and a current drifted them into clear water. In due time they sighted "Old England" once more.
Nelson's next voyage was to the East Indies, and there he cruised about for eighteen months. The hot climate did not agree with him, and he was finally sent home; but on the voyage his health improved so much that when he reached England he was ready to go to sea again.
The Spaniards then claimed Central and South America; and England was at war with Spain. So a plan was proposed to seize that part of South America where the canal is now being cut to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
There the Spaniards had two forts, and Nelson was sent to capture them. When he got near one of them he leaped ashore from his boat. He alighted on ground so soft that he sank into it and lost his shoes. But this did not stop him. Barefoot he led on his men and took one fort. The other was also soon taken; but the climate of the region was far more deadly than the guns of the Spaniards; and Nelson was obliged to return to England on sick leave.
It was three months before he was well enough to go to sea again. He was then appointed to the Albemarle, a vessel of twenty-eight guns. This was at the time that George III was trying to conquer the American colonies; and Nelson was sent to cruise in the waters of Canada and New England.
After the surrender of the British at Yorktown, Nelson wrote home: "I have closed the war without a fortune; but there is not a speck on my character."
After the execution of Louis XVI, England, as we have said, was at war with France, and Nelson was put in command of the Agamemnon, a ship of sixty-four guns.
The French, at about this time, took possession of the little island of Corsica on which Napoleon was born. They placed a garrison in a fortified town called Calvi; and the English laid siege to it. The Agamemnon was ordered to aid the land forces; and so Nelson took his men and guns ashore, and fought on the land.
Calvi was taken and Corsica was annexed to Great Britain; but for Nelson this battle proved a serious matter. A shot struck the ground near him and drove some sand and gravel into his eye. He thought, at first, that no great harm had been done; but the sight of the eye was lost.
A short time after this the English admiral under whom Nelson was serving, learned that a French fleet of twenty-two vessels, with over sixteen thousand men, was not far off. The English fleet consisted of only fifteen ships, with half as many men as the French. However, when they came in sight of the French they gave chase.
The Agamemnon with her sixty-four guns followed a French frigate of eighty-four, called the Ca Ira. Nelson was all alone, for the other ships of the English fleet were several miles distant. Near the Ca Ira were three other French vessels of one hundred and thirty guns.
Nelson sailed close up to the big ship, and when about one hundred yards astern of her, suddenly ordered the helm to be put to the right, and fired his whole broadside — that is, all the guns on one side of his vessel. Then he ordered the helm hard to the left and started after the Frenchmen again; and when he came near he turned and fired another broadside.
This he did again and again for two hours and a quarter, always keeping out of the range of the enemy's guns. But so many other French ships came upon the scene that, fearing that they would prove too much for him, he sailed away and joined the English fleet.
Next morning the French fleet was again discovered about five miles away; but the Ca Ira had been so much injured that she had to be towed, and was only about three and a half miles distant.
Nelson attacked both the Ca Ira and the vessel which was towing her. The French fought gallantly, but the guns of the Agamemnon were so well aimed that the two French ships lost about three hundred men. Then both of them lowered their colors and surrendered.
Spain was now in alliance with France and fighting against England. Nelson attacked a Spanish frigate, and after conquering her had the captain brought on board his ship.
Then four more Spanish vessels hove in sight and Nelson prudently sailed away. As soon as he reached a port, he gave the Spanish captain his liberty and sent him to his friends under a flag of truce.
Not long after this the English fleet of nineteen vessels was signaled to keep in line of battle all night. At daybreak a Spanish fleet of thirty-eight vessels was in sight. Sir John Jervis, finding that they were much scattered, ordered the English ships to sail in among them and attack them. Nelson was so much afraid that the Spanish ships would escape that he was soon engaged with seven Spanish vessels which had in all about six hundred guns.
Fortunately two British vessels came up to the assistance of Nelson's ship. Both these ships were damaged by shots from the gusn of the Spaniards; but at length Nelson managed to steer alongside of one of the Spanish vessels called the St. Nicholas, and he and his men boarded her.
NELSON BOARDING THE ST. NICHOLAS
The Spanish officers took refuge in the cabin, and fired at the boarding party through the windows; but the English forced the doors and the Spaniards surrendered their swords to Nelson.
