Admiral Lord Nelson’s Final Journey

In a previous post (which you can read by clicking here) I talked about how long it took for news to reach England of the death of Horatio, Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Today marks the anniversary of Nelson’s funeral.

Nelson was a hero, by any standard. He not only led England’s navy to victory, he lived his life in service to his country, and suffering serious injury in the process. By the time he led his fleet into battle with France and Spain on October 21, his battle experiences had already taken from him an arm and an eye, and he had sustained numerous other injuries over the years, all in service to England. The public revered him, so with his passing it was fitting that he be given a hero’s funeral.

Nelson’s coffin on its journey through the streets of London.

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Nelson’s body finally reached British soil on January 5 (he died on October 21). His remains were placed in a coffin and lay in state in Greenwich’s Painted Hall where thousands of members of the public paid their respects.

This commemorative linen panel from 1806 depicts the funeral procession of Lord Nelson and scenes from his life. The image at the top right shows a portion of the funeral cortege on its way to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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On January 8, 1806 a royal barge, draped in black velvet, carried his coffin up the Thames to Whitehall, where it remained overnight. The next day, a funeral cortege preceded the coffin to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Tens of thousands of Londoners lined the streets to see the procession. Thousands of navy pensioners and soldiers marched from Whitehall to St. Paul’s, including the officers and crew of Nelson’s ship, the Victory.

Nelson’s coffin arrives at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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The entire procession was so long that by the time the column reached St. Paul’s, the funeral car was still at Whitehall, almost two miles away.

Tens of thousands of Londoners lined the streets to see the procession, which lasted well into the night. By the time the service began at St. Paul’s it was dark; the light of 130 candle lamps lit the cathedral’s dome, where two gigantic captured French and Spanish flags were hung, as reminders of the security Nelson gave his countrymen by defeating their enemies.

Nelson’s funeral service inside St Paul’s Cathedral.

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When the service concluded on January 9, 1806, as Nelson’s coffin was lowered into a crypt, a herald read aloud Nelsons titles, and ended with these words:

The hero, who in the moment of victory, fell covered with immortal glory.

On Susanna Ives’ blog there is a wonderfully detailed account, taken from an English newspaper at the time, of the entire funeral procession and service. It’s a somber and moving tribute to Lord Nelson, “a perfect English Hero.” You can read Susanna’s post by clicking here.

How England Learned of the Battle of Trafalgar

On October 21, 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought between the English Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain.

The Battle of Trafalgar, by George Clarkson Stanfield.

England’s chances for victory were slim. The British force had twenty-seven ships; the enemy had thirty-three.

But England’s secret weapon was the gallant Lord Nelson, commander of the fleet.

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte.

The engagement lasted four hours, and in the end, twenty Spanish and French ships were sunk or destroyed, the French commander-in-chief was captured, and two Spanish admirals were taken prisoners by the English.

It was a decisive victory, but it came at a cost. Nelson was wounded midway through the action and died nearly at its close.

The Evening after Trafalgar, by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore.

But the victory forever removed any threat that Napoleon Bonaparte might invade England.

So if the battle was waged and won on October 21, why am I telling you about it on November 6?

Because November 6 is the day news of the victory finally reached England.

In our modern world of instant newsfeeds and alerts it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective about the speed with which information traveled during Jane Austen’s time. News traveled slowly, and, in this case, Mother Nature added to the fifteen-day delay.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought and won on October 21. No sooner was victory assured, than “a gale of wind” blew in. The storm that followed was of such ferocity, the fleet had no choice but to hunker down. They were so busy ensuring the safety of their own and captured ships, they had no chance to send word to England, or even count their casualties.

The storm lasted five days. Finally, on October 26, the British commander despatched a ship to England. On board, Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere carried written reports of the battle.

A miniature, believed to be of John Richards Lapenotiere

Nine days later, Lapenotiere arrived at the harbor at Falmouth. From there he traveled overland to London by “express in a post chaise and four.”

He covered the distance of 271 miles in 38 hours, making 21 stops to change horses.

A fast-traveling post-chaise and four upsets a gig.

His overland journey was well documented, and today, there are plaques along route—now known as The Trafalgar Way—that commemorate Lapenotiere’s journey, as well as the men from each location who fought in that decisive battle.

One of the Trafalgar Plaques, this one in Salisbury.

On November 6, Lapenotiere finally delivered reports of England’s victory into the hands of the Admiralty and the King.

That very day, newspapers printed the story. Click here to read one of those newspaper stories.

And if you’re interested, Wikepedia has an interesting page about The Trafalgar Way that documents the distance, horse-changes, and cost of Lapenotiere’s travels.

I love reading all the details about Lapenotiere’s journey. It’s a reminder to me to be mindful of the limitations of Regency-era travel when I write my own stories set during that time period.

It’s also a fascinating true-life story of heroic men who always kept duty to country uppermost in mind, and risked all to serve their country and its citizens. I applaud them.