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were not likely to be manned, nor even ready for action.
Intending, therefore, to fix himself on the inner bow of
the Guerrier, he kept as near the edge of the bank as the
depth of the water would admit; but his anchor hung,^
and having opened his fire, he drifted to the second ship,
the Conquerant, before it was clear; then anchored by
the stern, inside of her, and in ten minutes shot away her
mast. Hood, in the Zealous, perceiving this, took the
station which the Goliath intended to have occupied, and
totally disabled the Guerrier in twelve minutes. The
third ship which doubled the enemy's van was the Orion,
Sir J. Saumarez ; she passed to windward of the Zealous,
and opened her larboard guns as long as they bore on the
Guerrier; then passing inside the Goliath, sunk a frigate
which annoyed her, hauled round toward the French line,
and anchoring inside, between the fifth and sixth ships
from the Guerrier, took her station on the larboard bow
of the Franklin, and the quarter of the Peuple Sou-
verain, receiving and returning the fire of both. The
sun was now nearly down. The Audacious, Captain
Gould, pouring a heavy fire into the Guerrier and the
Conquerant, fixed herself on the larboard bow of the
latter; and when that ship struck, passed on to the
Peuple Souverain. The Theseus, Captain Miller, fol-
lowed, brought down the Guerrier 's remaining main and
mizzen masts, then anchored inside of the Spartiate, the
third in the French line.

While these advanced ships doubled the French line,

1. Anchor hung. Became entangled as It was lowered away.

170 The Life of Nelson

the Vanguard was the first that anchored on the outer
side of the enemy, within half pistol shot of their third
ship, the Spartiate. Nelson had six colors flying in dif-
ferent parts of his rigging, lest they should be shot
away; — that they should be struck, no British Admiral
considers as a possibility. He veered half a cable,^ and
instantly opened a tremendous fire ; under cover of which
the other four ships of his division, the Minotaur, Belle-
rophon, DefeMce, and Majestic, sailed on ahead of the
Admiral. In a few minutes, every man stationed at the
first six guns in the fore part of the Vanguard's deck
was killed or wounded — these guns were three times
cleared. Captain Louis, in the Minotaur, anchored next
ahead, and took off the fire of the Aquilon, the fourth in
the enemy's line. The Bellerophon, Captain Darby,
passed ahead and dropped her stern anchor on the star-
board bow of the Orient, seventh in the line, Brueys'
own ship, of one hundred and twenty guns, whose dif-
ference of force w^as in proportion of more than seven to
three, and whose weight of ball, from the lower deck
alone, exceeded that from the whole broadside of the
Bellerophon. Captain Peyton, in the Defence, took his
station ahead of the Minotaur, and engaged the Frank-
lin, the sixth in the line ; by which judicious movement
the British line remained unbroken. The Majestic, Cap-
tain Westcott, got entangled with the main rigging of
one of the French ships astern of the Orient, and suf-
fered dreadfully from that three-decker's fire: but she
swung clear, and closely engaging the Heureux, the
ninth ship, on the starboard bow, received also the fire of
the Tonnant, which was the eighth in the line. The other
four ships of the British squadron, having been detached
previous to the discovery of the French, were at a con-

1. Veered half a cable. Slacked away 60 fathoms (360 feet) of the
cable attached to the anchor.

The Life op Nelson 171

siderable distance when the action began. It commenced
at half after six; about seven, night closed, and there
was no other light than that of the fire of the contending

Troubridge, in the Culloden, then foremost of the re-
maining ships, was two leagues astern. He came on
sounding,^ as the others had done : as he advanced, the
increasing darkness increased the difficulty of the navi-
gation ; and suddenly, after having found eleven fathoms
water, before the lead could be hove again, he was fast
aground : nor could all his own exertions, joined to those
of the Leander and the Mutine brig, which came to his
assistance, get him off in time to bear a part in the action.
His ship, however, served as a beacon to the Alexander
and Swiftsure, which would else, from the course which
they were holding, have gone considerably farther on the
reef, and must inevitably have been lost. These ships
entered the bay, and took their stations, in the darkness,
in a manner long spoken of with admiration by all who
remembered it. Captain Hallowell, in the SwiftsureJ as
he was bearing down, fell in with what seemed to be a
strange sail : Nelson had directed his ships to hoist four
lights horizontally at the mizzen-peak, as soon as it be-
came dark; and this vessel had no such distinction.
Hallowell, however, with great judgment, ordered his
men not to fire : if she was an enemy, he said, she was in
too disabled a state to escape; but, from her sails being
loose, and the way in which her head was, it was prob-
able she might be an English ship. It was the Bellero-
phon, overpowered by the huge Orient: her lights had
gone overboard, nearly 200 of her crew were killed or
wounded, all her masts and cables had been shot away;
and she was drifting out of the line, toward the lee side
of the bay. Her station, at this important time, was occu-

