Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 40.djvu/200

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came in sight. The Blanche, being some distance to leeward, escaped without difficulty; the Minerve was in greater danger. But the Sabina, hoisting English colours over the Spanish, induced the largest Spanish ship to leave the Minerve and follow her; her masts went over the side, and she was recaptured, but the Minerve escaped [see Cockburn, Sir George; Hardy, Sir Thomas Masterman]. On the 27th Nelson arrived at Porto Ferrajo, where he remained for a month leisurely embarking the naval stores; but, as the general refused to leave his post without specific orders from the government, Nelson sailed without him on 29 Jan. 1797, and, after reconnoitring Toulon and Cartagena, reached Gibraltar on 9 Feb. He sailed again on the 11th, and, passing through the Spanish fleet on the way, rejoined the admiral on the afternoon of the 13th. He returned to the Captain the same evening, and the next day the battle of Cape St. Vincent was fought. Nelson's share in this was particularly brilliant. The English line had cut the Spanish fleet into two parts, and was concentrating its attack on the weathermost of the two, when Nelson, commanding in the rear, observed that their leading ships were bearing up with a view to pass astern of the English line and rejoin the other division. To prevent this he wore out of his station, threw himself in the way of the leading ships, compelled them to haul their wind again, and closely engaged the Santísima Trinidad of 130 guns, the largest ship then afloat. The delay gave time for other English ships to come up, and thus rendered the action general and decisive. The Captain continued in the thick of the battle, had many killed and wounded, her rigging cut to pieces, and her fore-topmast gone. She was still closely engaged with the 80-gun ship San Nicolas when the Excellent, passing between the two, poured a tremendous broadside into the Spaniard at the distance of a few feet. The San Nicolas reeled from the blow and fell on board the 112-gun ship San Josef, which had also been severely beaten by the Captain, Culloden, and especially by the Prince George. It was then that Nelson, finding the Captain no longer manageable, laid her alongside the San Nicolas, which he carried by boarding, and from her was preparing to board the San Josef when she surrendered. On her quarter-deck her captain presented his sword, saying that the admiral was below mortally wounded. ‘I desired him,’ wrote Nelson, ‘to call to his officers, and on the quarter-deck of a Spanish first-rate, extravagant as the story may seem, did I receive the swords of vanquished Spaniards, which, as I received, I gave to one of my bargemen, who put them with the greatest sang-froid under his arm.’ As the Captain was disabled, Nelson moved his broad pennant to the Irresistible. In the evening, when the fighting was over, he went on board the Victory, where Jervis embraced him on the quarter-deck, and (wrote Nelson) ‘said he could not sufficiently thank me, and used every kind expression, which could not fail to make me happy.’

In acknowledgment of his conduct on this occasion Nelson was made a K.B., an honour which it was understood he would prefer to a baronetcy. His promotion to the rank of rear-admiral, on 20 Feb. 1797, was in due course of seniority, and was gazetted fourteen days before the news of the victory reached England. On 3 April, as soon as the announcement reached the admiral, Nelson was ordered to hoist his flag on board the Captain, to which he had returned on 24 March. He had been stationed off Cadiz with a detached squadron to look out for the viceroy of Mexico, who was expected home with a rich convoy. On 12 April he was again sent to Elba to bring away the garrison, with which he arrived at Gibraltar in the beginning of May. On the 24th he rejoined the admiral off Cadiz, and was ordered to hoist his flag on board the Theseus, and resume the command of the inshore squadron. The Spanish fleet was in the port, still strong in numbers, and it was supposed that they might make a dash to get to Ferrol. Nelson reported signs of their preparing for sea, and, though he did not think they would venture it, the ships were kept cleared for action. By the beginning of July he thought he might force them to come out by throwing shell in among them and into the town, which brought on a sharp skirmish with the Spanish gunboats, but had no further effect.

Before the end of March Nelson had suggested to the admiral that the viceroy of Mexico and the treasure-ships might have taken refuge at Santa Cruz, and he submitted a scheme for employing, in an attack on them, the garrison of Elba, nearly four thousand men, who might be sent on at once, without disembarking. In his judgment the enterprise was mainly a military one. ‘I will undertake,’ he said, ‘with a very small squadron, to do the naval part.’ Jervis seems to have ascertained that the viceroy had not put into Santa Cruz; but when, early in July, he had intelligence of a rich ship from Manila having come there, he proposed to Nelson the task of bringing her away; there were no longer any soldiers to dispose of, but a squadron from the fleet might probably be sufficient force. On the 14th Nelson received his