This guide gives a brief biography of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and outlines sources for research at the National Maritime Museum, and additional pointers for other useful resources.
29 September 1758: Born at Burnham Thorpe rectory, third surviving son of Rev. Edmund Nelson and Catherine Suckling. Educated at Downham Market and Norwich.
November 1770: Enters the Royal Navy as a midshipman, sponsored by his uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, on HMS Raisonnable. First experience serving at sea is on a West Indiaman commanded by Capt. John Rathbone. Subsequently rejoins his uncle on HMS Triumph on guard duty on the Thames.
1772: Serves as cox'n to Capt. Skeffington Lutwidge on HMS Carcass during Phipps' Arctic Expedition.
10 April 1777: First appointment as a Lieutenant, to HMS Lowestoffe.
8 December 1778: Serving as first lieutenant on Sir Peter Parker's flagship in the West Indies when promoted Commander to sloop HMS Badger (passed command of this ship and the Hinchinbroke to Cuthbert Collingwood).
11 June 1779: HMS Hinchinbroke first command, as a post captain. Senior Naval Officer at attack on fort of San Juan, Nicaragua. Invalided home before fort successfully captured.
1784–87: Returned to West Indies, but differences with Commander-in-Chief of the West Indies Station, Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, results in him being put on half-pay in 1787.
1787–93: Returns to England 1787 with new wife, widow Mrs. Frances Nisbet, and her son Josiah. Remains on half-pay until 1793.
January 1793 Appointment to command HMS Agamemnon in the Mediterranean. Meets Sir William and Lady Hamilton for the first time in August of that year.
10 August 1794: Siege of Calvi, Corsica, in which Nelson loses sight in his right eye.
11 August 1796: Raises flag as Commodore for the first time on HMS Captain.
14 February 1797: Battle of Cape St Vincent – captures the San Jose and San Nicholas.
1797: Created a Knight of the Order of the Bath.
20 February 1797: Rear Admiral of the Blue.
24 July 1797: Attack on Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Loses right arm above the elbow.
1 August 1798: Battle of Aboukir Bay (also known as Battle of the Nile). Explosion of the L'Orient. Created an English peer – Baron Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe. Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Ferdinand.
22 September 1798: Return to Naples, and start of affair with Lady Hamilton.
26 June 1799: Wins back Naples from the French, and created Duke of Bronte, Sicily.
June 1800: Tour of Europe overland with the Hamiltons whilst returning to England. Takes up residence at Merton with the Hamiltons.
1 Jan 1801: Vice Admiral, second in command of Baltic Squadron to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker.
2 April 1801: Battle of Copenhagen. Allegedly ignores Parker's order to withdraw by putting his telescope to his blind eye. Created Viscount Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe.
1 February 1802: Birth of Horatia to Lady Hamilton. Christened Horatia Nelson Thompson, 13 May 1803.
16 May 1803: Commander in Chief, Mediterranean Fleet.
23 April 1804: Vice Admiral of the White.
21 October 1805: Battle of Trafalgar. 13.35: Shot by a sniper from Redoubtable's mizzen top. 16.30: Nelson dies in the cockpit.
9 January 1806: State funeral in London. Body lies in state in the Painted Hall, Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, before a long procession to St Paul's Cathedral by water, where his body is interred beneath the dome in a coffin made from the wood of the L'Orient.
Nelson's brother, Rev. William Nelson, became Baron Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe, and was also created Viscount Merton and Earl Nelson of Trafalgar and Merton in his own right, the title later devolving upon his sister's family. He was granted by the nation a pension of £5,000 a year, and a one-off grant of £90,000 to buy a suitable estate.
In his will, Nelson left nothing to Frances, now the Dowager Viscountess Nelson and Duchess of Bronte, although she was granted £2,000 per year for life from the nation. She lived until 1831 with her son, Josiah Nisbet (Nelson's stepson), and his family, who also received nothing from Nelson's estate, everything being bequeathed to his brothers' and sisters' families.
