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Josef de Cordova, had learned from an American, on
the 5th, that the English had only nine ships, which was
indeed the case when his informer had seen them ; for a
reinforcement of five ships from England, under Ad-
miral Parker, had not then joined, and the Cxdloden
had parted company. Upon this inforaiation, the Span-
ish Commander, instead of going into Cadiz, as was his
intention when he sailed from Carthagen-a, determined
to seek an enemy so inferior in force ; and relying, with
fatal confidence, upon the American account, he suf-
fered his ships to remain too far dispersed, and in some
disorder. When the morning of the 14th broke, and dis-
covered the English fleet, a fog for some time concealed
their number. The lookout ship of the Spaniards, fancy-
ing that her signal was disregarded, because so little
notice seemed to be taken of it, made another signal,
that the English force consisted of forty sail of the
line. The Captain afterwards said he did this to rouse
the Admiral: it had the effect of perplexing him, and
alarming the whole fleet. The absurdity of such an act
shows what was the state of the Spanish navy under
that miserable government, by which Spain was so
long oppressed and degraded, and finally betrayed. In
reality, the general incapacity of the iiaval officers was
so well known, that in a pasquinade,^ which about this
time appeared at Madrid, wherein the different orders of
the state were advertised for sale, the greater part of
the sea-officers, with all their equipments, were offered
as a gift ; and it was added, that any person who would
please to take them, should receive a handsome gratuity.
"When the probability that Spain would take part in
the war, as an ally of France, was first contemplated,

1. Pasquinade. A satire, or lampoon.

The Life of Nelson 133

Nelson said that their fleet, if it were no better than
when it acted in alliance with us, would "soon be done

Before the enemy could form a regular order of
battle, Sir John Jervis, by carrying a press of sail,
came up with them, passed through their fleet, then
tacked, and thus cut off nine of their ships from the
main body. These ships attempted to form on the lar-
board tack/ either with a design of passing through the
British line, or to the leeward of it, and thus rejoining
their friends. Only one of them succeeded in this at-
tempt; and that only because she was so covered with
smoke that her intention was not discovered till she had
reached the rear: the others were so warmly received,
that they put about, took to flight, and did not appear
again in the action till its close. The Admiral was
now able to direct his attention to the enemy's main
body, which was still superior in number to his whole
fleet, and more so in weight of metal. He made signal
to tack in succession. Nelson, whose station was in the
rear of the British line, perceived that the Spaniards
were bearing up before the wind, with an intention of
forming their line, going large, and joining their sepa-
rated ships; or else, of getting off without an engage-
ment. To prevent either of these schemes, he disobeyed
the signal without a moment's hesitation, and ordered
his ship to be wore.^ This at once brought him into

1. Larboard tacTc. With the wind blowing on the left side.

2. Ordered Ms ship to he wore. To icear is to turn with the wind,
Instead of against it as in tacking. The British fleet and the main
body of the enemy wer.-. now passing each other on parallel but oppo
site courses (see diagram, p. 135), the British beating into the wind,
and the Spanish "goine" large" with the wind at a favorable angle. The
signal to "tack in succession" meant that each British ship must
keep on its course to the point then occupied by the leading ship,
before turning t'> pursue the enemy. The order was intended as a
means of keeping the British ships between the two Spanish divisions.

134 The Life of Nelson

action with the Sdntissima Trinidad, one hundred and
thirty-six, the San Josef, one hundred and twelve, the
Salvador^ del Mundo, one hundred and twelve, the San
Nicolas, eighty, the San Isidro, seventy-four, another
seventy-four, and another first-rate. Troubridge, in
the Ctdloden, immediately joined, and most nobly sup-
ported him ; and for nearly an hour did the Culloden
and Captain maintain what Nelson called *'this appar-
ently, but not really, unequal contest ; ' ' — such was the
advantage of skill and discipline, and the confidence
which brave men derive from them. The Blenheim
then passing between them and the enemy, gave them a
respite, and poured in her fire upon the Spaniards. The
Salvador del Mundo and San Isidro dropped a-stem,
and were fired into, in a masterly style, by the Excellent,
Captain Collingwood. The San Isidro struck ; and Nel-
son thought that the Salvador struck also. '^But Col-
lingwood," says he, ** disdaining the parade of taking
possession of beaten enemies, most gallantly pushed up,
with every sail set, to save his old friend and messmate,
who was, to appearance, in a critical situation ; ' ' for the
Captain was at this time actually fired upon by three
first-rates, by the San Nicolas, and by a seventy-four,
within about pistol-shot of that vessel. The Blenheim
was ahead, the Cidloden crippled and a-stern. Colling-
wood ranged up, and hauling up his mainsaiP just
a-stem, passed within ten feet of the San Nicolas, giving
her a most tremendous fire, then passed on for the Sa7i-
tissima Trinidad. The San Nicolas luffing up, the San

