Lieutenant Thomas Masterman Hardy

Thomas Masterman Hardy was to become one of the most famous Captain's in the history of the Royal Navy - as Flag Captain to Admiral Nelson he commanded Victory at Trafalgar in 1805 and was exhorted by the dying Nelson to 'Kiss me Hardy'. Hardy served as Flag Captain to Nelson from 1801 and was to rise to become First Sea Lord and Governor of Greenwich Hospital. He told Nelson that the success of their relationship lay in, 'my being First Lieutenant when you like to be Captain, and Flag Captain when you takje a fancy to being Admiral'.

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1769 and was educated at Crewkerne Grammar School before being sent to sea as in the brig Helena at the age of 12. He returned to land for some 9 months at Milton Abbas School before going to sea again in the Carnatic, again as Captain's servant. By 1790, Hardy was serving as Midshipman in Hebe where he was much liked by both superiors and messmates. Hardy was promoted Lieutenant in 1793 and transferred to Meleager, Captain George Cockburn. Cockburn was appointed to the command of the captured frigate Minerve in 1796 and took Hardy with him.

During the night of December 19th, 1796, Minerve and Blanche came across 2 Spanish frigates. Commodore Nelson in Minerve ordered Cockburn to attack. A fierce night action took place - although there were few losses aboard Minerve, some 150 of the Spanish frigate Santa Sabina were killed or wounded. The Captain of the Santa Sabina, Don Jacobo Stuart (great grandson of King James I of England [James 6 of Scotland]), came aboard Minerve to present his sword in surrender and Lts Culverhouse and Hardy were put aboard the Santa Sabina together with 40 seamen as prize crew. By next morning, Spanish reinforcements arrived and Nelson was forced to leave the Santa Sabina - Hardy, Culverhouse and the 40 seamen were captured.

Nelson was forced to report the loss of two officers and 40 valuable seamen to Jervis. He also wrote to the Captain General of the Spanish port of Cartagena:

Minerve, 24 December 1796
The fortune of war put La Sabina into my possession, after she had been most gallantly defended: the fickle dame returned her to you, with some of my officers and men in her.

I have endeavoured to make the captivity of Don Jacobo Stuart, her brave Commander, as light as possible; and I trust to the generosity of your nation for its being reciprocal for the British officers and men.

I consent, Sir, that Don Jacobo may be exchanged and at full liberty to serve his King when Lieutenants Culverhouse and Hardy are delivered into the garrison of Gibraltar.

On 29th January 1797, Hardy and Culverhouse were delivered at Gibraltar aboard the Spanish ship Terrible. They rejoined Minerve which sailed from Gibraltar on 11th February, pursued by Spanish vessels. Shortly after leaving Gibraltar, a seaman fell overboard from Minerve. Hardy jumped into the jolly boat and was lowered into the water. In the strong currents he was soon far behind and in danger of being captured again by Terrible. Nelson, saying, 'by God, I'll not lose Hardy', ordered the sails of Minerve to be backed allowing the frigate to drift down on the boat. Unhappily no trace was found of the luckless seaman. With Hardy, boat and crew recovered, Nelson ordered sail to be made and the Minerve pulled away from Terrible. The faster Minerve was soon away from the Spanish ship and by nightfall was on her own.

That night (11/12 February 1797) saw Minerve sailing in fog. During the morning watch she found herself sailing through dark shapes in the night - which turned out to be the Spanish fleet. Minerve remained unseen by the sleeping Spanish lookouts and Nelson and Minerve passed safely through the Spanish fleet. By daylight, Minerve was again on her own and now Nelson was intent on finding Admiral Jervis with news of the whereabouts of the Spanish.

Nelson and Minerve found Jervis on 13th February. Nelson passed the news to Jervis who laid plans for the inevitable battle - the Battle of Cape St. Vincent.

Related links

St Vincent 1797 - main index

Page creation: Peter Milford - St Vincent College, February 1997