Sir Horatio Nelson when wounded at Teneriffe, Night of July 24th 1797

A print after Richard Westall’s 1806 painting, ‘Nelson Wounded at Tenerife, 24 July 1797’, see BHC0498. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807 with the title, ‘Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson in the act of Landing on the Mole of Teneriffe, in July 1797, dangerously wounded by a cannon-shot in his right arm, which was afterwards amputated. Upon this occasion, his life was saved by the attention and presence of mind of his son-in-law, now Captain Nesbit. Owing to the absence of this gentleman his portrait is left unfinished.’

The painting was commissioned by John McArthur, as a plate for the first biography, ‘The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, KB’, which he wrote with James Stainer Clarke in 1809. Engraved by John Neagle in 1809, it formed part of a series painted by Westall for the book intended to illustrate Nelson’s life as a series of heroic acts. After the battle of Cape St Vincent, 14 February 1797, Nelson was blockading Cadiz but was ordered to make an assault on the town of Santa Cruz in Tenerife. He immediately set sail with three ships of the line, three frigates, and a cutter and was joined by a fourth frigate and a bomb vessel en route. After several failed attempts Nelson decided upon a direct assault on Santa Cruz by night, aiming for the central castle of San Cristobal where the Spanish general staff were based. Nelson commanded the attack, leading one of six divisions of boats. At 10.30 pm on 24 July, the British sailors and marines met around the ‘Zealous’ where they formed into six divisions and were roped together. With muffled oars they began the two-mile row to the mole but the initial landing in boats went wrong when many of them were swept off course and the element of surprise was lost. Although the attack failed, a truce was negotiated and the Spanish co-operated in allowing the British return to their ships. Early in the attack, Nelson was hit just above the right elbow by a musket ball as he attempted to disembark at the mole. Since the bone and joint were shattered, his arm was amputated aboard the ‘Theseus’ that night.

Nelson’s barge is shown beached in the surf, in port-bow view. At the point of landing Nelson reeled and staggered back into the boat, where he lies with his sword transferred to his left hand in the arms of a seaman, possibly intended as John Lovell who helped bind the wound. In the left foreground, standing in the shallow water, is Captain Thomas Boulden Thompson, arms outstretched towards Nelson, together with another lieutenant. Lieutenant Josiah Nisbet, Nelson’s stepson, stands behind him with hands clasped. In the right foreground the stylized depiction of waves enhances the dramatic impact. Westall has conveyed the staged effect by employing a dramatic language of gesture and expression.

Object Details

ID: PAD4077
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Neagle, John; Westall, Richard Thomas Cadell & William Davies Westall, Richard
Date made: 1809
People: Nelson, Horatio
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Mount: 483 mm x 318 mm;Primary support: 344 mm x 267 mm

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