Horatio Nelson vs. The Polar Bear
The great hero of Trafalgar, Admiral Horatio Nelson began his naval career at a very young age. At the age of 12 Nelson joined the navy and by age 15 he was a midshipman who was being trained to be an officer.
In 1773 Nelson was recruited to serve on the HMS Carcass, which was on an expedition to explore a route to India through the Arctic. The expedition explored deep into the Arctic, but was forced to turn back because of the dense ice sheets of the North Pole. While anchored near one ice sheet, young Nelson had an idea which would bring him his first moment of fame and glory.
Nelson’s dream while serving in the Arctic was to hunt and kill a polar bear. While anchored north of the island of Svalbard, young Nelson set of onto the ice armed with a musket in hopes of shooting and killing a polar bear. Unfortunately when Nelson came across his dangerous prey, his musket misfired. The polar bear attacked and Nelson was forced to fend off the assault by bashing the bear over the head with the butt of his musket. Amazingly the bear retreated, and more amazingly Nelson pursued the bear, determined more than ever to slay the mighty beast. It was only until the bear was able to escape over a large crevice in the ice, and when Nelson was ordered to return back to ship, did the young sailor abandon pursuit. When asked why he wanted to kill a polar bear, Nelson responded, “I wished, Sir, to get the skin for my father.”
Nelson would later become one of the most successful and celebrated British Naval Officers in history, rising to the rank of Captain by age 23, and becoming an admiral in his 30’s. Throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, he was a painful thorn in the side of another young upstart, a landlubber French general named Napoleon Bonaparte. He was killed by an enemy marksman at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, aged 47.