Nelson Gallery - Frequently asked questions

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1. Where and when was Nelson born?
2. What age was he when he first entered the navy?
3. When did he first come a national hero?
4. What other battles was he involved in?
5. Where and when did he lose the sight of his right eye?
6. Where and when did he lose his right arm?
7. When did he meet Lady Emma Hamilton?
8. What was his rank at the battle of Trafalgar?
9. How did Nelson die?
10. What happened to his body?
11. When was his funeral and where is he buried?
12. Did Nelson really say "Kiss me, Hardy"?
 
 
1. Nelson was born at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk. He was the sixth child of the Revd Edmund Nelson and his wife. He was born on Friday 29 September 1758.
 
2. Nelson entered the Navy as a Midshipman at the age of 12. His first ship was HMS Raisonable which was commanded by his uncle, Maurice Suckling.
 
3. He first became a national hero at the battle of Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797 against a combined French and Spanish fleet. He was Captain of HMS Captain. The Commander in Chief was John Jervis. The British fleet were in a single line of battle to engage the enemy when some Spanish ships looked as though they might escape north when they were astern of the British column. Nelson spotted this and took his ship out of the line across the passage of the Spanish ships, forcing them to change course, and allowed the leading British ships to catch them up. Nelson also led a boarding party and captured two Spanish ships, San Josef and San Nicholas.
 
4. The other major battles that Nelson is known for are the battle of the Nile (also known as Aboukir Bay) on 1st August 1798, the battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801 and the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. He was also involved in some minor engagements.
 
5. He lost the sight in his right eye at the siege of Calvi on 10 July 1794.
 
6. He lost his right arm at Santa Cruz (Tenerife) on 24 July 1797.
 
7. He first met Lady Emma Hamilton at Naples in 1793 when he was Captain of HMS Agamemnon. She was the wife of Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to the King and Queen of Naples. He returned to Naples after the battle of the Nile in September 1798 in HMS Vanguard. He was a sick man, but Lady Hamilton's welcome was effusive and he stayed with the Hamiltons to recover his health, nursed by Lady Hamilton and her mother. During December, Nelson and Lady Hamilton worked to evacuated the King and Queen of Naples after the French invaded. They became lovers in 1800.
 
8. At the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was Vice Admiral of the White and Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean.
 
9. Nelson died during the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. He was walking along the quarterdeck when he was shot by a French sniper from the mizzen mast of the Redoutable. He was taken below to the orlop deck with the other wounded men where he later died from his injuries.
 
10. After the battle, his body was encased in a large casket called a leaguer. It was then filled with brandy as this has preservative qualities. At Gibraltar, where HMS Victory put in, the brandy that had not been absorbed by the corpse was replaced by spirits of wine for the journey home to Britain, which took four and half weeks due to bad weather. An autopsy was performed when the ship reached Chatham.
 
11. Nelson was given a state funeral. His body was first laid in state at the Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital on 5-7 January 1806. On the 8th January, his coffin was taken up river on Charles II state barge to Whitehall where it lay in the Admiralty buildings overnight. On 9th January 1806 the funeral procession went through the streets of London to St Paul's Cathedral drawn by six horses. The ceremony ended at 5.30pm when the coffin was lowered into the crypt. The funeral was attended by many naval colleagues and his estranged wife, Fanny. His captured opponent at Trafalgar, Admiral Villeneuve, was granted leave to also attend. The barge that carried Nelson's coffin up river to Whitehall can be seen in the Museum's Victory gallery.
 
12. There has been a huge debate over Nelson's words to Captain Hardy. However, the late Dr Colin White, a renown Nelson scholar and  former Director of this Museum, had researched this subject and made the following conclusions:
"There is little explanation required for the words as there were at least three eye-witness accounts that record that Nelson did actually ask Hardy to kiss him. These witnesses were: Surgeon William Beatty, Chaplain Alexander Scott and Purser Walter Burke. These three are portrayed in the painting Death of Nelson by Arthur Devis, considered to be the most authentic (the nearest thing to a photograph of the occasion) and they can be seen within inches of the dying Admiral and would, therefore, have heard what was said. On normal occasions, it could be assumed that one witness might be mistaken, but when three independent accounts agree, there is little room for doubt over what was said.
Beatty also records that Hardy not only kissed Nelson once, but twice - first on the cheek, then stood up, looked down at his dying Leader and friend, reluctant to leave him. He then bent down again and kissed him on the forehead. Nelson was sinking fast by then and could not see clearly. He asked: "Who is that?" to which came the reply "It is Hardy". Nelson replied "God bless you, Hardy"
It was a very moving and poignant moment. It was consistent with Nelson's affectionate character that he should ask, in the darkness of impending death, for a gesture of tenderness from his closest professional associate and probably his closest male friend."
If you have any further questions about Nelson, or any other naval officer, why not see our research collections pages.