1. Came on sounding. Trying the depth of water as he advanced.


The Life of Nelson



14 ships , 1012 guns
1 brig


13 ships. 1026 guns
4 frigates, 152 guns

The Life of Nelsoit 173

pied by the Swiftsure, which opened a steady fire on the
quarter of the Franklin, and the bows of the French
Admiral. At the same instant, Captain Bell, with the
Alexander, passed under his stern, and anchored within
side on his larboard quarter, raking him, and keeping up
a severe fire of musketry upon his decks. The last ship
which arrived to complete the destruction of the enemy
was the Leander. Captain Thompson, finding that noth-
ing could be done that night to get off the Culloden, ad-
vanced with the intention of anchoring athwart-hawse
of the Orient. The Franklin was so near her ahead, that
there was not room for him to pass clear of the two ; he
therefore, took his station athwart-hawse of the latter, in
such a position as to rake both

The two first ships of the French line had been dis-
masted within a quarter of an hour after the commence-
ment of the action ; and the others had in that time suf-
fered so severely, that victory was already certain. The
third, fourth, and fifth, were taken possession of at half-
past eight.

Meantime Nelson received a severe wound on the head
from a piece of landridge shot.^ Captain Berry caught
him in his arms as he was falling. The great effusion of
blood occasioned an apprehension that the wound was
mortal : Nelson himself thought so : a large flap of the
skin of the forehead, cut from the bone, had fallen over
one eye : and the other being blind, he was in total dark-
ness. When he was carried down, the surgeon, — in the
midst of a scene scarcely to be conceived by those who
have never seen a cockpit in time of action, and the
heroism which is displayed amid its horrors, — with a
natural and pardonable eagerness, quitted the poor fel-
low then under his hands, that he might instantly attend

1. Landridge shot. Pieces of scrap-iron, bolts, etc., fastened to-
getlier as a projectile for damaging sails and rigging.

174 The Life of Nelson

the Admiral. " No ! " said Nelson, ' ' I will take my turn
with my brave fellows." Nor would he suffer his own
wound to be examined till every man who had been pre-
viously wounded was properly attended to. Fully be-
lieving that the wound was mortal, and that he was about
to die, as he had ever desired, in battle and in victory, he
called the chaplain, and desired him to deliver what he
supposed to be his dying remembrance to Lady Nelson:
he then sent for Captain Louis on board from the Mino-
taur, that he might thank him personally for the great
assistance which he had rendered to the Vanguard; and,
ever mindful of those who deserved to be his friends, ap-
pointed Captain Hardy from the brig to the command
of his own ship. Captain Berry having to go home with
the news of the victory. When the surgeon came in due
time to examine his wound (for it was in vain to entreat
him to let it be examined sooner), the most anxious si-
lence prevailed ; and the joy of the wounded men, and of
the whole crew, when they heard that the hurt was
merely superficial, gave Nelson deeper pleasure, than the
unexpected assurance that his life was in no danger.
The surgeon requested, and as far as he could, ordered
him to remain quiet: but Nelson could not rest. He
called for his secretary, Mr. Campbell, to write the des-
patches. Campbell had himself been wounded ; and was
so affected at the blind and suffering state of the Ad-
miral, that he was unable to write. The chaplain was
then sent for ; but, before he came, Nelson, with his char-
acteristic eagerness, took the pen, and contrived to trace
a few words, marking his devout sense of the success
which had already been obtained. He was now left
alone ; when suddenly a cry was heard on the deck, that
the Orient was on fire. In the confusion, he found his
way up, unassisted and unnoticed, and, to the astonish-
ment of every one, appeared on the quarter-deck, where

The Life of Nelson 175

he immediately gave orders that boats should be sent to
the relief of the enemy.

