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John Wells was on board HMS Britannia, towards the mid-to-rear section of Horatio Nelson’s column as it approached the Combined Fleet, so he had a very good view of the Battle of Trafalgar as it unfolded, initially describing the Leeward column opening the action with Vice-Admiral Collingwood on HMS Royal Sovereign. Describes his own role, casualties and the loss of his friend, killed next to him with bar shot. He recounts the fire and explosion on the French ship Achille, the only ship lost in action at the battle. Also describes the storm immediately after the battle and loss of some prize ships captured previously.

H M Ship Britannia off Cadiz
October 30th 1805 –

Dear Parents,

Before you receive this I am afraid you will be
uneasy at not hearing of my safety during our late glorious contest
with the Combined Fleet of France & Spain which took place on
Monday 21st of October as follows. At Day-light we had the
satisfaction of seeing our Enemy about 8 or 10 miles to Leeward of us
Lord Nelson immediately made the signal to close the enemy and
prepare for Battle and about 12 o’clock we were close up with
them 37 43 Sail in number 33 of which were of the Line and we
27. The Royal Sovereign [my italics] Vice Admiral Collingwood first opened
the fire on the enemy which was most gallantly maintained
by the whole fleet for upwards of 6 hours successively when
we found ourselves in possession of upwards of 20 sail of the
Line of their ships, one of which was then on fire and shortly

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after blew up with a most terrible explosion yet a grand
but awful sight as some hundreds of souls must have
perished with her. Night coming on we found a difficulty
in securing our Prizes but which we did as well as possible
not knowing in what state our own ships were in or whether
our Noble Commander had outlived the glorious Action when
it was with heartfelt sorrow we shortly after heard he had
expired of his wounds got in the contest. I am very happy to say
that the Britannia [my italics] was certainly a very fortunate ship
during the whole time as we had not above 10 killed & 41 wounded
although we were the 4th ship in Action and the last out of
it and I doubt not but it will be found that She does honour
to all who belongs her, as our fire was not directed [at] any particular
ship but as soon as one had struck to us we immediately made
to others and at one time had 5 ships blazing away upon us
but we soon tired them out.

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As I told you before I was stationed at the Signals & Colours in
the time of Action and being on the Quarter Deck I had an
opportunity of seeing the whole of the sport which I must
own rather daunted me before the first or second broadside
but after them I think I never should have been tired of
drubbing the Jokers particularly when my ship mates began to
fall around me which in the room of disheartening an
Englishman only encourages him, as the sight of his Country
man’s blood makes his heart burn for Revenge.
I am very sorry to inform you that my worthy
friend our Signal Lieutenant was knocked down by a double
headed shot close by my side & immediately expired much
lamented by his brother officers & every one in the ship, I had
several very narrow escapes from the Enemy’s shot but thanks
be to the Lord he has still spared me thro’ his great goodness.

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Private Gentlemen came out of Cadiz as passengers on
purpose to see the Action and have the pleasure of towing
us in but they were once more deceived in our Wooden Walls.
Amongst the prisoners in our ship they are 5 or 6 of these
Gentlemen of Pleasure and I think they are in a fair way for
seeing an English prison before they return to Cadiz again.
I am very sorry to inform you that before we
could get our Prizes off the Enemy’s coast it came on so
heavy a Gale of Wind that it was with difficulty we could
keep our own disabled ships off the Lee Shore and I am
greatly afraid that has been the cause of us loosing several of
our prizes but as yet can say nothing respecting the
consequences of the Gale, tho it is now coming on fine
weather again and I hope shall be able to give a better
account of the prizes than we had reason to expect during
the Gale.

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We do not yet know what has become of the
Remainder of the Enemy’s Fleet who took to there [sic] heels as
soon as they saw we had got so many of their ships in our
possession and I am sorry to say we could not follow them our
own fleet being so much disabled.
I hope it will not be long before our ship
returns to England that I may have the pleasure of hearing
from you which I have never done since we left the Channel
& in hopes that this gallant Action will be the means
of restoring Peace to England and that we shall soon meet
together again. I remain in good health hoping this will
find you all in the same state and relations
& friends to whom give my kind love & accept the same
yourselves from your truly affectionate & loving Son
John Wells
You must excuse this scribble as really I
was so anxious to let you hear from me
that I had not time to take much pains
in fact we are yet in a very confused & fatigued state.

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