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Southey was no doubt attracted by their narrative Interest, and felt
less keenly than modern biographers the need of searching into their
validity. They have a value also as illustrating the contemporary
feeling for Nelson.

2. Chatham. A port on the Medway River, which forms below
Chatham a wide estuary often employed by the British fleet as a base
and winter-quarters. The Dutch in 1667 raided the port and destroyed
most of the British Navy.

The Life of Nelson 29

on board, Captain Suckling was not in the ship, nor
had any person been apprised of the boy's coming. He
paced the deck the whole remainder of the day, without
being noticed by any one ; and it was not till the second
day that somebody, as he expressed it, ' ' took compassion
on him." The pain which is felt when we are first
transplanted from our native soil, when the living
branch is cut from the parent tree, is one of the most
poignant which we have to endure through life. There
are after griefs which wound more deeply, which leave
behind them scars never to be effaced, which bruise the
spirit and sometimes break the heart: but never do
we feel so keenly the want of love, the necessity of being
loved, and the sense of utter desertion, as when we
first leave the haven of home, and are, as it were,
pushed off upon the stream of life. Added to these
feelings, the sea-boy has to endure physical hardships,
and the privation of every comfort, even of sleep. Nel-
son had a feeble body and an affectionate heart, and he
remembered through life his first days of wretchedness
in the service. ,

The Baisonnable having been commissioned on ac-
count of the dispute respecting the Falkland Islands,^
was paid off as soon as that difference with the court of
Spain was accommodated, and Captain Suckling was
removed to the Triumph, seventy-four, then stationed
as a guardship^ in the Thames. This was considered as
too inactive a station for a boy, and Nelson was there-
fore sent a voyage to the West Indies in a merchant-
ship, commanded by Mr. John Rathbone, an excellent

1. Dispute respecting the Falkland Islands. Spain had received the
Islands from France, and In 1770 drove out a small English settlement
made there five years before. English naval preparations led Spain
to give over her claims in 1771.

2. OuardsMp. A war-vessel appointed to protect and control the
shipping of a port, and to receive naval recruits.

30 The Life op Nelson

seaman, who had served as Master's mate^ under Cap-
tain Suckling in the DreadnoiigJit. He returned a prac-.
tical seaman, hut with a hatred of the king's service,
and a saying then common among the sailors — -'^Aft
the most honor, forward the better man." Eathbone
had probably been disappointed and disgusted in the
Navy ; and, with no unfriendly intentions, warned Nel-
son against a profession which he himself had found
hopeless. His uncle received him on board the Triumplbif
on his return; and discovering his dislike to the Navy,
took the best means of reconciling him to it. He held it
out as a reward, that if he attended well to his naviga-
tion he should go in the cutter and decked long-boat^
which was attached to the commanding officer's ship at
Chatham. Thus he became a good pilot for vessels of
that description, from Chatham to the Tower, and
down the Swin Channel to . the North Foreland,^ and
acquired a confidence among rocks and sands, of which
he often felt the value.

Nelson had not been many months on board the
Triumph when his love of enterprise was excited by
hearing that two ships were fitting out for a voyage
of discovery toward the North Pole. In consequence
of the difficulties which were expected on such a service,
these vessels were to take out effective men instead of
the usual number of boys. This, however, did not
deter him from soliciting to be received, and by his

1. Master's mate. A petty officer (not eligible for promotion to
commissioned rank) whose duty it was to assist the old-time sailing-
master in navigating the ship, lading stores, and maintaining order on

2. Cutter and decked long-loat. The largest of the ship's boats,
provided with oars, mast, and sails, and with a crew usually of from
twelve to fifteen men.

3. Totver . . . North Foreland. That is, he learned the chan-
nels of the Thames estuary from the Tower of London to the North
Foreland at its outer eonthern extremity.

The Life of Nelson 31

■ancle's interest^ lie Y\'as cdmitted as coxswain under
Captain Lutwidge, second in command. The voyage was
undertaken in compliance with an application from the
Eoyal Society.^ Captain the Hon. Constantine John
Phipps, eldest son of Lord Mulgrave, volunteered his
services. The Racehorse and Carcass bombs^ were se-
lected, as the strongest ships, and therefore best adapted
for such a voyage ; and they were taken into dock and
strengthened to render them as secure as possible
against the ice. Two masters of Greenlandmen* were
employed as pilots for each ship. No expedition was
ever more carefully fitted out, and the First Lord of the
Admiralty,^ Lord Sandwich, with a laudable solicitude,
went on board himself before their departure, to see
that everything had been completed to the wish of
the officers. The ships were provided with a simple
and excellent apparatus for distilling fresh from salt
water, the invention of Dr. Irving, who accompanied the

.. 1. Interest. Influence.

