The ship's surgeon, James Marr Brydon, was taking a break from tending to yet another bout of scurvy. His crewmates aboard H.M.S. Thunderer were in disarray ever since Nelson's had personally stepped on board – usually an honour, Nelson had personally overseen the trial of Boatswain Keefe, who was charged with embezzling from the stores. Salt meat rations had been reduced for everyone since Plymouth and Acting Captain John Stockham had been so embarrassed, he had begged to be relinquished of the Thunderer and prove himself to Nelson on the Victory.
Brydon lit a pipe and thought of the coast off his native Scotland. He then thought about those on board who might not see land again. He shuddered at the prospect of anguished scenes, burnt flesh and bloody mess below deck once battle commenced. For Nelson's frigates had already signalled that the Franco-Spanish combined fleet had taken to sea somewhere off Cadiz. They faced the might of two great naval nations against one.
He glanced up at the Bird's Nest. They had been patrolling the waters off Cape Trafalgar for days, but no glass had picked up a sighting. He stared out to the horizon and saw bilious clouds forming above. They seemed to reflect onto the distant waterline. He squinted. Sails! He could see sails, tiny, but definite. He shouted at the Nest, but only a strangled cough come out. Surely they could see something beyond his naked eye? As the surgeon's pipe dropped from his lips and his arm pointed due east, Able Seaman Hyde sensed panic:
"Jimmy's happened upon their entire fleet! Fetch the Capt'n!" he bellowed.
John Stockham arose from below with a misty, serious expression. He put a glass to his eye and swallowed.
"Signal the Admiral," he instructed calmly.
A lantern swung at starboard in view of H.M.S. Victory, out of view of the French and Spanish ships. Nelson was quick in gathering his men together. He had prepared for this moment, for England expected...
The battle is well documented. The Thunderer was the first British ship back to Gibraltar with the enemy's San Juan Nepomuceno in tow with her colours lowered. A legend of Trafalgar which first sighted the enemy fleet and enabled Nelson to crucially use the wind direction to his advantage, she was decommissioned just 3 years later. It is reputed that some of her timbers were used to build Christ Church on the Isle of Wight.