The Aftermath

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.


Nelson's 'Remarks'

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 Garlies' cabin. 

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 tell Elliot! 

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 own words.

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 most craved.

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 with;

"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 wrote,

"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 further loss."

To the father of William Hoste, a favoured Midshipman aboard the Captain, he wrote;

"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.