ON THIS DAY - May
1st May 1794: To Fanny prior to the attack on Corsica: 'Only recollect that a brave man dies but once, a coward all his life long. We cannot escape death; and should it happen to me in this place, remember, it is the will of Him, in whose hands are the issues of life and death'.
2nd May 1803: To Sir William Scott, campaigning on behalf of ordinary seamen: 'Something should be attempted at these times to make our seamen, at the din of war, fly to our Navy, instead of flying from it'.
3rd May 1804: To Lord Hobart on the strategic value of Sardinia: 'Having in former letters, stated its immense importance, I only now presume to bring the subject forward to Your Lordship's most serious consideration. The question is not, shall the King of Sardinia keep it? That is out of the question; he cannot, for any length of time. If France possesses it, Sicily is not safe an hour'.
4th May 1831: Vicountess Fanny Nelson dies in London aged 70. On this day in 1786, Nelson had written to her: 'Duty is the great business of a sea officer. All private consideration must give way to it however painful it is'.
5th May 1801: Nelson, in the Baltic following Copenhagen, receives his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Baltic. To Addington: 'My health is gone, and although I should be happy to try and hold out a month or six weeks longer, yet death is no respector of persons. I own, at present, I should not wish to die a natural death'.
6th May 1788: On exposing gross frauds in the West Indies: 'That thing called honour, is now alas! thought of no more. My integrity cannot be mended, I hope; but my fortune, God knows, has grown worse for the service; so much for serving my country. I have invariably laid down, and followed close, a plan of what ought to be upper-most in the breast of an officer: that it is much better to serve an ungrateful country, than to give up his own fame'.
7th May 1798: To Orion, Alexander and Vanguard: 'It being of the very greatest importance that the squardron should not be separated, it is my positive orders that no temptation is to induce a line-of-battle ship to separate from me, except the almost certainty of bringing a line-of-battle ship of the enemy to action, but in common cases, if the weather is such as to risk separation, or the approach of night, it is my directions you will leave off chase, and rejoin me, even without waiting for the signal of recall, unless I make the signal to continue the pursuit'.
8th May 1801: Summarising his situation in the Baltic: 'I look upon the Northern League to be like a tree, of which Paul [Russia] was the trunk, and Sweden and Denmark the branches. If I can get at the trunk, an hew it down, the branches fall of course, but I may lop the branches and yet not be able to fell the tree, and my power must be weaker when strength is required'.
10 May 1805: To Ball on his brave decision to quit his station. 'My lot is cast, and I am going to the West Indies'. On 23 August the West India merchants unanimously agreed: 'That the prompt determination of Lord Nelson to quit the Mediterranean in search of the French Fleet, his sagacity in judging of, and ascertaining their course, have been very instrumental to the safety of the West Indian Islands in general'.
11th May 1805: To Viscount Sidmouth, following a long blockade, and resolved to sail for the West Indies in pursuit of Villeneauve: 'I this day steer for the West Indies. My lot seems to have been hard, and the enemy most fortunate; but it may turn - patience and perseverance will do much'.
12th May 1803: To Sutton: 'The d-d Pilot have run Raisonnable aground: take care of scant winds and sands'.
13th May 1799: Nelson is guarding Sicily and Naples but fears the French are at sea. He ponders his options: 'What a state I am in! If I go, I risk Sicily, and what is now safe on the Continent; for we know, from experience, that more depends on opinion than on acts themselves. As I stay, my heart is breaking'.
14th May 1796: Relentlessly pursuing Villeneuve's superior force, which on this day has reached Martinique: 'It will not be fancied I am on a party of pleasure running after eighteen sail of the line with ten, and that to the West Indies'.
15th May 1803: To George Rose, on the Irish Pension: 'I was with Mr Addington this morning; and as we conversed on the subject of the extension of my Annuity, and also the extraordinary thing of my not receiving the Irish Pension, as was done for Lords St Vincent and Duncan - I have to beg of you, to tell Mr Addington, that it was a mistake'.
