Horatio Nelson was born on September 29, 1758 in Norfolk, England. He was the son of a country parson and the 6th of 11 children. Nelson entered the Royal Navy when he was 12 years old and quickly proved himself in the wars of the late 18th century, serving with the leading naval commanders of the time. Nelson earned his own command in 1778 and developed a reputation in the service through his personal valour and firm grasp of tactics. Nelson was particularly active in the Mediterranean and he was important in the capture of Corsica and subsequent diplomatic duties with the Italian states. In 1797, he distinguished himself while in command of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. The following year, he won a decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile and remained in the Mediterranean to support the Kingdom of Naples against a French invasion. The toll of these victories was high for Nelson as he lost his right arm in battle and most of the sight in his right eye. In July 1799, Nelson was created Duke of Bronté (Duca di Bronté), of the Kingdom of Sicily, by the King Ferdinand, and after briefly experimenting with the signature "Brontë Nelson of the Nile" signed himself "Nelson & Brontë" for the rest of his life.
In 1799 Nelson was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red, and in 1801 he was dispatched to the Baltic where he won another victory, this time over the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen. Nelson was appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and given the HMS Victory as his flagship. While at sea off Toulon, he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White on April 23, 1804.
In September 1804 Victory joined the British fleet off Cádiz where Nelson took over from Rear-Admiral Collingwood. He spent the following weeks preparing and refining his tactics for the anticipated battle against the Franco-Spanish fleet and dining with his captains to ensure they understood his intentions. Drawing on his own experience, Nelson decided to split his fleet into squadrons rather than forming it into a similar line parallel to the enemy. The squadrons would then cut the enemy's line at the center and rear – a tactic dubbed “the Nelson touch”. On October 21, 1805, Nelson’s fleet engaged the Franco-Spanish fleet and despite having less ships that this opposition (twenty-seven British vessels versus a fleet of thirty-three French and Spanish ships) the British were victorious. At the end of the battle, eighteen of the Franco-Spanish ships had been destroyed or captured. The Battle of Trafalgar would become one of Britain’s greatest naval victories.
Nelson was fatally wounded during the fighting on October 21 and his body was brought back to England where he was accorded a state funeral and interred at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Nelson's titles, as inscribed on his coffin included: The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty's Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim. A number of monuments and memorials have been constructed to honour his memory and achievements all over the world, including the Nelson's Pillar in Dublin, Ireland; a statue in Montreal, Canada; and London's Trafalgar Square with the centerpiece, Nelson's Column.
William Carnegie, Lord Rosehill and seventh Earl of Northesk, was born at Leven Lodge, near Edinburgh, in 1758 into a distinguished naval family. The young Carnegie entered the navy in 1771 and by 1780 was appointed a commander. In the following years he was captain of a series of ships on active service in the West Indies, Atlantic and North Sea. With the renewal of war with France in 1803, Northesk was appointed to the 100-gun Britannia in the fleet off Brest under Admiral Cornwallis. In August 1805 he was detached under Admiral Sir Robert Calder to reinforce the fleet off Cadiz, and he would serve as Rear-Admiral under Nelson who was Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. At the Battle of Trafalgar, Northesk was third in command after Nelson and Collingwood, and his ship, the Britannia, was the fourth in the weather-line led by Nelson.
Following the battle, and in recognition of his manifest services, Northesk received many honors, including investiture as a Knight of the Bath and a gold medal for his services at Trafalgar. In subsequent years, he became Vice-Admiral in 1808, Admiral in 1814, and Rear-Admiral of Great Britain in 1821. From 1827-1830, Northesk was Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth. Lord Northesk was buried on June 8, 1831 in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, near the graves of both Lord Nelson and Lord Collingwood.
Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood, was born on September 26, 1748 in Newcastle upon Tyne. His early education was at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle. At the age of eleven he went to sea and would meet Horatio Nelson for the first time in 1777. Collingwood and Nelson would serve together on a number of vessels, Collingwood rising through the ranks while Nelson was hindered with a reoccurring case of malaria. Collingwood served in the West Indies until 1786 when he returned to England and remained stationed there until 1793 when he was appointed Captain of HMS Prince, the flagship of Rear-Admiral George Bowyer in the Channel Fleet. In 1799 he was appointed as Rear-Admiral of the White and he sailed to the Mediterranean where he participated in the blockade against the French and Spanish fleets. Over the coming years he continued to receive promotions and fought in the Battle of Trafalgar alongside Nelson. Collingwood, in the Royal Sovereign, led the second line of the British fleet and was the first to be engaged in battle. Upon Nelson’s death during the battle, Collingwood assumed the position as Command-in-Chief for the rest of the event.
After the success of the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, Collingwood was promoted to Vice-Admiral of the Red and was raised to the peerage as Baron Collingwood, of Caldburne and Hethpool in the County of Northumberland. He also received the thanks of both British Houses of Parliament and was awarded a pension of £2000 per annum. Together with all the other captains and admirals, he also received a gold medal for his service against the wars in France. That same year he was appointed to the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet where he would serve for five years. In 1810 Collingwood was granted return to England due to failing health. However, he did not make it back England and died on March 7, 1810 while aboard the Ville de Parison. He was laid to rest beside his close friend, Lord Nelson in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Lord Collingwood is remembered for his merits as a naval officer and was held in high regard for his political judgement, expertise, and skill as a naval officer. In his honor, the Maritime Warfare School of the Royal Navy is commissioned as HMS Collingwood, there is a statue in Tynemouth (at the foot of the status are some of the cannon from the Royal Sovereign), numerous towns are named after him, and celebrations were held in 2010 commemorating the 200th anniversary of his death.
The collection consists of records related to the naval careers of Lord Nelson, Lord Northesk, Lord Collingwood and events including the Battle of Trafalgar. Records related to Lord Nelson include original correspondence and transcriptions of letters as recorded by Nelson’s secretaries (one of which being John Scott, his official secretary who was killed at Trafalgar in 1805 beside Nelson); personal correspondence from Lord Nelson to Sir Charles Stuart, the Marquis of Landsdowne, and Lady Parker; letters of naval appointment. Documents related to the Battle of Trafalgar include a list of ships and commanders, the "Order of Battle" that lists the order of the fleet into 4 divisions; a "secret" letter giving tactical instructions describing the plan of attack against the French/Spanish fleet (including signals and a diagram of the proposed formation). Also included are letters written before and immediately after the Battle of Trafalgar that document the success of the battle and that lament Lord Nelson’s death.
The collection also includes a series of twenty-one (21) letters from the Duke of Clarence (Queen Victoria's uncle and close friend of Lord Nelson) to Lord Northesk regarding various naval business, procedures, regulations, arrangements and promotions; and court martials for crew members on charges of desertion, drunkenness, and fighting as ordered by Lord Collingwood to be held on HMS Britannia, HMS Dreadnaught, HMS Minotaur, HMS Avon, and HMS Talouse. The manuscript ledger contains letters and orders by Admiral Alan Gardner to various captains, commanders, ships masters and surgeons on naval matters during his appointment as Commander in Chief on the coast of Ireland (recording secretary unknown). The Northesk album labeled "Papers Relating to William 7th Earl of Northesk" includes letters, newspaper clippings, publication excerpts, and other records related to Northesk's naval career and the accolades he received after the Battle of Trafalgar. The title page of the album contains the Northesk Coat of Arms in colour (dated 1807) and is followed by three (3) lithograph prints depicting Lord Northesk (dated 1806).
Publications and research materials related to Lord Nelson, his naval contemporaries, and the Battle of Trafalgar are available in the Vancouver Maritime Museum Library collection. The Vancouver Maritime Museum also holds some artifacts and archival records related to Lord Nelson. These items include a letter from Lord Nelson to Rear Admiral George Campbell (May 10, 1805); original newspaper excerpts and broadsheets about Nelson, commemorative pins and plaques from 1905 depicting the Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, and a series of prints and lithographs depicting Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar.
A substantial collection of Nelson related materials can be found at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.