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The major events in Nelson's life in chronological order. 

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Horatio Nelson is born at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk.  


Nelson's mother dies.  
1771 Aged 12, Nelson joins HMS Raisonnable as a Midshipman, under Captain Suckling, his uncle.

August - Travels to the West Indies in a merchant ship.

Nelson as a Midshipman.

1773 Joins an expedition to the Arctic on HMS Carcass. Encounters, and fights, a polar bear, saying he wants to take the skin home for his father. But both he and the bear escape unharmed.

October - Joins HMS Seahorse and goes to the East Indies.

Nelson fighting the bear.

1775 Catches malaria and returns to England.  
1777 April - Passes his Lieutenant's exam.

December - Joins HMS Lowestoffe under Captain Locker, and goes to the West Indies.

1778 September - Joins HMS Bristol as First Lieutenant.

December - Joins HMS Badger as commander.

1779 June - Joins HMS Hinchinbrooke as Post Captain.

Captain Nelson by Rigaud, 1781

1780 Takes part in the Nicaraguan expedition, and the capture of Fort San Juan. But falls seriously ill again, and returns to England.
1781 October - Becomes Captain of HMS Albemarle.
1782 Visits Quebec and New York.
1783 The War of American Independence Ends

Nelson returns home, and later visits France.

1784 March - Is appointed as Captain of HMS Boreas and goes to the West Indies.  
1785 May - At Nevis, meets Frances Nisbet.  
1786 December - Is appointed Aide-de-Camp to Prince William Henry.  
1787 March 11th - Marries Frances Nisbet.

December - Returns to England and lives with his wife at Burnham Thorpe.  But he longs to be back at sea and writes regular letters to the Admiralty and others pleading for a post.

Nelson's wife, Frances

1793 The French Revolution Begins

January - Finally, Nelson is given command of HMS Agamemnon.

June - Nelson is in the Mediterranean.

September - Meets Lord and Lady Hamilton at Naples.

1794 January - August - Takes part in the siege of Bastia.

July 12th - A shot sprays up sand and stones in Nelson's face.  His right eye is irreparably damaged, leaving him partially blind for life.

1795 March 14th - The Battle of the Gulf of Genoa.  
1796 March - Nelson is promoted to Commodore.

June - Joins HMS Captain.

1797 February 14th - The Battle of Cape St Vincent.  Nelson fights under Admiral Sir John Jervis and distinguishes himself by breaking out of the line of battle and managing to board two ships, one after the other, leading the boarding parties himself.

May 27th - Nelson is created a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath.  He is then promoted to Rear-Admiral, and given command of HMS Theseus.

July 24th - Nelson leads an attack on Santa Cruz, Tenerife.  Strong currents and attacks from the shore force his boats back, and they take many losses.  Nelson himself is shot in his right arm, above the elbow, and after his stepson saves his life by making a tourniquet to stem the bloodflow, his arm is amputated.  Needless to say, the attack is a failure.

He returns to England to recover from his wound.

Nelson receiving the sword of the Spanish Admiral at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

1798 March - His wound having healed, Rear-Admiral Nelson is sent to Cadiz in command of HMS Vanguard.

April - Earl St. Vincent gives him command of a detached squadron.

July - Begins chasing Napoleon's fleet.  But due to lack of intelligence and frigates (which he called the 'eyes of the fleet', and the lack of which he complained of bitterly), he accidentally overtakes them.  After doubling back, and back again, he eventually finds them at the mouth of the Nile.

August 1st - The Battle of the Nile.  Finding the French fleet anchored at Aboukir Bay, Nelson orders an immediate attack, despite the approaching night.  Nelson's captains (his 'Band of Brothers') manage to skilfully slip up the side of the French line closest to the shore and fight them at close range.  Others attack from the other side.  The French are annihilated, with one ship blowing up and only two escaping.  However, Nelson takes a head wound which will continue to trouble him for some time. 

After the battle, Nelson becomes Baron Nelson of the Nile.

September 22nd - Arrives at Naples where he will controversially stay with the Hamiltons for over a year.

December 23rd-26th - Nelson pushes for a Neapolitan attack on Rome but, when it fails and the French counter-attack, he finds himself evacuating the royals from Naples to Palermo in Sicily.

Captain Berry catches Nelson as he is wounded at the Battle of the Nile.

1799 January 23rd - the French capture Naples.

Around about this time, Nelson begins an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton.

June - Assists in the recapture of Naples.  However, he is criticised for it, not least because of his treatment of the rebels and the execution of Commodore Carracciolo.  

For this service, the King of Naples gives him the Dukedom of Bronte.  After this, until the end of his life, Nelson will sign his letters 'Nelson & Bronte'. 

August: Nelson is created a Knight of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent by Sultan Selim III

Portrait by Fuger.

1800 April - Nelson is created a Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit.

June -
Returns overland to England with the Hamiltons, and is greeted as a hero everywhere he goes.  It becomes clear to most people that he and Emma are in a relationship, and she is pregnant with his child.

