25 October 2021

Horatio Nelson's lethal wound

The white hole below the left epaulette marks the entry site of the sniper's bullet that killed Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805.
At a quarter-past one in the afternoon, Hardy realised that Nelson was not by his side. He turned to see Nelson kneeling on the deck, supporting himself with his hand, before falling onto his side. Hardy rushed to him, at which point, Nelson smiled:
"Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last .... my backbone is shot through."
He had been hit by a musket ball, fired from the mizzen-top of Redoutable, at a range of 50 feet (15 m). The ball entered his left shoulder, passed through a lung, then his spine at the sixth and seventh thoracic vertebrae, and lodged two inches (5 cm) below his right shoulder blade, in the muscles of his back. Nelson was carried below to the cockpit, by sergeant major of marines Robert Adair, and two seamen. As he was being carried down, he asked them to pause while he gave advice to a midshipman on the handling of the tiller. He then draped a handkerchief over his face to avoid causing alarm amongst the crew. He was taken to ship surgeon William Beatty, telling him:
"You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through."
He was a good diagnostician.


  1. There is something about the man who, knowing he will die within moments/minutes, still has a clear head and steady nerves. No wonder Nelson remains among the highest heroes of Great Britain. He is almost as mythic as Arthur, I imagine.

  2. why am i reminded of John Cleese and the Black Knight?

  3. I remember seeing this uniform on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It took me a while to spot the hole in his uniform, and when I did, I couldn't understand why the wound was was fatal. Then I read about the trajectory.


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