“Nelson’s Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates”
Oil on linen canvas
26 x 36 inches (66 x 91.5 cm)
Signed and dated, lower right
Framed in a hand-finished gold frame with white slip
Here Geoff Hunt has painted one of the pivotal points in Nelson’s life. It is the moment that first brought the name of the young Commodore to the notice of the public and his superiors in the Navy and contributed to what became the Nelson legend. Nelson was knighted for this extraordinary action.
The action took place at The Battle of Cape St. Vincent on the 14th of February 1797. Nelson was in command of the 74-gun HMS Captain. He took Captain out of the line, many believe defying orders, and enaged several enemy ships, including the giant 136-gun Santisima Trinidad. With Captain badly damaged, Nelson engaged the 80-gun Spanish ship San Nicolas. This ship’s rigging became entangled with that of the enormous 112-gun San Josef and Nelson boarded and captured first San Nicolas and then San Josef, having effectively used San Nicolas as a bridge to reach San Josef ; the action became immortalised as “Nelson’s Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates”.
In Geoff Hunt’s wonderful painting we see the badly-damaged Captain, on the left, closing with San Nicolas who in turn is already dangerously close to the huge San Josef. At the prow of Captain can be seen a slight figure, waving a sword in his right hand as he prepares to board. This is Nelson himself, who left an account of boarding the first ship through her stern windows and shooting his way out to storm on and capture San Josef. A few months later Nelson was to lose his right arm in the disastrous action at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The shell splashes in the foreground come from HMS Prince George, which was bombarding the Spanish ships until Captain had to ask her to stop, and on the extreme left of the painting may be seen a glimpse of the great British flagship HMS Victory.
This paintng perfectly sums up Nelson’s famous sentiment that “No Captain can do very wrong if he places his Ship alongside that of an Enemy and boards her in the smoke”.