’Twas on the 18th of August in the year of 1798,
That Nelson saw with inexpressible delight
The City of Alexandria crowded with the ships of France,
So he ordered all sail to be set, and immediately advance.
And upon the deck, in deep anxiety he stood,
And from anxiety of mind he took but little food;
But now he ordered dinner and prepared without delay,
Saying, I shall gain a peerage to-morrow, or Westminster Abbey.
The French had found it impossible to enter the port of Alexandria,
Therefore they were compelled to withdraw;
Yet their hearts were burning with anxiety the war to begin,
But they couldn’t find a pilot who would convey them safely in.
Therefore Admiral Brueyes was forced to anchor in Aboukir Bay,
And in a compact line of battle, the leading vessel lay
Close to a shoal, along a line of very deep water,
There they lay, all eager to begin the murderous slaughter.
The French force consisted of thirteen ships of the line,
As fine as ever sailed on the salt sea brine;
Besides four Frigates carrying 1,196 guns in all,
Also 11,230 men as good as ever fired a cannon ball.
The number of the English ships were thirteen in all,
And carrying 1012 guns, including great and small;
And the number of men were 8,068,
All jolly British tars and eager for to fight.
As soon as Nelson perceived the position of the enemy,
His active mind soon formed a plan immediately;
As the plan he thought best, as far as he could see,
Was to anchor his ships on the quarter of each of the enemy.
And when he had explained his mode of attack to his officers and men,
He said, form as convenient, and anchor at the stern;
The first gain the victory, and make the best use of it you can,
Therefore I hope every one here to-day, will do their duty to a man.
When Captain Berry perceived the boldness of the plan,
He said, my Lord, I’m sure the men will do their duty to a man;
And, my Lord, what will the world say, if we gain the victory?
Then Nelson replied, there’s no if in the case, and that you’ll see.
Then the British tars went to work without delay,
All hurrying to and fro, making ready for the fray;
And there wasn’t a man among them, but was confident that day,
That they would make the French to fly from Aboukir Bay.
Nelson’s fleet did not enter Aboukir Bay at once,
And by adopting that plan, that was his only chance;
But one after another, they bore down on the enemy;
Then Nelson cried, now open fire my heroes, immediately!
Then the shores of Egypt trembled with the din of the war,
While sheets of flame rent the thick clouds afar;
And the contending fleets hung incumbent o’er the bay,
Whilst our British tars stuck to their guns without the least dismay.
And loudly roared the earthly thunder along the river Nile,
And the British ship Orion went into action in splendid style;
Also Nelson’s Ship Vanguard bore down on the foe,
With six flags flying from her rigging high and low.
Then she opened a tremendous fire on the Spartiate,
And Nelson cried, fear not my lads we’ll soon make them retreat!
But so terrific was the fire of the enemy on them,
That six of the Vanguards guns were cleared of men.
Yet there stood Nelson, the noble Hero of the Nile,
In the midst of death and destruction on deck all the while;
And around him on every side, the cannon balls did rattle,
But right well the noble hero knew the issue of the battle.
But suddenly he received a wound on the head,
And fell into the arms of Captain Berry, but fortunately not dead;
And the flow of blood from his head was very great,
But still the hero of the Nile was resigned to his fate.
Then to the Cockpit the great Admiral was carried down,
And in the midst of the dying, he never once did frown;
Nor he didn’t shake with fear, nor yet did he mourne,
But patiently sat down to wait his own turn.
And when the Surgeon saw him, he instantly ran,
But Nelson said, Surgeon, attend to that man;
Attend to the sailor you were at, for he requires your aid,
Then I will take my turn, don’t be the least afraid.
And when his turn came, it was found that his wound was but slight,
And when known, it filled the sailors hearts with delight;
And they all hoped he would soon be able to command in the fight,
When suddenly a cry arose of fire! Which startled Nelson with affright.
And unassisted he rushed upon the deck, and to his amaze,
He discovered that the Orient was all in a blaze;
Then he ordered the men to lower the boats, and relieve the enemy,
Saying, now men, see and obey my orders immediately.
