Two hundred and eleven years ago one of the most decisive naval battles in history took place, the battle of Trafalgar. The tale of the battle is well known but I want to tell another story, what went on back in England.
A few miles from where I live is the little village of Burton Bradstock, the young son of the principle family in the village, Richard Francis Roberts, was a midshipman on board the Victory. Knowing that the fleet was heading out to battle, the family, and the village were very concerned for their heroic son.
Immediately after the battle, the schooner HMS Pickle was ordered home with the news of the victory. Bad weather in the channel threatened to delay the vessel so it put in at Falmouth and the commander, Lieutenant John Lapenotière, headed to London in a post chaise, whenever they stopped to change horses they shouted out the news, and this is where my story begins, told in letters sent to Richard Roberts.
We first heard of the engagement on the morning of the 5th Nov. The account was sent by Mr J. Hounsell to Burton soon after Lieutenant Lapenotière passed Bridport. It informed us of the death of Lord Nelson; and that 19 ships were taken and one blown up. Our feelings were extremely racked; all deploring the loss of the Hero; all measureably pleased the victory was so decisively in our favour. But at the same time our minds were much distressed on your account. For my own part I never experienced such incoherent emotions in my life; one minute hoping you were safe; the next doubting it from the dreadful carnage that was inevitable in such a situation. From this dilemma nothing could relieve me but hearing immediately from you. Every post was looked for, with indescribable anxiety. This was not dispelled till the receipt of your very acceptable letter dated Oct. 22nd.
Then the village really celebrated.
We had bell ringing and beer drinking the night that we received your letter. We gave away beer to almost every man in the parish. Mother had hard work to keep the beer barrell a running. I (his younger brother) was almost drunk myself. Father’s colours were hoisted on the tower and continued flying several days. The bells rang till several of the ropes broke !
They were repaired next morning.
By which time the people of Burton Bradstock were probably all suffering from hangovers, and thankful for the quiet.
So raise a glass to the immortal memory of Horatio Nelson – and the drunken bell ringers of Burton.