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Lord Nelson’s Legacy

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The 200th anniversary celebrations of Nelson’s death and the Battle of Trafalgar – what a wonderful day.

There, gathered in a Conference Room at Sydney’s world class Australian National Maritime Museum, 200 Nelson and Trafalgar buffs (yours truly included) joined together to hear speakers talk of Nelson, his life, his times and his beloved Royal Navy.

The Conference speakers and their topics were:

• “Nelson- the greatest fighting Captain in history” – delivered by Lt Tom Lewis OAM RAN , a currently serving naval officer with a PhD in Military Political History. He was awarded an Order of Australia for meritorious service to the Royal Australian Navy, particularly in the promotion of Australian naval history. He is the author of five books, including the best selling A War at Home.

• “Nelson’s last walk” –delivered by Peter Poland, the President of the Woollahra History and Heritage Society, an ex-Royal Navy officer and published author of several books including The Right Honourable George Rose.

• “The Chosen few- Nelson’s band of Brothers”- delivered by Midshipman Bernard Dobson RAN who is currently serving in the RAN, studying naval history at ADFA in Canberra and is working on a major research project on Nelson’s captains. He is a member of the United States Naval Institute, the Navy Records Society and a councillor for the Australian Naval Institute.

• “The cult of the hero – Nelson and Bronte”- delivered by Peter Tesoriero who has served as President of the Italian Historical Society of NSW. In 1998 he presented the museum’s highly successful Italian day of “Cheers Fears and Tears”. He is a Member of the ANMM.

• “Re-evaluating the Battle of Trafalgar” – presented by Dr Gregory P Gilbert who completed his PhD through Macquarie University and is currently a Research Officer in the Sea Power Centre – Australia. He has recently specialised in the archaeology and anthropology of warfare, being attached to the University of Durham.

All speakers knew their subjects and whilst a couple tended to deliver a rather academic dissertation, when “question time” came about following their address, the passion in them kicked in, and in the case of Peter Tesoriero, lively became the operative word.

Much of Nelson’s career is both well known and repeated, but the feature I found most interesting — and I guess given that Nelson looms large in many of my Keynote addresses, especially to business groups — was the overall agreement that he was, despite his faults, a leader of consummate ability and we could do a lot worse in many aspects of today’s world, in both politics and business, than emulate many of his traits and lines of thoughts.

I will use some of his quotes to illustrate my point-

• “I had the happiness to command a Band of Brothers” – Nelson to Lord Howe 8th January 1799 following his victorious Battle of Aboukir. Nelsons ability to instill confidence, in his men for his ability and indeed, a love for him is the stuff of legends and whilst the term, “band of Brothers”, has since been used by many, it is Nelson and the crew of his first “real” command, the 64 gun battleship HMS Agamemnon and those Captains who served him at the Battle of the Nile whom it is aimed at. That this group of men, included amongst them were Captains Hardy, Fremantle, Collingwood and others were to have such a profound effect on the way the Royal Navy was run for three quarters of a century after his death speaks volumes for the 5’4” Admiral of the Blue.

• “No Captain can go far wrong laying his ship alongside that of the enemy” – Nelson was very much a “go for it” man and as was shown at the Battle of Copenhagen where, putting his blind eye to his telescope and saying that he couldn’t see Admiral Parker’s signal to withdraw, his courage and tactics saw the Royal Navy defeat the Danes and thus not only take out a valuable potential ally of Napoleon but also shore up Britain’s supply of Baltic timbers and flax which were the corner stay of the Royal Navy’s spars and sails. Apparently the Lords of the Admiralty agreed with Nelson’s actions for Parker was dismissed and Nelson elevated to Rear Admiral and put in Parkers command position!

• “The boldest measures are invariably the safest” – a great maxim and the one that in many ways won Trafalgar. How many businesses today fail to achieve the heights to which they are capable because of the timidity and ordinariness of those “in command”? Plenty!

Yes, Nelson does have many valuable lessons to offer us some 200 years later. Question is, as it was in his time, are we courageous enough to see, learn and utilize?

Or, as another of my heroes, Lawrence of Arabia, so eloquently put it when he commented that “the Dreamers of the Day are the dangerous ones, for they dream with their eyes open and they make things happen”.

Nelson certainly did. Do you?

Carpe diem


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About Anthony Fountain

  • I loved the scene in one of the Hornblower books (a fav series), where Hornblower participates in Nelson’s funeral.