Countdown to Nelson: HMS Raisonnable

Our exhibit about Admiral Lord Nelson featuring his 1798 life mask opens on January 4th, and to help celebrate, we’re counting down the last few days until the opening with a series of blog posts about his naval career. We hope everyone will come see The Face of Nelson which runs through September 30th. In the meantime, let’s begin the countdown with…..


The third-rate HMS Raisonnable was Nelson’s first assignment in the navy. The classification system in use at the time specified that third-rate ships should mount between 64 and 80 guns. Raisonnable carried 64, mostly 24- and 18-pounders spread over two guns decks. This configuration represented an optimal balance between firepower and maneuverability.

Captain Maurice Suckling
Oil on canvas
Thomas Bardwell, 1764
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK
Horatio Nelson as a midshipman
E. Fane, 1774

Nelson’s uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, commanded Raisonnable and took on his nephew as an ordinary seaman when Nelson was just twelve years old. Suckling was initially skeptical about his prospects for success, noting that his slight physique did not suit him well to the rigors of life at sea. Furthermore, they soon discovered that Nelson was prone to seasickness. The boy who would become England’s greatest naval hero seemed an unlikely candidate for an officer, prompting Suckling to ask his father, “What has poor Horace done, who is so weak, that he, above the rest, should be sent to rough it out at sea?” Nevertheless, he received an appointment as a midshipman not long after joining Raisonnable’s crew and began learning the skills he would need to lead men in battle.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum


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