It was soon after nine that the fire on board the Orient
broke out. Brueys was dead : he had received three
wounds, yet would not leave his post : a fourth cut him
almost in two. He desired not to be carried below, but to
be left to die upon deck. The flames soon mastered his
ship. Her sides had just been painted ; and the oil-jars
and paint-buckets were lying on the poop. By the pro-
digious light of this conflagration, the situation of the
two fleets could now be perceived, the colors of both
being clearly distinguishable. About ten o 'clock the ship
blew up, with a shock which was felt to the very bottom
of every vessel.

Many of her officers and men jumped overboard, some
clinging to the spars and pieces of wreck, with which the
sea was strewn, others swimming to escape from the de-
struction which they momentarily dreaded. Some were
picked up by our boats ; and some, even in the heat and
fury of the action, were dragged into the lower ports of
the nearest British vessel by the British sailors. The
greater part of her crew, however, stood the danger till
the last, and continued to fire from the lower deck. This
tremendous explosion was followed by a silence not less
awful: the firing immediately ceased on both sides; and
the first sound which broke the silence was the dash of
her shattered masts and yards, falling into the water
from the vast height to which they had been exploded.
It is upon record, that a battle between two armies was
once broken off by an earthquake •} such an event would
be felt like a miracle; but no incident in war, produced
by human means, has ever equalled the sublimity of this
co-instantaneous pause, and all its circumstances.

1. Battle . . . droTcen off "by an earthquake, Hannibal's victory
at Lake Trasimene, 217 B.C.

176 The Life of Nelson

About seventy of the Orient's crew were saved by the
English boats. Among the many hundreds who perished
were the Commodore, Casa-Bianca,^ and his son, a brave
boy, only ten years old. They were seen floating on a
shattered mast when the ship blew up. She had money
on board (the plunder of Malta) to the amount of 600,-
OOOZ. sterling. The masses of burning wreck, which were
scattered by the explosion, excited for some moments ap-
prehensions in the English which they had never felt
from any other danger. Two large pieces fell into the
m.ain and fore tops of the Swiftsure, without injuring
any person. A port-fire^ also fell into the main-royal of
the Alexander: the fire which it occasioned was speedily
extinguished. Captain Ball had provided, as far as
human foresight could provide, against any such danger.
All the shrouds and sails of his ship, not absolutely neces-
sary for its immediate management, were thoroughly
wetted, and so rolled up, that they were as hard and as
little inflammable as so many solid cylinders.

The firing recommenced with the ships to leeward of
the center, and continued till about three. At daybreak,
the Gidllaume Tell, and the Genereiix, the two rear ships
of the enemy, were the only French ships of the line
which had their colors fiying ; they cut their cables in the
forenoon, not having been engaged, and stood out to sea,
and two frigates with them. The Zealous pursued ; but as
there was no other ship in a condition to support Cap-
tain Hood, he was recalled. It was generally believed by
the officers, that if Nelson had not been wounded, not
one of these ships could have escaped : the four certainly
could not, if the Culloden had got into action ; aad if the

1. Casa-Bianca. Admiral Brueys' chief-of-staff. The bravery of
his son, the theme of Mrs. Heman's well-known poem, Is attested by
an eye-witness.

2. Port-fire. A stick of inflammable matter formerly used in firing

The Life of Nelson 177

frigates belonging to tiie squadron had been present, not
one of the enemy's fleet would have left Aboukir Bay.
These four vessels, however, were all that escaped ; and
the victory was the most complete and glorious in the
annals of naval history. ' ' Victory, ' ' said Nelson, ' ' is not
a name strong enough for such a scene;" he called it a
conquest. Of thirteen sail of the line, nine were taken,
and two burnt: of the four frigates, one was sunk, an-
other, the Artemise, was burnt in a villainous manner by
her captain, M. Estandlet, who, having fired a broadside
at the Theseus, struck his colors, then set fire to the ship,
and escaped with most of his crew to shore. The British
loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to 895. Westcott
was the only captain who fell: 3105 of the French, in-
cluding the wounded, were sent on shore by cartel, and
5225 perished.

