N is for Horatio Nelson

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 23 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

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, that and his empty sleeve, 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 from Brunty 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 as 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.

4 comments… Add yours
  • ABC Wednesday 10th October 2018

    He sure did not let his handicap hinder him

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    ♫ M e l d y ♪ (ABC-W-team)

  • Roger Green 10th October 2018

    Mythbuster !

  • Su-sieee! Mac 11th October 2018

    I learned a lot about Nelson, thank you much. The only thing I can remember is Gregory Peck portraying him in a move. Wait, no that was Hornblower. My favorite fact of all is Brunty changing his name to Bronte. Second is Nelson’s last words.

  • Kate 12th October 2018

    I learnt a lot about Nelson through the characters of Patrick O’Brian in his seafaring novels. and one piece of your information – the telescope to the eye one – is beautifully explored. By the way, if you get to ‘O’ and have no-one, may I put in a request for O’Brian?


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