A codicil to Nelson's will, written just before Trafalgar, requested that the nation take care of Emma Hamilton, but this was not acted upon. Despite money from her husband's and Nelson's estates, Emma fell into debt, sold Merton, and spent time in a debtor's prison. She left England to live in France in 1814, and died in Calais on 15 January 1815 accompanied only by Horatia.
Horatia returned to England and lived with her paternal relations. At 21 she married Philip Ward, the local curate at Burnham Market, on 19 February 1822. They had 10 children, the eldest son being Horatio Nelson. She died aged 80 on 6 March 1881, continuing to deny she was the daughter of Emma Hamilton.
Below is a list of all the Royal Navy ships that Nelson served in. Numbers in brackets are the item numbers of model ships held by the NMM.
- 1770 Raisonnable
- 1771 Triumph
- 1772 Carcass
- 1773 Seahorse
- 1776 Worcester
- 1777 Lowestoffe [SLR0339?]
- 1778 Bristol
- 1778 Badger
- 1779 Hinchinbroke
- 1776 Janus
- 1781 Albermarle
- 1784 Boreas
- 1793 Agamemnon
- 1796 Captain
- 1796 Minerve
- 1797 Captain
- 1797 Theseus
- 1798 Vanguard
- 1799 Foudroyant [SLR0594 – block, SLR0595 – block half]
- 1801 San Josef
- 1801 St George
- 1801 Elephant
- 1801 Medusa
- 1802 Amazon
- 1803 Victory [SLR2530 original figurehead, SLR0512 – in dry dock, SLR0515 – skeleton]
The National Maritime Museum has a large number of books covering the life of Lord Nelson, his major battles, and the Royal Navy of the era. The Museum also holds one of the best collections of Nelson-related manuscripts in the world. Below is a selection of items that may give you an idea of our collections.
This is a short list of what is available. If you would like a more comprehensive list, please visit our Library catalogue. Reference numbers given in italics refer to the catalogue.
- Broadley, A M & Bartelot, R G, Nelson's Hardy: his life, letters and friends, London: John Murray, 1909, 92Hardy
- Hibbert, Christopher, Nelson: a personal history, London: Penguin, 1995, 92Nelson
- Keate, E M, Nelson's wife, London: Cassell & Co., 1939, 92Nelson, Frances
- Marriott, Leo, What's left of Nelson, Dial House, 92Nelson(093.5)
- Nelson, Horatio, [Nicholas, Sir Nicholas Harris (ed)], The dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, London: Chatham, 1997, 92Nelson (093.2) [There are also a first edition, 1844, and a second edition, 1845 set in the collection at: 92Nelson(093.2):094]
- Oman, Carola, Nelson, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967, rev. ed., 92Nelson
- Pocock, Tom, Nelson's women, London: Andre Deutsche, 1999 92Nelson
- Pocock, Tom, Horatio Nelson, London: Bodley Head, 1987, 92Nelson
- Russell, Jack, Nelson and the Hamiltons, London: Anthony Blond, 1969, 92Nelson:392
- Walker, Richard, The Nelson portraits, Portsmouth: Royal Naval Museum 1998, 92Nelson
- Warner, Oliver, The life and letters of Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood, OUP 1968, 92Collingwood
- White, Colin (ed), The Nelson Companion, Stroud: Sutton, 1995, 92Nelson
Royal Navy, ships and battles
- Addis, C P, The men who fought with Nelson in HMS Victory at Trafalgar, London: The Nelson Society, 1988, 92:355.49"1805"(42:44)
- Clarke, John D., The men of HMS Victory at Trafalgar including the muster roll of HMS Victory, casualties, parliamentary grant, prize money, Lloyd's Patriotic Fund rewards, medals, pay rates, Dallington: Vintage Naval Library, 1999, 92:355.49"1805"(42:44)
- Howarth, David, Trafalgar: the Nelson touch, Collins 1969, 355.49"1805"(42:44)
- Lavery, Brian, Nelson's navy: the ships, men and organisation 1793–1805, London: Conway Maritime, 1989, 355.49"1793/1815"(42:44)
- Mackenzie, Col. Robert Holden, The Trafalgar roll: containing the names and services of all officers of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines who participated in the glorious victory of the 21st October 1805, together with the history of the ships engaged in the battle, London: Geo. Allen & Co, 1913, 92:355.49"1805"(42:44)
- Orde, Denis, Nelson's Mediterranean command: concerning pride, preferment and prize money, Durham: Pentland Press, 1997, 355.49"1793/1805"(42:44)
- Pope, Steve, Hornblower's navy: life at sea in the age of Nelson, London: Orion, 1998, 355.49"1794/1805"(42)
- Tracy, Nicholas, Nelson's battles: the art of victory in the age of sail, London: Chatham, 1996, 355.49"1793/1805"(42)
- White, Colin, 1797: Nelson's year of destiny: Cape St Vincent and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Stroud: Sutton, 1998, 355.49"1797"(42:44)
There are many individual items within the manuscripts collection relating to Nelson, but the majority of the items are part of collections of material relating to Nelson. Listed below are four of the major collections, holding the majority of the material.