' 2. Royal Society. "The Royal Society of London for Improving
Natural Knowledge." From its foundation 'In 1660 to the present
time, the society has been the foremost organization of its type in
England, including among its members the leaders of English scientific
achievement. During the voj^age, which was undertaken in the interest
of various branches of science, the vessels explored and mapped the
northwest coast and Islands of Spitzbergen, reaching a point 80° 48' N.

I 3. Bombs. Bombs, or bomb-vessels, were staunch, broad-beamed
crafts, built to carry mortar guns for throwing bombs at high angles,

4. Masters of Oreenlandmen. Captains of Greenland whaling vessels.

5. Admiralty. The Board of Admiralty, in which is vested the
administration of the British Navy, consists of six members : the first
lord, usually a civilian, who is head of the board and a cabinet min-
ister ; four naval oflacers, called sea lords ; and one additional civilian
lord. The first lord is in supreme authority, and it is held that his

■ constitutional powers permit him to issue orders on his own responsi-
bility. Ordinarily, however, he does not act without the l^nowledge and
concurrence of a majority of the board. In Nelson's time the powers
of the Admiralty were more strictly confined to the control of the fleet,
while financial and shore administration was in the hands of the
Comptroller and the Navy Board. See p. 40, note 3.

32 The Life op Nelson

expedition. It consisted merely of fitting a tnbe to the
ship's kettle, and applying a wet mop to the surface, as
the vapor was passing.^ By these means, from thirty-
four to forty gallons were produced every day.

They sailed from the Nore^ on the 4th of June :^ on the
6th of the following month they were in latitude 79° 56'
39"; longitude 9° 43' 30" E. The next day, about the
place where most of the old discoverers had been stopped,
the RaceJiorse was beset with ice ; but they hove her
through with ice-anchors.^ Captain Phipps continued
ranging along the ice northward and westward till the
24th; he then tried to the eastward. On the 30th he
,was in latitude 80° 13', longitude 18° 48' E., among the
islands and in the ice, with no appearance of an open-
ing for the ships. The weather was fine, mild, and un-
usually clear. Here they were becalmed in a large bay,
with three apparent openings between the islands which
formed it; but everywhere, as far as they could see,
surrounded with ice. There was not a breath of air,
the water was perfectly smooth, the ice covered with
snow, low and even, except a few broken pieces near the
edge ; and the pools of water in the middle of the ice-
fields just crusted over with young ice. On the next day
the ice closed upon them, and no opening was to
be seen anywhere, except a hole, or lake, as it might
be called, of about a mile and a half in circumference,
where the ships lay fast to the ice with their ice-anchors.
They filled their casks with water from these ice-fields,
which was very pure and soft. The men were playing

1. Vapor Vjas passing. The steam carried by the tube from the top
of the kettle was turned to water by wrapping the tube with a wet,
cold mop.

2. The Nore. A sand-bar and lighthouse midway in the mouth of
the Thames, forty-eight miles below London.

3. Jfth of June. In the year 1773.

4. Ice-anchors. Tiarge iron hooks, bent nearly at right angles, with
sharp points to catch In the Ice.

The Life of Nelson 33

on the ice all day; but the Greenland pilots, who were
further than they had ever been before, and considered
that the season was far advancing, were alarmed at
being- thus beset.

