October 21

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1966 One hundred and forty-four died—116 children and 28 adults—when a landslide of coal slag demolished a school and houses in the village of Aberfan, Merthyr Valley, South Wales.
  • 1805

    Above: The death of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Ship’s surgeon William Beatty, from Limavady, Co. Derry, couldn’t save him. (Getty Images)

    The Royal Navy, under Admiral Horatio Nelson, heavily defeated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, off the south-west coast of Spain. On board Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory that day were 94 Irishmen, both officers and men. Ship’s surgeon William Beatty, from Limavady, Co. Derry, had a busy day below deck. He amputated nine arms and two legs—without anaesthetic, of course—and treated over 140 wounded men. But he couldn’t save Nelson, felled by a sniper’s bullet from the mizzen top of the French vessel Redoutable. He was at Nelson’s side when the great man expired, with considerable panache, some three hours later. Captain Henry Blackwood, from Clandeboye, Co. Down, a favourite of the admiral, was in command of HMS Euryalus. On board Victory earlier that day to receive final instructions, he was called upon to witness Nelson’s late addition to his will recognising his illegitimate daughter Horatia and asking the state to provide for his mistress, Lady Hamilton. Beatty and Blackwood were to die in their beds many years later, but not so Captain Charles Adair from Donegore, Antrim town. A great admirer of Nelson—he named his daughter Anne Nelson Adair—he commanded the Royal Marines on board Victory and was killed early in battle. It is not known what happened to his body. At best he was sewn into a hammock with cannon-balls at his feet and buried at sea, or simply thrown overboard. Still, his widow was given a generous pension of £60 per annum, twice the norm for widows of marine captains. There was no such largesse for Lady Hamilton. The second part of Nelson’s codicil was, of course, officially ignored.
  • 1803 Thomas Russell, United Irishman, popularly remembered as The Man From God Knows Where, hanged in Downpatrick, Co. Down.
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