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fore; he replied, that he did not wish the younker to
be favored; he knew his nephew would pass a good
examination, and he had not been deceived. The next
day Nelson received his commission as Second Lieu-
tenant of the Lowestoffe frigate. Captain William
Locker,^ then fitting out for Jamaica.

American and French privateers, under American
colors, were at that time harassing our trade in the
"West Indies: even a frigate was not sufficiently active
for Nelson, and he repeatedly got appointed to the com-
mand of one of the Lowestoffe' s tenders.^ During one
of their cruises tl;ie Lowestoffe captured an American
letter-of-marque :^ it was blowing a gale, and a heavy
sea running. The First Lieutenant being ordered to
board the prize, went below to put on his hanger.* It
happened to be mislaid; and, while he was seeking it,
Captain Locker came on deck. Perceiving the boat
still alongside, and in danger every moment of being
swamped, and being extremely anxious that the priva-
teer should be instantly taken in charge, because he
feared that it would otherwise founder, he exclaimed,
* ' Have I no officer in the ship who can board the prize ? ' '
Nelson did not offer himself immediately, waiting, with
his usual sense of propriety, for the First Lieutenant's

1. Captain 'William Locker. Locker was a capable officer who had
served under Admiral Hawke during the Seven Years' War. The
excellent principles and teaching of Hawke in the art of naval war-
fare may thus have been handed directly down to Nelson. "I have
been your scholar," wrote Nelson to Locker in 1799 ; "it is you who
always told me, 'Lay a Frenchman close, and you will beat him.' "—
Letters (ed. Laughton), p. 183.

2. Tenders. Schooners or other small craft employed by a larger
vessel for carrying dispatches, boarding prizes, and similar duties.

3. Letter-of-marque. Applied to a privately owned vessel carrying a
government commission (letter-of-marque) authorizing it to prey on
enemy commerce.

4. Hanger. A short, cut-and-thrust sword.

42 The Life of Nelson


return: but hearing the Master^ volunteer, he jumped
into the boat, saying, **It is my turn now; and if I come
back, it is yours." The American, who had carried a
heavy press of sail in hope of escaping, was so com-
pletely water-logged, that the Lowesioffe's boat went in
on deck, and out again, with the sea.

About this time he lost his uncle. Captain Locker,
however, who had perceived the excellent qualities of
Nelson, and formed a friendship for him, which con-
tinued during his life, recommended him warmly to Sir
Peter Parker, then Commander-in-Chief upon that sta-
tion. In consequence of this recommendation he was
removed into the Bristol flag-ship, and Lieutenant Cuth-
bert Collingwood^ succeeded him in the Lowestoffe. He
soon became First Lieutenant; and, on the 8th of De-
cember, 1778, was appointed Commander of the Badger
brig; Collingwood again succeeding him in the Bristol,
"While the Badger was lying in Montego Bay, Jamaica,
the Glasgow, of twenty guns, came in and anchored
there, and in two hours was in flames, the steward hav-
ing set fire to her while stealing rum out of the after-
hold. Her crew were leaping into the water, when Nel-
son came up in his boats, made them throw their powder
overboard, and point their guns upward; and, by his
presence of mind and personal exertions, prevented the
loss of life which would otherwise have ensued. On the
11th of June, 1779, he was made Post^ into the Hinchin-
hrooh, of twenty-eight guns, an enemy's merchantman,

1. Master. The sailing-master, a petty officer on war-vessels en-
trnsted with the navigation of the ship ; Inferior, In rank to a lien-

2. Collingwood. Nelson's second in command at Trafalgar.

3. Post. Post captain, a title applied to officers actually holding
commissions as captains and in command of vessels of the size to
which their rank entitled them (20 guns or more), to distinguish them
from acting captains and commanders of smaller vessels, who were
often called captain by courtesy.

The Life of Nelson 43

sheathed with wood, which had been taken into the
service. A short time after he left the Lowestoffe, that
ship, with a small squadron, stormed the fort of St.
Fernando de Omoa, on the south side of the Bay of
Honduras, and captured some register ships^ which
were lying under its guns. Two hundred and fifty
quintals- of quicksilver, and three millions of piastres,^
were the reward of this enterprise : and it is character-
istic of Nelson, that the chance by which he missed a
share in such a prize is never mentioned in any of
his letters; nor is it likely that it ever excited even a
momentary feeling of vexation.

