MIDSHIPMAN ROBERT SMITH
HMS VICTORY, 21st OCTOBER,1805

ALDENHAM CHURCH

PREAMBLE

In the Autumn of 1996, my wife and I visited England to meet our daughter and her fiance who were to be married at Aldenham Church (near Watford and St Albans), Hertfordshire the following year. On the last day of our stay - as I recall it was an extremely pleasant autumnal day - we decided to visit Aldenham Church, and as we meandered along the pathway up to the church's main entrance, I noticed a small bunch of poppies placed at the foot of one of the gravestones. I distinctly remember thinking, 'This is a little early for Armistice Day', so out of curiosity I looked under the poppies and found a card. It was from the local Royal Naval Association and it was then that the sheer coincidence of it all struck me; the date was October 21st, and the gravestone commemorated a local man, a Midshipman Robert Smith, killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, while serving in HMS Victory. On a day that claimed the lives of 449 Royal Navy men, Robert had been one of HMS Victory's 57 men who had fallen in the battle.

Once I returned to Australia I sought further details from the Church Minister, the Reverend George Bolt, and in his reply he sent me the following article, published in the Church Magazine in December, 1905. The article, therefore, is of interest in its own right, since it must have been written for the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

There is little to add to what follows, except to suggest that the churchyard at Aldenham could scarcely be the 'last resting place' of Midshipman Smith, unless he had died of his wounds in England. As will be shown, this does not appear to have been the case.

It was the custom of those days for bodies to be quickly despatched overboard in the heat of battle, and perhaps no more dramatic example of this is to be found than the fate which befell Nelson's Secretary, John Scott, minutes prior to Lord Nelson being shot by a French sniper. Scott, whilst in conversation with Captain Hardy on the poopdeck, had been dismembered by a cannonball; what little remained of him had been swiftly bundled over the side.

All this had occurred in full view of Lord Nelson and he is reported to have enquired, 'Is that poor Scott who is gone? Poor fellow!. And perhaps it was with Scott's demise in mind, that whilst he lay mortally wounded, Nelson is reputed to have implored Hardy, "Don't throw me overboard, Hardy."

To which Hardy replied, "Oh no, certainly not." **

Thus it was that Lord Nelson's body, carefully embalmed and immersed in a mixture of brandy, camphor and myrrh, was brought back to England in a leaden coffin for burial at St Pauls.

Whether, because he died of his wounds after the battle, Midshipman Smith was spared from the same ignominious end as Scott is not known.

REFERENCES: Carola Oman's early post World War II biography on Nelson and Ludovic Kennedy's later, 'Nelson's Band of Brothers'.)



'VICTORY AT TRAFALGAR

'In the November Magazine it was reported that the name of "Robert Smith, of Batlers Green, near Watford," had been found on the list of those who died with Nelson on board the Victory at Trafalgar, on October 21st 1805.

'Some interesting particulars about this young man have come to our knowledge. On Friday, November 10th last, Mrs Emma Smith, aged 89, was buried in Aldenham Churchyard, her husband, Mr Thomas Smith, of Batlers Green, having been buried here in 1849, no less than 56 years ago. Their son has been kind enough to give us the following information about his uncle, Robert Smith, who fell at Trafalgar.

'Robert was a younger son of Thomas and Frances Smith of Batlers Green Farm, that is of the Farm in Batlers Green on the side of the road nearest to Round Bush. He was christened in Aldenham Church (as our Registers show) on March 30th, 1786, and born on February 20th of the same year; he was, therefore, only 19 years old when he died. His father died in 1816, and his mother in 1821, and his oldest brother Thomas in 1849. A letter which he wrote to his father and mother on October 20th (the day before his death) is most interesting, and we are glad to be allowed to print it in full:-

'It is dated "Victory, October 20th, off Cadiz, Sunday evening".

"My most dear and honor'd Parents,

"As I expect to be in Action to-morrow morning with the Enemy of our Country, the idea of which I assure you gives me great pleasure, in case I shall fall in the noble cause have wrote these few last lines to assure you that I shall die with a clear conscience, pure heart and in peace with all men. Have only a few requests to make, first that you will have the goodness to thank and make my kind respects to all Friends (more particularly my very good friend Sir Thomas Thompson) for their kind attention to me. Secondly that you will not give way to any uneasiness on my account and further that you my dearest of Mothers will not give way to those low spirits which you are subject to, consider that your affectionate son could not die in a more glorious cause and that it is all the fortune of war. Have no doubt that had I survived the glorious day should have met with the reward due to my merit from worthy friends and a Good Country. Have requested every profit arising from my stock to be given you with my Desk as a small tribute of affection. Shall conclude this last with my kindest Duty to you my parents, love to Sister, Brothers, and praying the almighty to receive my soul. Remain your ever dutiful and affectionate Son.

R.Smith

"PS - I must once more request you not to forget my second wish."

'This letter is most remarkable both for its quiet courage, for its unhesitating confidence that the coming day will be "glorious", and for an anticipation of death so strong as to make one wonder whether he can possibly have left the letter after writing the first few lines and finished it after receiving his fatal wound. It is recorded that both the poor boy's legs were shot off, and that he might have lived, but tore off the bandages and bled to death. This letter helps one to understand Nelson's confidence in his men, and the heroic way his sailors "did their duty" in the famous fight of Trafalgar.'

Aldenham Church has equally strong, more recent links with the Royal Navy. The tattered White Ensign of the WWII, Hunt-class destroyer, HMS Aldenham, is proudly displayed inside the church. Aldenham was sunk on December 14, 1944, in the North-East Adriatic, when she struck a mine. Five officers and 116 ratings lost their lives in this tragic incident.

---------------HMS ALDENHAM--(L22)---------------



Back to Top of Page

Table of contents

Back to Main Page