Nelson, with the same object, turned at once, thus preventing the
Spanish from joining to leeward. After th^ battle one of the British
captains, Calder, remarked to Jervis that Nelson's maneuver was an
unauthorized departure from the prescribed mode of attack. "It cer-
tainly was so," replied the admiral, "and if ever you commit such a
breach of your orders, I will forgive you also."

1. Hauling up Ms mainsail. Tbus checking bis headway.

The Life of Nelson


West by South



(21 ships)


% Excellent

% Diadem

I Captain (Nelson)

9 Namur

f Britannia


I Goliath.

f Egmont

Ia Victory (Jervis)

f Irresistible

f Colossus

9 Orion

^^. 5 Six Spanish


^'/^^0'^"^<'^V^^^^^^^^V^ %^ Blenheim ^^ P ships to leeward

/Y cross to leeward

U c>-<-> Culloden (tacks)


1ST. PHASE: Hiiving cut off Spanish leeward ships, Jervis tacks to onga^ main division

San /v


•>'^'l' ^y

te °.^<^e/y/ ^ Trin





(18 ships) T 1


\f Excellent


h \

^.'Captain (wears) \ f

West South-west

%Culloden f

V ♦

\ (La Victory

' i

9 'J



/' (9 ships)

2ND. PHASE: Captain wears to prevent Spanish van from running to leeward

February 14,1797


15 ships, 1232 guns 27 ships, 2286 g^uns

136 The Life of Nelson

Josef fell on board her/ and Nelson resumed his station
abreast of them, and close alongside. The Captain was
now incapable of farther service, either in the line or in
chase : she had lost her fore-topmast ; not a sail, shroud,
or rope, was left, and her wheel was shot away. Nelson,
therefore, directed Captain Miller to put the helm
a-starboard, and, calling for the boarders, ordered them
to board.

Captain Berry, who had lately been Nelson's First
Lieutenant, was the first man who leaped into the
enemy's mizzen-chains. Miller, when in the very act of
going, was ordered by Nelson to remain. Berry was
supported from the spritsail-yard,- which locked in the
^an Nicolas' s main rigging. A soldier of the 69th
broke the upper quarter-gallery window,^ and jumped
in, followed by the Commodore himself, and by others
as fast as possible. The cabin doors were fastened,
and the Spanish officers fired their pistols at them
through the window: the doors were soon forced, and
the Spanish Brigadier* feir while retreating to the quar-
ter-deck. Nelson pushed on, and found Berry in pos-
session of the poop, and the Spanish ensign hauling
down. He passed on to the forecastle, where he met two
or three Spanish officers, and received their swords. The
English were now in full possession of every part of
the ship; and a fire of pistols and musketry opened

1. Fell on toard her. The San Nicolas having swung head into the
wind as a result of Colllngwood's attack, the San Josef collided with

2. Supported from the spritsail-yard, etc. The Captain's spritsail-
yard, a spar across the bowsprit, had become entangled with the rig-
ging of the San Nicolas's mainmast, and served as a bridge by which
boarders could cross to the Spanish vessel.

3. Upper quarter-gallery u-indow. A port or window of the Spanish
vessel's after-cabin, which projected beyond the ship's side.

