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.