Then the noble tars manned their boats, and steered to the Orient,
While the poor creatures thanked God for the succour He had sent;
And the burning fragments fell around them like rain,
Still our British tars rescued about seventy of them from the burning flame,
And of the thirteen sail of the French the British captured nine,
Besides four of their ships were burnt, which made the scene sublime,
Which made the hero of the Nile cry out thank God we’ve won the day,
And defeated the French most manfully in Aboukir Bay.
Then the victory was complete and the French Fleet annihilated,
And when the news arrived in England the peoples’ hearts felt elated,
Then Nelson sent orders immediately through the fleet,
That thanksgiving should be returned to God for the victory complete.
Admiral Nelson’s Victory
The Official News of the GLORIOUS VICTORY obtained by Admiral Nelson over the French Fleet near Rosetta arrived at the Admiralty yesterday morning, at a quarter past eleven o’clock. It was brought by the Hon. Captain Capel, one of Lord Essex’s sons, and lately made Master and Commander unto the Mutine cutter, from the Admiral’s flag-ship. He was detained at Naples one day, owing to some necessary ceremonies of quarantine. The Park and Tower guns, and the merry peals of te bells from the steeples of several churches, soon announced this happy news to the Public. Lord Spencer wrote official information of it to the Lord Mayor; and Mr. Winchester, the Messenger, was sent express to the King at Weymouth, in order that his Majesty might learn the glad tidings before he went to rest. Yesterday evening the following Gazette Extraordinary was published:-
London Gazette Extraordinary
Admiralty Office, Oct. 2
The Honourable Capt. Capel, of his Majesty’s sloop Mutine, arrived this· morning with dispatches from Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, K. B. to. Evan Nepean, Esq. Secretary of the Admiralty, of which the following are copies:
Vanguard, Mouth of the Nile, Aug. 7
Herewith I have the honour to transmit you a copy of my letter to the Earl of St. Vincent, together with a line of battle of the English and French squadrons, also a list of Killed and Wounded. I have the pleasure to inform you that eight of our ships have already top-gallant yards across, and ready for any service; the others, with the prizes, will soon be ready for sea. In an event of this importance, I. have thought it right to send Capt. Capel with a copy of my letter (to the Commander in Chief) over land, which I hope their Lordships will approve; and beg leave to refer them to Captain Capel, who is a most excellent officer, and fully able to give every information; and I beg leave to recommend him to their Lordships’ notice.
I have the honour to be, &c.
P.S. The Island I have taken possession of, and brought off the two 13-inch mortars, all the brass guns, and destroyed the iron ones.
Evan Nepean Esq.
Vanguard, off the Mouth of the Nile, Aug. 3
Almighty God has blessed his Majesty’s arms in the lat battle, by a great victory over the Fleet of the Enemy, whom I attacked at sun-set on the 1st of August off the Mouth of the Nile. The Enemy were moored in a strong line of battle for defending the entrance of the Bay (of Shoals), flanked by numerous gun-boats, four frigates, and a battery of guns and mortars on an island in their Van, but nothing could withstand the Squadron your Lordship did me the honour to place under my command. Their high state of discipline is well known to you, and with the judgement of the Captains, together with their valour, and that of the Officers and Men of every description, it was absolutely irresistable.
Could any thing from my pen add to the character of the Captains, I would write it with pleasure, but it is impossible.
I have to regret the loss of Captain Westcott of the Majestic, who was killed early in the action; but the ship was continued to be so well fought by her First Lieutenant, Mr. Cuthbert, that I have given him an order to command her till your Lordship’s pleasure is known.
The ships of the enemy, all but their two rear ships, are nearly dismasted; and those two, with two frigates, I am sorry to say, made their escape; nor was it, I assure you, in my power to prevent them. Captain Hood most handsomely endeavoured to do it, but I had no ship in condition to support the Zealous and I was obliged to call her in.
The support and assistance I have received from Captain Berry cannot be sufficiently expressed. I was wounded in the head and obliged to be carried off the deck, but the service suffered no loss by that event. Captain Berry was fully equal to the important service then going on, and to him I must beg leave to refer you for every information relative to this victory. He will present you with the flag of the second in command, that of the Commander in Chief being burnt in the L’Orient.
Herewith I transmit you lists of the killed and wounded, and the lines of battle of ourselves and the French.
I have the honour to be, &c.
