Napoleonic War Biographies: Horatio Lord Nelson (England, 1758-1805)

Figure 1.--This historical portrait depicts the 'Nelson's first farewell'. A bit drmatic, but there were actual scenes like this that took place throughout the 18th century as boys went to see. Actually younger boys than this bid fareell to their parents before going to sea. Boys from working-class families served as ships boys, cabin boys, powder monkies, and other roles on 18th century ships, both in the Royal Navy and other navies. Boys from middle class families began as midshipmen to begin officer training. There were no naval academies at the time, but note that cadets at Annapolis are known as 'midshipmn'. Boys learned on ships at sea at about age 12-13 years of age. Britsh naval hero, Lord, Nelson was a popular subject. The artist did a touching portrait, the full title was 'Thirty Years before Trafalgar: Young Nelson and his Grandmother. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1883. Joy imagines imagines the 12-13 year-old Nelson saying goodbye to his grandmoter who raised him. His mother died when he was only 9 years old. He is outfitted in his new midshipman's uniform and saying farewell to his grandmother on his first departure for the (1771). The original oil is in the main entrance hall of the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, Suffolk, where the accompanying label states it is the picture exhibited at the Academy and reproduced in Arthur Mee's 'Children's Encyclopaedia'. The Royal Museums Greenwich with a copy describes it as "... a well-painted example of the 'When did you last see your father' school of Victorian fictional history painting ...." The artist was George William Joy.

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson is widely seen as the greatest naval commander of all time. He was born into a middle class family in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk (1758). His father was a scholarly man, but with limited resources. He grewup in a form of genteel poverty. He was small and sickly. He lost his mother when he was only 9-years old. He was then raised by his grandmother. From an early age he desired to join the Royal Navy. This he managed though the influence of his uncle, Maurice Suckling. His talents were noted early. He rose rapidly through the ranks and benefitted by serving with leading Royal Navy commanders. He received his first command (1778). He became widely respected for inspirational leadership, an unsurpassed grasp of strategy, and most notably unconventional tactics. These led to a series of decisive naval victories over the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars. He led front the front and paid a orice for it. He was wounded several times in his many combats. He lost an arm in the failed attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He lost the sight in one eye in Corsica. He was finally shot and killed during the critical Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Nelson was first British commander to engage Napoleon in an important ways. While Napoleon was engaging the Mamelukes in suceesful, but pointless battles, Nelson was engaged in the critical effort to find and destroy the French fleet. He defeated the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile fought in Aboukir Bay (1799). [Meyerson] This isolated Napoleon and the French army. Napoleon had to abandon his army and somehow eluded the British fleet to get back to France where he proceeded to seize control of the Government. Nelson had gained two great victories over the French earlier. But not since the Great Armada had the Royal Navy faced such a massive naval forece. The British First Sea Lord appointed Admiral Lord Nelson as Commander in Chief of the British Fleet which was being assembled to engage the French and Spanish ships. Nelson selected His Majesty’s Ship Victory as his flagship. He sailed south towards the bastion at Gibraltar to organize the Fleet. Nelson's stunning victory at Trafalgar against a larger French and Spanish fleet gave the British unquestioned naval supremecy for a century and in cooperation with America meant that the Anglo-Americans promoting democracy and capitalism would powefully shape the modern world.


Meyerson, Daniel. The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Dechiper the Rosetta Stone (Ballantine, 2004), 271p.


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Created: 8:26 PM 7/27/2016
Last updated: 11:27 AM 7/29/2016