The next day there was not the smallest opening, the
ships were within less than two lengths of each other,
separated by ice, and neither having room to turn. The
ice, which the day before had been flat, and almost level
with the water's edge, was now in many places forced
higher than the mainyard,^ by the pieces squeezing to-
gether. A day of thick fog followed : it was succeeded
by clear weather, but the passage by which the ships
had entered from the westward was closed, and no open
water was in sight, either in that or any other quarter.
By the pilots' advice the men were set to cut a passage,
and warp through the small openings to the westward.
They sawed through pieces of ice twelve feet thick, and
this labor continued the whole day, during which their
utmost efforts did not move the ships above three hun-
dred yards; while they were driven, together with the
ice, far to the N. E. and E. by the current. Some-
times a field of several acres square would be lifted up
between two larger islands, and incorporated with them ;
and thus these larger pieces continued to grow by aggre-
gation. Another day passed, and there seemed no proba-
bility of getting the ships out, without a strong E. or
N. E. wind. The season was far advanced, and every
hour lessened the chance of extricating themselves.
Young as he was, Nelson was appointed to command
one of the boats which were sent out to explore a pas-
sage into the open water. It was the means of saving a
boat belonging to the Racehorse from a singular but
imminent danger. Some of the officers had fired at and

1. Mainyard. The lowermost yard of the mainmast, twenty-five or
thirty feet from the water.

34 The Life of Nelson

wounded a walrus. As no other animal has so human-
like an expression in its countenance, so also is there
none that seems to possess more of the passions of hu-
manity. The wounded animal dived immediately, and
brought up a number of its companions; and they all
joined in an attack upon the boat. They wrested an oar
from one of the men ; and it was with the utmost diffi-
culty that the crew could prevent them from staving or
upsetting her, till the Carcass's boat came up: and the
walruses, finding their enemies thus reinforced, dis-
persed. Young Nelson exposed himself in a more daring
manner. One night, during the mid-watch,^ he stole
from the ship with one of his comrades, taking advan-
tage of a rising fog, and set out over the ice in pursuit
of a bear. It was not long before they were missed.
The fog thickened, and Captain Lutwidge and his offi-
cers became exceedingly alarmed for their safety. Be-
tween three and four in the morning the weather cleared,
and the two adventurers were seen, at a considerable
distance from the ship, attacking a huge bear. The
signal for them to return was immediately made : Nel-
son 's comrade called upon him to obey it, but in vain;
his musket had flashed in the pan;^ their ammunition
was expended; and a chasm in the ice, which divided
him from the bear, probably preserved his life. *' Never
mind," he cried ; ''do but let me get a blow at this devil
with the butt-end of my musket, and we shall have him. ' '
Captain Lutwidge, however, seeing his danger, fired a
gun, which had the desired effect of frightening the

1. Mid-icatc7i. From midnight to 4 A. M. On ship-board, the day
beginning at midnight is divided Into fonr-hour "watches," except that
the period from 4 to 8 P. M. is divided into "dog watches" of two
hours each,

2. Flashed in the pan. Failed to discharge. The old flint-loclc
musket was fired hy priming powder placed in a small pan at the
base of the barrel and ignited by a spark: struclt with flint.

The Life of Nelson 35

beast; and the boy then returned, somewhat afraid of
the consequences of his trespass. The captain repri-
manded him sternly for conduct so unworthy of the
office which he filled, and desired to know what motive
he could have for hunting a bear. ''Sir," said he,
pouting his lip, as he was wont to do when agitated,
*'I wished to kill the bear, that I might carry the skin
to my father."

A party were now sent to an island, about twelve
miles off (named Walden's Island in the chart, from
the midshipman who was intrusted with this service),
to see where the open water lay. They came back with
information that the ice, though close all about them,
was open to the westward, round the point by which
they came in. They said also, that upon the island they
had had a fresh east wind. This intelligence consid-
erably abated the hopes of the crew, for where they
lay it had been almost calm, and their main dependence
had been upon the effect of an easterly wind in clear-
ing the bay. There was but one alternative, either to
wait the event of the weather upon the ships, or to
betake themselves to the boats. The likelihood that it
might be necessary to sacrifice the ships had been fore-
seen ; the boats, accordingly, were adapted, both in num-
ber and size, to transport, in case of emergency, the
whole crew; and there were Dutch whalers upon the
coast, in which they could all be conveyed to Europe.
As for wintering where they were, that dreadful experi-
ment had been already tried too often. No time was to
be lost; the ships had driven into shoal water, having
but fourteen fathoms. Should they, or the ice to which
they were fast, take the ground, they must inevitably be
lost: and at this time they were driving fast towards
some rocks on the N. E. Captain Phipps had sent for
the officers of both ships, and told them his intention

'36 The Life op Nelson

of preparing the boats for going away. They were
immediately hoisted out, and the fitting begun. Canvas
bread-bags were made, in case it should be necessary
suddenly to desert the vessels ; and men were sent with
the lead and line to the northward and eastward, to
sound wherever they found cracks in the ice, that they
might have notice before the ice took the ground; for,
in that case, the ships must have instantly been crushed
or overset.

