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The Story of Nelson by  Edmund Francis Sellar


 

 

IN THE MEDITERRANEAN—AND AT HOME

[53] AFTER the battle Nelson sailed for Italy. On this voyage he became seriously ill, and for eighteen hours he was not expected to get better.

Feeling his end to be near, he wrote to the chief he so loved, Lord St. Vincent, bidding him farewell.

"I never expect, my dear lord, to see your face again," he said. "It may please God that this will be the finish to that fever of anxiety which I have endured from the middle of June"—during the search for the French fleet. "But he that as it pleases His goodness. I am resigned to His will."

The voyage, however, seemed to do him good, and on arrival at Naples a splendid welcome cheered his drooping spirits.

[54] The Queen of Naples—who was a sister of the unfortunate and beautiful Marie Antoine, the queen whom the French had behead—greeted him with every show of joy delight.

"O brave Nelson! O God! bless and protect our brave deliverer!" she said. "Nelson! Nelson! what do we not owe you! O conqueror! saviour of Italy! The whole of the sea-coast of Italy is saved; and this is owing alone to the generous English."

The people of Naples had all along had kindly feelings to Great Britain, but they had been afraid of seeming too friendly lest they should offend the French.

The latter had now overthrown the Pope and his government, and put in their place a Roman republic. This was a constant danger to the kingdom of Naples. Not only were they frightened of being attacked, but they also feared that the people would follow the example of the French, raise the standard of revolt, and perhaps treat the king and queen as the French had used their royal family.

At the advice of Nelson, and urged thereto by the queen and Lady Hamilton, her great [55] friend, the wife of the English minister, the king at length made war on the French, and his army marched on Rome.

Nelson in the meanwhile promised that the Bay of Naples should never be left without an English man-of-war to protect the royal family.

At first the Neapolitan army did very well; after some skirmishing they forced the French general to leave Rome, and they then entered the city in triumph.

This was, however, the end of their success. The army was composed of fine stalwart men, and in their bright uniforms had at first so pleased Nelson that the great sea-man compared them to the finest troops in Europe. They were, however, useless when it came to hard knocks and real fighting.

When they attempted to follow up the retreating Frenchmen, the latter, though out-numbered by two to one, turned at bay.

The result was not long in doubt; the well-trained French soldiers utterly broke and beat them, and sent them flying back like a flock of sheep to Naples.

The town was in a state of panic, and unsafe for peaceable people.

[56] The king and queen were in great danger, and Nelson determined to rescue them from their rebel subjects.

Lady Hamilton, with no thought for the danger she was running, found out and carefully explored an underground passage leading from the palace to the seashore. Through this passage the royal treasures, to the amount of two millions and a half of money, were secretly carried, and safely put on board the British vessels.

On a wild stormy night Nelson himself landed and brought off the whole royal family in three barges, which in face of the storm and heavy sea reached the Vanguard  without accident.

For two more days the, Vanguard  waited in the bay to rescue any such people as felt they were in danger. The property of all British merchants had been saved, and they were offered a refuge on board any British ship in the squadron.

At length, when everything had been done to save our countrymen in peril, the fleet sailed; and after meeting the worst storm Nelson had ever sailed through, after a three days' stormy passage, landed the res- [57] cued royal family at Palermo, where they were safe from all harm.

All through this exciting time Nelson acted with the most cool bravery and perfect tact. His presence of mind never left him; sailor and fighter first and above all things, he was at the same time bold and skilful in dealing with affairs of state.

"You are as great in the Cabinet as on the ocean," was the praise given by Lord St. Vincent.

"The world knows that Lord Nelson can fight the battles of his country," said Lord Minto; but he went on to say that besides his skill and courage as a seaman, Nelson possessed judgment, ability, and patience, with which to protect his country's honour and interests—qualities "not always allied to the sort of spirit which, without an instant's hesitation, can attack the whole Spanish line with his single ship."

The power of the French in the Mediterranean was now greatly weakened. Their army, watched by the English fleet as a cat watches a mouse, was not allowed to leave Egypt. In Malta they were being sorely pressed, and to make matters worse, the [58] Portuguese made an alliance with Great Britain, and sent their fleet to be under Nelson's orders.

The British admiral was determined to destroy their power still more.

"Down, down with the French!  is my constant prayer," wrote Nelson. "Down, down with the French! ought to be placed in the council-room of every country in the world."

Meanwhile, the French, though so thoroughly beaten at Aboukir, had not altogether lost heart, and on the 12th of May news came to Nelson at Palermo that a French fleet had been seen off Oporto, heading towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

The admiral, who had been in poor health and low spirits, fretting at the idle and peaceful life he was leading, on the instant became like a new man.

"Not a moment shall be lost in bringing them to battle," he joyfully exclaimed.

"Your lordship may depend that the squadron under my command shall never fall into the hands of the enemy," he wrote to St. Vincent; adding, "and before we are destroyed I have little doubt that the enemy [59] will have their wings so completely clipped that they may be easily overtaken."

The words, "before we are destroyed," show the sort of fighter Nelson was. He did not fight only for victory and when he felt sure of beating the enemy. For the good of his country he would have hurled a few ships on the whole fleet of the foe, satisfied if he made the enemy suffer—"clipped their wings," to use his own words.

At this time Nelson received a strange present from a Captain Hallwell, in the shape of a coffin made out of the mainmast of the French flagship which blew up at Aboukir. Nelson was greatly pleased with the gift, which he had placed in his cabin just behind where he sat at dinner. "We shall have hot work of it, indeed," the crew said. "You see the admiral intends to fight till he is killed; and there he is to be buried."

