The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805: End of the Action

An action during the Napoleonic War, 1803-15. On 15 September 1805 Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson re-hoisted his flag in the 'Victory', 100 guns, at Portsmouth and sailed to join Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood and re-assume command of the Mediterranean fleet off Cadiz on 28 September. On the same day Vice-Admiral Villeneuve was ordered to sail from Cadiz for the Mediterranean with just his French ships. However, the Spanish were determined to accompany him.

On the morning of 21 October the British found the Franco-Spanish Allied fleet, which reversed its course northwards towards Cadiz, forming into a somewhat disordered single column on the port tack in a light wind. The British fleet was in two parallel lines, the left-hand or windward column being led by Nelson in the 'Victory', the right-hand or leeward one by Collingwood in the 'Royal Sovereign', 100 guns. Both lines intercepted the enemy at an angle from slightly astern of their beam, Collingwood engaging about one-third from the rear of the enemy line and Nelson just ahead of the centre.

The action quickly became general and continued for over three hours, by which time 17 Allied ships had struck and one blown up. Although no British ship was lost, the battle is important because of its conclusive nature and the fact that Nelson was among the dead. While the war continued for nearly ten more years, it was its last fleet action of major strategic import. This painting shows the two fleets at the end of the action at about 5.00 pm and is a bird's eye view from the south-east. In the foreground the most shattered of the British ships lie with their prizes. Beyond, the remaining ten enemy ships are making their escape. In the left foreground is the British 'Tonnant', 80 guns, in port-bow view, her topmast shot away, and astern of her the British 'Defiance', 74 guns, in port-bow view, having lost her main and mizzen topmasts. To the right of her is the French 'L'Intrepide', 74 guns, with her fore and mizzen topmast gone. In the middle of the foreground is the British 'Bellerophon', 74 guns, in port-bow view, her main and mizzen topmasts gone. Just astern of her, in port-quarter view, is the captured Spanish ship 'Monarca', 74 guns. In the right foreground is the captured Spanish 'Bahama', 74 guns, in starboard-quarter view, with the British 'Mars', 74 guns, beyond her and starboard broadside across her bows. In the extreme right, in starboard-quarter view and half out of the picture is the British 'Conqueror', 74 guns. In the middle distance, left to right and bow on, the French 'Achille', 74 guns, is burning. There is also a group of three British ships; the nearest is the 'Sirius', 36 guns, in starboard-quarter view, while beyond her is the 'Prince', 98 guns, also in starboard-quarter view and the schooner 'Pickle', 10 guns, in port-broadside view. To the right of these and nearer the viewer are two three-deckers, in starboard-quarter view, the left hand one being the dismasted Spanish 'Santa Ana', 112 guns, and the other Collingwood's 'Royal Sovereign' with only her foremasts standing. To the right of these, in port-bow view, is a cluster of three ships all more or less dismasted. Left to right, these are the French 'Fougeux', 74 guns, the British 'Téméraire', 98 guns, and French 'Redoubtable', 74 guns. Both the French ships have been captured.

Beyond this last group is the 'Victory' with only her foremasts standing, in starboard quarter view and almost masking Villeneuve's flagship 'Bucentaure', also in starboard-quarter view. In the right and beyond these two are the captured 'Santissima Trinidad', 140 guns, and the British 'Neptune', 98 guns, in starboard-quarter and stern view. On the right of the picture is a crowd of ships mostly under way. The nearest is the dismasted Spanish 'San Augustin', 74 guns, alongside the British 'Leviathan', 74 guns, which is firing a starboard gun, and the French 'Intrepide', 74 guns, escaping to the right with a Spanish ship. Beyond are more British ships to the right.

The painting is one of a pair (see BHC0548) and one of a series of six paintings created for a two-volume 'Life of Nelson', begun shortly after Nelson's death in 1805 by Clarke and McArthur and published in 1809. They were engraved by James Fittler to be reproduced in the biography with lengthy explanatory texts. Accompanying the engraving is a plan with a key and a description. The artist placed considerable importance on accuracy, referring to his annotated drawings and sketch plans in the production of his oil paintings.

Pocock was born and brought up in Bristol, went to sea at the age of 17 and rose to command several merchant ships. Although he only took up painting as a profession in his early forties, he became extremely successful, receiving commissions from naval commanders anxious to have accurate portrayals of actions and ships. By the age of 80, Pocock had recorded nearly 40 years of maritime history, demonstrating a meticulous understanding of shipping and rigging with close attention to detail. The painting is signed and dated 'N Pocock 1807'.

Object Details

ID: BHC0549
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Pocock, Nicholas
Events: Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Trafalgar, 1805
Vessels: Fougueux (1785); Redoutable (1791) Temeraire (1798) Aigle (1800) Leviathan (1790)
Date made: circa 1808
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Frame: 866 mm x 1175 mm x 85 mm;Painting: 711 mm x 1016 mm;Weight: 15 kg

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