On the 7th of August they began to haul the boats
over the ice. Nelson having command of the four-oared
cutter. The men behaved excellently well, like true
British seamen: they seemed reconciled to the thought
of leaving the ships, and had full confidence in their
officers. About noon, the ice appeared rather more open
near the vessels ; and as the wind was easterly, though
there was but little of it, the sails were set, and they
got about a mile to the westward. They moved very
slowly, and were not now nearly so far to the westward
as when they were firs+ beset. However, all sail was
kept upon them, to force them through whenever the ice
slacked the least. "Whatever exertions were made, it
could not be possible to get the boats to the water's
edge before the 14th; and if the situation of the ships
should not alter by that time, it would not be justifiable
to stay longer by them. The Commander therefore
resolved to carry on both attempts together, moving
the boats constantly, and taking every opportunity of
getting the ships through. A party was sent out next
day to the westward, to examine the state of the ice:
they returned with tidings that it was very heavy and
close, consisting chiefly of large fields. The 'ships, how-
ever, moved something, and the ice itself was drifting
westward. There was a thick fog, so that it was impos-
sible to ascertain what advantage had been gained. It

The Life op Nelson " 37

continued on the 9th ; but the ships were moved a little
through some very small openings: the mist cleared off
in the afternoon; and it was then perceived that they
had driven much more than could have been expected
to the westward, and that the ice itself had driven still
farther. In the course of the day they got past the
boats, and took them on board again. On the morrow
the wind sprang up to the N. N. E. All sail was set, and
the ships forced their way through a great deal of very
heavy ice. They frequently struck, and with such force,
that one stroke broke the shank of the Racehorse's best
bower anchor:^ but the vessels made way; and by noon
they had cleared the ice, and were out at sea. The next
day they anchored in Smeerenberg Harbor, close to
that island of which the westernmost point is called
Hakluyt's^ Headland, in honor of the great promoter
and compiler of our English voyages of discovery.

Here they remained for a few days, that the men
might rest after their fatigue. No insect was to be
seen in this dreary country, nor any species of reptile,
not even the common earthworm. Large bodies of ice,
called icebergs, filled up the valleys between high moun-
tains, so dark, as, when contrasted with the snow, to
appear black. The color of the ice was a lively light
green. Opposite to the place where they had fixed their
observatory was one of these icebergs, above three hun-
dred feet high; its side towards the sea was nearly
perpendicular, and a stream of water issued from it.
Large pieces frequently broke off, and rolled down into
the sea. There was no thunder nor lightning during

1. Shank of the test "bower anchor. The "best bower is the larger
of the two anchors usually carried at a vessel's bow. The shank is
the main shaft of the anchor, between the stock and the flukes.

2. Hakluyt's. Richard Hakluyt (c. 1553-1616). The final edition
of his chief work, "The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and
Discoveries of the English Nation," appeared in 1600.

38 The Life op Nelson

the whole time they were in these latitudes. The sky
was generally loaded with hard white clouds, from
which it was never entirely free, even in the clearest
weather. They always knew when they were approach-
ing the ice, long before they saw it, by a bright appear-
ance near the horizon, which the Greenlandmen called
the blink of the ice. The season was now so far ad-
vanced that nothing more could have been attempted,
if, indeed, anything had been left untried: but the
summer had been, unusually favorable, and they had
carefully surveyed the wall of ice extending for more
than twenty degrees between the latitudes of 80°
and 81°, without the smallest appearance of any

The ships were paid off shortly after their return to
England ; and Nelson was then placed by his uncle with
Captain Farmer, in the Seahorse, of twenty guns, then
^oing out to the East Indies in the squadron under Sir
Edward Hughes. He was stationed in the foretop^ at
watch and watch.^ His good conduct attracted the
attention of the Master (afterwards Captain Surridge),
in whose watch he was ; and, upon his recommendation,
the Captain rated him as Midshipman.^ At this time his
countenance was florid, and his appearance rather stout
and athletic: but when he had been about eighteen

