Great Englishmen - M. B. Synge

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)

"England expects every man to do his duty."

This was Nelson's motto through life; these were the last words signalled from the masthead of the "Victory," as his final attack began; these are the words I want you always to remember when you hear the name of Horatio Nelson.

Nelson was the son of an English clergyman.

He was born at Burnham Thorpe, a small village in Norfolk. When he was nine years old, his mother died, leaving his father to provide for eight children. At an early age young Nelson was sent to the Norwich Grammar School, and later to a school at North Walsham.

Of his school life several stories have been told. Here is one. The brothers William and Horatio were going back to school on their ponies after the Christmas holidays. The snow was very deep, and the boys thought this would be a good excuse for turning home again.

"The snow is too deep to venture further," said William, as he met Mr. Nelson in the hall.

"If that indeed be the case, you certainly shall not go," replied the father, "but make another attempt, and I will leave it to your honour. If the road be found dangerous, you may return: yet remember, boys! I leave it to your honour."

Off they set again. The road was almost impassable as they got further, with mounds of snow, but although the danger was great, Horatio refused to return, saying:

"We have no excuse! Remember, brother, it was left to our honour."

When Horatio was twelve years old he one day read in the county newspaper that his uncle had been made captain of a large ship.

"Do, William," he said to his brother, "write to my father and tell him I should like to go to sea with uncle Maurice."

Early one cold and dark spring morning, Mr. Nelson's servant arrived at the North Walsham school to take Horatio to his uncle's ship.

He cried very much at parting from his brother William, and even the thought of being soon on the sea, could not comfort the boy sailor as he turned and caught the last look of his sorrowful brother and playmate.

When he arrived, he found that after all his uncle's ship was not going to sail at present. So his uncle, not wishing to disappoint the boy, put him on board a ship bound for the West Indies. He was very unhappy at first; the poor boy would pace up and down the deck with no one to speak to; he was not strong; but after a time he enjoyed the sea, and when he returned he was ready and anxious to join a ship bound to the North Pole.

At first they said he was too young to be taken on such a voyage of danger, but he begged so hard that they allowed him to try. The ship sailed in June. By July they had got so far north as to be shut in on all sides by ice; nothing was to be seen but large fields of ice, and the men could get out of the ship and run and jump on it. They tried to cut out a way for the ship, but the ice soon closed in again.

One night Nelson and a young companion seeing a bear at some distance, set off after it. They were not missed for some time. About three in the morning they were discovered in the act of attacking the huge bear. The captain signalled for them to return. Nelson saw it, and though called upon to obey by his companion, he refused.

"Let me get one blow at him!" he cried.

Happily at this moment the captain, seeing the danger the boys were in, fired, and the bear rushed away in great fright.

When the boy returned the captain scolded him severely for his conduct.

"Sir, I wished to kill the bear, that I might carry its skin to my father," answered the boy, pouting.

This story shows how brave and fearless young Nelson was, though he was not very wise in those early days.

For six weeks the ship remained stuck; then a wind rose, they got into open sea, and before long found themselves back in England.

He grew very fond of the captain and the sailors, who in return loved him for his bravery and pluck, and were ready to serve him.

At twenty-one Nelson was made captain of a ship, and he made many voyages to various places, everywhere being loved and honoured for his great bravery and kind heart.

Missing over many years, we find him just made captain of a large ship to sail after a French fleet going along the Mediterranean, for England was at war with France. He started in the beginning of May in 1793, and had a good voyage to the Mediterranean.

Hearing the French were at Bastia, a town in the island of Corsica, the English went there, and Lord Hood, who was in command of the whole English fleet, wished to attack.

Many of the sailors and captains refused, saying it would be hopeless, as the French were so strong. But Nelson was resolved.

"We are few in number, but we are of the right sort," he said. "My seamen are what British seamen ought to be!"

The sailors trusted their captain as he trusted them, and bravely they attacked the strong town of Bastia. For more than forty days the siege went on. The French were very strong and had long been getting ready for the attack, but the English were resolved to take the town, and at last the four thousand French laid down their arms, and twelve hundred British soldiers and sailors entered the town.

Several sieges and battles followed this success at Bastia. During one a shot struck the ground near Nelson and drove sand and gravel into one of his eyes. He said nothing of it, though the pain was very great, till the day's work was over, and he found that the sight of that eye was gone.

You will see how Admiral Nelson was loved and honoured, when you hear that three times during one battle his life was saved by an old seaman, who threw himself before his master to receive the blow instead of him.

