History of HMS Victory, Death of Nelson – Part Eleven

The Death of Nelson, 21 October 1805. Arthur William Devis, 1807
Chrono date: 
1805 Oct 21

By 4.30 p.m. the action was over, and a victory was reported to Lord Nelson just before his death. We left him in the cockpit, where he was attended by Dr. Scott, the chaplain, and Mr Burke, the purser. He had sent the doctor away to attend to the other wounded, and lay in great agony, fanned with paper by those two officers, and giving his last directions as to those he loved; but ever and anon interrupted by the cheers of the Victory’s crew, he would ask the cause, and being told it was a fresh enemy’s ship that had struck her flag, his eye would flash as he expressed his satisfaction. He frequently asked for Captain Hardy, and that officer not being able to leave the deck, his anxiety for his safety became excessive, and he repeated, “he must be killed;” “he is surely destroyed.” An hour had elapsed before Hardy was able to come to him, when they shook hands, and the Admiral asked — “How goes the day with us.” “Very well, my Lord,” was the reply; “we have about 12 of the enemy in our possession.”

After a few minutes of conversation, Hardy had again to return on deck, and shortly after the Victory’s port guns redoubled their fire on some fresh ships coming down on her, and the concussion so affected Lord Nelson that he cried in agony, “Oh! Victory!’ ‘Victory!’ how you distract my poor brain;” but, weak and in pain as he was, he indignantly rebuked a man, who in passing through the crowded cockpit struck against and hurt one of the wounded.

Captain Hardy again visited him in about another hour, and, holding his Lordship’s hand, congratulated him on a brilliant victory, saying, he was certain that 14 ships had surrendered. “That is well,” he answered,” but I bargained for 20.” Then, Hardy having again to go on deck, Nelson after emphatically telling him to anchor, and declaring his intention to direct the fleet as long as life remained, said, “kiss me Hardy,” the Captain knelt down and kissed him, when he said, “Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty.” Twenty minutes later he quietly passed away, having again and again repeated to his last breath, the words above mentioned. They were, it has been well remarked, the whole history of his life.

On the firing ceasing, the Victory had lost 57 killed and 103 wounded, and found herself all but a wreck. The tremendous fire to which she was exposed, when leading her line into action, had caused great damage, at a very early period of the battle, and before she herself fired a gun, many of her spars were shot away, and great injury was done to the hull, especially the fore part of it.

At the conclusion of the action, she had lost her mizen mast, the fore-topmast had to be struck to save the foremast; the mainmast was not much better, and it took all the exertions of her crew to refit the rigging sufficiently to stand the bad weather that followed.

The actual number of prizes taken by 5 p.m., on October 21st, were 19; so that Nelson’s desired number was nearly made up; but from their disabled condition, they were nearly all wrested from us by the gales that succeeded the battle. Lord Nelson had doubtless foreseen this, and thence his wish to anchor, and as a matter of fact, most of those few ships and prizes that did anchor, rode the gale out in safety and were saved; but the majority of the vessels were either anchorless, or in such deep water that they could not with convenience anchor.

The Victory’s trophy, the Redoutable, was one of those that sunk after the action in deep water, and in her, as in many of the other vessels lost, went down her prize crew of British seamen. The English fleet were in nearly as disabled a state as their prizes, as might be expected after such a battle, and it is a matter of wonder that some of them were not lost on the treacherous shoal that swallowed up so many of the captured ships.

The enemy’s fleet of 33 sail was disposed of as follows:

Taken into Gibraltar … … 4
Burnt by the English … … 3
Sunk by the English … … 3
Wrecked during the gale … … 9

19 lost to the enemy.

Struck, but afterwards got into Cadiz crippled … 2

Escaped into Cadiz damaged … 4
Escaped into Cadiz perfect … 4
Escaped to the South, but captured by
Sir R. Strachan on the 4th Nov., and taken into Plymouth … … 4

14 saved to the enemy.


  • Captain W.J.L. Wharton, RN, A Short History of HMS Victory, Portsmouth, Griffin & Co,2, The Hard, Portsmouth.


History of HMS Victory  – Part One

History of HMS Victory, Early Career – Part Two

History of HMS Victory, Engagement with the French off Ushant – Part Three

History of HMS Victory, Siege of Gibraltar – Part Four

History of HMS Victory, Occupation of Toulon – Part Five

History of HMS Victory, Imminent peril of the Victory – Part Six

History of HMS Victory, Battle of Cape St. Vincent – Part Seven

History of HMS Victory, Blockade of Toulon – Part Eight

History of HMS Victory, Nelson’s pursuit to the West Indies - Part Nine

History of HMS Victory, Battle of Trafalgar – Part Ten

History of HMS Victory, Death of Nelson – Part Eleven

History of HMS Victory, Damage sustained by Victory – Part Twelve

History of HMS Victory, Victory again in Active Service – Part Thirteen

Established in 2003, Royal Navy History is the leading and official website for the History of the Royal Navy.
Copyright © 2017, Royal Navy History