Another Spanish vessel called the San Joseph lay close to the St. Nicholas; and the English, led by Nelson himself, forced her to surrender.
For his great bravery Nelson was made a Knight of the Bath, and so became Sir Horatio Nelson.
His next adventure was an attack upon Teneriffe; and there he was so severely injured in the right arm that he was obliged to have it amputated.
After recovering from his wound he was again placed in command. His vessel was the Vanguard. Napoleon was preparing his great expedition for the conquest of Egypt. Nelson sailed in search of the French and defeated them in the great battle of the Nile.
In this engagement he was again wounded, but not so seriously as was at first supposed.
After the battle he again returned to England. When he entered the harbor of Yarmouth every ship in port hoisted her colors; and in London he was drawn in triumph through the streets, and presented by the City Council with a gold-hilted sword studded with diamonds.
Napoleon was now at the height of his power. Denmark, Sweden and Russia had formed an alliance with France to try and take from England her sovereignty of the seas. The hostile fleets met off Copenhagen. Part of the English fleet was under Nelson's command. The admiral who was chief in command was at some distance when the battle began.
Thinking that the engagement was going against them, he gave the signal to cease firing; and the officer on Nelson's ship whose duty it was to watch for signals reported this to Nelson.
Nelson put his spyglass to his blind eye and looking toward the admiral's ship, said, "I really do not see the signal. Keep mine flying for closer battle."
Soon white flags were flying from the mastheads of many of the Danish vessels. Nelson had disobeyed orders, but he had gained the victory, and the enemy's fleet was disabled.
In 1804 France induced Spain to join her in a war against England, and a French and Spanish fleet sailed to the West Indies to attack the English and take possession there. But they returned to Europe, and Nelson learning that they were at Cadiz, went there to meet them.
NELSON IN THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
Soon after his arrival, one of his frigates on the lookout, gave the signal that the French and Spanish fleet was coming out of port.
Just before they went into battle Nelson wrote a remarkable prayer and his last wishes. Then he ordered the famous signal to be made to the fleet, "England expects every man to do his duty."
The French had some Tyrolese riflemen on one of their ships; and a ball from one of their rifles struck Nelson on the shoulder. He fell. When taken up he said to his captain, "They have done for me at last, Hardy. My backbone is shot through." He knew that his wound was fatal, and when carried to the cockpit told the surgeon to attend to the others, "for" said he, "you can do nothing for me."
About an hour after he was wounded Captain Hardy came to see him. "Well, Hardy," said he, "how goes the day with us?" "Very well," said Hardy, "ten ships have struck." In less than an hour the captain returned and taking Nelson's hand, congratulated him on having gained a complete victory.
Presently the dying man said, "Kiss me, Hardy." Hardy knelt down and kissed his cheek: and Nelson said, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty." These words he repeated several times; and they were his last.
Thus Admiral Nelson, perhaps the greatest of England's naval commanders died on his good ship "Victory," in Trafalgar Bay, on October 21, 1805.
His body was carried back to England, and was buried with great pomp in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE
QUEEN ELIZABETH — POPULARLY known as "Good Queen Bess" — ascended the throne of England in 1558. Her reign was both magnificent and successful; and it added much to the greatness of the nation.
It was during Elizabeth's reign that England first became a great naval power; and among the men who helped to make her so, none were more famous than Sir Francis Drake.
There is some doubt about the date of Drake's birth. It is now generally believed that he was born in 1540, though some writers put the date at least five years earlier. The place of his birth was the little town of Tavistock, in Devonshire. He seems to have had a great love for the sea even when but a child.
His parents were too poor to help him into a good position, and so he began his career at sea as a cabin boy. But he had the merit of pluck; and he soon rose to the highest rank in the English navy.
In 1567 he went with his uncle Hawkins, who was one of the noted sailors of that day, on a slave-trading voyage to Africa and the West Indies. The experiences he met with at that time gave color to the rest of his life.
Being driven out of their course by storms, they were obliged to seek shelter in the harbor of San Juan de Ulua, a Spanish port on the coast of Mexico. There they were received with a show of kindness, but were afterwards attacked by a superior force, and only two vessels escaped.
