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Extract from HMS Carcass master’s log for 4-5 August 1773

Captain Lutwidge later recounted an episode which Nelson never mentioned. On 4 August 1773 Nelson and another midshipman both absconded from HMS Carcass to kill a polar bear for its skin. They were seen attacking a bear and ignored the signalled to return. Nelson allegedly attempted to shoot the bear with his musket which misfired and is claimed to have said ‘never mind…do but let me get a blow at this devil with the butt end of my musket and we shall have him’. A shot was fired from HMS Carcass to frighten the bear away. Lutwidge who reprimanded Nelson severely for his rashness and because of ‘the situation [rank] he occupied’ wanted to know why Nelson had done this ‘pouting his lip, as he was wont to do when agitated [Nelson replied] "Sir, I wished to kill the bear, that I might carry its skin to my father" (Southey, page 30).

This incident recounted by Lutwidge may have been exaggerated and romantised to demonstrate Nelson’s courage as a boy. But it does reveal other aspects of Nelson’s character featured later in his life such as: his willingness to disobey orders which may have hindered his career; single mindedness to the point of recklessness when in pursuit of an objective which may have endangered his life and those with him and considerable personal charm which allowed others to forgive him in such situations.

The extracts from the master’s log although not providing direct evidence of Nelson’s actions record that polar bears were often sighted.

Catalogue reference: ADM 52/1639 part 7

HMS ‘Carcass’, master’s log. 4-5 August 1773. Cat ref: ADM 52/1639 part 7. Crown copyright.
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