16th May 1805: To Emma: 'As it is my desire to take my adopted daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson, from under the care of Mrs Gibson, and to place her under your guardianship, in order that she may be properly educated and brought up, I have, therefore, most earnestly to entreat that you will undertake this charge'.
17th May 1803: To Sutton: 'If I can get my things on board Victory pray lose no time: If you can get twelve good sheep, some hay, and fowls and corn, it will do no harm, for I may yet go out on the Victory'.
18th May 1803: To Sir Evan Nepean on being recalled to duty as a result of England's declaration of war against France: 'I have arrived here at one o'clock this afternoon, and have hoisted my Flag on board His Majesty's Ship Victory. Captain Sutton informs me she will be in every respect ready for sea on Friday morning'.
19th May 1801: Negotiating the release by Russia of British merchant ships: 'I hope it is all right: but seamen are but bad negotiators - for we put the matter to issue in five minutes, what diplomatic forms would be five months doing'.
20th May 1797: To James Simpson, consul of the USA, who seeks an escort for a convoy of twelve ships at Malaga: 'I shall immediately grant the protection you have requested, by sending a Frigate, who shall protect them close to the Coast of Barbary. In thus freely granting the protection of the British Flag to the subjects of the United States, I am sure of fulfilling the wishes of my Sovereign, and I hope of strengthening the harmony between the two nations'.
21st May 1794: Troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Villettes and seamen under Captain Nelson capture Bastia after a thirty-seven day siege. To Lord Hood: 'Sent Captain Young ashore - on the morning of the 21st who soon returned to the Victory with two Officers and two of the Administrative Bodies, settled the Articles of Capitulation which were signed the following morning'.
22nd May 1799: To Lady Hamilton, knowing of the deteriorating situation at Malta and concerned about its governor. 'Ball has not joined: I am under the greatest apprehension that he has quitted Malta on the first report of the French, and has either been surprised, or taken the route via Messina. Although the first would be unpleasant for England, yet the last would be equally distressing for me. Altogether I am not pleasantly situated'.
24th May 1796: To Sir John Jervis: 'I have felt, and do feel, Sir, every degree of sensibility and gratitude for your kind and flattering attention, in directing me to hoist a distinguishing pennant; but useful, is nearly, if not quite at an end, I assure you I shall have no regret in striking it; for it will afford me an opportunity of serving nearer your flag, and of endeavouring to show, by my attention in a subordinate station, that I was not worthy of commanding'.
25th May 1804: To Troutbridge on whether embarked soldiers should hold authority over captains of ships, if senior: Let them once gain the step of being independent of the navy on board ship, and they will soon have the other, and command us ... the King himself cannot do away the Act of Parliament. Although my career is nearly run, yet it would embitter my future days and expiring moments, to hear of our Navy being sacrificed to the Army'.
26th May 1798: The King of Sardinia, fearing French reprisals, refuses entry into St Peters by Nelson's storm-battered ships. Nelson enters and carries out reparations: 'When I reflect that my most gracious Sovereign is the oldest (I believe), and certainly the most faithful, ally which His Majesty of Sardinia ever had, I could feel the sorrow which it must have been to His Majesty to have given such an order and for your Excellency, who has to direct its execution'.
30th May 1796: Agamemnon, Gulf of Genoa, to Jervis: Mr Trevor seems to think a Spanish war is almost unavoidable, and that the French, after all their protestations, will take possession of Leghorn. My mind is clear, if they have fore to penetrate further into Italy, they will possess themselves of Leghorn'.
31st May 1798: To Earl of St Vincent reporting on the damage suffered by Vanguard: 'That the accidents which have happened to the Vanguard were just punishment for my consummate vanity, I most humbly acknowledge, and kiss the rod which chastised me. I hope it has made me a better officer, as I hope it has made me a better man'.