To Admiral the Earl of St Vincent
Commander in Chief, &c. &c.
&c. off Cadiz
The Times, 3rd October 1798
When the government of revolutionary France received General Napoleon Bonaparte’s proposal for an invasion of Egypt, they accepted with alacrity. If successful, the venture would threaten British interests in the middle east and India. Whatever happened, it would send the ambitious and popular young Corsican on an expedition thousands of miles from Paris, from which he might never return.
Consequently, an army was embarked in Toulon and set sail for Malta on 19th May 1798. Landing virtually unopposed, they overthrew the moribund Knights of St John and established a French garrison in their place. Laden with loot from the Maltese churches and castles, they then set sail for Egypt. One foggy night they passed within a few miles of Nelson’s pursuing British fleet, but managed to escape detection. On the night of 30th June the French army landed at Marabout Bay, 7 miles from Alexandria which they captured the next day. With barely a pause, Napoleon turned his attention to the interior and embarked on a gruelling 19 day march southwards. After winning a spectacular battle in the shadow of the pyramids he captured Cairo and began to establish a government for Egypt.
Meanwhile the French fleet, under the command of Admiral Brueys, had moved along the coast to Aboukir Bay – Alexandria’s harbour being too shallow to accommodate his warships. The fleet was in a bad way – undermanned and short of supplies – Brueys anchored his thirteen Ships of the Line along the western edge of the bay and sent many of his sailors ashore to find food and other supplies.
For all this time Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson’s British fleet had been cruising the Mediterranean seeking news of the French. They had already visited Alexandria once, levaing the city 25 hours before the French had arrived to search elsewhere, it wasn’t until nearly a month after Napoleon’s landing that they discovered their mistake. Reaching Alexandria on the 1st August they split up to find the enemy, locating Brueys’ ships at 2:45. Brueys expected Nelson to gather his fleet for a battle the following day – as fighting amongst the shoals of the bay in failing light would be very risky. Nelson, who had already lost an eye and an arm in the service of his country, thrived on such risks – he directed his ships into the fray without delay.
The British fleet sailed steadily towards their opponents, led by the Goliath. When only 200 yards from the head of the French line, Goliath’s captain, Thomas Foley, observed that they had anchored their ships just far enough into the bay to allow a ship to pass on the landward side. To the horror of his opponents, he steered his ship into this narrow channel, blasting the head of the French line as he did so. Four ships followed Foley, whilst the remainder tackled the seaward side with Nelson.
From this moment, the French fleet was doomed. Hemmed in by shallow water and adverse winds, they could not manoeuvre or bring most of their guns to bear on the enemy. The British were able to sail down the line picking off their opponents one by one. Some of the French ships had stores and provisions piled up against the gunports on their landward side – meaning they couldn’t fire at Goliath and her followers at all, whilst undermanning and lack of training weakened what firepower they were able to employ.
At the height of the action, a piece of shrapnel struck Nelson in the head. Stunned by the blow and believing himself to be mortally wounded, he was carried below by his men. The Admiral was not a man to pull rank in the station, and waited his turn to be treated. When the surgeon examined the wound he found it to be relatively minor – a deep gash had cut Nelson literally to the bone and caused a flap of skin to fall over his one good eye. Once bandaged up Nelson was able to stagger back on deck in time to see the climax of the action.
The pride of the French fleet, l’Orient, one of the biggest warships in the world, had caught fire and was burning out of control. As the flames began to engulf the French flagship, the 10-year old son of its commander, Captain Casabianca, was determined not to abandon his post without orders to do so from his father. The orders never came. The fire spread to the ship’s magazine, causing a massive explosion that was heard 12 miles away in Alexandria. The youth and many of his shipmates perished in the blast. His devotion to duty was immortalised in Felicia Hemans’ much parodied poem Casabianca:
The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled…
The fighting carried on into the night and on into the next morning. In the end French fleet was almost totally destroyed, with only two of the original thirteen ships remaining. Napoleon was stranded in Egypt and, though he would win several dramatic victories on land, his weakness at sea doomed the Egyptian expedition to eventual failure. Nelson was made Baron Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe and sailed on to the adulation of his country and eventual apotheosis at Trafalgar seven years later.