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HMS VICTORY on 21 October 1805, at Trafalgar. The first Lord Nelson just before receiving his death wound

Date: 30 October 1886
Overall: 397 x 289 mm
Display Dimensions: 397 x 290 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00008425

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    The death of Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 was a tremendous blow for the Royal Navy and the British public. This engraving captures the scene on HMS VICTORY moments before Nelson was mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter. Nelson stands determined as the activity of battle rages around him; Hardy is directing the action and giving orders to a bare-chested sailor to throw a bucket of water over flames that have broken out on deck beneath one of VICTORY's boats. Marines are firing against the French enemy on the REDOUBTABLE with one, perhaps mortally wounded, sprawled on the deck. A gun crew is in action below seen through the shattered deck, while a wounded or dead sailor felled by the broken spar feature in front of Nelson.
    SignificanceNelson's significance lies in the legendary standards he set for valour, discipline and naval strategy. They remain important traditions in those navies, like Australia's, which were formed in the British mould.
    HistoryIn July 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte secretly left Milan and hurried to Boulogne, where his Grande Armée waited to cross the Channel and invade England. He only needed Admiral Villeneuve to bring the French and Spanish Fleets from south-western Spain into the Channel to enable the invasion to take place.

    The British First Sea Lord appointed Admiral Lord Nelson as Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet to attack the French and Spanish ships. Nelson selected HMS VICTORY (under the command of Captain Thomas Hardy) as his flagship and sailed south towards Gibraltar. As each British ship intended for the Fleet was made ready they sailed to join Nelson.

    In October 1805 Villeneuve was still in the harbour of Cadiz. He received a stinging rebuke from Napoleon accusing him of cowardice and so made ready to leave harbour and make for the Channel. He believed that there was no strong British Fleet nearby and that Nelson was still in England. Other than picket frigates watching the harbour, Nelson had strategically kept his main fleet well out to sea.
    On 19 October 1805 HMS MARS relayed the signal received from the watching frigates that the Franco-Spanish Fleet was leaving Cadiz.

    The battle of Trafalgar commenced at dawn on 21 October 1805 using Nelson's unorthodox battle plan that called for his ships to attack the enemy broadside in two parallel lines, break into the enemy's formation to blast his opponents at close quarters. Nelson's captains understood fully what was required of them; he had explained his tactics over the previous weeks until every ship knew her role.
    Ships were cleared for action with cooking fires thrown overboard, the movable bulwarks removed, the decks sanded and ammunition carried to each gun. The gun crews took their positions.

    The French and Spanish Fleets were sailing in line ahead in an arc-like formation. The British Fleet attacked in two squadrons; the windward squadron led by Nelson in VICTORY and the leeward headed by Collingwood in ROYAL SOVEREIGN. Nelson aimed to cut the Franco-Spanish Fleet at a point one-third along the line with Collingwood attacking the rear section. In the light wind, the Franco-Spanish Fleet would be unable to turn back and take part in the battle until it was too late.

    Nelson appears to have been entirely confident of success. He told his Flag Captain Hardy, he expected to take 20 of the enemy's ships. He was also convinced of his impending death in the battle. Nelson told his friend Blackwood, captain of the EURYALUS, who came on board VICTORY, "God bless you, Blackwood. I shall never see you again."

    As Nelson watched from the deck of HMS VICTORY the battle soon turned into a confused melee of combat between individual ships. The fighting was at such close quarters that VICTORY became entangled with the French ship REDOUBTABLE. Locked together, each ship blasted its enemy at point-blank range. Nelson - despite protests from his men - wore dress uniform with his decorations, making him a conspicuous figure on the quarterdeck of VICTORY.

    From his perch in the upper rigging, a French sharpshooter took aim at the prized target on the deck of VICTORY, fired and sent a musket ball into Nelson's left shoulder. Continuing its journey, the bullet tore a path through the Admiral's upper body before smashing into his lower back. It was a mortal wound.

    Nelson was carried below decks while the battle raged on. He lived long enough to hear the news of his fleet's victory after some five hours of combat.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: HMS VICTORY at Trafalgar

    Primary title: HMS VICTORY on 21 October 1805, at Trafalgar. The first Lord Nelson just before receiving his death wound

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