Nelson was fortunate in possessing good interest at
the time when it could be most serviceable to him: his
promotion had been almost as rapid as it could be ; and
before he had attained the age of twenty-one he had
gained that rank which brought all the honors of the
service within his reach. No opportunity, indeed, had
yet been given him of distinguishing himself; but he
was thoroughly master of his profession, and his zeal
and ability were acknowledged wherever he was known.
Count d'Estaing,* with a fleet of one hundred and
twenty-five sail, men-of-war and transports, and a
reputed force of five-and-twenty thousand men, threat-
ened Jamaica from St. Domingo. Nelson offered his
services to the Admiral and to Governor-general Ball-
ing, and was appointed to command the batteries of
Fort Charles at Port Koyal.^ Not more than seven
thousand men could be mustered for the defence of the

1. Register sMps, Spanish vessels carrying money or plate.

2. Quintals. Weights of about one hundred pounds.

3. Piastres. Spanish coins about equivalent to an American dollar.

4. D'Estaing. The French fleet under d'Estaing afterward fought
Hood off Chesapeake Bay, preventing relief from reaching Cornwallis
at Yorktown.

5. Port Royal. Near Kingston, Jamaica.

44 The Life of Nelson

island, — a number wholly inadequate to resist the force
which threatened them. Of this Nelson was so well
aware, that when he wrote to his friends in England,
he told them they must not be surprised to hear of his
learning to speak French. D'Estaing, however, was
either not aware of his own superiority, or not equal to
the command with tvhich he was intrusted : he attempted
nothing with this formidable armament; and General
Bailing was thus left to execute a project which he had
formed against the Spanish colonies.

This project was, to take Fort San Juan^ on the river
of that name, which flows from Lake Nicaragua into the
Atlantic ; make himself master of the lake itself, and of
the cities of Grenada and Leon;^ and thus cut off the
communication of the Spaniards between their northern
and southern possessions in America. Here it is that ai
Canal between the two seas may most easily be formed ;
— a work more important in its consequences than any
which has ever yet been effected by human power. Lord
George Germaine, at that time Secretary of State for
the American department, approved the plan : and as
discontents at that time were known to prevail in the
Nuevo Eeyno,^ in Popayan,* and in Peru, the more san-
guine part of the English began to dream of acquiring
an empire in one part of America more extensive than
that which they were on the point of losing in another.®
General Dalling's plans were well formed; but the his-
tory and the nature of the country had not been studied
as accurately as its geography: the difficulties which

1. Fort San Juan. San Juan del Norte, or Greytown, Nicaragua.

2. Grenada and Leon. Situated between Lake Nicaragua and the
Pacific coast.

3. is'uevo Reyno (Spanish for new realm.) Mexico.

4. Popaijan. A city near the Pacific in the United States of Colom-
bia ; perhaps formerly employed in referring to the west coast north of

5. Losing in another. A reference to the American Revolution.

The Life of Nelson 45

occurred in fitting out the expedition delayed it till
the season was too far advanced ; and the men were thus
sent to adventure themselves, not so much against an
enemy, whom they would have beaten, as against a cli-
mate which would do the enemy's work.

Early in the year 1780, five hundred men, destined
for this service, were convoyed by Nelson from Port
Eoyal to Cape Graeias a Dios, in Honduras. Not a
native was to be seen when they landed : they had been
taught that the English came with no other intent than
that of enslaving them, and sending them to Jamaica.
After a while, however, one of them ventured down,
confiding in his knowledge of one of the party ; and by
his means the neighboring tribes were conciliated with
presents, and brought in. The troops were encamped
on a swampy and unwholesome plain, where they were
joined by a party of the 79th Regiment, from Black
River,^ who were already in a deplorable state of sick-
ness. Having remained here a month, they proceeded,
anchoring frequently, along the Mosquito shore^ to col-
lect their Indian allies, who were to furnish proper
boats for the river, and to accompany them. They
reached the river San Juan March 24th: and here,
according to his orders. Nelson's services were to ter-
minate ; but not a man in the expedition had ever been
up the river, or knew the distances of any fortification
from its mouth : and he, not being one who would turn
back when so much was to be done, resolved to carry
the soldiers up. About two hundred, therefore, were
embarked in the Mosquito shore-craft, and in two of the
Einchmhrook's boats, and they began their voyage. It
was the latter end of the dry season, the worst time for

