Two seamen carried Lord Nelson down through the smoke to the cockpit with infinite care, Captain Hardy following close behind. The buckle of Hardy’s shoe clattered against the deck as he walked, severed by a splinter blasted from the taffrail by the Redoutable’s broadside.
In the muffled din of the cockpit, Nelson offered a thin smile. “They have done for me at last, Hardy. I am shot through the backbone. I am dead.”
“Please to be quiet, my lord,” said Doctor Beatty, shearing away the broadcloth of Nelson’s full dress jacket. “Nothing is certain,” he added, though his voice said otherwise.
“I fear now I must leave Lady Hamilton,” said Nelson a few minutes later. “I am a dead man.”
Lieutenant Burke knocked at the door. “Beg pardon, my lord. I came to tell you victory is ours. The enemy is decisively defeated.”
“Pray let dear Lady Hamilton have my hair,” whispered the admiral.
The Battle of Trafalgar was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain, between Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. The outnumbered British fleet, under command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, soundly defeated a combined force of French and Spanish ships. This victory established British naval supremacy for more than a century.
The downside was that the British lost their greatest naval hero when Nelson was shot through the shoulder by a sniper as he walked the quarterdeck with his friend Captain Thomas Hardy.
The eyewitness account of the Victory’s surgeon provided the events from which this story is taken:
The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, and penetrated his chest. He fell with his face on the deck. Captain Hardy, who was on his right (the side furthest from the enemy) and advanced some steps before his lordship, on turning round, saw the Sergeant Major of Marines with two seamen raising him from the deck; where he had fallen on the same spot on which, a little before, his secretary had breathed his last, with whose blood his lordship’s clothes were much soiled. Captain Hardy expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which the gallant Chief replied: ‘They have done for me at last, Hardy.’ – ‘I hope not,’ answered Captain Hardy. ‘Yes,’ replied his lordship; ‘my backbone is shot through.’
Nelson’s famous last words “Kiss me, Hardy” do not appear anywhere in this account.