Even as a child he reportedly said: “I will be a hero of the Providence allows”. She did, although he had to support her with ambition and courage. Thanks to these features he became the world’s most recognizable British admiral.
I have never seen fear
The future admiral was born on 29 September 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, England. He was the son of pastor Edmund and Catherine née Suckling. Numerous siblings and rather low income of the father were not prospects of a great career for him. The family’s social status predicted rather that when Horatio grows up, he would become a pastor or clerk, like his brothers. However, his maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling provided hope for better future for him. The Nelson family had not previously had contact with the sea, so it can be undoubtedly assumed that it was under uncle Suckling’s influence that young Horatio developed the wish to become Royal Navy officer. Believing the family tales, even as a child he distinguished himself with disregard for any danger. A proof of such behavior would be an anecdote according to which Horatio got lost when searching for birds’ nest. Having found the way, he came home late, where his grandmother reprimanded him: “It is strange that fear has not brought you home.” “I have never seen fear. What is that?” – the boy reportedly said.
The first years at sea
At the age of twelve Horatio boarded “his” first ship. It was a 64-gun ship of the line HMS RAISONNABLE, captured from the French in 1758. Thanks to his uncle’s protection he was entered to the ship’s book as a midshipman on 1 January 1771. It opened the way for his future promotions, which depended on the seniority that is the date of the beginning of the service as a midshipman. It must have aroused envy in his peers since the youths were usually enlisted as captain’s servants or ordinary seamen. Undoubtedly the envy was amplified also by his appearance – gaunt and diminutive in stature he looked even younger than he was. Although Nelson had time to domesticate on Raisonnable, he did not sail out in her. He was moved to HMS TRIUMPH, on which he also did not set out for his first cruise. The reason of this situation was the disappearance of the threat of the war with Spain about the Falkland Islands, due to which the Royal Navy reduced the number of ships on alert, sending some crews home. However, Nelson did not remain idle. He quickly found his way to a merchant ship of Hibbert, Purrier and Horton company, crossing the Atlantic twice aboard her. During the first journey, unaccustomed to ship’s excessive pitching, he suffered from seasickness. However, it did not dishearten him, moreover, the knowledge and experience he gained enabled him to volunteer for a maritime research expedition.
Arctic and India
In 1773 Nelson set out for Arctic aboard the bomb ketch HMS CARCASS. The objective of the expedition was to mark up new seaway to India through the North Pole area. Although ships and crews were well prepared, the expedition was a failure. Nelson only just returned from the Arctic to board the frigate HMS SEAHORSE heading for India. This way he was travelling the regular route. During the journey he improved his seaman knowledge and took part in his first sea battle. Over two-years long stay at the Indian Ocean resulted in contracting malaria. He suffered so seriously that he was sent back to England aboard the frigate HMS DOLPHIN. The illness was such a traumatic experience for him that in the moments of the most severe relapses he was thinking about ending his naval career, but after recovery he abandoned this idea. In 1777 he had six years of experience at sea. Despite this he had no chances for promotion in the regular procedure. Again thanks to his uncle’s support he was allowed to take the lieutenant exam, which he passed excellently. The important thing was that the examination board did not know about his connection with Captain Suckling.
Against the independence of the United States
In April 1775 thirteen American colonies mutinied against the policy of the mother country made an attempt to become independent, which in turn led to the American War of Independence. France, Spain and Republic of United Republic of the United Provinces of Netherlands. Nelson, with lieutenant’s patent in hand was assigned to the frigate HMS LOWESTOFFE, aboard which he set out for America to take part in suppression of the mutiny. Aboard the ship he assumed the position of the second lieutenant, but before it he became the recruiting officer, whose task was to complement the crew. Although his role was limited to supervision, it was undoubtedly a thankless function, since the seamen were often recruited by force (so-called Press Gang). The captain of LOWESTOFFE was William Locker, later often warmly recollected by Nelson, sometimes even described as a mentor. Already during the first encounter Nelson distinguished himself with gallantry and resoluteness. Moreover, as he later often emphasized he was absolutely dedicated to the Crown and was ready to pay the highest price for her. In recognition for his accomplishments he was entrusted with the command of a captured schooner. His period in command was however brief because he was reassigned to the Admiral’s ship of the line HMS BRISTOL, on which he assumed the position of the first lieutenant. Equally quickly he became the captain of the brig HMS BADGER. It was the first ship built for the Royal Navy, commanded by Nelson. High qualifications and dedication to service were noticed, which resulted in promotion to the rank of captain. However, he temporarily had no opportunity to prove his maritime advantages, because in face of the expected Spanish attack he was appointed the commander of a gun battery in Kingston fortress, Jamaica.
When the threat was over he returned to the sea, becoming the commander of the escort of a military contingent, which set out for San Juan river estuary. Nelson’s flagship was the frigate HMS HINCHINBROOKE. According to the orders the expedition had to capture Granada (currently Nicaragua) and secure a navigable connection of the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Although his role in this mission ended with having led the convoy to the river estuary, he decided to join the expedition inland. The expedition became a multiple failure. The river turned out to be not as navigable as it was thought. Farther it was not better, despite having captured two forts the British forces were defeated by illnesses. Nelson himself had relapse of malaria and after having ingested water from untrusted source he contracted dysentery. His condition was so bad that there was fear that it would be impossible to bring him back to the ship alive. Because of climate unfavorable for the recovery he could no longer stay in West Indies, so he was sent back to England. When he recovered, he was appointed captain of the frigate HMS ALBEMARLE, a French merchant ship captured in 1779. Over the next years he commanded convoys sailing from England to the Baltic Sea, North Sea and across the Atlantic Ocean. During this time, he had relapses of malaria and he also suffered from scurvy due to lack of the vitamin C. However, it had no impact on his devotion to service and was absolutely not an obstacle in growing rich on prizes. The war ended on 3 September 1783 with recognition of the independence of the United States by Great Britain and Nelson returned to England. He soon travelled to France to learn the language.
Recommended Articles about Navy