Mainly letters between Nelson and his brother, William, his wife and children 1783–1794. Also contains a copy of Nelson's will and draft codicils, and some letters from Lady Hamilton.
This is the main collection of letters to Nelson, although it also contains some letters from him, some to Lady Hamilton from him, and letters received by both Sir William and Lady Hamilton.
This is the collection of papers inherited by Horatia from Lady Hamilton, presented by her descendants to the National Maritime Museum in 1939, consisting of mainly letters to Emma Hamilton from other members of the Nelson family, 1791–1815. It also includes the personal papers of Admiral Philip Nelson-Ward (1866–1937).
Trafalgar House Collection
Varied collection including diplomatic letters, grants of honours made to Nelson, 1798–1802, and family papers, 1783–1840.
Some Lieutenant's logs, written by Nelson in various ships, exist for four of his postings:
- HMS Lowestoffe – Second Lt. Horatio Nelson, 10 Mar 1777–1 July 1778 [ADM/L/L220]
- HMS Bristol – Lt. Horatio Nelson, 2 July–20 Dec 1778 [ADM/L/B175a]
- HMS Badger – Captain Horatio Nelson, 1 Jan 1779–20 June 1779 [ADM/L/B5]
- HMS Hinchinbroke – Captain Horatio Nelson, 1 Sept 1780–30 April 1781 [ADM/L/H166]
There are many paintings in the National Maritime Museum's collections relating to Nelson. Below is a very small selection of some of the oil paintings. Please contact the Picture Library for further information regarding reproductions of any items listed:
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6600/6631E-mail: PictureLibrary@rmg.co.uk
- Allen, Sir William (1782–1850), The battle of Cape St Vincent, 14 February 1797, 1845 ['Patent bridge for boarding a first-rater'][BHC0488]
- Arnald, George (1763–1841), The battle of the Nile, 1 August 1798, [BHC0509] [depicts the destruction of the L'Orient, which exploded when fire reached her magazine, killing Captain Casabianca and his son]
- Devis, Arthur William (1763–1822), The death of Nelson, 21 October 1805 [BHC2894]
- Pocock, Nicholas (1740–1821), The battle of Copenhagen, 2 April 1801 [BHC0529]
- Turner, Joseph Mallord William, The battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 [BHC0565]
- Abbott, Lemuel Francis (1760–1803), Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) [depicts Nelson shortly after the retaking of Naples, with the Turkish chelengk in his hat][BHC2889]
- Howard, Henry (1769–1847), Rear-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (1750–1810) [BHC2625]
- Morton, Andrew (1802–1845), United Services: a visit to Greenwich by Chelsea Pensioners [depicts some of the last surviving servicemen who served with Nelson][BHC1159]
- Rigaud, Jean Francis (1742–1810), Captain Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), 1781 [although begun when Nelson was a Lieutenant, it was completed upon his return from the West Indies as a Captain and was altered accordingly, also allowing for his recent illness][BHC2901]
- Romney, George (1734–1802), Lady Emma Hamilton (1761?–1815) as Ariadne [BHC2736]
- British School (18th century), Captain Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (1769–1839) [BHC2745]
- British School (18th century), Viscountess Frances Nelson (1761–1831) [BHC2883]
Several items actually belonging to Nelson, or supposedly belonging to him, are in existence. Here is a short list of part of the Museum collection.
