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Set in Stone

Regulars | By Harry Mount

Sir Thomas Hardy

Sir Thomas Hardy

Whatever happened to Thomas Hardy, as in ‘Kiss me, Hardy’, Nelson’s supposed last words at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October, 1805?

Visit the 18th-century chapel of the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich, and you’ll find out. There you’ll see this charming monument to Sir Thomas Hardy, Bt, sculpted by William Behnes.

Hardy will always be remembered for Nelson’s last words. But he led a distinguished naval career before and after that brief moment in the historical spotlight. He fought at the Battles of Cape St Vincent, the Nile and Copenhagen. And he was Nelson’s flag captain at the Battle of Trafalgar, where he commanded HMS Victory, on whose deck Nelson died.

Nelson’s last words are still unclear. Hardy was standing by Nelson when he was shot. Old comrades for years, they talked for some time as Nelson lay dying. Nelson asked Hardy to ‘take care of my dear Lady Hamilton. Hardy, take care of poor Lady Hamilton’. Then, according to three eyewitnesses, he asked Hardy to kiss him – which he duly did. Nelson then said, ‘Now I am satisfied. Thank God, I have done my duty.’

Hardy then kissed him again. ‘Who is that?’ said Nelson.

‘It is Hardy,’ he replied. 

‘God bless you, Hardy,’ said Nelson – and these may well have been Nelson’s real last words. 

Hardy was made a baronet in 1806, before becoming a Rear Admiral in 1825 and First Naval Lord in 1834, when he also became Governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he died in 1839. He was buried in the officers’ vault in Greenwich Hospital Cemetery. He was also commemorated in 1844, with the Hardy Monument, a 72ft high obelisk on Black Down, a hill overlooking the Channel near Portesham, Dorset.

Harry Mount

This story was from May 2016 issue. Subscribe Now