That this battle never took place was due to no fault of Nelson, who waited eagerly for the enemy at Palermo.

At this time he learnt to his great grief that Lord St. Vincent, his old chief and firm friend, was going home.

Admiral Keith, the new commander-in-chief, [60] found a splendid force under him when he took command. This was divided into two divisions—thirteen ships under Nelson cruising in Sicilian waters, while his own force of twenty ships was off Toulon.

Had Nelson's squadron been stronger, he might have forced the enemy to fight, but even Nelson shrank from the foolhardy attempt of wilfully attacking twenty-two French sail with a very much weaker force.

He therefore made up his mind to wait for more ships before going in search of the enemy. Should the French, however, approach either Naples or Sicily, he was ready to fight to the death, and at least damage their fleet so much that they could do no further mischief, and be quite unfitted "even for a summer cruise."

As the enemy made no attempt on either Naples or Sicily, Nelson, with the help of his squadron, began to restore order in the former place.

Troubridge fought manfully in driving out the French. The fighting was for the greater part on shore, and Nelson laughingly called the brave seaman "a first-rate general."

He replied to those who thought as [61] officers ought not to be used in attacking fortifications, "We have but one idea to get close alongside."

"None but a sailor would have placed a battery only 180 yards from the Castle of St. Elmo" (a fortress in Naples), he wrote. "A soldier must have gone according to art, and the wwww way"—making with his pen these zigzags like four w's, to show a roundabout way of attack. "My brave Troubridge went straight on, for we had no time to spare."

Soon the whole of the French force was driven out of Naples and the royal family were able to return. They showed how grateful they were to the brave Englishman who had not only saved them from danger, but restored them to their rights, by making Nelson Duke of Bronté, with a property of about £3000 a year; and from that time Nelson signed his name "Nelson and Bronté" in all letters and despatches.

While the British squadron was in the Bay of Naples, Caraccioli, the head of the rebel Neapolitan navy, was captured.

He had been a commodore in his country's navy, but when the rebellion broke out he deserted his king and joined the rebels. On [62] being tried on board the Foudroyant, he was found guilty by a court-martial of his fellow-countrymen. He was plainly a traitor, and he suffered the end of traitors, being by Nelson's orders hanged at the yardarms of the Minerve, his betrayed royal master's frigate.

For this act Nelson has often been blamed, but we must remember that the man was a traitor; it was necessary to make an example, and the crime of which Caraccioli was guilty was one hateful to all seamen, and to all loyal men.

Keith had now gone back to England, and it might have been expected that Nelson, now an Admiral of the Red, would remain in chief command. But the Admiralty had other views, and shortly afterwards sent Keith back to command in the Mediterranean. Nelson felt this as a slight put upon him.

"Greenwich Hospital seems a fit retreat for me after being evidently thought unfit to command in the Mediterranean," he wrote.

Another event took place which caused him much sorrow and regret. Bonaparte, who had always said, "We will arrive safe; Fate will never abandon us; we will arrive safe in spite [63] of the enemy," made good his boast by sailing from Egypt in spite of all the watchfulness of the British, and landing safely in France on the 11th of October.

Nelson, who wished that not one Frenchman should be allowed to leave Egypt, was much annoyed at this escape; for had Bonaparte been caught the war would probably have ceased, and the whole course of history been changed.

It was no fault of our admiral's, for his ships were being used in the blockade of Malta.

"If I could have had cruisers, as was my plan, off Cape Bon," he said, "Mr. Bonaparte could not probably have got to France."

Soon after Keith returned, Nelson, "the heaven-born admiral," as one of his captains called him, aided by luck, had a triumphant ending to this period of his career in the Mediterranean; for both Le Genereux and the Guillaume Tell, the two French ships which had escaped the battle of the Nile, were captured by him.

During the fight with the former, a shot passed through the mizzen stay-sail of the admiral's ship. Nelson, patting one of the [64] midshipmen on the head, asked him laughingly "how he liked the music." Seeing the boy looked rather alarmed, he spoke kindly to him, told him that Charles XII. ran away from the first shot he heard, though afterwards he was called "The Great," from his bravery. "I therefore," said Nelson, "hope much from you in future."

With the capture of the last of the Nile fleet Nelson felt that his work was for the time being done. "My task is done, my health is lost, and the orders of the great Earl St. Vincent are completely fulfilled," he wrote.

Having obtained leave to go home, he started to travel through Germany, where he was treated as a popular hero, and taking ship from Hamburg, he arrived at Yarmouth on the 6th November 1800, two years and eight months from the time he left Spithead.

On going on shore the admiral received a splendid welcome. He was the idol of the whole nation, his name on every one's lips. The freedom of the city was presented to him; at night bonfires and illuminations were lit in his honour.

[65] His whole journey to London was a triumphal procession, and when he arrived the mob insisted on taking the horses out of the carriage and drawing him in state to the city.

After a short time in London, Nelson went to spend Christmas with his friends, the Hamiltons, at the country house of Mr. Beckford, a mutual friend.

During this visit a curious tale is told by his host of Nelson (as showing what different forms courage may take).

The latter, in order to show his famous visitor some distant part of the estate, took him for a drive in his mail phaeton, drawn by four horses.

The horses were quite under control, but, being fresh, rattled along at a good pace. Nelson sat in silence for a time, with a fixed, drawn face. Finally he could stand it no longer, and saying quietly, "This is too much for me; you must set me down," he insisted on getting out and walking the whole way home.

The man whose whole life was a record of daring and bravery at sea and in action was, after all, only human!


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