It was to the cockpit, here on the orlop deck, that Nelson was carried by two seamen after being shot. The deck was already beginning to grow crowded with injured men requiring medical assistance – 40 seamen and several officers were patiently waiting to be seen by Victory’s Surgeon, William Beatty, when his attention was diverted by some of the wounding calling to him: ‘Mr Beatty, Lord Nelson is here: Mr Beatty, the Admiral is wounded.’ Nelson was certain of his own fate, exclaiming: ‘Ah, Mr Beatty! You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live: my back is shot through.’
Beatty laid Nelson upon a makeshift bed on the deck and examined the wound. He quickly found that the musket ball had penetrated deep into Nelson’s chest and broken his spine. Nelson explained to Beatty: ‘He felt a gush of blood every minute within his breast: that he had no feeling in the lower part of his body: and that his breathing was difficult, and attended with very severe pain about that part of the spine where he was confident that the ball had struck.’
Nelson spent the next three hours in great pain as the battle was fought around him. Slowly the noise of battle faded away until, at about 4.30, Lord Nelson died of blood loss, which had been exacerbated by spinal shock.
The shock and upset felt throughout the Britsh Fleet, the Royal Navy, and Britain as a whole is perhaps best described by Nelson’s friend Captain Henry Blackwood: ‘In my life I was never so shocked or completely upset as upon me flying to the Victory, even before the Action was over, to find Lord Nelson was then at the gasp of death…such an Admiral has the Country lost, and every officer and man so kind, so good, so obliging a friend as never was.’