Nelson’s Account of Cape St. Vincent

Commodore (soon to be Admiral) Lord Nelson explains his boarding party’s actions during the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, when they took the San Josef and he received her surrender.

The soldiers of the 69th, with an alacrity which will ever do them credit, and Lieutenant Pearson of the same regiment, were almost the foremost on this service – the first man who jumped into the enemy’s mizen chains was Commander Berry, late my First Lieutenant (Captain Miller was in the very act of going also, but I directed him to remain); he was supported from our sprit sail yard, which hooked in the mizen rigging. A soldier of the 69th Regiment having broken the upper quarter-gallery window, I jumped in myself, and was followed by others as fast as possible.

I found the cabin doors fastened, and some Spanish officers fired their pistols: but having broke open the doors the soldiers fired, and the Spanish Brigadier fell, as retreating to the quarter-deck. I pushed immediately onwards for the quarter-deck, where I found Commander Berry in possession of the poop, and the Spanish ensign hauling down. I passed with my people, and Lieutenant Pearson, on the larboard gangway, to the forecastle, where I met two or three Spanish officers, prisoners to my seamen: they delivered me their swords. A fire of pistols, or muskets, opening from the stern gallery of the San Josef, I directed the soldiers to fire into her stern; and calling to Captain Miller, ordered him to send more men into the San Nicolas; and directed my people to board the first-rate, which was done in an instant, Commander Berry assisting me into the main chains.

At this moment a Spanish officers looked over the quarter deck rail, and said they surrendered. From this most welcome intelligence, it was not long before I was on the quarter deck, where the captain, with a bow, presented me his sword, and said the admiral was dying of his wounds. I asked him on his honour if the ship was surrendered. He declared she was: on which i gave him my hand, and desired him to call on his officers and ship’s company and tell them of it: which he did – 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 William Fearney, one of my bargemen, who put them, with the greatest sang-froid, under his arm.

Courtesy of Mackenzie Gregory.

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