1. BlacJc River, The Rio Tinto, Negro, or Black River, in Honduras,
Where tliere was a British settlement at this time.

2. Mosquito shore. Part of the eastern coast of Nicaragua.

46 The Life of Nelson

sucli an expedition; the river was consequently low:
Indians were sent forward through narrow channels be-
tween shoals and hanks, and the men were frequently
obliged to quit the boats, and exert their utmost strength
to drag or thrust them along. This labor continued for
several days, when they came into deeper water; they
had then currents and rapids to contend with, which
would have been insurmountable, but for the skill of
the Indians in such difficulties. The brunt of the labor
was borne by them and by the sailors — men never accus-
tomed to stand aloof when any exertion of strength or
hardihood is required. The soldiers, less accustomed
to rely upon themselves, were of little use. But all
equally endured the violent heat of the sun rendered
more intense by being reflected from the white shoals,
while the high woods on both sides of the river were fre-
quently so close as to prevent all refreshing circulation
of air ; and during the night all were equally exposed to
the heavy and unwholesome dews.

On the 9th of April they reached an island in the
river called St. Bartolomeo, which the Spaniards had
fortified, as an out-post, with a small semi-circular bat-
tery, mounting nine or ten swivels,^ and manned with,
sixteen or eighteen men. It commanded the river in a
rapid and difficult part of the navigation. Nelson, at
the head of a few of his seamen, leaped upon the beach.
The ground upon which he sprung was so muddy, that
he had some difficulty in extricating himself, and lost
his shoes: bare-footed, however, he advanced, and, in
his own phrase, hoarded the hattery. In this resolute
attempt he was bravely supported by the well-known
Despard,^ at that time a captain in the army. The Castle

1. Swivels. Small guns mounted on pivots so that they may be
turned freely to right or left.

2. Despard. Hanged in 1803 for conspiring to assassinate George

The Life op Nelson 47

of St. Juan is situated about sixteen miles higher up :
the stores and ammunition, however, were landed a few
miles below the castle, and the men had to march
through woods almost impassable. One of the men was
bitten under the eye by a snake, which darted upon him
from the bough of a tree. He was unable to proceed
from the violence of the pain: and when, after a short
while, some of his comrades were sent back to assist
him, he was dead, and the body already putrid. Nelson
himself narrowly escaped a similar fate. He had ordered
his hammock to be slung under some trees, being exces-
sively fatigued, and was sleeping, when a monitory
lizard passed across his face. The Indians happily ob-
served the reptile, and, knowing what it indicated, awoke
him. He started up, and found one of the deadliest
serpents of the country coiled up at his feet. Pie suf-
fered from poison of another kind; for, drinking at a
spring in which some boughs of the manchineel had
been thrown, the effects were so severe, as, in the opinion
of some of his friends, to inflict a lasting injury upon his

The Castle of St. Juan, is thirty-two miles below the
Lake of Nicaragua, from which the river issues, and six-
ty-nine from its mouth. Boats reach the sea from thence
in a day and a half; but their navigation back, even
when unladen, is the labor of nine days. The English
appeared before it on the 11th, two days after they had
taken St. Bartolomeo. Nelson's advice was, that it
should instantly be carried by assault: but Nelson was
not the commander; and it was thought proper to ob-
serve all the formalities of a siege. Ten days were
wasted before this could be commenced: it was a work
more of fatigue than of danger ; but fatigue was more to
be dreaded than the enemy ; the rains set in : and, could
the garrison have held out a little longer, disease would

48 The Life of Nelson

liave rid them of their invaders. Even the Indians sunk
under it, the victims of "anusnal exertion, and of their
own excesses. The place surrendered on the 24th. But
victory procured to the conquerors none of that relief
■which, had been expected; the Castle was worse than a
prison ; and it contained nothing which, could contribute
to the recovery of the sick, or the preservation of those
who were yet unaffected. The huts, which served for
hospitals, were surrounded with filth and with the putre-
fying hides of slaughtered cattle-^almost sufficient of
themselves, to have engendered pestilence : and when,
at last, orders were given to erect a convenient hospital,
the contagion had become so general, that there were
none who could w^ork at it; for, besides the few who
were able to perform garrison duty, there were not
orderly men^ enough to assist the sick. Added to these
evils, there was the want of all needful remedies; for,
though, the expedition had been amply provided with
hospital stores, river craft enough had not been pro-
cured for transporting the requisite baggage ; and when
much was to be left behind, provision for sickness was
that which of all things men in health would be most
ready to leave. Now, when these medicines were re-
quired, the river was swollen, and so turbulent, that
its upward navigation was almost impracticable. At
length, even the task of burying the dead was more than
the living could perform, and the bodies were tossed
into the stream, or left for beasts of prey, and for the
gallinazos^ — those dreadful carrion-birds, which do not
always wait for death before they begin their work. Five
months the English persisted in what may be called this
war against nature; they then left a few men, who
seemed proof against the climate, to retain the Castle

