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Admiral Horatio Nelson – career timeline

His advancement and promotions from Midshipman to Vice Admiral

Admiral Nelson's career spanned a period just a few months short of thirty-five years (with some five years "ashore" on half pay, not uncommon at that time.) While his term as a Midshipman was longer than today's practice, due to his age on entry, his promotion from Lieutenant to that of Captain is quite remarkable despite this being the period of the Napoleonic and other wars. During the later "Pax Britannica" promotions were slower.

Nelson's first muster book entry
Image 1. Nelson's first muster book entry, HMS Raisonnable (62), 1st January 1771. [U.K. National Archives].

As a point of comparison with other nearly contemporary, very remarkable officers, from lieutenant to captain Nelson took three years, Admiral Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth, (1757 – 1833) took four years, Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, (1735 – 1823) five years and Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775 – 1860) required a full six years.

    • 1771 1st January – joined the navy as a Midshipman at the age of 12. See Image 1.
      1776 26 September – (aged 17) he was appointed acting-lieutenant, Worcester (64)
      1777 9 April – (aged 18) he passed his examination for lieutenant (see Image 2.) and was confirmed in rank (2nd Lt. frigate Lowestoft (32), 10 April 1777, 1st Lt, Bristol (50) 4 Sept. 1778.)
    Nelson's examination for Lieutenant
    Image 2. Nelson's examination for Lieutenant, 9th of April 1779. [U.K. National Archives].
      1778 8 December – he was appointed Commander (aged 20) as Master and Commander of the brig HMS Badger
      1779 11 June – still aged 20, he was promoted to post-captain, in command frigate Hinchinbroke
      1787 November on half pay until re-engaged by the Admiralty on 6 January 1793
      1796 1st March – promoted Commodore – nearly seventeen years after his last promotion
      1797 20 February – promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue (aged 38)
      1799 14 January – promoted Rear Admiral of the Red
      1801 1st January – promoted Vice Admiral of the Blue (aged 42)
      1804 April 23 – promoted Vice Admiral of the White
  • References:

    While this information can be found in many works held in our library, John Sugden's Nelson : A dream of Glory, London, Jonathan Cape, 2004, was particularly helpful.



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