Death of Nelson

Nelson was killed by a fatal gunshot wound at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. 

His death at the moment of victory secured Nelson's immortality and place in history.

The fatal shot

He took the fatal bullet while pacing the quarterdeck of his ship HMS Victory with Captain Thomas Hardy, at about 13.15. It is doubtful that the shot was deliberately aimed. It is more likely that it was a stray bullet.

It struck him downwards on his left shoulder, with a force that threw him to his knees. It smashed two ribs and tore through his left lung, severing a major artery on the way. Then having fractured his spine, it lodged beneath his right shoulder blade.

Nelson was carried below deck for medical help butu nothing could be done. He survived for three hours, long enough to hear from Hardy that the British had achieved a great victory. Satisfied, he prepared himself for death. He gave last directions for his fleet and left affectionate messages for his lover Emma Hamilton and their child, Horatia.

‘Kiss me, Hardy’

Close to death, Nelson asked Captain Hardy to kiss him goodbye. Hardy kissed him on the cheek. ‘Now I am satisfied,’ said Nelson. ‘Thank God I have done my duty.’

Later generations, embarrassed by the kiss between these two heroic men, suggested Nelson’s last words were ‘Kismet Hardy’, kismet being Turkish for ‘fate’.  However, it is likely that Beatty’s account is true, in keeping with Nelson’s character and the spirit of the age he lived in.

Nelson’s death became the central event of the Battle of Trafalgar. Even at the time, it overshadowed the triumph of the great victory. Ordinary seamen broke down crying when the news spread through the fleet and when the news reached Britain, the nation went into mourning.

Read more about Nelson’s funeral

Find out more about Nelson's life and legacy at the National Maritime Museum's 'Nelson, Navy, Nation' gallery. Entry to the National Maritime Museum is free, open daily from 10am. Plan your visit