The Story Of Santa Cruz


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 a
l 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.