Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served
 
 

Aftermath and legend

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Storm

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Petition of the crew of the Royal Sovereign to the Admiralty, 12 December 1805

After Nelson’s death, command passed to Collingwood. His main priority was to get more than 50 damaged ships to the safety of Gibraltar. This was hampered by a terrible storm that lasted seven days. A dying Nelson, knowing that a storm was imminent, had ordered Captain Hardy to anchor the ships to avoid any loss but it was an order that was not followed. In the ensuing storm the captured ship Redoutable sank on 22 October 1805 and the French flagship Bucentaure, captured by the British and recaptured by the French, sank off Cadiz when it struck a rock. Collingwood, fearing British ships towing captured ships could be lost owing to the storm’s ferocity, ordered all men on these ships to be placed on British ships and the captured ships to be destroyed. This led to severe overcrowding and loss of life during the operation to bring the men aboard the British ships. Of the 19 ships captured by the British fleet only four were finally brought into Gibraltar as prizes.

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Collingwood’s despatch about the Battle of Trafalgar

When news of the victory at Trafalgar reached England on 6 November 1805, it was met with muted celebration and sadness. Britain’s navy had established undisputed mastery at sea, which was to last for over a century, and had removed the threat of invasion by Napoleon, but at a price, the death of Nelson. The Times captured the mood of the nation: ‘We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased. The great and gallant NELSON is no more’ (Hibbert, page 382).

Nelson’s body was placed in a cask filled with brandy on 22 October 1805 and was then transported to Gibraltar on HMS Victory, arriving there on 28 October 1805. In Gibraltar the brandy was replaced by spirits of wine to preserve the body. On 4 November HMS Victory set sail from Gibraltar, reaching England on 4 December 1805. On 11 December 1805 her surgeon William Beatty performed an autopsy on Nelson’s body, extracting the musket ball that had killed him. Nelson’s body was then placed in a lead coffin filled with brandy. On the 21 December the lead coffin was opened and the body was placed in another coffin made from L’Orient’s mainmast - a French ship that had been destroyed in the Battle of the Nile - a present given to Nelson in 1799 from Benjamin Hallowell, then captain of HMS Swiftsure. The coffin was then placed in another made of lead and then another of wood. The coffin was collected by the Sheerness dockyard commissioner George Grey’s official yacht Chatham on 23 December from HMS Victory moored in the River Medway and taken up the Thames to Greenwich Hospital. The coffin was collected on 25 December at Greenwich Hospital and placed in a private room until 4 January 1806.

For three days from 4 January 1806 Nelson’s body lay in state in Greenwich Hospital’s Painted Hall. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people visited the Hall to pay their last respects. On 8 January 1806 the coffin was transported by the King’s Barge up the Thames - followed by a two-mile procession of boats - to Whitehall Steps and from there taken to the Admiralty in Whitehall. The day of Nelson’s funeral, 9 January 1806, was fine and bright. Thousands of people lined the streets, along with 30,000 troops, to watch the funeral procession march from Whitehall to St Paul’s Cathedral. The procession included royalty, nobles, ministers, high-ranking military officers and at least 10,000 soldiers. The funeral service itself was attended by 7,000 people including seven royal dukes, 16 earls, 32 admirals and over 100 captains together with 48 seamen and 12 marines from HMS Victory. The service, which commenced at 13:00, ended at 18:00 when Nelson’s coffin was lowered into a marble sarcophagus originally intended for Cardinal Wolsely in St Paul’s Cathedral’s crypt. The order of proceedings was interrupted when seamen from HMS Victory ripped the flag from their ship, which had been draped over the coffin, into pieces for personal mementos.

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Image of Nelson’s funeral car

 

Details of the costs of Nelson’s funeral

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