November 6th - Arrives at Great Yarmouth in England.

Lady Emma Hamilton, Nelson's mistress

1801 After a while of apparently thinking he can keep both his wife and his mistress, his relationship with his wife becomes increasingly strained, and they eventually separate.

January 1st - Nelson is promoted to Vice-Admiral.

January 13th - He is assigned to HMS San Josef - the ship he captured at the Nile.

January 30th - Nelson and Emma's daughter, Horatia, is born.

March 12th - Given HMS St George, Nelson joins the Baltic Fleet as second-in-command under Admiral Hyde Parker.  He is frustrated firstly at being sub-ordinate, and secondly at Hyde Parker's cautious methods.

April 2nd - The Battle of Copenhagen.  The battle is intended to force Denmark to leave the Armed Neutrality, which had been affecting British trade.  It is fought against a line at anchor, as at the Nile, except the fleet are much better defended, and are supported by batteries on the shore.  Nelson, aboard HMS Elephant, leads his squadron into close action.  During the battle, Hyde Parker signals for Nelson to retreat.  But, upon being told of the signal, Nelson refuses to obey by lifting the telescope to his blind right eye and declaring "I really do not see the signal".  The British are victorious but it is closely won, and Nelson describes it as the bloodiest battle he has ever been in.

After the battle, Nelson plays a vital role in diplomatic talks and relations with the Crown Prince of Denmark.

May 16th - Hyde Parker is called home and Nelson is made Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Fleet.  But by this time, he is feeling ill and wants to go home.

June - Returns to England.

July 27th - Much to Nelson's annoyance, the Admiralty promptly sends him to sea again, this time to command the anti-invasion operations in the channel.  He doesn't think that the position requires a commander of such high rank as Vice-Admiral, and begins to suspect that the Admiralty just want to keep him at sea to avoid the embarrassment that his relationship with Emma caused when he was on shore.

August 15th - Launches a boat attack against the French invasion forces gathering at Boulogne.  It ends disastrously, and results in the death of one of his young favourites, Parker, who he thought of as a son.

September - Emma finds a home for them at Merton Place, which Nelson immediately buys.  Only a relatively small estate, it is nonetheless on the road between London and Portsmouth and so is ideally located for an Admiral tied to his job.

September 14th - Nelson is made a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim.

October 1st - Britain and France sign an armistice.

October 22nd - Nelson returns to Merton.  Despite having not particularly wanted to command the Channel Fleet, he prides himself on the fact that not a single merchant ship was captured while he was there.


Horatia, Nelson and Emma's daughter.


Portrait by Beechey, 1800

Portrait by Hoppner, 1800.

1802 March 28th - Treaty of Amiens

April 26th - Nelson's father dies.

July-August - Nelson and the Hamiltons tour south Wales and the Midlands.  Nelson is greeted with adulation everywhere he goes.

1803 April 6th - Sir William Hamilton dies.

May 16th - Napoleonic War Begins

May 18th - Having been appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean, Nelson boards HMS Victory.

July 6th - Begins blockade of the French at Toulon.

Read extracts from Nelson's journal for this period.

HMS Victory

1804 Continues the blockade throughout the year.  
1805 April - July - The French Admiral Villeneuve escapes Nelson's blockade.  Nelson chases him to the West Indies and back to Europe, protecting British trade in the process.

April 18th - Returns to Merton on leave.

September 14th - Boards HMS Victory for the last time.

September 28th - Sails to Cadiz to join Admiral Collingwood's blockade of the Combined Fleet there.

October 21st - Battle of Trafalgar.  The Combined Fleet come out of Cadiz.  Nelson gives chase and issues the 'Nelson Touch' - his instructions - to his captains.  They will sail in two columns and break the line of the Combined Fleet in two places.  Nelson flies the signal 'England expects that every man will do his duty', then the signal for close action.  He issues no more signals, instead allowing his captains to choose their targets as they see fit and fight in melee. Victory locks with the French Redoutable, and is severely damaged and no longer able to be manoeuvred.

At about 13.20pm, Nelson is shot from the Redoutable's mizzenmast.  The musket ball enters his shoulder, pierces a lung and an artery, and lodges in his spine.  However, he lives for a further 3 hours, continuing to give orders.  Upon hearing of the British victory, he passes away, his last words being "Thank God I have done my duty."

October 21st - 26th - Nelson had known a storm was coming, and had issued orders for the fleet to anchor after the battle.  But Collingwood, who took over command after Nelson's death, does not.  The storm devastates the fleet, destroying 14 ships - more than were destroyed during the battle.

'The Hero of Trafalgar' by William Hersman Overend

1806 January 9th - Nelson's funeral.  He is buried in the crypt beneath the dome of St Paul's Cathedral.

Nelson's Tomb



Copyright Vicki Singleton 2013.