N is for Horatio Nelson

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.

Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson is a great national naval hero, at least in the UK, probably less so in France, but famous though he is, many of the things we think we know about him are wrong.

Where to begin? Well, he didn’t hold a telescope to his blind eye at the Battle of Copenhagen and say: ‘I see no ships’ as is often quoted. What he actually said was: ‘I really do not see the signal’ when he chose to ignore the recall signal issued by Admiral Parker.

But the main reason it is wrong is that Nelson wasn’t totally blind in his right eye. It had been badly damaged by sand and debris thrown in it by a French cannonball at the battle of Calvi in 1794, but he still had some sight.

To all intents and purposes, his damaged eye looked perfectly normal, so much so that Nelson had a problem convincing the Royal Navy that he was eligible for a disability pension.

Nelson's ColumnAnd that brings us to another myth – Nelson never wore an eyepatch. That is the way most people think of him, even though it isn’t present on his most famous likeness on top of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

Speaking of Trafalgar, this was where Nelson met his Waterloo, so to speak, but his last words were not: ‘Kiss me, Hardy’. They were in fact: ‘Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub’.

Some believe that the first is a misquote anyway and that Nelson actually said: ‘Kismet Hardy’, meaning it was fate, but since Hardy did indeed kiss his commander on the cheek and forehead, it is certain that the popular line is correct. Unless Hardy misheard him.

Death of NelsonBut returning to Nelson’s actual last words: ‘Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub’. This was because he was being fanned and given lemonade to drink after being shot, while the ship’s chaplain massaged his chest to ease the pain.

One final bit of Nelson trivia, he was created the Duke of Bronte by the King of Naples and as a result, a Yorkshire parson who was such an admirer of the great man that he changed his name to Brontë. If he hadn’t, today we would instead be celebrating the works of his daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brunty.

I’m indebted to the QI Book of General Ignorance for the inspiration for this post.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • VioletSky 18th April 2012

    I love bits of useless trivia, so I should seek out this book!
    My N was also on Nelson – sortof – though I could not find a reason for naming a school after him. but, we also have a Trafalgar and a Bronte in the same area likely because the British officers who settled here were sucking up to somebody with their naming rights.

  • rhymeswithplague 18th April 2012

    The angle of the shot of Nelson’s Column really emphasizes Nelson’s, er, column, if you get my drift. No wonder so many admire the man. No erectile dysfunction in evidence whatsoever.

  • Tropical Pudding 18th April 2012

    …Yes Hank, but were you talking about The Full Nelson or The Half Nelson? Nelson in Lancashire or Nelson in Hawke’s Bay NZ? Nelson Mandela or Willie Nelson? It’s all very confusing.

  • Jennyta 18th April 2012

    An interesting post, SP. Ignore the previous two commentators with their lewd and ribald comments. 😉

  • Roger Green 19th April 2012

    yes, a character even I have heard of!

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • chrisj 20th April 2012

    I have a friend who traces his family back to Nelson. I must email him this link. Good trivia.


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