1. Orderly men. Hospital attendants.

2. Oallinazos. Buzzards.

The Life of Nelson 49

till tlie Spaniards should choose to retake it, and make
them prisoners. The rest abandoned their baleful con-
quest. Eighteen hundred men were sent to different
posts upon this wretched expedition; not more than
three hundred and eighty ever returned. The H in chin-
brook's complement consisted of two hundred men;
eighty-seven took to their beds in one night, and of the
whole crew not more than ten survived.

Nelson himself was saved by a timely removal. In a
few days after the commencement of the siege, he was
seized with the prevailing dysentery : meantime Captain
Glover (son of the author of "Leonidas"^) died, and
Nelson was appointed to succeed him in the Janus, of
forty-four guns. He returned to the harbor the day
before St. Juan surrendered, and immediately sailed
for Jamaica in the sloop which brought the news of his
appointment. He was, however, so greatly reduced by
the disorder, that when they reached Port Royal he was
carried ashore in his cot; and finding himself, after a
partial amendment, unable to retain the command of
his new ship, he was compelled to ask leave to return to
England, as the only means of recovery. Captain (after-
wards Admiral) Cornwallis- took him home in the Lion;
and to his care and kindness Nelson believed himself in-
debted for his life. He went immediately to Bath, in a
miserable state : so helpless, that he was carried to and
from his bed; and the act of moving him produced the
most violent pain. In three months he recovered, and
immediately hastened to London, and applied for em-
ployment. After an interval of about four months he
was appointed to the Albemarle y of twenty-eight guns,

1. Author of "Leonidas." Richard Glover (1712-1785). Leonidas,
his best-known poem, Is an epic In praise of liberty.

2. Cornicallis. A captain durlug the American War of Independence,
and an admiral during the War of the French Revolution ; he was

brother to Lord Corn-\valJii>. who surrendered at Y(-rl:to\vn.

50 The Life of Nelson

a French merchantman, which had been purchased from
the captors for the King's service.

His health was not yet thoroughly re-established;
and while he was employed in getting his ship ready,
he again became so ill as hardly to be able to keep out
of bed. Yet in this state, still suffering from the fatal
effect of a "West Indian climate, as if it might almost
be supposed, he said, to try his constitution, he was
sent to the North Seas, and kept there the whole winter.
The asperity with which he mentioned this so many
years afterwards, evinces how deeply he resented a
mode of conduct equally cruel to the individual and
detrimental to the service. It was during the Armed
Neutrality;^ and when they anchored off Elsinore,^ the
Danish Admiral sent on board, desiring to be informed
what ships had arrived, and to have their force written
down. *'The Albemarle/' said Nelson to the messenger,
**is one of his Britannic Majesty's ships: you are at
liberty, sir, to count the guns as you go do^^Ti the side ;
and you may assure the Danish Admiral, that, if neces-
sary, they shall all be well served." During this voy-
age he gained a considerable knowledge of the Danish
coast, and its soundings: greatly to the advantage of
his country in after-times. The Albemarle was not a
good ship, and was several times nearly overset, in con-
sequence of the masts having been made much too long
for her. On her return to England they were short-
ened, and some other improvements made, at Nelson's
suggestion. Still he always insisted that her first owners,
the French, had taught her to run away, as she was

1. Armed "Neutrality. An alliance entered Into by Russia, Denmark,
Sweden, and other nations to prevent the British practice of seizing
goods shipped in neutral vessels to the ports of France and Spain. For
Its revival in 1800, see p. 243 and note.

2. Elsinore. A fortified Danish port at the narrowest part of the
Sound connecting the Cattegat and the Baltic. See p. 250.

The Life of Nelson 51

never a good sailer, except when going directly before
the wind.