4. Brigadier. An officer in command of marines, or soldiers serving
on ship-board.

The Life of Nelson 137

upon them from the Admiral's stern gallery of the San
Josef. Nelson having placed the sentinels at different
ladders, and ordered Captain Miller to send more men
into the prize, gave orders for boarding that ship from
the San Nicolas.^ It was done in an instant, he himself
leading the way, and exclaiming — ''Westminster Abbey,^
or victory!" Berry assisted him into the main-chains;
and at that moment a Spanish officer looked over the
quarter-deck rail, and said they surrendered. It was
not long before he was on the quarter-deck, where the
Spanish Captain presented to him his sword, and told
him the Admiral was below, dying of his wounds. There,
on the quarter-deck of an enemy's first-rate, he received
the swords of the officers ; giving them, as they were
delivered, one by one, to William Fearney, one of his
old ^'Agamemnons," who, with the utmost coolness,
put them under his arm, ''bundling them up," in the
lively expression of Collingwood, "with as much com-
posure as he would have made a faggot, though twenty-
two sail of their line were still within gunshot. ' ' One of
his sailors came up, and, with an Englishman's feeling,
took him by the hand, saying, he might not soon have
such another place to do it in, and he was heartily glad
to see him there. Twenty- four of the Captain's men
were killed, and fifty-six wounded; a fourth part of the
loss sustained by the whole squadron falling upon this
ship. Nelson received only a few bruises.

The Spaniards still had eighteen or nineteen ships,
which had suffered little or no injury : that part of the
fleet which had been separated from the main body in

1. Boarding from the San Nicolas. "There is a saying in the fleet,"
wrote Nelson, "too flattering for me to omit telling, viz., 'Nelson's
Patent Bridge for boarding First-rates,' alluding to my passing over an
enemy's 80-gun ship." — DespatcJies (ed. Nicolas), Vol. II, p. 344.

2. Westminster Abbey. That is, a tomb in the famous abbey, in the
event of his death in battle.

138 The Life of Nelson

the morning was now coming np, and Sir John Jervis
made signal to bring-to. His ships could not have
formed without abandoning those which they had cap-
tured, and running to leeward : the Captain was lying a
perfect wreck on board^ her two prizes; and many of
the other vessels were so shattered in their masts and
rigging as to be wholly unmanageable. The Spanish
Admiral, meantime, according to his official account,
being altogether undecided in his own opinion respect-
ing the state of the fleet, inquired of his captain whether
it was proper to renew the action ; nine of them answered
explicitly, that it was not; others replied that it was
expedient to delay the business. The Pelayo and the
Principe Conquistador were the only ships that were for

As soon as the action was discontinued. Nelson went
on board the Admiral's ship, Sir John Jervis received
him on the quarter-deck, took him in his arms, and said
he could not sufficiently thank him. For this victory
the Commander-in-Chief was rewarded with the title
of Earl St. Vincent.* Nelson, who before the action

1. On board. In contact with ; alongside.

* In the official letter of Sir John Jervis, Nelson was not mentioned.
It is said, that the Admiral had seen an instance of the ill conse-
quences of such selections, after Lord Howe's victory ; and, therefore,
would not name any individual, thinking it proper to speak to the
public only in terms of general approbation. His private letter to the
.First Lord of the Admiralty was, with his consent, published, for the
first time, in a Life of Nelson, by Mr. Harrison. Here it is said, that
"Commodore Nelson, who was in the rear, on the starboard tack, took
the lead on the larboard, and contributed very much to the fortune of
the day." It is also said, that he boarded the two Spanish ships suc-
cessively ; but the fact, that Nelson wore without orders, and thus
planned as well as accomplished the victory, is not explicitly stated.
Perhaps it was thought proper to pass over this part of his conduct in
silence, as a splendid fault : but such an example is not dangerous.
The author of the work in which this letter was first made public
protests against those overzealous friends, "who would make the action
rather appear as Nelson's battle, than that of the illustrious Com-

The Life of Nelson 139

was know:a in England, had been advanced to the rank
of Rear-Admiral/ had the Order of the Bath^ given
him. The sword of the Spanish Rear-Admiral, which
Sir John Jervis insisted upon his keeping, he presented
to the mayor and corporation of Norwich, saying that
he knew of no place where it conld give him or his family
more pleasure to have it kept, than in the capital city
of the county where he was born. The freedom of that
city was voted him on this occasion. But of all the
numerous congratulations which he received, none could
have affected him with deeper delight than that which
came from his venerable father. '^I thank my God,"
said this excellent man, "with all the power of a grate-
ful soul, for the mercies He has most graciously be-

