- Bradford, John
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
There is to be a wedding in the family and the last day of our stay in England saw my wife and I once again visiting Aldenham Church (close to Watford and St. Albans in Hertfordshire) where the wedding ceremony is to be held. It was an extremely pleasant autumnal day – and as we meandered along the pathway up to the church’s main entrance, I noticed a small bunch of poppies placed at the foot of one of the gravestones. I distinctly remember thinking, “This is a little early for Armistice Day”, so out of curiosity I looked under the poppies and found a card. It was from the local Royal Naval Association and it was then that the sheer coincidence of it all struck me; the date was of course October 21st, and the gravestone commemorated a local man, a Midshipman Robert Smith, killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, whilst serving in HMS VICTORY. On a day that was to claim the lives of 449 Royal Navy men, Robert had been one of HMS VICTORY’s 57 men who had fallen in the battle.
Having returned to Australia I sought further details from the Church Minister, the Reverend George Bolt, and in his reply he sent me the following article, published in the Church magazine in December, 1905. The article, therefore, is of interest in its own right, since it must have been written with the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in mind.
There is little to add to what follows, except to point out that the churchyard at Aldenham could scarcely be the `last resting place’ of Midshipman Smith, unless he had died of his wounds in England. This does not appear to have been the case.
It was the custom of those days for bodies to be quickly dispatched overboard in the heat of battle and perhaps no more dramatic example of this is to be found that the fate which befell Nelson’s Secretary John Scott, minutes prior to Lord Nelson being shot by a French sniper. Scott, whilst in conversation with Captain Hardy on the poopdeck, had been dismembered by a cannonball; what little remained of him had been swiftly bundled over the side.
All this had occurred in full view of Lord Nelson and he is reported to have enquired, “Is that poor Scott who is gone? Poor fellow!” And perhaps it was with Scott’s demise in mind that whilst he lay mortally wounded, Nelson is reputed to have implored Hardy, “Don’t throw me overboard, Hardy”.
To which Hardy replied. “Oh no, certainly not”.
Thus it was that Lord Nelson’s body, carefully embalmed and immersed in a mixture of brandy, camphor and myrrh, was brought back to England in a leaden coffin for burial at St Pauls, London.
Whether, because he died of his wounds after the battle, Midshipman Smith was spared from the same ignominious end as Scott is not known; one would hope so.
(See Carola Oman’s early post World War II (June 1947) biography on Nelson and Ludovic Kennedy’s (1951/1975), `Nelson’s Band of Brothers’.)
VICTORY AT TRAFALGAR
In the November Magazine it was reported that the name of “Robert Smith, of Batlers Green, near Watford,” had been found on the list of those who died with Nelson on board the VICTORY at Trafalgar, on October 21st 1805.
Some interesting particulars about this young man have come to our knowledge. On Friday, November 10th last, Mrs Emma Smith, aged 89, was buried in Aldenham Churchyard, her husband, Mr Thomas Smith, of Batlers Green, having been buried here in 1849, no less than 56 years ago. Their son has been kind enough to give us the following information about his uncle, Robert Smith, who fell at Trafalgar.
Robert was a younger son of Thomas and Frances Smith of Batlers Green Farm, that is of the Farm in Batlers Green on the side of the road nearest to Round Bush. He was christened in Aldenham Church (as our Registers show) on March 30th, 1786 and was born on February 20th of the same year; he was. therefore, only 19 years old when he died. His father died in 1816, and his mother in 1821, and his oldest brother Thomas in 1849. A letter which he wrote to his father and mother on October 20th (the day before his death) is most interesting, and we are glad to be allowed to print it in full:-