On their return to the Downs/ while he was ashore
visiting the Senior Officer, there came on so heavy a
gale that almost all the vessels drove, and a store-ship
came athwart-hawse^ of the Albemarle. Nelson feared
she would drive on the Goodwin Sands: he ran to the
beach ; but even the Deal boatmen thought it impossible
to get on board, such was the violence of the storm. At
length some of the most intrepid offered to make the
attempt for fifteen guineas ;^ and, to the astonishment
and fear of all the beholders, he embarked during the
height of the tempest. "With great difficulty and immi-
nent danger he succeeded in reaching her. She lost her
bowsprit and foremast, but escaped further injury. He
was now ordered to Quebec; where, his surgeon told
him, he would certainly be laid up by the climate.
Many of his friends urged him to represent this to
Admiral Keppel : but, having received his orders from
Lord Sandwich, there appeared to him an indelicacy in
applying to his successor* to have them altered.

Accordingly he sailed for Canada. During her first
cruise on that station, the Albemarle captured a fishing
schooner, which contained, in her cargo, nearly all the
property that her master possessed, and the poor fellow
had a large family at home, anxiously expecting him.
Nelson employed him as a pilot in Boston Bay, then
restored him the schooner and cargo, and gave him a
certificate to secure him against being captured by any

1. The Dovcns. A roadstead on the English side of the Straits of
Dover, bordered on the northeast by the banks known as the Goodwin

„ 2. Athtcart-Jiaicse. Across the bow.

^ 3. Guineas. A guinea is 21 shillings ; a shilling is worth about 24

I' 4. His successor. Keppel succeeded Lord Sandwich as First Lord
of the Admiralty March 20, 1782.

52 The Lii^i: c^ Nelson

other vessel. The man came off afterwards to the
Albemarle, at the hazard of his life, with a present of
sheep, poultry, and fresh provisions. A most valuable
supply it proved ; for the scurvy was raging on board :
this was in the middle of August, and the ship's com-
pany had not had a fresh meal since the beginning of
April. The certificate^ was preserved at Boston in
memory of an act of unusual generosity ; and now that
the fame of Nelson has given interest to everything con-
nected with his name, it is regarded as a relic. The
Alhemarle had a narrow escape upon this cruise. Four
French sail of the line and a frigate, which had come
out of Boston Harbor, gave chase to her; and Nelson,
perceiving that they beat him in sailing, boldly ran
among the numerous shoals of St. George's Bank,^ con-
fiding in his own skill in pilotage. Captain Salter, in
the St. Margareitay had escaped the French fleet, by a
similar maneuver, not long before. The frigate alone
continued warily to pursue him; but as soon as he per-
ceived that his enemy was unsupported he shortened
sail, and hove-to : upon which the Frenchman thought it

1. Certificate, The vessel captured was tbe Harmony of Plymoutti.
Her skipper, Nathaniel Carver, piloted Nelson through the narrow
channel between Cape Cod and Nantucket, thus enal)ling him to escape
the deep-draught French ships which had learned of the Albemarle's
presence and were in pursuit. Later, in August, 1782, Nelson re-entered
Massachusetts Bay, still retaining the Harmony as tender. Captain
Carver and the owner, Thomas Davis, visited the ship, dined with
Nelson, and received the following certificate, still preserved by the
owner's descendants :

These are to certify that I took the Schooner Harmony, Nathaniel
Carver, Master, belonging to Plymouth, but on acct. of his good serv-
ices have given him up his vessel again.

Dated on bd His Majesty's Ship Albemarle, 17 Aug. 1782, in Boston
Bay. Horatio Nelson.

(From Southey's Life of Nelson, edited by Edwin L. Miller, N. Y.,

2. f^t. George's Bank. About one hundred miles east of Cape Cod.

The Life op Nelson 53

advisable to give over the pursuit, and sail in quest of
his consorts.

At Quebec, Nelson became acquainted with Alexan-
der Davison, by whose interference he was prevented
from making what would have been called an impru-
dent marriage. The Albemarle was about to leave the
station, her captain had taken leave of his friends, and
was gone down the river to the place of anchorage:
when, the next morning, as Davison was walking on the
Deach, to his surprise he saw Nelson coming back in his
boat. Upon inquiring the cause of this reappearance,
Nelson took his arm, to walk towards the town, and told
him he found it utterly impossible to leave Quebec with-
out again seeing the woman whose society had contrib-
uted so much to his happiness there, and offering her
his hand. — ^'If you do," said his friend, '^your utter
ruin must inevitably follow." — ''Then let it follow,"
cried Nelson, ''for I am resolved to do it." — "And I,"

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 4 of 29)