"England expects that every man will do his duty" was a signal sent by Vice Admiral of the Royal Navy, Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence on 21 October 1805. Trafalgar was a decisive naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars. It gave the United Kingdom control of the seas, removing all possibility of a French invasion and conquest of Britain. Although there was much confusion surrounding the wording of the signal in the aftermath of the battle, the significance of the victory and Nelson's death during the battle led to the phrase becoming embedded in the English psyche, and it has been regularly quoted, paraphrased and referenced up to the modern day.
International maritime signal flags are various flags used to communicate with ships. The principal system of flags and associated codes is the International Code of Signals. Various navies have flag systems with additional flags and codes, and other flags are used in special uses, or have historical significance.
The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.
As the British fleet closed with the opposing combined fleets of France and Spain, Lord Nelson signalled all the necessary battle instructions to his ships. Aware of the momentousness of events to come, Lord Nelson felt that something extra was required. He instructed his signal officer, Lieutenant John Pasco, to signal to the fleet, as quickly as possible, the message "England confides that every man will do his duty." Pasco suggested to Nelson that expects be substituted for confides (i.e. is confident), since the former word was in the signal book, whereas confides would have to be spelt out letter-by-letter. Nelson agreed to the change (even though it produced a less trusting impression):
Rear-Admiral John Pasco (1774–1853) served in the Royal Navy between 1784 and 1853, eventually rising to the rank of rear admiral. He acted as signal officer on board HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and notably advised on the wording of Nelson's famous signal "England expects that every man will do his duty".
His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, 'Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY' and he added 'You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action.' I replied, 'If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the confides for expects [sic] the signal will soon be completed, because the word expects is in the vocabulary, and confides must be spelt,' His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, 'That will do, Pasco, make it directly.'
In naval architecture, a poop deck is a deck that forms the roof of a cabin built in the rear, or "aft", part of the superstructure of a ship.— John Pasco
Note that Pasco gets the order of substitution backwards here: "expects" was substituted for "confides," rather than the other way. Thus, at around 11:45 a.m. on 21 October 1805, the signal was sent. The exact time the signal was sent is not known (one account puts it as early as 10:30), as the message was repeated throughout the fleet, but Pasco puts it at "about a quarter to noon" and logs from other ships of the line also put it close to this time.
The signal was relayed using the numeric flag code known as the "Telegraphic Signals of Marine Vocabulary", devised in 1800 by Rear Admiral Sir Home Popham, and based on the signal books created earlier by Admiral Lord Howe. Victory. The message shows one of the shortcomings of Popham's code—even the two-letter "do" required three flags hoisted for the signal. It is reported that a great cheer went up as the signal was hoisted and repeated throughout the fleet.This code assigned the digits 0 to 9 to ten signal flags, which were used in combination. Code numbers 1–25 represented letters of the alphabet (omitting J and with V=20 before U=21); higher numbers were assigned meanings by a code book. The code numbers are believed to have been hoisted on the mizzenmast, one after another, with the "telegraphic flag" (a red-over-white diagonally-split flag) also being flown to show that the signals employed Popham's code. As well as digit flags, the code used "repeat" flags so that only one set of digits was needed; thus the word do, coded as "220", used a "2" flag, a "first repeat" flag here serving as a second 2, and a "0" flag. The word duty was not in the codebook (and was not replaced as confides had been), so had to be spelt out, and the whole message required twelve "lifts". It is believed that it would have taken about four minutes, with the end of the message indicated by an "end of code" flag (blue over yellow diagonally split). A team of four to six men, led by Lt. Pasco, would have prepared and hoisted the flags onboard Lord Nelson's flagship HMS
Rear Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham, KCB, KCH, was a Royal Navy commander who saw service against the French during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He is remembered for his scientific accomplishments, particularly the development of a signal code that was adopted by the Royal Navy in 1803.
Admiral of the Fleet Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, was a British naval officer. After serving throughout the War of the Austrian Succession, he gained a reputation for his role in amphibious operations against the French coast as part of Britain's policy of naval descents during the Seven Years' War. He also took part, as a naval captain, in the decisive British naval victory at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in November 1759.
A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, characteristically a flag officer entitled by custom to fly a distinguishing flag. Used more loosely, it is the lead ship in a fleet of vessels, typically the first, largest, fastest, most heavily armed, or best known.
According to the historian John Knox Laughton:
It is said that, as he saw the flags going up, Collingwood remarked half-peevishly to his flag-lieutenant, "I wish Nelson would make no more signals; we all understand what we have to do." When, however, the signal was reported, he was delighted, and ordered it to be announced to the ship's company, by whom it was received with the greatest enthusiasm.
Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood was an admiral of the Royal Navy, notable as a partner with Lord Nelson in several of the British victories of the Napoleonic Wars, and frequently as Nelson's successor in commands.
The message "engage the enemy more closely" was Nelson's final signal to the fleet, sent at 12:15 p.m., before a single British cannon had been fired at the enemy. This message was signalled using the telegraphic flag and flags 1 and 6. Nelson ordered this signal hauled up and kept aloft. It remained up until shot away during the battle.
Almost immediately, the signal began to be misquoted. A number of ships in the fleet recorded the signal as "England expects every man to do his duty" (omitting that and replacing will with to). This version became so prevalent that it is recorded on Nelson's tomb in St. Paul's Cathedral. 's log and the accounts of signal officer John Pasco and Henry Blackwood (captain of the frigate Euryalus), both present at the preparation of the signal, agree on the form given here. On 26 December 1805, The Times newspaper in London reported the signal as; "England expects every officer and man to do his duty this day". In 1811, the tenor John Braham composed a song, "The Death of Nelson", including the words of the signal. The song became popular almost immediately and was performed throughout the British Empire during the 19th century. To make the words fit the metre, they were altered to "England expects that every man this day will do his duty". This version of the wording is also persistent.The word that is also omitted on the version around the base of Nelson's Column, as seen in the photo above. However, the Victory
Between 1885 and 1908 it was believed that the signal had been sent using the 1799 code book, as in 1885 it was pointed out that this had not been replaced until 1808. In 1908 it was discovered, the Admiralty had, in fact, changed the signal code in November 1803, after the 1799 version had been captured by the French,and new code books had been issued to Nelson's fleet at Cadiz in September 1805. As a result, books published between these two dates show the signal using the wrong flags.
The signal is still hoisted on the Victory at her dry dock in Portsmouth on Trafalgar Day (21 October) every year,although the signal flags are displayed all at once, running from fore to aft, rather than hoisted sequentially from the mizzenmast.
The signal has been imitated in other navies of the world. Napoleon ordered the French equivalent, "La France compte que chacun fera son devoir", to be displayed on French vessels.At the opening of the Battle of Plattsburgh in September 1814, Commodore Thomas MacDonough of the U.S. Navy flew the signal "Impressed seamen call on every man to do his duty", referring to the fact that impressment of U.S. mariners had been a popular cause of the War of 1812.
A similar signal was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Russo-Japanese War. At the Battle of Tsushima on 27 May 1905, Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō – who had studied naval tactics in Britain from 1871 to 1878, and was known as the "Nelson of the East" – signalled to his fleet: "The fate of the Empire depends upon today's battle: let every man do his utmost".
Charles Dickens quotes it in Chapter 43 of Martin Chuzzlewit :
...as the poet informs us, England expects Every man to do his duty, England is the most sanguine country on the face of the earth, and will find itself continually disappointed.
In Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark , the Bellman says:
For England Expects – I forbear to proceed. Tis a maxim tremendous, but trite.
In Ogden Nash's collection of poems I'm a Stranger Here Myself (1938) there is a short poem "England Expects".
During the Second World War, an Admiralty propaganda poster intended to increase industrial production on the home front, carried the slogan; "Britain expects that you too, this day, will do your duty".Nelson's flag signal was hoisted by the Royal Navy monitor, HMS Erebus at the start of the bombardment for the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944.
It was also referenced by Margaret Thatcher during her crucial speech to the cabinet which finally persuaded them to rally behind her over the divisive issue of the poll tax.Further afield, it has been adapted by James Joyce in his novel, Ulysses , such as "Ireland expects that every man this day will do his duty".
Today "England expects..." is often adapted for use in the media, especially in relation to the expectations for the victory of English sporting teams.Such is the sentence's connotation with sport that a book on the history of the England national football team by James Corbett was entitled England Expects. A BBC Scotland television drama also bears its name.
The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars (1796–1815).
HMS Bellerophon was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. Launched in 1786, she served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, mostly on blockades or convoy escort duties. Known to sailors as the "Billy Ruffian", she fought in three fleet actions, the Glorious First of June, the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar, and was the ship aboard which Napoleon finally surrendered, ending 22 years of nearly continuous war with France.
Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, 1st Baronet, GCB was a Royal Navy officer. He took part in the Battle of Cape St Vincent in February 1797, the Battle of the Nile in August 1798 and the Battle of Copenhagen in April 1801 during the French Revolutionary Wars. He served as flag captain to Admiral Lord Nelson, and commanded HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars. Nelson was shot as he paced the decks with Hardy, and as he lay dying, Nelson's famous remark of "Kiss me, Hardy" was directed at him. Hardy went on to become First Naval Lord in November 1830 and in that capacity refused to become a Member of Parliament and encouraged the introduction of steam warships.
