Nelson was killed by a fatal gunshot wound at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. There were at least three eyewitness accounts that confirm Nelson said "Kiss me Hardy" prior to his death.
What were Nelson’s last words?
There has been extensive debate over Nelson's final words to Captain Hardy which continues today. However, there were at least three eyewitness accounts that confirm Nelson said "Kiss me Hardy" prior to his death. These witnesses were: Surgeon William Beatty, Chaplain Alexander Scott and Purser Walter Burke.
Records state that Hardy kissed Nelson twice - first on the cheek and then on the forehead. Nelson could not see clearly and asked: "Who is that?" to which came the reply "It is Hardy". Nelson replied, "God bless you, Hardy."
Nelson's final words (as related by all three written accounts) were "Thank God I have done my duty." He is said to have repeated this statement until he became unable to speak. Although Surgeon Beatty records this, he was not present when Nelson became unable to speak and returned just before Nelson died.
Some historians believe that instead of "Kiss Me Hardy", Nelson said "Kiss Emma, Hardy", referring to his mistress and lover.
Many in the Victorian era believed “Kiss me hardy” was misheard. They believe Nelson must have been speaking Turkish and declaring, 'Kismet Hardy” meaning "this is fate or destiny". However, contemporary historians believe this to be a Victorian invention, since the earliest recorded use of the term "Kismet" in the English language was in 1849.
Who was Nelson?
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (29 September 1758 - 21 October 1805) was an English sea captain and admiral in the Royal Navy. He was born in the village of Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk.
Nelson commanded the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, fighting against the French and Spanish. He was blind in one eye and had lost an arm, after being wounded in several naval battles. During the Battle of Trafalgar, his greatest victory, he was killed by a French sniper.
How did Nelson die?
Nelson died during the Battle of Trafalgar in south-west Spain on 21 October 1805 at around 1-2pm. 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 but 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. He was 47 years old.
Who was Thomas Hardy?
Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (1769 – 1839) was one of the most famous figures in British naval history. Starting his life in the navy as a captain’s servant at the age of 12, he rose through the ranks to serve as a captain on the HMS victory alongside Nelson.
In later life, he was promoted to commodore while in command of fleets in both the South and North American continents and became First Naval Lord in 1830, the highest position awarded in the royal navy. He died at Greenwich on 20 September 1839, aged 70. Hardy is buried in the officers' vault in Greenwich Hospital Cemetery, west of the National Maritime Museum
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.
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