In one of these battles Nelson lost his right arm. He was fighting against the Spaniards, who were helping the French. It was a very dark night, and Nelson tried to land without being seen by the enemy. They pushed for the shore and raised a loud cry, when suddenly a body of Spaniards rushed forward, and the loud roar of cannon showed only too plainly that the enemy was prepared for the attack. Numbers of the brave seamen were killed and wounded at once, and Nelson gave orders to retreat. At this moment Nelson received a shot through his right elbow and fell, still grasping the sword which had belonged to his uncle Maurice, in his left hand.

His son-in-law Nesbit, who loved dearly his captain, heard him exclaim:

"I am shot through the arm; I am a dead man!"

Nesbit went to him, placed him at the bottom of the boat, and taking the silk handkerchief from his neck, bound up the wounded arm. Nelson desired to be raised up that he might see what was going on.

Nesbit raised him. Suddenly a wild shriek rang through the darkness of the night, and Nelson strained his eyes to see one of the ships sinking with all on board. Nelson heeded not the pain he was suffering, and with one arm he rescued many of the drowning crew. The pain then became terrible, and he was taken to one of the large ships to have his arm cut off.

The one-armed hero then returned to England in bad health, and for many months was obliged to rest.

Nelson, the open, brave, simple sailor, loved his country; he felt that every Englishman was his brother and treated each as such. He loved success and rejoiced in it like a boy; he never thought of defeat before a battle. And yet Nelson was not a learned man; he was untaught. What he had learned he had taught himself as a boy by noticing things around him. In later life he trusted to genius at the moment, and never planned his attacks beforehand. Every sailor on board not only loved him with their whole hearts, but admired him because they could understand his brave simple life; they could trust him when the moment of action arrived.

News reached England that Napoleon was fitting out a fleet at Toulon with an intent of taking Egypt.

Nelson was appointed to command an English fleet, and sail to the Mediterranean to watch the enemy's movements.

For several weeks he could hear nothing of them, till one day news arrived that the French had taken the island of Malta, and were making for Egypt.

Nelson's mind was made up in a minute.

Orders were given to sail for Egypt and the Nile, and on the first of August the English fleet beheld the bay at the mouth of the Nile crowded with ships bearing the French flag, drawn up in line of battle.

None thought the English admiral would dare attack such a strong line.

They did not know our English hero; they did not know what a brave heart beat beneath that medaled coat!

"Fear? I never saw fear! What is it?" he had asked his grandmother when he was little more than a baby.

He could not answer that question when he was forty.

He was resolved to attack.

"If we succeed, what will the world say!" said one of his captains.

"There is no if in the case," replied the admiral; "that we shall succeed is certain. Who may live to tell the story is another question." The battle began at six in the evening and raged fiercely all night. About half-past eight Nelson was shot in the head and fell. He was carried below where the surgeon was attending a poor sailor who had been badly wounded. When he saw the admiral carried down, he left the sailor and hastened to attend Nelson, who was supposed to be dying.

"No," murmured the brave admiral, "I will take my turn with my brave fellows!"

Nor would he submit to have his wound dressed till all the others who were waiting had been attended. The wound was not so severe as had been thought, and a cry of delight arose from the suffering sailors as they heard that their beloved admiral would recover.

While Nelson was lying below, he suddenly heard a cry on deck that the Orient, a large French ship, was on fire and sinking with all on board. In the tumult he crept up on deck, and startled all by suddenly ordering that relief should be sent to the enemy. Boats were put out, but only a few out of that large crew were saved. The flames rose higher and higher, and the burning ship shone as bright as day! Many jumped overboard, many stood at their post to the last.

Morning dawned to find two French ships alone unconquered, and these saved themselves by flight.

Thus ended the battle of the Nile, 1798, one of the greatest and most glorious naval battles ever gained by the English. Nelson was at the height of his glory. His name was on the lips of all. Wherever he went his fame, his glorious victories, his bravery, were talked of.

The French had been oppressing Italy, and the Italians were so delighted with the defeat they had just endured, that they could not thank Nelson enough.

When the news reached the Queen of Naples, she burst into tears and clasping her children to her, cried, "Oh, brave Nelson! God bless and protect our brave leader! Oh, Nelson, Nelson, what do we not owe you! Victor, Saviour of Italy!"

Nelson's next victory was that of Copenhagen. The Danes, the Russians, and Swedes, partly French at heart, partly afraid to offend France, had all joined together resolved on defeating the British navy, which was so powerful. Nelson was second in command, but the commander-in-chief put such trust in him that he allowed him to manage affairs and give the orders.