mander-in-Chief, who derives from it so deservedly his title. No man,"
he says, "ever less needed, or less desired, to strip a single leaf from
the honored wreath of any other hero, with the vain hope of augment-
ing his own, than the immortal Nelson : no man ever more merited the
whole of that which a generous nation unanimously presented to Sir
J. Jervis, than the Earl of St. Vincent." Certainly Earl St. Vincent
well deserved the reward which he received ; but it is not detracting
from his merit to say, that Nelson is as fully entitled to as much fame
from this action as the Commander-in-Chief ; not because the brunt of
the action fell upon him ; not because he was engaged with all the four
ships which were taken, and took two of them, it may almost be said,
with his own hand ; but because the decisive movement which enabled
him to perform all this, and by which the action became a victory,
was executed in neglect of orders, upon his own judgment, and at his
peril. Earl St. Vincent deserved his earldom : but it is not to the
honor of those by whom titles were distributed in those days, that
Nelson never obtained the rank of earl for either of those victories
which he lived to enjoy, though the one was the most complete and
glorious in the annals of naval history, and the other the most im-
portant in its consequences of any which was achieved during the
whole wa.T.^Southey's Note.

1. Rank of Rear-Admiral. Promotion from captain to rear-admiral
was strictly by seniority. Nelson was a captain at twenty-one, and
reached flag rank before he was thirty-nine, a good fortune not equaled
by any of his contemporaries.

2. Order of the Bath. A military order, consisting in Nelson's time
of a grand master and thirty-six knights, chosen for distinguished
service. '

140 The Life op Nelson

stowed on me in preserving you. Not only my few
acquaintances here, but the people in general, met me
at every corner with such handsome words, that I was
obliged to retire from the public eye. The height of
glory to which your professional judgment, united with
a proper degree of bravery, guarded by Providence, has
raised you, few sons, my dear child, attain to, and fewer
fathers live to see. Tears of joy have involuntarily
trickled down my furrowed cheeks. Who could stand
the force of such general congratulation ? The name and
services of Nelson have sounded throughout this city of
Bath — from the common ballad-singer to the public
theatre.'' The good old man concluded by telling him,
that the field of glory, in which he had so long been
conspicuous, was still open, and by giving him his

Sir Horatio, who had now hoisted his flag as Rear-
Admiral of the Blue, was sent to bring away the troops
from Porto Ferrajo : having performed this, he shifted
Ms flag to the Theseus. That ship had taken part in
the Mutiny in England,^ and being just arrived from
home, some danger was apprehended from the temper of

1. Mutiny in England. Nelson took command of the Theseus on
May 27, 1797. The outbreaks referred to had occurred in April of the
same year among the crews of ships in the mouth of the Thames, and
were manifestations of a spirit of discontent widespread in the service.
On July 8, similar trouble arose in Jervis's fleet, with the result that
two sailors were sentenced to be hanged. The execution taking place
on Sunday morning, one of Jervis's vice-admii'als ventured to criticize
him for thus "profaning the Sabbath." Nelson, on the other hand,
supported him warmly. "Had it been Christmas day instead of Sun-
day," he wrote, "I would have executed them. We know not what
might have' been hatched by a Sunday's grog." Nelson's remarks at
this time are quoted by his biographers in proof that "the iron grip
beneath the velvet glove" was frequently felt in his handling of oflScera
and men. But his unusual success in matters of discipline should be
attributed in much larger measure to the prestige of his name, his
constant attention to the welfare of his crews, and the natural charm
of his manners and character.

The Life of Nelson 141

the men. This was one reason why Nelson was removed
to her. He had not been on board many weeks before
a paper, signed in the name of all the ship's company,
was dropped on the quarter-deck, containing these
words: *' Success attend Admiral Nelson! God bless
Captain Miller! "We thank them for the officers they
have placed over us. We are happy and comfortable;
and will shed every drop of blood in our veins to sup-
port them;— and the name of the Theseus shall be im-
mortalized as high as the Captain's.'' Wherever Nelson
commanded, the men soon became attached to him; —
in ten days' time he would have restored the most
mutinous ship in the Navy to order. Whenever an
officer fails to win the affections of those who are under
his command, he may be assured that the fault is chiefly
in himself.

