Nelson Apotheosised: The Creation of the Nelson Legend

  • Colin White


On the morning of 21 October 1805, at about 8.00am, Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson went down to his cabin on the upper gun deck of HMS Victory. Most of his furniture and belongings had been packed up and stowed in the hold, earlier at daybreak, when the ship’s company had cleared for action, but canvas screens had been erected to give him a little privacy and some essential items left behind, such as his portable writing desk. Taking a small pocket notebook, in which he habitually made brief notes of each day’s events, he wrote:

Monday Octr: 21st 1805 at day Light saw the Enemys Combined fleet from East to ESE bore away made the Signal for Order of Sailing and to Prepare for Battle the Enemy with the heads to the Southward. At 7 the Enemy wearing in succession.


Leadership Style British Library Original Letter Famous Painting Canvas Screen 
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  1. 1.
    For facsimiles of both versions of the prayer, together with a discussion of their provenance, see O. Warner, Nelson’s Last Diary (London: Seeley Service, 1971).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See, for example, T. Coleman, Nelson (London: Bloomsbury, 2001), p. 320. Hereafter cited as Coleman.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Nicholas Harris Nicolas, The Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson (London, 1844/6), vol. VII, p. 349. Hereafter cited as Nicolas.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    T. Pocock, Horatio Nelson (London: Bodley Head, 1987), p. 242.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Dudley Pope, The Great Gamble (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972).Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Nelson to Thomas Forsyth, 2 February 1802. Quoted in Richard Walker, The Nelson Portraits (Portsmouth, 1999), p. 248.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    James Harrison, The Life of Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson of the Nile (London, 1806), vol. II, p. 458.Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    Marianne Czisnik, ‘Nelson and the Nile: The Creation of Admiral Nelson’s Public Image’, Mariners Mirror, 88 (2002).Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    For an examination of the reasons for Nelson’s appointment see my ‘The Public Order Book of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’, in M. Duffy, The Naval Miscellany, vol. VI (Navy Records Society, 2003).Google Scholar
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  11. 26.
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    The process was started by Coleman and has been ably continued, and greatly expanded, by John Sugden in Nelson: A Dream of Glory (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004).Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    For an excellent exposition on Southey’s shortcomings, and corrections of his main mistakes, see the edition edited by G. Callender (London, 1922). See also: D. Eastwood, ‘Patriotism Personified: Robert Southey’s Life of Nelson Reconsidered’, Mariners Mirror, 77 (1991).Google Scholar
  14. 41.
    C. Oman, Nelson (London, 1947), p. xv.Google Scholar
  15. 42.
    For example by E. Vincent, Nelson: Love & Fame (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) who lists Nicolas among the ‘Primary Sources’ in his bibliography.Google Scholar
  16. 54.
    For an examination of the development of the square as a centre for public events see, R. Mace, Trafalgar Square, Emblem of Empire (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976).Google Scholar
  17. 55.
    For an examination of the Victory’s transformation into a symbolic relic, see K. Fenwick, HMS Victory (London: Cassell, 1959)Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Flora Fraser, Beloved Emma (London: John Murray, 2003), pp. 317–18.Google Scholar
  20. 61.
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© Colin White 2005

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  • Colin White

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