1. Foretop. A platform supported by the crosstrees at the fore-
mast head. Nelson was here doing the work of an "able seaman,"
presumably in command of men stationed in the foretop to work

2. Watch and watch. Serving one watch on and one off throughout
the twenty-four hours.

3. Rated Mm as midshipman. In the eighteenth century there was
a naval academy at Portsmouth accommodating about seventy "naval
cadets." Most officers, however, began their training on ship-board as
"captain's servants." At fifteen, which was Nelson's age at this time,
they were rated as midshipmen. They were instructed in navigation
by the sailing-master, and were expected to qualify in three or four
years for the grade of lieutenant.

The Life of Nelson 39

months in India^ he felt the effects of that climate, so
perilous to European constitutions. The disease baffled
all power of medicine; he was reduced almost to a
skeleton ; the use of his limbs was for some time entirely
lost; and the only hope that remained was from a
voyage home. Accordingly he was brought home by
Captain Pigot, in the Dolphin; and had it not been for
the attentive and careful kindness of that officer on the
way, Nelson would never have lived to reach his native
shores. He had formed an acquaintance with Sir
Charles Pole, Sir Thomas Troubridge, and other dis-
tinguished officers, then, like himself, beginning their
career: he had left them pursuing that career in full
enjoyment of health and hope, and was returning from
a country in which all things were to him iaew and Inter-
esting, with a body broken down by sickness, and spirits
which had sunk with his strength. Long afterwards,
when the name of Nelson was known as widely as that
of England itself, he spoke of the feelings which he at
this time endured. *'I felt impressed," said he, '^with
a feeling that I should never rise in my profession. My
mind was staggered with a view of the difficulties I had
to surmount, and the little interest I possessed. I could
discover no means of reaching the object of my ambi-
tion. After a long and gloomy reverie, in which I al-
most wished myself overboard, a sudden glow of pa-
triotism was kindled within me, and presented my King
and- country as my patron, 'Well then,' I exclaimed,
'I will be a hero! and, confiding in Providence, brave
every danger!' "

Long afterwards, Nelson loved to speak of the feeling
of that moment: and from that time, he often said, a

^ 1. Eighteen months in India. Nelson in an autobiographical Memoir
States that he visited in the Seahorse "almost every part of the East
Indies, from Bengal to Bussorah [Basra]." — Nelson's Letters (ed.
Laughton), p. 2.

40 The Life of Nelson

radiant orb was suspended in his mind's eye, which,
■urged him onward to renown. The state of mind in
which these feelings began, is what the mystics^ mean
by their season of darkness and desertion. If the ani-
mal spirits fail, they represent it as an actual tempta-
tion. The enthusiasm of Nelson's nature had taken a
different direction, but its essence was the same. He
knew to what the previous state of dejection was to be
attributed; that an enfeebled body, and a mind de-
pressed, had cast this shade over his soul : but he always
seemed willing to believe, that the sunshine which suc-
ceeded bore with it a prophetic glory, and that the
light which led him on was *' light from heaven. "^

His interest, however, was far better than he imag-
ined. During his absence Captain Suckling had been
made Comptroller of the Navy;^ his health had mate-
rially improved upon the voyage; and, as soon as the
Dolphin was paid off, he was appointed Acting Lieu-
tenant in the Worcester^ sixty-four. Captain Mark Rob-
inson, then going out with convoy* to Gibraltar. Soon
after his return, on the 8th of April, 1777, he passed his
examination for a lieutenancy. Captain Suckling sat
at the head of the board ; and when the examination had
ended, in a manner highly honorable to Nelson, rose
from his seat, and introduced him to the examining
captains as his nephew. They expressed their wonder

1. Mystics. Those who trust the guidance of emotion rather than
reason in matters of religious experience and faith.

2. Light from Heaven. From Burns's Vision:

"But yet the light that led astray
W^as light from Heaven."

3. Comptroller of the "Navy. An Important officer at the head of
the so-called Navy Board, which, prior to its amalgamation with the
Admiralty Board in 1832, exercised control over yards and docks,
victualling, pay, and in general over the civil administration of the

4. With convoy. With merchant vessels under her protection.

The Life of Nelson 41

that he had not informed them of this relationship be-

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 3 of 29)