Sunday, January 3, 2016

Countdown to Nelson: First Capture

1
Nelson Boarding a Captured Ship, 20 November 1777
Oil on canvas
Richard Westall, 1806
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK

One more day until The Face of Nelson officially opens! The first ship that Nelson participated in capturing was the American brig Revolution. After passing his lieutenant’s examination on 9 April 1777, Nelson received his commission and reported to the frigate HMS Lowestoffe for duty. Lowestoffe sailed for the Caribbean in May and carried out several cruises there.

On 20 November 1777, she encountered Revolution, an unarmed merchant ship, and took the American vessel as a prize. Captain William Locker ordered Lowestoffe’s first lieutenant to organize a boarding party and take possession of Revolution. Heavy seas made the crossing dangerous, however, and after setting out with a few men in a small boat, the first lieutenant returned to Lowestoffe, citing fears for their safety. Nelson, the second lieutenant, recognized an opportunity to prove himself to his captain and immediately volunteered to command the boarding party. He and his men crossed successfully in spite of the rough weather. Writing about this episode years later, Nelson commented, “This little incident has often occurred to my mind; and I know it is my disposition that difficulties and dangers do but increase my desire of attempting them.” That disposition would serve him well throughout his naval career.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

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