After the battle

30th September 2005 at 01:00
The battle was followed by a violent storm and so it wasn't until October 26 that Vice-Admiral Collingwood was able to send off his dispatch to Britain announcing the victory and Nelson's death.

He chose for the task one of the smallest ships in his fleet, the little schooner Pickle, commanded by Lieutenant John Lapenotiere. Despite high winds and heavy seas, Pickle made the voyage of more than 1,000 miles in just over eight days, reaching Falmouth in the morning of November 4.

From there, Lieutenant Lapenotiere took a fast post chaise to London, travelling continuously for 37 hours.

Recently, his travel expense account was discovered in the National Archives at Kew and this has enabled historians to reconstruct his route fairly exactly. He arrived at the Admiralty in Whitehall at 1am on Wednesday, November 6 - less than 11 days after he had left Collingwood.

Most of the officials had long since retired for the night, but the secretary to the board, William Marsden, was still at work in the famous Board Room. Lapenotiere strode in and handed over the dispatches with the simple words: "Sir, we have gained a great victory. But we have lost Lord Nelson."

Copies of the dispatch were quickly made and sent to the Prime Minister, William Pitt, and to King George III, who was at Windsor. A special edition of the London Gazette was rushed out and distributed all over the country.

Public rejoicing for the victory was muted by widespread sorrow for the death of Nelson. As the Poet Laureate Robert Southey later wrote: "The victory of Trafalgar was celebrated, indeed, with the usual forms of rejoicing, but they were without joy."

Nelson's body was brought home to Britain and buried in St Paul's Cathedral with the elaborate ceremonial of a full state funeral.

Lapenotiere was rewarded for being the bearer of the news of victory with promotion to the rank of commander and was presented with a sword of honour, valued at 100 guineas, by the Patriotic Fund at Lloyds.

His famous feat in bringing home the Trafalgar dispatches in record time was celebrated this summer with one of the "flagship" events of the Trafalgar Festival. A new dispatch was brought from Cadiz to Falmouth in the Jubilee Sailing Trust vessel Lord Nelson, and then carried by an actor playing Lapenotiere to London in a post chaise. So great was interest along the route that more than 50 special events were organised and the replica took five weeks to make the journey. Officially designated "The Trafalgar Way", the route taken by Lapenotiere has now been marked with plaques and is already being used for special events, such as charity cycle races.

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