Tribute to Lord Nelson

in Features

All those that took part in the Battle of Trafalgar
October 21st 1805

Part 1 of 2


I had the pleasure of writing to my aunt from off Cadiz, on the 21st of September, just after the entry of the combined fleets into that place. I am happy to convey you now the intelligence of their entire defeat; which, though I was confident would take place whenever they mustered courage enough to come out, yet I scarcely expected they would so soon have given us an opportunity of again showing the superiority of the British Navy. You will doubtless have already seen a much better account of the action than I can possibly give you; but as I hope  what few particulars I have been able to obtain, will not prove unacceptable to you, I sit down to give you the best account in my power.— The combined fleet, after their action with Sir R. Calder, put into Vigo, and leaving there three of their disabled ships, sailed again for Ferrol, off which they were joined by fourteen sail of the line, and proceeded with the whole of their fleet, consisting of twenty- nine sail of the line, to Cadiz, where they arrived on the 20th of August. Admiral Collingwood, with four sail of the line, was cruising off the port when they hove in sight, and would most probably have been taken had they attempted to pursue him, which luckily they did not. The Bellerophon, and three more sail of the line, which were up the Strait, joined Admiral Collingwood on the 23d, and Sir R. Calder’s squadron on the 31st. Our fleet then consisted of twenty- six sail of the line, and we immediately resumed the blockade of Cadiz with the greatest severity, till Lord Nelson joined and took the command on the 29th of September. His plan being to give the enemy an opportunity of coming out, he only left a squadron of frigates cruising off the harbour, whilst the fleet continued cruising to the N.W., frequently out of sight of land.

As we knew the enemy, who were now reinforced by five sail of the line in Cadiz, had positive order to put to sea, and retrieve their character, after their action with Sir R. Calder, we were in momentary expectation of their coming out, and every ship that was perceived coming from the in-shore squadron was expected to convey the welcome intelligence. Everyone was in the highest spirits ; and so confident were our people of success, that on the very morning of the action, when we were bearing down on a superior fleet, they were employed in fixing the number of their prizes, and pitching upon that which should fall to the lot of each of our ships: ours, by the calculation of the oldest sailors on board, was to have been the Santisima Trinidad, the Spanish four-decker; and I dare say we were far from being the only ship in the fleet that had fixed upon her.

We were not long kept in that state of anxiety and suspense, which you will naturally suppose everyone in our situation must have felt, for about nine o’clock in the morning of the 19th of October, the Mars was observed firing guns and making signals for the enemy’s fleet being getting under weigh. The Admiral immediately made signal for a general chase, and to clear for action, which was obeyed with the greatest alacrity, and in ten minutes the whole fleet was under all sail, steering for the Straits, which was supposed to be the enemy’s destination, for the purpose of forming a junction with the Carthagena and Toulon squadrons.

The Bellerophon, Belleisle, Leviathan; Orion, and Polyphemus, soon showed their superiority of sailing, and got far ahead of the rest of the fleet: at day-light in the morning we were in sight of the Rock of Gibraltar, but on a frigate’s making signal for the enemy’s fleet bearing N.E., wore, and again formed the order of sailing: the day was unfavourable and weather squally, so that we did not get sight of the enemy, though our small vessels formed a chain betwixt them and us. In the following night we got so close to them as to perceive plainly their signals, and everyone was in the most anxious state of suspense, till day-light the next morning (21st,) when the enemy was plainly discerned about seven miles to leeward of us, and about five leagues from Cape Trafalgar. Every advantage was on their side; they had thirty-three sail of the line, whilst we had only twenty-seven: they were full of Seamen and troops, and had a friendly port under their lee: whilst we had to beat off shore after the action, and might certainly have expected some of our disabled ships would have drifted on shore, but nothing was an obstacle to the Hero of Aboukir, and he immediately made signal to bear down upon the enemy in two columns, himself in the Victory leading the starboard division, Admiral Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign the larboard one, in which the Bellerophon was the fifth ship; no signal was ever obeyed with more promptitude; one would have thought that the people were preparing for a festival, rather than a combat; and no satisfaction was expressed, except at the state of the weather, which was calm, and prevented our nearing the enemy till ten o’clock, when a light breeze springing up, we came up with them fast. They were in the meantime employed in forming a close and well-imagined, though, till now, unexampled order of battle; but which, had their plan of defence been as well executed as it was contrived, would have rendered our victory much more dearly bought than it has been: they were formed in a double line, thus 123-456 French and Spaniards alternately, and it was their intention on our breaking the line (which manoeuvre they expected we should as usual put in execution) astern of No.4, for No.2 to make sail, that the British ship in hauling up should fall on board of her, while No.5 should bear up and rake her, and No.1 would bring her broadside to bear, on her starboard bow. Luckily, this manoeuvre only succeeded with the Tonnant and Bellerophon, which were among the ships that suffered most.

A few moments before the action commenced; Lord Nelson conveyed the following sentence by telegraph, to the fleet” England expects every man will do his duty!” The loud and repeated cheering with which this was received, was a convincing proof that such an injunction was needless.

At noon precisely the action commenced by the Fougeux and Monarca opening fire on the Royal Sovereign. . 

Part 2 to follow next month. 


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