Real Men of Genius

Horatio Nelson

Real Men of Genius - Horatio Nelson

Nelson the Admiral

We feature in this interview with Real Men of Genius, Vice-Admiral, Lord Nelson, who has been described as the most famous fighting admiral in history. 

His tactics were sometimes unconventional but he had excellent strategies and displayed inspirational leadership.  It has been written that the seas were his playground.

Nelson displayed great courage and personal leadership and inspired loyalty from his men.  He exposed himself to the same hazards of battle and lost an eye and an arm and, eventually, his life in the process.

Real Men of Genius – joining the Navy at 12

Question

Lord Nelson, we understand that you joined the Navy in 1771 when you were just 12 years old.  Can you tell us a little of your family circumstances, please.

Answer

I was born on 29 September 1758 in Norfolk.  I had ten brothers and sisters.  I had one overriding ambition, which was to go to sea.

When I entered the Navy I joined a ship commanded by my uncle and before long became a midshipman and undertook officer training.  At 20 I became a captain and undertook service in the West Indies, Baltic and Canada.

Question

What about marriage?

Answer

I met Frances Nisbet while in Nevis and we were married in 1787.  When I returned home, Fanny later followed me and we lived in Burnham Thorpe where for five years I suffered half pay because there was no command for me in peacetime. 

Real Men of Genius – blinded in one eye

Question

Ultimately French action changed all that, didn’t it?

Answer

Yes, after the French annexed the Austrian Netherlands in 1793, I was recalled to service and commanded HMS Agamemnon.  Within a few days the French declared war.  We saw service in the Mediterranean and I assisted in the capture of Corsica. 

After that I prepared an assault on Calvi during which I was struck in my right eye by flying debris.  We triumphed but there was no repairing the damage to the eye, and I lost the sight of it.

Real Men of Genius – promotion to Commodore

Question

Three years later you were promoted to Commodore and ordered to command the ships blockading the French coast?

Answer

Yes, but by October 1796 the French advances meant that it was becoming very difficult to supply our ships in the Mediterranean and we were evacuated to Gibraltar, capturing a Spanish frigate on the way.

Question

We are told that as a commander you were well known for your bold action, but didn’t always follow orders to the letter?

Answer

You may say that, but if I hadn’t done so would I have defeated the Spanish off Cape Vincent in 1797?

Real Men of Genius – losing an arm

Question

Was it there that you lost your right arm?

Answer

No, that was at Santa Cruz.  As I was going ashore I was hit by a musket ball that fractured my arm in several places.  It was necessary to amputate most of the arm, but I still had my legs and one arm and I was still able to issue orders to my captains.

Real Men of Genius – battle of the Nile

Question

You then returned to England and moved to London with Fanny in order to obtain medical attention for your arm?

Answer

Yes, I spent a few months recuperating with Fanny before I was given Vanguard and sent to Cadiz as reinforcement to follow Napoleon’s fleet.  We took Malta, although the French had already left, but eventually I tracked them to the Nile.

Question

And took them completely by surprise, I think?

Answer

It was our tactics that surprised them.  We found them at anchor and their firepower was surely superior to ours.  However, I ordered our ships to advance and attacked from both sides.  They didn’t expect that and were totally unprepared.

Question

Weren’t you wounded yet again?

Answer

Nothing to speak of.  I was struck in the head by a piece of shot which temporarily blinded me, but the surgeon bandaged it and I recovered.  I destroyed Orient , their flagship, and three other ships, and captured nine. 

Only four vessels escaped.  Napoleon’s fleet was destroyed and his Egyptian forces were stranded.  Strategically it was a significant victory. 

Question

Honours followed from various quarters, not least of which was a peerage?

Answer

Yes, I took the title Baron Nelson of the Nile but it was rather less than I had expected because the Prime Minister had already indicated that I would be given a Viscountcy.

Real Men of Genius – Lady Hamilton

Question

You frequently returned to Naples where I understand you were entertained by Lord and Lady Hamilton, and your friendship with Lady Hamilton blossomed?

Answer

Not to put too fine a point on it, I fell in love with her.  She accompanied me on many occasions when I attended events held in my honour and subsequently bore my child.

Question

Which led to the breakdown of your relationship with Fanny?

Answer

Yes.

Real Men of Genius – battle of Copenhagen

Question

You were promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1801?

Answer

Real Men of Genius - Horatio Nelson

And very shortly afterwards Emma gave birth to our daughter, Horatia.  I then sailed to the Baltic where the Danish and others had formed an alliance to break the British blockade.  I advised an attack on the Danish fleet and was given permission to proceed.

Question

But I understand that three British ships ran aground and you were ordered to withdraw?

Answer

Yes, because we also encountered heavier fire than anticipated, but I raised my telescope to my blind eye and exclaimed, “I see no signal”.  Both fleets were heavily damaged, we called a truce and I negotiated a lengthy armistice.

Question

You then became commander-in-chief in the Baltic and awarded the Viscountcy you so richly deserved?

Answer

I think so.  I returned to England but it wasn’t long before Napoleon planned an invasion of Britain and I had the honour of defending the English Channel to prevent it.  A peace agreement was struck in 1801 and I returned home to stay once again with the Hamiltons.

Real Men of Genius – battle of Trafalgar

Question

After being appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean you were given HMS Victory as your flagship?

Answer

Yes.  By the beginning of 1805 the French had eluded our blockade and in early September news arrived that they had combined fleets with the Spanish and were anchored at Cadiz. 

We arrived at Cadiz at the end of September and planned our strategy.  Although fleets generally lined up against each other and blasted each other with broadsides, I was well aware that we had fewer ships than the combined French and Spanish fleets.

My men had trained well for such a battle and were able to fire ten times faster than our opponents so I sailed directly at them in separate columns.  We were thus able to use our canons on both sides and attack double the number of ships.

Question

But you were hit by sniper fire?

Answer

My back was shot through.  Hardy told me that enemy ships had surrendered.  I knew I was finished so I asked him to kiss my forehead and muttered my last instructions.  I had done my duty and died within a few hours.  I thought it fitting that my remains were interred at St Paul’s Cathedral.


Keep your eyes open for more Real Men of Genius as they are added to this site and also look at Real Women of Genius for further examples.

Read Modelling Genius and remember also to see where you can identify the talents of these people within yourself.  You will have them all.  You may just need to search a little:



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