Thursday, January 15, 2015

Admiral Horatio Nelson - A January Tribute

Admiral Nelson, Britian's hero of the Napoleonic Wars, was quite busy in his January months. Here is a summary:

1)  Born in 1758, his naval career began on January 1, 1771. He reported to the HMS Raisonnable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain. His maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling commanded the vessel. This was a typical way for young boys to get a start. After a short time on board, he was appointed midshipman and began officer training. It was at this time that he discovered, ironically, that he suffered seasickness, which became a lifelong complaint.

2) In January 1784, he returned to England and attended court as part of Lord Hood's entourage. He enjoyed politics, and contemplated standing for Parliament as a supporter of William Pitt, but was unsuccessful. Lucky for all, he went back to sea.

3) So, it was back in January 1796 to the Mediterranean, appointed by Sir John Jervis (Old Jarvie) who was commander-in-chief of the Fleet, to the position of Commodore running blockage near the French coast. When the blockade was eventually found useless, he was back in England, and appointed second-in-command of the Channel Fleet under Lord St. Vincent, another luminary of the British Royal Navy.
4) On January 1st, 1801 he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue. On January 29nd of that same year, he daughter Horatia was born, his child by the notorious Emma Hamilton. Their affair was really a scandal, and unfortunately, Emma, though quite the thing in her day, was reduced to the life of a beggar upon his death. The Admiralty did not recognize her in any way, shape or form. He did leave his daughter a legacy of 200 British Pounds a year for her life.

5) In January 1805, the French fleet escaped Toulon and Nelson set off in pursuit. The French commander managed to elude him, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic. Eventually, of course, they were intercepted by the British fleet at the Battle of Cape Finisterre.

6) Here's a sad one: Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in late 1805. By this time in his life, he had become a national hero, a larger-than-life figure, and his death shocked the nation. It was on January 9, 1806 that there was an enormous funeral procession for Nelson in London to St. Paul's Cathedral. The procession was what amounted to a state funeral, with 32 admirals present, over 100 captains, an escort of 10,000 soldiers who took the coffin from the Admiralty to the Cathedral. After a four hour service, he was interred in a sarcophagus originally carved for Cardinal  Wolsey (of Henry VIII's time). The sailors who were charged with folding the flag draped over Nelson's c
offin and placing it in the grave, instead tore it into tiny pieces, each taking one as a memento.

I have made the pilgrimage to see his tomb, and it is impressive. In the crypt of St. Paul's, it is in a rotunda, cool and dimly lit, and quiet. Though personally he was a flawed figure, he was a giant to the British people, the leader they could look up to in troubled times. His memory also endures in Trafalgar Square in the heart of London, where he overlooks the scene from his Nelson Column!

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