It had been part of Nelson’s prayer that the British fleet might be distinguished by humanity in the victory he expected. Setting an example himself, he twice gave orders to cease firing upon the ‘Redoubtable,’ supposing that she had struck because her great guns were silent; for, as she carried no flag, there was no means of instantly ascertaining the fact. From this ship, which he had thus twice spared, he received his death. A ball, fired from her mizen-top, which, in the then situation of the two vessels, was not more than fifteen yards from that part of the deck where he was standing, struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, about a quarter after one, just in the heat of action. He fell upon his face, on the spot which was covered with his poor secretary’s blood. Hardy (his captain), who was a few steps from him, turning round, saw three men raising him up.
“They have done for me at last, Hardy,” said he.
“I hope not,” cried Hardy. “Yes,” he replied, “my backbone is shot through.”
Yet even now, not for a moment losing his presence of mind, he observed, as they were carrying him down the ladder, that the tiller ropes, which had been shot away, were not yet replaced, and ordered that new ones should be rove immediately; then, that he might not be seen by the crew, he took out his handkerchief, and covered his face and his stars. Had he but concealed these badges of honour from the enemy, England, perhaps, would not have had cause to receive with sorrow the news of the battle of Trafalgar. The cockpit was crowded with wounded and dying men, over whose bodies he was with some difficulty conveyed, and laid upon a pallet in the midshipmen’s berth. It was soon perceived, upon examination, that the wound was mortal. This, however, was concealed from all except Captain Hardy, the chaplain, and the medical attendants. He himself being certain, from the sensation in his back, and the gush of blood he felt momently within his breast, that no human care could avail him, insisted that the surgeon should leave him, and attend to those to whom he might be useful; “For,” said he, “you can do nothing for me.” All that could be done was to fan him with paper, and frequently to give him lemonade to alleviate his intense thirst. He was in great pain, and expressed much anxiety for the event of the action, which now began to declare itself. As often as a ship struck, the crew of the ‘Victory’ hurrahed, and at every hurrah a visible expression of joy gleamed in the eyes and marked the countenance of the dying hero.
But he became impatient to see Captain Hardy; and as that officer, though often sent for, could not leave the deck, Nelson feared some fatal cause prevented him, and repeatedly cried, “Will no one bring Hardy to me? He must be killed! He is surely dead!”