Royal Marines at The Battle of Trafalgar - Death of Nelson - 21st October 1805
Updated: Oct 21
Lord Nelson's victory over the combined fleets at Trafalgar, the most decisive sea battle in British history.
Ninety-three officers and 2610 other ranks of the Royal Marines were at their traditional stations on the upper decks of the British ships, Nelsons Flagship HMS Victory carried 165 Marines, and it was a Marine Sergeant who carried Nelson below after being shot.
At 11:45, Nelson sent the famous flag signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty".
His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, "Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY" and he added "You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action." I replied, "If your Lordship will permit me to substitute 'expects' for 'confides' the signal will soon be completed, because the word 'expects' is in the vocabulary, and 'confides' must be spelt," His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, "That will do, Pasco, make it directly."
At noon, Villeneuve sent the signal "engage the enemy", and Fougueux fired her first trial shot at Royal Sovereign. Royal Sovereign had all sails out and, having recently had her bottom cleaned, outran the rest of the British fleet and broke into the Franco-Spanish line so beginning the battle.
The Victor yengaged the 74-gun Redoutable, general mêlée ensued and, during that fight, Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable. The crew of Redoutable, which included a strong infantry corps (with three captains and four lieutenants), gathered for an attempt to board and seize Victory.
Shortly after 1:00, Hardy realised that Nelson was not by his side. He turned to see Nelson kneeling on the deck, supporting himself with his hand, before falling onto his side. Hardy rushed to him, at which point Nelson smiled Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last ... my backbone is shot through.
He had been hit by a marksman from the Redoutable, firing at a range of 50 feet (15 m) from the MizzenTop. The bullet had entered his left shoulder, passed through his spine at the sixth and seventh thoracic vertebrae, and lodged two inches (5 cm) below his right shoulder blade in the muscles of his back.
Nelson was carried below by Royal Marine Sergeant James Secker, who had been standing next to Nelson and caught him as he fell, and two seamen. As he was being carried down, he asked them to pause while he gave some advice to a midshipman on the handling of the tiller.
He then draped a handkerchief over his face to avoid causing alarm amongst the crew. He was taken to the surgeon William Beatty, telling him
'The Death of Nelson' 1859-64, by Daniel Maclise (1806-70)
You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through.
Nelson was made comfortable, fanned and brought lemonade and watered wine to drink after he complained of feeling hot and thirsty. He asked several times to see Hardy, who was on deck supervising the battle, and asked Beatty to remember him to Emma, his daughter and his friends.
Hardy came below decks to see Nelson just after half-past two, and informed him that a number of enemy ships had surrendered. Nelson told him that he was sure to die, and begged him to pass his possessions to Emma.
With Nelson at this point were the chaplain Alexander Scott, the purser Walter Burke, Nelson's steward, Chevalier, and Beatty. Nelson, fearing that a gale was blowing up, instructed Hardy to be sure to anchor. After reminding him to "take care of poor Lady Hamilton", Nelson said "Kiss me, Hardy". Beatty recorded that Hardy knelt and kissed Nelson on the cheek. He then stood for a minute or two before kissing him on the forehead. Nelson asked, "Who is that?", and on hearing that it was Hardy, he replied "God bless you, Hardy."
By now very weak, Nelson continued to murmur instructions to Burke and Scott, "fan, fan ... rub, rub ... drink, drink." Beatty heard Nelson murmur, "Thank God I have done my duty", and when he returned, Nelson's voice had faded and his pulse was very weak.
He looked up as Beatty took his pulse, then closed his eyes. Scott, who remained by Nelson as he died, recorded his last words as "God and my country". Nelson died at half-past four, three hours after he had been shot.
By the end of the battle the Marines had 17 officers and 332 men killed or wounded.
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