As the battle came to an end, the victors set about repairing their damaged
ships and prizes, while the less damaged ships formed a protective line in case
the Spanish re-started the action. As the Spanish licked their wounds,
Admiral Córdova transferred his flag to the frigate Diana as Santisima
Trinidad was so badly damaged and dismasted. The Concepcion,
Mexicano and Soberano were so badly damaged that they would not have
been able to fight if the British attacked again.
All in all, the Spanish fleet suffered around 200 killed and 1284 wounded; the
British had 73 killed and 227 wounded.
Almost as soon as the last shots were fired, Nelson jumped aboard the frigate
La Minerve, and rushed to report to Jervis. He was so eager to speak
with the admiral that he did not clean himself up first, and arrived with
his face streaked with smoke, his shirt and coat in tatters, and part of his
hat shot away! If he had had any concerns that his commander may have
disapproved of his actions, they were quickly dispelled when Jervis put his
arms around him, thanked him warmly, and insisted that he keep the Spanish
Admiral Winthuysen's sword which he had won.
The Captain was too badly damaged for Nelson to remain on board, and so
he transferred to the Irresistible. As he was rowed across to her,
the very happy commodore was cheered by the fleet.
The next day, the British continued repairing. At one point in the
morning, it looked as if the Spanish were going to attempt an attack. The
British ships at once began to form a line around the Victory, and
Córdova retreated into Cadiz. Throughout the day, the British ships flew
Spanish flags out of respect for the fallen Admiral Winthuysen, and then they
made their way to the base at Lagos Bay.
The Admiral's Dispatches
Nelson was praised throughout the fleet for his action in boarding two ships in
quick succession, which was nicknamed 'Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First
Rates'. A mock recipe was also circulated, called 'Commodore Nelson's
receipt for making an Olla Podrida', a type of stew, which apparently contained
Spanish ships! He received letters of congratulations and praise from his
friends, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood and Sir Gilbert Elliot, among others, and
began to believe he would now receive the public praise that he had felt for a long
time that he deserved.
But the official report of the battle sent back by Admiral Jervis surprised
many, because it barely mentioned Nelson or, in fact, any of the other captains
- particularly Troubridge and Collingwood - who had stood out that day.
In a private letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Jervis explained his
report by saying, "the correct conduct of every Officer and man in the Squadron
on the 14th inst made it improper to distinguish one more than another in my
public Letter." But, in that private letter, he did in fact single out
Troubridge, Collingwood, and Nelson.
On the day after the battle, as the captains went round congratulating each
other, Gilbert Elliot, who had seen the whole battle from the frigate Lively,
went with Captain Garlies in a boat to pay a visit to Admiral Jervis on the
Victory. Soon afterwards, Colonel John Drinkwater, an army officer on
board the Lively, saw Nelson approach the frigate in a small boat.
When the commodore came on board, he asked for Gilbert Elliot. When
Drinkwater told him that Elliot wasn't there, Nelson took him into Captain
As soon as Drinkwater asked about his actions in the battle, Nelson launched
into a vivid and detailed account. The colonel made notes of the
conversation on a scrap of paper. Clearly, the excited commodore had been
dying to tell someone, and was just as happy to tell Drinkwater as he was to
The Lively took Elliot and Drinkwater back to England, and they arrived
after Jervis' account of the battle had been published. They were shocked
at how little Nelson's actions were mentioned, and set about on a PR offensive
on his behalf by spreading their own accounts of the battle - including Nelson's
Nelson wrote 'A Few Remarks Relative to Myself in the Captain, in which My
Pendant was Flying on the Most Glorious Valentine's Day, 1797', got it
signed by Captains Berry and Miller, and sent it to several people back in
England, including the Duke of Clarence and his old friend and mentor, Captain
William Locker. He asked Locker to publish it, but thought it probably
needed editing first. Locker, however, published it in a newspaper exactly
as Nelson wrote it. Nelson also sent the sword of Admiral Winthuysen to
the Mayor of Norwich, who put it on display, where it can still be seen today.
Nelson was ever proud of his Norfolk roots, and the gesture was greatly
appreciated, so much so that Nelson was granted Freedom of the City.
"It Absolutely Appears a Dream."
Finally, Nelson began getting the praise he deserved. On the 1st April, he
received 40 letters of congratulations, including three from his wife.
With her characteristic concern for his well-being, she begged him to "never
board again. Leave it for Captains." Not an
unreasonable request, really, considering that was the usual behaviour for a
flag officer, but she has often been criticised for it. In any case,
regardless of her own anxiety, she did not fail to send him praise and
congratulations from many other people.
Nelson also received the news that he was entitled to a baronetcy, but he wrote
to Gilbert Elliot that he did not feel comfortable taking on a hereditary honour
without the fortune to support it. Instead, he asked Elliot to urge Lord
Spencer to bestow him with an honour which would "die with the possessor", and
which he would be "proud to accept, if my efforts are thought worthy of the
favour of my King." In a letter to Colonel Drinkwater, he further explained the
particular honour he wanted - to be made a Knight of the Bath. This honour
would give him the right to wear the recognisable star and ribbon on his
uniform. He said, "if my services have been of any value let them be
noticed in a way that the public may know me". Again, while he was
grateful for the recognition of his superiors, public recognition was what he
Even so, he was humble in his acceptance of praise. He began the same
letter to Gilbert Elliot in which he asked for a Knighthood instead of Baronetcy
|"Your affectionate and flattering letter is, I assure you, a sufficient
reward for doing (what to me was a pleasure) my duty"
and to Fanny he
|"My chains and medals and
ribbons, with a contented mind, are all sufficient".
He was also quick to warmly acknowledge the services of
others. To Collingwood, whose interception with the Excellent gave
the crew of the Captain a chance to make hurried repairs, he wrote,
"'A friend in need is a friend indeed', was never more truly verified than by
your most noble and gallant conduct yesterday in sparing the Captain from
To the father of William Hoste, a favoured Midshipman aboard the Captain,
"I can only repeat his gallantry never can be exceeded, and that each
day rivets him stronger to my heart."
And, to Captain Ralph Miller of the Captain, he wrote; "I am under the
greatest obligations to you." and followed this up with a gift of a topaz and
diamond ring from his own finger, along with one of the Spanish swords.
But Nelson's success was soon to be tarnished by a tragic, life-changing loss,
as he was given command of operations at Santa Cruz.
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Copyright Vicki Singleton 2013.