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May 20, 2013

Nelson's HMS Victory maritime museum

 

DON'T DECRY NELSON IN PORTSMOUTH

David Ellis

 

MUCH has been said, written, researched and further researched about the dying words of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson as he led the British against France and Spain in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, the battle that gave England its greatest-ever sea victory to that time – but at the cost of the loss of its greatest-ever naval commander.

 

Because in his final minutes, his shoulder shattered by a bullet that had then lodged in his spine, Horatio Nelson, laying amongst fellow officers and ordinary seamen also suffering horrific injuries below deck on the Victory, had whispered to his friend and Captain of his ship, Captain Thomas Hardy: "Kiss me, Hardy."

 

To many in the prim society of the time, it was an absolute outrage to suggest that a Naval Commander would request that a subordinate kiss him – worse still in public – with many complaining that the very notion bordered almost on homosexuality, and scandalised highest British society and all other officers of the Navy… many of whom, of course, came from that very core of British high society.

 

Thus countless attempts were made to suggest that in fact Admiral Nelson had used the word "kismet," which came from the Arabic (and Nelson was familiar with that part of the world) which meant "fate." Thus by muttering "Kismet, Hardy," Nelson in his dying minutes had simply acknowledged his fate to his friend.

 

Captain Hardy acceded to Nelson's request and kissed him gently on the cheek and then the forehead, just minutes before Nelson died at 4.30pm on October 21, 1805 – just three hours after the Battle of Trafalgar had begun.

 

But try telling the folk of historic Portsmouth in England's south, where the fully-restored HMS Victory is now a maritime museum, that Lord Nelson had said anything other than "Kiss me, Hardy," and you'll be facing your own scaled-down Battle of Trafalgar.

 

For here, Horatio Nelson is a local hero of extraordinary note, and whomever you speak with will very quickly tell you his words were simply in keeping with the sensitive and emotional character of this great man.

 

After all, they'll point out, just hours before his death as his ships sailed into battle, Horatio Nelson had written a new Will aboard the Victory in which he had left his entire worldly possessions to his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton and their illegitimate daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson.

 

Plus, that as he lay dying, he had also confided in Captain Hardy of the Will, saying to him: "Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy; take care of my poor Lady Hamilton…"

 

And after he had requested Captain Hardy to "Kiss me, Hardy," he had commented: "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty…"

 

Plus Portsmouth's folk will proudly tell you, the most credible of witnesses later attested to Nelson's famous last words, including his Chaplain aboard HMS Victory, Alexander Scott and the ship's surgeon, William Beatty who was attending Nelson in that confined space below deck.

 

After his death, Nelson's body was preserved in a cask of brandy that was lashed to the Victory's mast to be taken back to England at battle's end, and the news of his death rushed ahead by the (appropriately named?) small schooner, Pickle.

 

Nelson's fleet of 27 fighting ships, Portsmouth's citizens will boast, routed the larger enemy fleet of 33 ships: England lost no ships, France and Spain lost 18 of their 33; England lost 1,700 killed or wounded, France and Spain 6,000 and many hundreds more taken prisoner.

 

A visit to HMS Victory in Portsmouth is a must on any England holiday trip. Take the opportunity there to also see the oldest dry-dock in the world – it was built in 1496 and is still in use today – while Portsmouth is also now home to Royal Navy and Royal Marine Commandos.

 

Plus the circa-1861 HMS Warrior there is the world's first armour-plated, iron-hulled warship and was fully-restored in the 1960s, while the remains of the warship Mary Rose that was built in 1511 can also be seen in Portsmouth.

 

And of course it was from Portsmouth that the 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail for Australia on May 13, 1787 under the command of Captain (and Governor-designate) Arthur Phillip…

 

                                                

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

[] ADMIRAL Lord Nelson's restored HMS Victory in Portsmouth Harbour. (FlickR.com)

[] BATTLE of Trafalgar as captured by William Clarkson Stanford. (Portsmouth City)

[] NELSON's last moments aboard HMS Victory. (Wikimedia.)

[] PORTSMOUTH'S extraordinary Spinnaker Tower & Lookout overlooking the harbour. (Portsmouth City)

 


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