While Sir Horatio was in the Theseus^ he was em-
ployed in the command of the inner squadron at the
blockade of Cadiz. During this service, the most peril-
ous action occurred in which he was ever engaged.
Making a night attack upon the Spanish gunboats, his
bprge was attacked by an armed launch, under their
commander, Don Miguel Tregoyen, carrying twenty-six
men. Nelson had with him only his ten bargemen, Cap-
tain Fremantle, and his coxswain, John Sykes, an old
and faithful follower, who twice saved the life of his
Admiral, by parrying the blows that were aimed at
him, and, at last, actually interposed his own head to
receive the blow of a Spanish saber, which he could not
by any other means avert; — thus dearly was Nelson be-
loved. This was a desperate service — hand to hand with
swords: and Nelson always considered that his personal
courage was more conspicuous on this occasion than on
any other during his whole life. Notwithstanding the
great disproportion of numbers, eighteen of the enemy

142 The Life of Nelson

were killed, all the rest wounded, and their launch taken.
Nelson would have asked for a lieutenancy for Sykes, if
he had served long enough : his manner and conduct, he
observed, were so entirely above his situation, that Na-
ture certainly intended him for a gentleman : but though
he recovered from the dangerous wound which he re-
ceived in this act of heroic attachment, he did not live
to profit by the gratitude and friendship of his com-

Twelve days after this rencontre. Nelson sailed at the
head of an expedition against Teneriffe.^ A report had
prevailed a few months before, that the Viceroy of
Mexico, with the treasure-ships, had put into that island.
This had led Nelson to meditate the plan of an attack
upon it, which he communicated to Earl St. Vincent.
He was perfectly aware of the difficulties of the attempt.
*'I do not," said he, "reckon myself equal to Blake :^
but, if I recollect right, he was more obliged to the
wind coming off the land than to any exertions of his
own. The approach by sea to the anchoring place is
under very high land, passing three valleys; therefore
the wind is either in from the sea, or squally with calms
from the mountains:" and he perceived, that if the
Spanish ships were won the object would still be frus-
trated, if the wind did not come off shore. The land
force, he thought, would render success certain; and
there were the troops from Elba, with all necessary
stores and artillery, already embarked. "But here,"

1. Teneriffe. The largest of the Canary Islands, northwest of Africa.
Santa Cruz is its chief port.

2. Equal to Blake. In April, 1657, Admiral Blake entered the Bay
of Santa Cruz and destroyed sixteen Spanish plate-ships under the
guns of the fort. On his approach the wind blew heavily into the
bay, but later shifted suddenly and carried him safely out. "The
Spaniards," says Clarendon in his History, "comforted themselves with
the belief that they were devils and not men who had destroyed
them in such a manner."

The Life op Nelson 143

said he, "soldiers must be consulted; and I know, from
experience, they have not the same boldness in undertak-
ing a political measure that we have : we look to the
benefit of our country, and risk our own fame every day
to serve her; — a soldier obeys his orders, and no more..'*
Nelson 's experience at Corsica justified him in his harsh
opinion; — he did not live to see the glorious days of
the British army under "Wellington. The army from
Elba, consisting of 3700 men, would do the business, he
said, in three days, probably in much less time ; and he
would undertake, with a very small squadron, to per-
form the naval part ; for though the shore was not easy
of access, the transports might run in and land the
troops in one day.

The report concerning the Viceroy was unfounded;
but a homeward-bound Manila ship put into Santa
Cruz at this time, and the expedition was determined
upon. It was not fitted out upon the scale which Nelson
had proposed. Four ships of the line, three frigates, and
the Fox cutter, formed the squadron; and he was
allowed to choose such ships and officers as he thought
proper. No troops were embarked: the seamen and the
marines of the squadron being thought sufficient. His
orders were, to make a vigorous attack; but on no ac-
count to land in person, unless his presence should be
absolutely necessary. The plan was, that the boats
should land in the night between the fort on the N. B.
side of Santa Cruz bay and the town, make themselves
masters of that fort, and then send a summons to the
governor. By midnight, the three frigates, having the
force on board which was intended for this debarka-
tion, approached within three miles of the place ; but
owing to a strong gale of wind in the offing, and a strong
current against them inshore, they were not able to get
within a mile of the landing place before daybreak ; and

144 The Life op Nelson

then they were seen, and their intention discovered. Trou-
bridge and Bowen, with Captain Oldfield, of the ma-
rines, went upon this to consult with the Admiral what
was to be done; and it was resolved that they should
attempt to get possession of the heights above the fort.
The frigates accordingly landed their men; and Nelson
stood in with the line-of-battle ships, meaning to batter
the fort, for the purpose of distracting the attention of
the garrison. A calm and contrary current hindered
him from getting within a league^ of the shore; and

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 11 of 29)