"The greater the number, the more glorious will be the victory. I wish there were twice as many," said Nelson, as he paced the deck, impatient for the attack to begin.

At last the battle began, and the enemy was successful. The gallant Nelson was badly placed, and the commander-in-chief watched with anxiety the danger of his position.

"I will make the signal for retreat; for Nelson's sake, I will do it," he said. "If he feels he can go on, he will not obey; if he is being defeated, he can retreat with no blame to himself."

The signal was made, but Nelson did not see it. An officer told him that the signal had been made to leave off action.

"Leave off action?" cried Nelson, as if he could not understand their meaning. Then turning to the captain, he said bitterly:

"I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes." With these words he put the telescope to his blind eye.

"I really do not see the signal!" he cried, with a touch of triumph; then added angrily:

"Fly from the enemy? Never! Never!"

Four hours after the battle began, the tide of success turned. The enemy's shots came slower; at last the ships yielded to the British flag, and the victory of Copenhagen was complete.

After this Nelson went back to England, hoping for rest to get up fresh strength. But he had not rested many days before he was once more called to fight for his country.

The French fleet was busy in the Mediterranean again; an English officer had been defeated, and the country cried for Nelson to go and fight. He eagerly obeyed the summons, and left the English shore for the last time.

Hundreds were collected to see the last of their beloved hero, whose noble face they were never to see again. And the "Victory" sailed off with the great admiral on board.

Horatio Nelson


The English fleet arrived at Cadiz on Nelson's birthday, the 29th of September, 1805.

There Nelson waited till he could hear further details of the enemy's movements.

It was not till the 21st of October, that Nelson gave orders to sail from Cadiz, knowing that the French fleet lay off Cape Trafalgar.

Nelson got all in order for an attack, and then seeing that all was as it should be, he went down to the cabin alone.

Somehow he felt this would be his last battle, he only prayed for a great and glorious victory. When he returned to the deck, he found the men eager to begin.

"England expects every man to do his duty!" As the words gleamed from the masthead of the "Victory," a deafening shout rent the air, a shout from the very hearts of the English sailors!

"Now," said Lord Nelson, "I can do no more. I thank God for giving me this great chance for doing my duty."

The English ships in two long columns dashed into the French lines, led on by Nelson and Collingwood. The mode of attack was new to the French, and as the English advanced the French admiral exclaimed that such courage must win the day.

Nelson wore the coat he had fought in so often before, with medals and stars. This made him easily seen by the enemy, and some of his men begged him to take them off.

"In honour I gained them," was the answer, "in honour I will die with them."

Soon after the attack began a shot struck the deck of the "Victory" and passed between him and Captain Hardy, who stood near. Both started and looked at each other. Nelson smiled.

"This is too warm work, Hardy, to last long," he said.

The "Victory" was engaged with a great French ship. Twice Nelson thought it had yielded, and twice had ordered his men to stop firing. From this ship, which he had twice spared, he received his fatal wound.

He fell, and Captain Hardy with three sailors lifted up their brave leader.

"They have done for me at last, Hardy," he murmured.

"I hope not," cried Hardy.

Knowing that his men would be discouraged if they saw him wounded, he took out his handkerchief and covered his face, as he was being carried to the cabin, although in great agony.

Nothing could be done for him, and the wounded hero lay below, while the battle raged above. At every cheer which told of victory, a smile of joy passed over his face.

At last Hardy came down.

"Well, Hardy," said Nelson, "how goes the day with us?"

"Very well," replied Hardy.

"I am going fast—it will all be over soon," murmured the Admiral, as the faithful Hardy bent over him.

Hardy then hurried on deck with a bursting heart.

In another hour he returned to the cabin and clasping the hand of his beloved Admiral he told him that the day was theirs, the victory won.

"Anchor, Hardy, anchor," said Nelson, raising his voice. Hardy answered that another admiral was now in command.

"Not while I live, Hardy," said Nelson, trying to sit up. "Do you anchor."

These were his last commands.

"God bless you, Hardy. I have done my duty; I praise God for it."

Hardy then left him—for ever.

Thus Nelson died: he had lived to hear the victory was won, he had done his duty to the end. The pride and hero of England was no more. Tears were mingled with joy as the news of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Nelson arrived in England.

"God gave us the victory—but Nelson died." These words show how the death of Nelson was coupled with the joyful news of the success.

But the name of Nelson will live for ever: his example will ever shine brightly on the list of naval conquerors, and his signal will live as long as the English language lasts:

"England expects every man to do his duty."