Lord Nelson was fatally shot at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Signal Midshipman John Pollard took credit for killing the Frenchman who did it.
Lord Nelson was fatally shot on board his flagship HMS Victory, during the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805. The identity of his killer remains a mystery, although several Trafalgar veterans came forward afterwards claiming to have shot the Frenchman who killed Nelson. The most well known of these is John Pollard, who served as signal Midshipman on Victory at Trafalgar.
Sir William Beatty’s account
Sir William Beatty, the Irish surgeon who attended Nelson after he was shot, wrote in his Authentic Narrative of the Death of Lord Nelson:
‘There were only two Frenchmen left alive in the mizzen-top of the Redoutable at the time of his Lordship's being wounded and by the hands of these he fell… At length one of them was killed by a musket ball; and on the others's then attempting to make his escape from the top down the rigging, Mr Pollard (Midshipman) fired his musket at him and shot him in the back when he fell dead from the shrouds on the Redoutable's poop'.
Robert Southey in his Life of Nelson (published in 1813) credited both John Pollard and Midshipman Francis Edward Collingwood as being the 'avenger of Nelson'. However in a letter to The Times 13 May 1863, John Pollard wrote:
‘It is true my old shipmate Collingwood who has now been dead some years came up on the poop for a short time. I had discovered the men crouching in the top of the Redoutable and pointed them out to him, when he took up his musket and fired once; he then left the poop, I conclude, to return to his station on the quarter deck… I remained firing till there was not a man to be seen in the top; the last one I saw coming down the mizzen rigging and he fell from my fire also… I was ushered into the ward room where Sir Thomas Hardy and other officers were assembled and complimented by them as the person who avenged Lord Nelson's death.’
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.