Military and Naval Career of Nelson
As I have mentioned in an earlier post; Nelson embarked on his naval military career at the age of twelve.
Nelson’s formative years; just preceding his naval military debut were indeed a little peculiar. When compared to other lads his age.
At the time when growing boys were either taking to farming. Or the more genteel ones to the legal; or military professions. Nelson chose to go a-sailing. This decision may have been prompted both by his family’s none too wealthy status. Along with his own fascination with the sea.
Even as a child, Nelson had made up his mind about the course he intended his life to follow; and the call of the sea was all that resonated in his ears.
His maternal uncle, Maurice Suckling offered him his first opportunity aboard his ship. The Raisonnable. Suckling was a seasoned Captain. Hence, Nelson’s father was glad to have his son under his wing.
However, I think I can quite identify with that adolescent who; so long ago; had the gumption to heed his heart and brave all odds to follow his dreams.
Finally on board
The frail boy joined ship in 1771. He joined as a trainee on board the Raisonnable; sailing from the Chatham Docks.
The first year of training under Captain Suckling gave Nelson much-needed grounding.
“Naval and military biographers seem to recognize the value of this year in Nelson’s training; it gave him an understanding of the merchantmen’s outlook.. Their important part in the seagoing affairs of the world.”(Learning the ropes)
Sail I must
Perhaps Nelson’s grandiose schemes were still far from being realized. The Raisonnable was decommissioned later that year. Nelson joined his uncle’s next ship; the HMS Triumph. The lad re entered the Royal Navy as a servant to the Captain.
However, I do believe that for him the most important thing was that he was on a ship; and not in what capacity. He was soon placed as a midshipman, sailing on the HMSTriumph. This assignment was short lived, and soon Nelson joined merchant ships to gain sailing experience.
Maurice Suckling was appointed Comptroller of the Navy in 1775. In 1777, an 18 year old Nelson passed his lieutenancy exam. Here onwards, it was nothing but looking ahead for the young Commissioned Officer (Lieutenancy).
Nelson’s career progressed rapidly and after serving under some distinguished commanders and gaining the necessary experience, he obtained his own command (Nelson in command).
The period following the American War and military of Independence was one of intermittent illness and unemployment (Lean period).
Nelson found his sea legs once again
This happened when the French Revolutionary Wars and military broke out, and he was extremely active in the Mediterranean (Commander Nelson).
Nonetheless, if Nelson had any misgivings about what his superiors may be harboring against him were soon dispelled and he was offered command of the Agamemnon, a four-rate ship of the line (Command of a war ship).
It was in 1797 that the first important battle, the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, distinguished Horatio Nelson as a commander. He led the HMS Captain to victory at this battle. .
After Cape St. Vincent, Nelson not only suffered defeat at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, but also lost his right arm.
The time was now the time for a rising star on the French horizon, Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon and Nelson were to confront each other in a number of battles, and they were both forged parallel meteoric paths for themselves. Their careers intertwined and overlapped from 1793 to 1802 Nelson and Napoleon.
This is not to say that these famous rivals were without respect for each other. I think they were both comfortable in their own confidence, hence not envious of the other.
The extent to which Napoleon held a grudging respect for Nelson was exemplified in his borrowing Nelson’s famous statement: “England expects that every man will do his duty”, and placing a French translation on all his ships:”La France compte que chacun fera son devoir”.
In the coming posts we will see clearly how these two doyens of their respective nations faced off time and again, and their confrontations culminated in the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805.