- A.N. Other
- Ship histories and stories, History - pre-Federation
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The association of the word ‘immortal’ with Nelson is enshrined in the famous toast which is still drunk, immediately after the Loyal Toast, at Trafalgar Night dinners the world over. As with all such customs, its exact origins are hard to trace and it may well have evolved gradually, rather than starting at a precise place and time.
According to the Naval Chronicle, `The Memory of Nelson’ was drunk at a dinner at the Green Man, Blackheath, on 21 October 1811, but the first recorded use of the correct wording of the toast is in a letter from Emma Hamilton (dated 31 July 1813) to an old friend Thomas Lewis, inviting him to join her on the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile at 12 Temple Place, where she was living ‘within the rules’ of the King’s Bench (in other words, in debtors’ prison): ‘If you come’, she promises, ‘we will drink to his Immortal Memory’.
Certainly it was in general use by Trafalgar Day 1846, when Captain Pasco (who had supervised the hoisting of ‘England Expects’ in 1805 and was now in command of his old ship) presided at a dinner on board the Victory at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbour. According to the report in The Times, ‘The immortal memory of Nelson and those who fell with him’ was drunk after the toast to ‘Prince Albert and the rest of the Royal Family’.
It is the second phrase of the Nelson toast that is most striking, especially since it no longer forms part of the traditional Trafalgar Night ritual. Yet it is clear that it was common practice. In 1867 John Yule, the son of one of the Victory’s lieutenants at Trafalgar, recalled affectionately his father’s own private commemoration:
“…it was observed in the family as an official holiday. I have yet a pleasing and lively recollection of my father wearing his Trafalgar shirt, and surrounded by his seven sons and four daughters, proposing after dinner ‘The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson’, and then of those whom ‘England expected’ (not in vain) ‘that they would do their duty’.” Whoever drank it first, the toast is not unique: Shakespeareans drink to ‘The Immortal Memory’ of their hero on 23 April and Burnsians on 25 January.
From the Nelson Companion