Horatio Nelson's Body: When The British Pickled Their Dead Leader In A Barrel To Bring Him Home

By Sophia Maddox | June 4, 2024

Horatio Nelson Was Loved By All

At the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic War, Britain's most beloved naval hero, Horatio Nelson, was struck by a musket ball on the deck of the Victory. The bullet ripped through his shoulder and severed his spine, so it didn't take long for the decorated military man to succumb to his injuries. Bringing his body back to his home country for burial wasn't even a question, but even in tip-top shape, the Victory wasn't any kind of place to store a corpse for the multi-week journey home, so the medical staff had to think fast. Surgeon William Beatty came up with a brilliant solution: They could pickle him like a cucumber. Nelson returned to England in a barrel of brandy, camphor, and myrrh, where he received a hero's funeral. Meanwhile, Beatty was dogged with questions about his decision until his final days, which sounds pretty fair until you find out why.

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We don't really have this kind of reverence for military figures today, but in the 1800s, guys like Horatio Nelson were rock stars. He was a vice-admiral known for beating back Napoleon's forces on the high seas and doing it with style. He was fiercely intelligent, and he loved the thrill of fighting to defend Queen and country. He made for quite a sight thanks to his blindness in one eye and a missing arm that he lost in a skirmish in 1797, but that didn't stop him from dallying about with married women. Today, a guy like this would be a total creepazoid, but by 1805, he was one of greatest heroes of the British Navy.

Nelson Died With His Boots On

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In 1805, the British military was at war with both the French and Spanish. Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson and his band of merry men were fighting both armies off the coast of Spain at the Battle of Trafalgar when that fateful bullet struck Nelson's shoulder. His men tried to do everything they could to save his life, but he knew he was done for, and so did they. His surgeon, William Beatty, did his best to keep Nelson comfortable, and it wasn't long before he slipped away. His last words were "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty." In less than an hour, the battle ended, and England was the victor.