After this act of treachery, Drake resolved to seize every opportunity to plunder the Spaniards and thus to make good the loss which he and his uncle had sustained.
In the years 1570–71 Drake made two other voyages to the West Indies for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the situation and strength of the Spanish settlements.
In 1572, he sailed again with two ships, one of seventy-five tons, the other of twenty-five. His plan was to capture the town of Nombre de Dios (nom' bra da dyos') on the Isthmus of Panama, which was the port from which the Spaniards shipped to Spain the gold and silver taken from the mines of Peru.
In the attempt to take this town Drake was severely wounded. He tried to conceal his hurt from his men; and they pressed onward into the town. But just as they reached the market place where they hoped to find the treasure, he fainted from loss of blood. His men at once carried him to his ship, and the enterprise was abandoned.
As soon as he was able to do so, he began to sail back and forth along the coast. He seized a large number of ships, and took from them a great amount of wealth both in money and goods.
He formed an alliance with a band of run-away slaves called Cimarrones (the ma ro' nes), and together they built a fort on a small island at the mouth of a river. There Drake and his men remained until February 3, 1573.
On that day Drake set out, with some Cimarrones as guides, to cross the Isthmus of Panama and gain his first view of the Pacific Ocean. Half way across the isthmus they led him to a tall tree standing on a central hill. Among the topmost branches of this tree there was a platform on which ten or twelve men might stand at ease. Drake climbed up to this platform, and was delighted to find that from his lofty perch he could see both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Drake returned to England in the fall of 1573, carrying much treasure which he divided with the strictest fairness among his followers. His own share was large enough to enable him to purchase three ships. With these he sailed to Ireland, and there, as a volunteer under the Earl of Essex, he "did most excellent service."
But Francis Drake is chiefly distinguished as the first Englishman who sailed round the world. In December, 1577, with five little vessels, about the size of those of Columbus, he sailed out of the harbor of Plymouth.
It took him seven months to reach Patagonia, and there he remained for about nine weeks. Two of his ships had become so leaky as to be unfit for further service, and he was compelled to abandon them. The crews and stores were taken on board the other vessels and the fleet started out to sail through Magellan Strait in order to reach the Pacific.
It was sixty years since Magellan had passed through the strait, but Drake's was the first English expedition to follow the great Portuguese navigator over this route.
While the vessels were in the strait, one of those terrific storms arose for which the region of Cape Horn is still noted. One ship called the Marigold was never heard of again, and the crew of the Elizabeth were so disheartened by the terrible weather that they put about and returned to England.
Although Drake was left with but a single ship he would not give up the voyage. He made his way into the Pacific, and sailed northward along the coasts of Chile and Peru.
The Spaniards had already established colonies on the western shores of South America. Santiago had been founded nearly forty years before, and Lima was already a town of considerable size.
As Spain and England were not friendly toward each other, it was thought perfectly right to capture Spanish vessels and to plunder Spanish towns; and Queen Elizabeth had given Drake a commission, signed with her own hand, authorizing him to do this.
After plundering a number of the Spanish settlements he pursued his voyage until he reached the western coast of North America. Finding that his ship was again in need of repairs, he landed for that purpose at a point which has since been named Drakes Bay, a little to the north of San Francisco Bay.
From California he sailed across the Pacific and visited the Spice Islands and Java. Leaving Java he crossed the Indian Ocean and passed around the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic. Then, steering northward, he made his way back to England, reaching home exactly two years and ten months after starting on the voyage.
On his arrival a banquet was prepared on board the ship in which he had thus sailed round the world. Queen Elizabeth was one of the guests. In honor of his achievement she knighted him on the deck of his ship, and it was in this way that he came to be called Sir Francis Drake.
The little vessel had been so battered by the storms through which it had passed that it was unfit for further service. But Elizabeth gave orders that it should be carefully preserved as a monument to its famous captain.
One hundred years later it was found that the timbers were badly decayed. It was then broken up. One piece of the wood, that was still sound, was made into a chair for King Charles II, who afterwards gave it to the University of Oxford, where it can still be seen.
