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The Story Of Santa Cruz






BY ROBERT SOUTHEY.


About the middle of the year 1797 Nelson hoisted his flag as
rear-admiral of the blue on board the Theseus. This ship had taken
part in the mutiny in England, and being just arrived from home, some
danger was apprehended from the temper of the men. This was one reason
why Nelson was removed to her. He had not been on board many weeks
before a paper, signed in the name of all the ship's company, was
dropped on the quarter-deck, containing these words: "Success attend
Admiral Nelson! God bless Captain Miller! We thank them for the officers
they have placed over us. We are happy and comfortable, and will shed
every drop of blood in our veins to support them; and the name of the
Theseus shall be immortalised as high as her captain's."

While Nelson was in the Theseus, he was employed in the command of the
inner squadron at the blockade of Cadiz. During this service the most
perilous action occurred in which he was ever engaged. Making a night
attack upon the Spanish gun-boats, his barge was attacked by an armed
launch, under their commander, Don Miguel Tregoyen, carrying twenty-six
men. Nelson had with him only his ten barge-men, Captain Freemantle, and
his coxswain, John Sykes, an old and faithful follower, who twice saved
the life of his admiral by parrying the blows that were aimed at him,
and, at last, actually interposed his own head to receive the blow of a
Spanish sabre, which he could not by any other means avert;--thus
dearly was Nelson beloved. Notwithstanding the great disproportion of
numbers, eighteen of the enemy were killed, all the rest wounded, and
their launch taken.

Twelve days after this rencontre, Nelson sailed at the head of an
expedition against Teneriffe. In this disastrous expedition, which took
place in July 1797, Nelson was much embarrassed by difficulties of wind
and tide, but though foiled in his plans still felt it a point of honour
to make some attempt to capture the town. Perfectly aware how desperate
a service this was likely to prove, before he left the Theseus, he
called Lieutenant Nisbet into the cabin that he might assist in
arranging and burning his mother's letters. Perceiving that the young
man was armed he earnestly begged him to remain behind. "Should we both
fall, Josiah," said he, "what would become of your poor mother? The care
of the Theseus falls to you; stay, therefore, and take charge of her."
Nisbet replied, "Sir, the ship must take care of itself; I will go with
you to-night, if I never go again."

He met his captains at supper on board the Seahorse; Captain
Freemantle, whose wife, whom he had lately married in the Mediterranean,
presided at table. At eleven o'clock the boats, containing between six
and seven hundred men, with a hundred and eighty on board the Fox
cutter, and from seventy to eighty in a boat which had been taken the
day before, proceeded in six divisions toward the town, conducted by all
the captains of the squadron, except Freemantle and Bowen, who attended
with Nelson to regulate and lead the way to the attack. They were to
land on the mole, and thence hasten, as fast as possible, into the great
square; then form and proceed as should be found expedient. They were
not discovered till about half-past one o'clock, when, being within half
gun-shot of the landing place, Nelson directed the boats to cast off
from each other, give a huzza, and push for the shore. But the Spaniards
were excellently well prepared; the alarm bells answered the huzza, and
a fire of thirty or forty pieces of cannon, with musketry from one end
of the town to the other, opened upon the invaders. Nothing, however,
could check the intrepidity with which they advanced. The night was
exceedingly dark; most of the boats missed the mole and went on shore
through a raging surf, which stove all to the left of it. The admiral,
Freemantle, Thompson, Bowen, and four or five other boats found the
mole; they stormed it instantly and carried it, though it was defended,
as they imagined, by four or five hundred men. Its guns, which were
six-and-twenty pounders, were spiked; but such a heavy fire of musketry
and grape was kept up from the citadel and the houses at the head of the
mole, that nearly all the assailants were killed or wounded. In the act
of stepping out of the boat Nelson received a shot through the right
elbow, and fell; but, as he fell, he caught the sword, which he had just
drawn, in his left hand, determined never to part with it while he
lived, for it had belonged to his uncle, Captain Suckling, and he valued
it like a relic. Nisbet, who was close to him, placed him at the bottom
of the boat, and laid his hat over the shattered arm, lest the sight of
the blood, which gushed out in great abundance, should increase his
faintness. He then examined the wound; and taking some silk
handkerchiefs from his neck, bound them round tight above the lacerated
vessels. Had it not been for this presence of mind in his step-son,
Nelson must have perished. One of his barge-men, by name Lovel, tore his
shirt into shreds, and made a sling with them for the broken limb. They
then collected five other seamen, by whose assistance they succeeded, at
length, in getting the boat afloat; for it had grounded with the falling
tide. Nisbet took one of the oars, and ordered the steersman to go close
under the guns of the battery, that they might be safe from its
tremendous fire. They pushed on for the Theseus. When they came
alongside, Nelson peremptorily refused all assistance in getting on
board. A single rope was thrown over the side, which he twisted round
his left hand, saying, "Let me alone: I have yet my legs left, and one
arm. Tell the surgeon to make haste and get his instruments. I know I
must lose my right arm; so the sooner it is off the better."

The total loss of the English, in killed, wounded, and drowned, amounted
to two hundred and fifty. Nelson made no mention of his own wound in his
official despatches; but in a private letter to Lord St. Vincent--the
first which he wrote with his left hand--he shows himself to have been
deeply affected by the failure of this enterprise. "I am become," he
said, "a burthen to my friends, and useless to my country; but by my
last letter you will perceive my anxiety for the promotion of my
son-in-law, Josiah Nisbet. When I leave your command, I become dead to
the world:--'I go hence, and am no more seen.' If from poor Bowen's loss
you think it proper to oblige me, I rest confident you will do it. The
boy is under obligations to me; but he repaid me, by bringing me from
the mole of Santa Cruz. I hope you will be able to give me a frigate to
convey the remains of my carcass to England." "A left-handed admiral,"
he said subsequently, "will never again be considered as useful;
therefore, the sooner I get to a very humble cottage the better, and
make room for a sounder man to serve the state."

Not having been in England till now, since he lost his eye, he went to
receive a year's pay, as smart money; but could not obtain payment,
because he had neglected to bring a certificate from a surgeon that the
sight was actually destroyed. A little irritated that this form should
be insisted upon; because, though the fact was not apparent, he thought
it was sufficiently notorious, he procured a certificate, at the same
time, for the loss of his arm; saying, they might just as well doubt one
as the other. This put him in good humour with himself, and with the
clerk who had offended him. On his return to the office, the clerk,
finding it was only the annual pay of a captain, observed he thought it
had been more. "Oh!" replied Nelson, "this is only for an eye. In a few
days I shall come for an arm; and in a little time longer, God knows,
most probably for a leg." Accordingly, he soon afterwards went; and with
perfect good humour exhibited the certificate of the loss of his arm.





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