- Collar of Nileus, Nelson's dog, inscribed 'Right Honble Lord Nelson – NILEUS' [PLT0138]
- Combined knife and fork, designed to allow Nelson to eat comfortably after losing his right arm at Santa Cruz. [REL0115]
- Rear Admiral's undress uniform worn by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile [UNI0022]
- Cocked hat worn by Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen [UNI0058]
- Nelson's uniform as worn by him at the Battle of Trafalgar, including the blood-stained breeches and hole in his uniform coat: coat [UNI0024], breeches [UNI0021], stockings [UNI0067], epaulettes [UNI0031-UNI0032], stock [UNI0066], waistcoat [UNI0065]
- Nelson's pigtail [REL0116]
- Nelson's life mask and matrix [SCU0106]
Many commemorative items were produced relating either directly to Nelson, or to some of the victorious battles he was involved in. Thousands of items were produced following Trafalgar, and many are still commissioned today to pay tribute to him. Below is a small sample of some of the items held by the Museum.
- Davison gold Nile medal [LL.19]
- Flag officer's gold medal for Trafalgar – to Collingwood [LL.12A]
- Invitation to the funeral [REL0155]
- Admission ticket to the funeral [REL0787]
- Fragment of HMS Victory's ensign [AAA0924]
- Nelson memorial ring with plaited hair [JEW0167]
- Nelson tankard, Franklin Mint 1987 [AAA5214]
- 'Pusser's Rum' decanter, 1983 [AAA5213]
- Ronald Searle medal – commissioned by Le Club Francais de la Medaille in 1981, based on a Gillray cartoon [W1981-77.1]
- Worcester commemorative chocolate cup, saucer and cover [AAA4738]
- Dalton Toby jug – several examples [e.g. AAA4999]
- Herculaneum soup tureen [AAA4766]
- Prattware pipe – bowl is in the shape of a Royal Navy officer, with 'Nelson' on the hat [AAA5146]
- England Expects: Local Norfolk site with lots of information about the local hero.
- Nelson Society: A society promoting research into and about Nelson, with a newsletter – the 'Nelson Dispatch'.
- War Times Journal: Provides selected extracts from some of Nelson's journals at interesting points in his life.
- Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served...: An online exhibition from The National Archives highlighting key episodes in Nelson's personal and professional life, and containing a searchable database of those who served in Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar.
- The National Maritime Museum's portal of Nelson-related resources
- HMS Victory: Nelson's flagship at the battle of Trafalgar is the oldest commissioned Royal Navy warship. Now in dry dock at Portsmouth Royal Naval Base where she is open to the public.
- The Nelson Museum and Local History Centre: This museum contains a collection of Nelson memorabilia, including his sword, and commemorative items, manuscripts and medals. It also has a section relating to fake Nelson 'relics'. A library is available to visitors. Priory Street, Monmouth, Monmouthshire NP5 3XA. Tel: 01600 713519.
- Royal Naval Museum: At the Royal Naval Base, Portsmouth, this museum has a large collection of Nelson's personal items, and two new galleries celebrating Nelson and the Victory. An appointment must be made to use the library, and gain access to their collection of manuscripts relating to Nelson. HM Naval Base (PP66), Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 3NH. Tel: 023 9272 7562.
For general research help see:
- Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime Museum
- Research guide A3: Tracing family history from maritime records
- Research guide A6: Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum
For guides to help you research the Royal Navy see:
- Research guide B1: The Royal Navy: Tracing people
- Research guide B3: The Royal Navy: Sources for enquiries
- Research guide B5: The Royal Navy: Royal Navy dockyards
- Research guide B6: The Royal Navy: Administrative records
- Research guide B7: The Royal Navy: Ship records
Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.
© National Maritime Museum 2001. All rights reserved.
Last updated April 2008.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NFTel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632