As soon as the conquest was completed, Nelson sent
orders through the fleet, to return thanksgiving in every
ship for the victory with which Almighty God had blessed
his Majesty's arms. The French at Rosetta,^ who with
miserable fear beheld the engagement, were at a loss to
understand the stillness of the fleet during the perform-
ance of this solemn duty ; but it seemed to affect many of
the prisoners, officers as well as men : and graceless and
godless as the officers were,^ some of them remarked, that
it was no wonder such order was preserved in the British
navy, when the minds of our men could be impressed with
such sentiments after so great a victory, and at a mo-
ment of such confusion. — The French at Roselta, seeing
their four ships sail out of the bay unmolested, en-,
deavored to persuade themselves that they were in pos-

1. Rosetta. A town, near Aboukir Bay on the Rosetta branch of the
Nile delta.

2. Godless as the officers were. During the French Revolution, the
Christian religion was for a time ofBcially abolished, the Goddess of
Reason set up for worship, and a tenth day substituted for Sunday.

178 The Life of Nelson

session of the place of battle. But it was in vain thus to
attempt, against their own secret and certain conviction,
to deceive themselves: and even if they could have suc-
ceeded in this, the bonfires which the Arabs kindled
along the whole coast, and over the country, for the three
following nights, would soon have undeceived them.
Thousands of Arabs and Egyptians lined the shore, and
covered the house-tops during the action, rejoicing in the
destruction which had overtaken their invaders. Long
after the battle, innumerable bodies were seen floating
about the bay, in spite of all the exertions which were
made to sink them, as well from fear of pestilence, as
from the loathing and horror which the sight occasioned.
Great numbers were cast up upon the Island of Bekier
(Nelson's Island, it has since been called), and our
sailors raised mounds of sand over them. Even after an
interval of nearly three years Dr. Clarke saw them, and
assisted in interring heaps of human bodies, which, hav-
ing been thrown up by the sea, where there were no
jackals to devour them, presented a sight loathsome to
humanity. The shore, for an extent of four leagues, was
covered with wreck; and the Arabs found employment
for many days in burning on the beach the fragments
which were cast up, for the sake of the iron.* Part of
the Orient's main-mast was picked up by the Swift sure.
Captain Hallowell ordered his carpenter to make a coffin
of it ; the iron as well as wood was taken from the wreck
of the same ship ; it was finished as well and handsomely
as the workman 's skill and materials would permit ; and
Hallowell then sent it to the Admiral with the following
letter, — ' ' Sir, I have taken the liberty of presenting you

* During his long subsequent cruise oflE Alexandria, Captain Hallowell
kept his crew employed and amused in fishing up the small anchors in
the road, which, with the iron found on the masts, was afterwards sold
at Rhodes, and the produce applied to purchase vegetables and tobacco
for the ship's company. — Southey's Note.

The Life of Nelson 179

a coffin made from the main-mast of L' Orient, that when
you have finished your military career in this world, you
may be buried in one of your trophies. But that that
period may be far distant, is the earnest wish of your
sincere friend, Benjamin Hallowell.'^ An offering so
strange, and yet so suited to the occasion, was received
by Nelson in the spirit with which it was sent. As he felt
it good for him, now that he was at the summit of his
wishes, to have death before his eyes, he ordered the coffin
to be placed upright in his cabin. Such a piece of fur-
niture, however, was more suitable to his own feelings
than to thosis of his guests and attendants; and an old
favorite servant entreated him so earnestly to let it be
removed, that at length he consented to have the coffin
carried below: but he gave strict orders that it should
be safely stowed, and reserved for the purpose for which
its brave and worthy donor had designed it.

The victory was complete ; but Nelson could not pursue
it as he would have done, for want of means. Had he
been provided with small craft, nothing could have pre-
vented the destruction of the store-ships and transports
in the port of Alexandria : — four bomb-vessels would at
that time have burnt the whole in a few hours. "Were I
to die this moment,'' said he in his despatches to the
Admiralty, "want of frigates would be found stamped
on my heart !^ No words of mine can express what I
have suffered, and am suffering, for want of them." He
had also to bear up against great bodily suffering; the
blow had so shaken his head, that from its constant and
violent aching, and the perpetual sickness which accom-
panied the pain, he could scarcely persuade himself that
the skull was not fractured. Had it not been for Trou-
bridge, Ball, Hood, and Hallowell, he declared that he

1. stamped on my heart. Suggested by the exclamation of Queen
Mary of England on hearing of the loss of Calais in 1558.

