Story of Nelson - Edmund F. Sellar

Early Boyhood—Joins His Ship

On the 29th of September 1758, or nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, Horatio Nelson, "the greatest of our heroes and the dearest to ourselves," was born.

His father was a country clergyman, who lived at Burnham Thorpe, in the county of Norfolk.

The boy had many brothers and sisters. There were eleven children in the family, only two of whom, however, lived to grow old.

Horatio as a child was weak and sickly, and all his life he was delicate. Even after his many years afloat, we are told that be never quite got over the feeling of sea-sickness.

Although not a strong boy, there was nothing of the milksop about him and at an early age he showed the spirit of absolute fearlessness which in later years was to stand him in such good stead.

"Fear, grandmamma! I never saw fear; what is it?" he once asked while quite a little child.

His father, in bringing up his children, trusted entirely to their own sense of honour, and in this respect Horatio never failed him.

Once, while riding with his brother to school through deep snow, William, the elder, wanted to turn back, as the drifts were thick, and in parts dangerous. "No we must get there if we possibly can. Remember we are on our honour to do so," was Horatio's reply; and his pony and he struggled on, and after some difficulty reached their journey's end in safety.

Horatio Nelson


On another occasion, while at school, he lowered himself with sheets from a window, and took a quantity of fine ripe pears from the head-master's favourite tree. On his return to the dormitory he laid down the spoil before his companions, who had often coveted the fruit, but had not dared to take it because of the severe flogging which would probably follow. Our hero refused to eat a single pear, for greed had not prompted his daring action.

"He only took them," he explained, "because every other boy was afraid."

Horatio's school days were brief.

At the time when he was twelve years old, Spain suddenly attacked the Falkland Islands, a British colony in the far South Atlantic, and forced our colonists to lower their flag. This act naturally aroused great anger in England, and as a result our ships were immediately made ready for war.

At this time both Spain and France had mighty fleets, manned by skilful and brave seamen, and Britain was not yet the all-conquering power at sea which she afterwards became, thanks to Nelson and his sailors.

The boy himself wished to go to sea, and on his uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, getting command of the Raisonable, he begged hard to be allowed to serve in his uncle's ship.

Mr. Nelson, who had always said that in whatever station his son might be placed he would, if possible, climb to the top of the tree, accordingly wrote to his brother-in-law.

"What has poor Horatio done," came the answer, "who is so weak, that he, above all the rest, should be sent to rough it out at sea?"

Still, his uncle said he might come, though he evidently did not approve of his choice of a profession. And so, at an age when boys nowadays have not yet gone to a public school, Nelson said farewell to lessons, and, no doubt to his great delight, started off alone to join the Raisonable, then lying at Chatham, in the Medway.

No boy going to school for the first time ever had more reason to feel unhappy.

On leaving the stage-coach at Chatham, he was at a loss where to go, and how to find his ship. Too shy to ask his way, he was wandering about feeling very forlorn and miserable, when fortunately a kind officer saw him, and spoke to him.

On learning that the unhappy-looking youngster was no lost lad, but a midshipman seeking his ship, the officer, who knew Captain Suckling, showed Horatio every kindness, and after giving him a good dinner, finally saw him safely op board the Raisonable.

On arrival at the ship another disappointment awaited our hero. His uncle was away, and nobody on board knew anything about young Nelson, nor even expected a boy to arrive at all. However, he had to make the best of it somehow, and with the help of an old sailor, who took pity on his loneliness, he soon settled down to his new life, and from that time till the day of his death, except for a few brief months on shore, his home was on board ship.

These first few hours of misery and loneliness at Chatham Nelson never forgot.

In later years, remembering his own bitter experiences, he always made a point of giving a friendly welcome, and speaking a few words of encouragement and advice, to any young midshipman on first joining his ship; and he took good care that the boy's start in life should not be as trying and forlorn as his own had been.