Trafalgar Day is the celebration of the victory won by the Royal Navy, commanded by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
The Nelson Monument is a commemorative tower in honour of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, located in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is situated on top of Calton Hill, and provides a dramatic termination to the vista along Princes Street from the west. The monument was built between 1807 and 1815 to commemorate Nelson's victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and his own death at the same battle. In 1853 a time ball was added, as a time signal to shipping in Leith harbour. The monument was restored in 2009.
HMS Royal Sovereign was a 100-gun first rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, which served as the flagship of Admiral Collingwood at the Battle of Trafalgar. She was the third of seven Royal Navy ships to bear the name. Designed by Sir Edward Hunt, she was launched at Plymouth Dockyard on 11 September 1786, at a cost of £67,458, and was the only ship built to her draught. She was known by her crew as the "West Country Wagon" due to her poor manoeuvrability and speed.
The complex Bowman Flag with its swallow-tail fly was designed by John and Honour Bowman of Richmond NSW in 1806. The shield on the design shows the rose of England, thistle of Scotland and shamrock of Ireland. It commemorates the Royal Navy’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar a landmark event for Britain’s Australasian colonies. The design was hand painted, in oils, on silk made from Honor Bowman’s wedding dress. The flag is preserved in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. The design was an inspiration for Australia’s National Coat of Arms which features a shield showing the six Australian State Badges supported by an emu and kangaroo.
Bucentaure was an 80-gun ship of the line of the French Navy, and the lead ship of her class. She was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Latouche Tréville, who died on board on 18 August 1804.
Admiral is a senior rank of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, which equates to the NATO rank code OF-9, outranked only by the rank of admiral of the fleet. Royal Navy officers holding the ranks of rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral of the fleet are sometimes considered generically to be admirals. The rank of admiral is currently the highest rank to which a serving officer in the Royal Navy can be promoted, admiral of the fleet being in abeyance except for honorary promotions of retired officers and members of the Royal Family.
Vice-Admiral Count Pierre-Etienne-René-Marie Dumanoir Le Pelley was a French Navy officer, best known for commanding the vanguard of the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.
James Eaton (1783–1856/7) was an officer of the Royal Navy. He served aboard HMS Temeraire at the Battle of Trafalgar; as signal midshipman, he was the first person to pass on Nelson's famous signal to the fleet; "England expects that every man will do his duty".
William Prowse CB was an officer of the Royal Navy, who saw service during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Rising from humble origins and joining the navy as an able seaman, he had a highly active career, serving under some of the most famous naval commanders of the age of sail, and participating in some of their greatest victories. He was at Grenada and Martinique under Byron and Rodney, the Glorious First of June under Howe; and commanded ships at Cape St Vincent under Jervis, Cape Finisterre under Calder and Trafalgar under Nelson. He finished his career by serving with distinction in the Mediterranean, and died with the rank of Rear-Admiral.
Samuel Sutton was an officer in the Royal Navy. He entered the service shortly after the start of the American War of Independence, and spent most of his early career serving with Captain and later Admiral Joshua Rowley. He saw action at several engagements with the French fleets in the West Indies, and ended the war as a lieutenant. Left without active employment by the following years of peace, Sutton briefly returned to service during the Spanish Armament in 1790, but the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793 brought him steady work. After serving in a number of ships and being present at Cornwallis's Retreat in 1795, Sutton received command of a sloop, and with it the opportunity to render a service to a member of the French aristocracy, and the future Charles X of France. Promoted for his good service, Sutton served as a flag captain to several admirals, including Horatio Nelson. He briefly commanded HMS Victory, before surrendering her to Thomas Hardy, who would go on to command Victory at Trafalgar, and be present at Nelson's death. Sutton instead took command of a frigate, and in 1804 was involved in a controversial action that saw the capture of three Spanish frigates and the destruction of a fourth. Made wealthy from the spoils, Sutton nevertheless remained in the navy, taking part in the chase of the French fleet to the West Indies in 1805. His health declined during this period, and he went ashore in October that year. He retired from active service, and served as a magistrate and local official for his community, being promoted to rear-admiral in 1821 and dying in 1832.
Maritime flag signalling, generally flaghoist signalling, is the principal means other than radio by which ships communicate to each other or to shore. Virtually all signalling by non-naval vessels is now organized under the International Code of Signals, which specifies a standard set of flags and codes. Naval vessels generally use an extended set of flags and their own codes. This article will touch on the historical development of maritime flag signalling.
Naval flag signalling covers various forms of flag signalling, such as semaphore or flaghoist, used by various navies; distinguished from maritime flag signalling by merchant or other non-naval vessels or flags used for identification.
John McArthur (1755–1840) was a British naval officer, known also as an author.