Haslar Heritage Group

Haslar & the battle of Trafalgar

This article includes the part Haslar played in receiving casualties following the battle.

Following a few days of research at the public records Office at Kew, some interesting facts have arisen which I thought you the reader might be interested in, concerning the Battle of Trafalgar, mainly because much has been discussed regarding the ships, the men and the number of cannon balls fired etc. but little has been made known regarding the casualties.

As a resident of Bishop’s Waltham it is interesting to note that Admiral Villeneuve spent some three months at the ‘Crown’ (16th Century coaching inn) along with a large number of both French and Spanish prisoners of war who were lodged on local residents as a guest of Great Britain following the battle, Admiral Villeneuve was permitted to take leave to attend Lord Nelson’s funeral in London.

Villeneuve died (reputedly) by his own hand some three months after returning to France at the Hotel de Patrie at Rennes (suicide was recorded) and he was buried without ceremony.

According to the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica the Admiral had sailed from Cadiz at the head of the French and Spanish fleet to meet Nelson, it is said, having been informed in the early morning that he was to be relieved of command, but it must have also been his wish to meet his old adversary from previous sea battles and Villeneuve must have foreseen defeat and his death as inevitable.

Admiral Villeneuve had company whilst in Bishop’s Waltham, no doubt he had the odd steward to cook and care for him, but it is also known that Captain Jean Jacques Etienne Lucas, Captain of ‘Le Redoutable’ was also to be incarcerated with the Admiral for a short period prior to being transferred to Reading.

Captain Lucas’s ship was first to battle with the Victory, a French sharpshooter was to deliver the fatal shot at Admiral Nelson from the upper yards of ‘Le Redoutable’, and only to be killed himself within minutes.

Both ships had locked together and a French boarding party attempted to board Victory but were killed instantly and driven back. Captain Lucas then had to deal with the ‘Fighting Temeraire’ and in taking on both British ships lost 300 officers and crew with a further 200 plus wounded out of a crew of 645.

Most damage and casualties arising from Victory firing repeated broadsides of double chain shot on the Port side, couple with Temeraire letting loose further broadsides at close quarters on the Starboard side.

Casualties onboard the Victory were 57 killed and 102 wounded, and out of 11 amputations only 2 died and of the Temeraire 47 killed and 76 wounded although there were 43 further crew lost whilst onboard two prize ships in the storm following the battle. The Temeraire rode out a vicious storm after the battle and it was four days before Captain Harvey of the Temeraire learnt of Nelson’s death and England’s Victory.

A total of 27 British warships took part in the battle and no ships lost, with 1587 officers and seaman lost, or injured compared with 33 French and Spanish warships losing 22 ships and it is estimated that over 16,000 French and Spanish seaman were either lost or injured, little is known of their details.

Cape Trafalgar is approximately 83 nautical miles South West of Gibraltar but it took many of the damaged vessels a week to reach the Rock having to endure a severe storm, which raged for four days after the battle.

Having studied the casualty list for admission to the Old Naval Hospital in Gibraltar, the first battle casualties were 57 casualties admitted on the 24th October 1805 from the ‘Bellisle’ with many being returned to their ship having been treated within 11 days of admission. Next on the 28th October was the ‘Colossus’ discharging 43 casualties followed by the ‘Revenge’ (10), ‘Bellarophon’ (51) of this total only 12 died the rest were discharged into the care of their parent ship for transfer back to England.

The Old Naval Hospital is a small building (still standing), on four sides with a central courtyard, which existed from the mid 18th Century, and the time of the Great Siege. The hospital was succeeded by the present Naval Hospital in the early 1960’s, which was previously the Army hospital. The old hospital is now accommodation, with possibly many a ghost.

The ‘Victory’ arrived on the 29th October 8 days after the battle and discharged 26 injured. One casualty from ‘Victory’ AB Joseph Burgin had his leg amputated through his thigh; he lived and was discharged back to the care of ‘Victory’ for the journey home.

The following casualties were also landed on the 29th from ‘Mars’ (18), ‘Africa’ (13), ‘Achille’ (11), ‘Defiance’ (19) and the Temeraire (25) and the ‘Sovereign’ (12) on the 3rd November.

There were in total 294 admissions to the Naval Hospital during October, the greater from the 24th October onwards. November 169 and December 36 of this total of 499 patients only 90 died, not all from ships that participated in the battle. How the hospital coped during this time can only be imagined, but many must have been discharged early to the care of the ships surgeon and loblolly boy for the journey home, if only to make way for more being admitted.

As with all battles, most deaths occurred amongst the injured within 48-72 hours, mainly from trauma, fluid loss and shock and yet it was interesting to note major injury amongst those admitted from the various British ships that had survived beyond this period, to be admitted some 8 days after the battle. Some only suffered minor injuries and died within a few days, at a time when infection ruled, with no antibiotics, or sterile/clean procedures in surgery, surely survival of the fittest!

Those who died at sea were caste to the sea bound in their hammocks, but all who died on Gibraltar were interred on the ‘Rock’ but today only two Trafalgar (graves) headstones exist in the Trafalgar cemetery in Gibraltar, not the original cemetery, the site of the earlier cemetery cannot be identified. The two graves are of Lt William Foster of the Colossus admitted on the 28th died 30th Oct from a thigh wound. And Captain of Marines Thomas Norman admitted 3rd Nov and died on the 6th Dec from a shattered skull

The ‘Mars’, ‘Africa’, ‘Colossus’ and ‘Temeraire’ amongst other ships were to arrive at the Royal Hospital Haslar on the 1st December 1805 and discharged more injured (in large numbers), or those discharged from Gibraltar who had taken a turn for the worse. The ‘Victory’ arrived on the 5th December not even entering Portsmouth, but anchoring at Spit head and discharging the sick and dying before leaving for Chatham.

My research has taken me into the staff books of Haslar at the time, which is an even greater story, hospital mate’s earnt £12 guineas a month, nurse’s earnt a pound a month, with one Sarah Lockyer fined 4 shillings 4 pence half penny (22p) out of a months pay for failing to muster a linen sheet (lost).

It has been possible to show that injured admitted to Gibraltar too ill to join their own ships were at a later date transferred home (medivac in today’s terms) onboard other ships of the line and discharged at Plymouth to the Naval Hospital at Stone house.

Many casualties of the time were discharged from the Navy ‘unserviceable’ some to receive a pension, others, many limbless, and still in their teens.

As you might be aware this story could run for pages but in closing may I just impart two more pieces of information?

The injured that were admitted to Haslar who were seriously ill were watched over at night by hospital labourers who were paid a shilling a night for their services and believed to be the first evidence of ‘one to one’ care.

Finally, in February 1806 the ‘Achilles’’ anchored at St Helen’s Roads Isle of Wight and transferred to Haslar for burial Landsman Jonathan Baptista 23 years of age of Martinique. He served onboard from March 1805, seeing action at Trafalgar. He was placed in his hammock and transferred to shore (there are currently no sign of hammock burials at Haslar) and duly interred in the paddock at Haslar amongst some 7,000 to 12,000 who have no headstone but who died from wounds and disease in the service of their country from Trafalgar, the retreat from Corunna and Waterloo to name but a few battles fought by England during the 19th century.

This has been as short research of Trafalgar and the English casualties and their care. It would take some months if not years of deeper research in order to investigate all the ships that took part in the battle and follow the casualties through to Gibraltar and beyond. I hope that this information has proved interesting.

Eric C Birbeck MVO

Research Acknowledgement:
Public Records Office Kew
Garrison Library Gibraltar

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