DRAKE AT CADIZ
He was then at Lisbon with thirty English war ships under his command. He at once sailed for Cadiz, and, on arriving, he sent a fire-ship among the Spanish vessels, burned nearly a hundred of them, and escaped from the harbor unharmed.This delayed the sailing of the Spanish fleet for nearly a year, and when at length it approached the shores of England, Drake did more, perhaps, than any other man to bring about its overthrow.The Spaniards had collected about one hundred and thirty vessels of war, and more than fifty thousand men, and to this array they gave the proud title of the "Invincible Armada." Thirty-five thousand men were to land at the mouth of the River Thames and another large force was to land farther to the north. Then a third force threatened the west coast. In this way England was to be attacked at three different points at the same time.
DRAKE'S SHIPS RETURNING FROM CADIZ
The Spaniards thought that the English would be bewildered, and would surrender.
But all this great armament was not prepared without some news of it getting to England, and preparations were made to repel the foe.
Troops were collected at Tilbury ready to attack the Spaniards in case they succeeded in landing. The queen on horseback reviewed them, and made a stirring speech. The merchants of London and other ports offered their ships to be used as ships of war; the rich brought their treasures; the poor volunteered in the army and navy. Thus the coast was well guarded and the number of vessels in the fleet was increased from thirty to one hundred and eighty.
These carried about sixteen thousand men — not half the number on board the enemy's fleet — but they were sturdy English fighters. Howard was Lord High Admiral, and with him were Drake, Frobisher, and Hawkins, the most famous English mariners of the time.
One evening, late in July, 1588, beacon lights blazed all along the coast of the English Channel telling the news that the Spanish fleet was coming. Next morning, arranged in a crescent, the Armada moved up the Channel. Its line was seven miles long.
The English fleet sailed out from Plymouth. Its vessels were light, while those of the Spaniards were heavy, but more than this, the English ships were finely managed, and their guns were skillfully aimed, while most of the shots of the Spaniards went over the heads of the English.
The Spaniards tried to come to close quarters, but the English vessels were so steered that this could not be done. Day after day for a week the fighting continued.
The Spanish commander then led his fleet into the harbor of Calais on the French side of the Channel. He wished to get provisions and powder and shot. He also wished to get some small vessels — swift sailors — with which he might match the light ships of his adversaries.
The English fleet followed, but it would not be allowed by the French to attack the Spaniards in the harbor. To force them out into the open sea, the English turned eight of their oldest and poorest vessels into fireships. Tar, rosin and pitch were placed upon them. The masts and rigging were covered with pitch. Their guns were loaded; and thus, all ablaze, they were sent at midnight drifting into the harbor with wind and tide. This fire fleet did its work.
SPANISH SHIPS UNDER FIRE
It did not indeed fire any Spanish ship but it so alarmed the Spaniards that they sailed from the harbor into the open sea, and there the English attacked them.
Many of their ships were disabled, and four thousand of their men were killed in one day's fighting.
Next day the Spanish commanders held a council of war. The question to be decided was whether to try to sail home through Howard's fleet or go round Scotland and avoid his guns. It was determined to attempt the voyage round Scotland. So the whole remaining Spanish fleet of perhaps one hundred and twenty vessels steered toward the north.
On the coast of Scotland, there are dangerous rocks, and when the shattered Armada neared the Orkney Islands, violent storms arose, which wrecked many of the ships. Thus nature finished what man had begun — the ruin of the most powerful fleet that ever had sailed from the shores of Europe. Only fifty-four vessels and about ten thousand men succeeded in returning to Spain. About eighty ships had been destroyed, and thousands of men had perished.
Ten years after the destruction of the Armada, Sir Francis made one more voyage to the West Indies. He still cherished the plan of seizing the town of Porto Bello on the Isthmus of Panama, and thus securing the gold and silver brought there for shipment to Spain.
AT CLOSE QUARTERS
He was, however, again doomed to disappointment. He was stricken with fever, and died on board of his ship, January 28, 1596.
His body was buried at sea. Lord Macaulay wrote these lines in reference to his burial:
"The waves became his winding sheet:
The waters were his tomb.
But for his fame — the mighty sea
Has not sufficient room."
He left no children, but his nephew was made a baronet in the reign of James II. England will always remember with gratitude the services he rendered in the days of her struggle to become "mistress of the sea."