180 The Life of Nelson

should have sunk under the fatigue of refitting the squad-
ron. "All," he said, "had done well; but these officers
were his supporters." But amidst his sufferings and
exertions, Nelson could yet think of all the consequences
of his victory; and that no advantage from it might be
lost, he despatched an officer overland to India, with let-
ters to the Governor of Bombay, informing him of the
arrival of the French in Egypt, the total destruction of
their fleet, and the consequent preservation of India from
any attempt against it on the part of this formidable
armament. "He knew that Bombay," he said, "was
their first object, if they could get there ; but he trusted
that Almighty God would overthrow in Egypt these pests
of the human race. Bonaparte had never yet had to con-
tend with an English officer, and he would endeavor to
make him respect us." This despatch he sent upon his
own responsibility, with letters of credit upon the East
India Company,^ addressed to the British consuls, vice-
consuls, and merchants on his route; Nelson saying,
^ ' that if he had done wrong, he hoped the bills would be
paid, and he would repay the Company : for, as an Eng-
lishman, he should be proud that it had been in his power
to put our settlements on their guard." The informa-
tion which by this means reached India was of great
importance. Orders had just been received for defensive
preparations, upon a scale proportionate to the appre-
iiended danger; and the extraordinary expenses which
would otherwise have been incurred were thus prevented.
Nelson was now at the summit of glory: congratula-
tions, rewards, and honors were showered upon him by
all the states, and princes, and powers to whom his vic-
tory gave a respite. The first communication of this

1. East India Company. Founded in the reign of Queen Elizabeth,
this great corporation still controlled trade with India and had a large
share in the administration of the Indian government. Its powers
were not fully transferred to the Crown until 1858.

The Life of Nelson 181

nature which he received was from the Turkish Sultan :
who, as soon as the invasion of Egypt was known, had
called upon ' ' all true believers to take arms against those
swinish infidels the French, that they might deliver these
blessed habitations from their accursed hands ; ' ' and who
had ordered his ''Pashas to turn night into day in their
efforts to take vengeance. ' ' The present of "his Imperial
Majesty, the powerful, formidable, and most magnificent
Grand Seignior,'^ was a pelisse of sables, with broad
sleeves, valued at five thousand dollars ; and a diamond
aigrette, valued at eighteen thousand — the most honor-
able badge among the Turks ; and in this instance more
especially honorable, because it was taken from one of
the royal turbans. "If it were worth a million," said
Nelson to his wife, "my pleasure would be to see it in
your possession." The Sultan also sent, in a spirit
worthy of imitation, a purse of two thousand sequins/
to be distributed among- the wounded. The mother of
the Sultan sent him a box, set with diamonds, valued at
one thousand pounds. The Czar Paul, in whom the bet-
ter part of his strangelj^ compounded nature at this time
predominated, presented him with his portrait, set in
diamonds, in a gold box, accompanied with a letter of
congratulation, written by his own hand. The King of
Sardinia also wrote to him, and sent a gold box, set with
diamonds. Honors in profusion were awaiting him at
Naples. In his own country the king granted these hon-
orable augmentations to his armorial ensign :^ a chief

1. Sequins. Gold coins, first issued by the Venetian Republic, worth
about $2.25 each.

2. Augmentations to his armorial ensign. Additions to his coat-of-
arms. The chief (upper division of the shield) was undulated
(bordered by a waving line) and argent (silver) in color. A palm tree
rose from the sea in the middle, signifying victory ; with a disabled
ship on the right and a battery on the left, reminiscent of the battle
of the Nile: all in their proper (natural) colors. The crest, above
the chief, consisted of a golden naval crown, with a plume bearing

182 The Life of Nelson ^

undulated, argent; thereon waves of the sea ; from which
a palm-tree issuant, between a disabled ship on the dex-
ter, and a ruinous battery on the sinister, all proper; and
for his crest, on a naval crown, or, the chelengk, or
plume, presented to him by the Turk, with the motto,
Palmam qui meruit ferat* And to his supporters, being
a sailor on the dexter, and a lion on the sinister, were
given these honorable augmentations : a palm-branch in
the sailor 's hand, and another in the paw of the lion, both
proper; with a tri-colored flag and staff in the lion's
mouth. He was created Baron Nelson of the Nile and of
Burnham Thorpe, with a pension of £2000 for his own
life, and those of his two immediate successors. When
the grant was moved in the House of Commons, General
Walpole expressed an opinion, that a higher degree of
rank ought to be conferred. Mr. Pitt made answer, that
he thought it needless to enter into that question. ''Ad-

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 14 of 29)