Dramatic late news from the Battle of Trafalgar

Many of you may have been aware that this Tuesday (21 October) was Trafalgar Day. While working my way through the Harpur Crewe papers (not on the day itself, alas, but the one after) I happened to come across this item, which gives a slightly different version of events at the Battle of Trafalgar. I had thought that we had won it, but obviously it was the French (and Spanish) instead!

(Click to open pdf): Trafalgar propaganda

This priceless piece of propaganda came originally from a French newspaper called Le Moniteur, which had been founded in November 1789 during the first few months of the French Revolution, its full title being La Gazzette Nationale ou Le Moniteur Universel. Set up to provide transcripts of debates in the French legislative assemblies, it soon became the official newspaper of the French revolutionary government. In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte had dramatically crowned himself Emperor of France, but Le Moniteur continued to be the official mouth-piece for his government. It is, of course, an English translation, produced for an English newpaper, The Herald, so I do wonder whether it is actually all a spoof, so ridiculous are the contents!

The item comes from a cache of items about the Battle of Trafalgar which belonged to Lady Isabel Harpur Crewe (1852-1932). She was the grand-daughter of William Stanhope Badcock, later Lovell from 1840 (1788-1859), who had served as a midshipman on H.M.S. Neptune during the battle. He enjoyed a highly successful naval career, going on to command his own ships and achieve the rank of Vice Admiral by the time of his death. There are many of his letters to be found elsewhere in the Harpur Crewe collection.

One of his letters written to his father after Trafalgar offers what can be regarded as a more reliable account of what happened in the battle. He makes reference to his own ship, the Neptune, engaging two of the main ships of the French and Spanish fleets. First of all they tackled the Bucentuar, the ship of Admiral Villeneuve (so lauded by Le Moniteur as the victor of a pistol duel with Nelson!), and demasting it, before moving on to engage the Santissima Trinidada (claimed to be the largest ship in the world) and doing the same to her. These are some of the lines written by Badcock, which show that the horror of war is not confined just to the 20th century.

“I was on board our prize the Trinidada getting the prisoners out of her, she had between 3 and 400 killed and wounded, her Beams where covered with Blood, Brains, and pieces of Flesh, and the after part of her Decks with wounded, some without Legs and some without an Arm; what calamities War brings on, and what a number of Lives where put an end too on the 21st”.

I have quoted these lines from part of an article, said to have been published in The English Historical Review, using a transcript of the letter, and the spellings are as they appear in the article. I hope you enjoy reading the French “report”, and please let us know what your thoughts are about it.

Neil Bettridge

Harpur Crewe Project Archivist

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