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Admiral Hardy – Hero of Trafalgar Terrified of Trains

Our stories

Tue 4 Oct 22

Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy is forever historically connected to Nelson by the famous words ‘Kiss me Hardy’ said to have been uttered by Lord Nelson as he lay dying on board HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. As Captain of the Victory and Nelson’s friend, Hardy would kiss him twice, on the forehead and the cheek, as a final farewell before returning to his duty at the heart of the action.

Hardy was an experienced officer and had braved many battles, often putting himself in mortal danger. At the start of the Battle of Trafalgar, as he paced the quarter deck, Hardy had another close shave when the buckle of his shoe was torn clean off by flying debris.

However brave Hardy had been at sea, on land he was less fearless.

Towards the end of his distinguished naval career, in 1834, Hardy, now an Admiral, was made Governor of the Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich. He and his wife Louisa and two unmarried daughters lived in the building now known as Admiral’s House.

By 1835 most visitors to Greenwich arrived by horse drawn carriage or made use of the regular steam paddle boat services, disembarking at Greenwich Pier. By February of 1836, however, a new, faster and seemingly more efficient way to travel would be available to the public in the form of the capital’s first dedicated passenger steam railway system, the London to Greenwich Railway. The line initially ran from Spa Road station at Bermondsey, later extending to London Bridge, and terminated at Deptford. A new terminus at Church Row in Greenwich was added in 1838.

One of Hardy’s fellow officers on board HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar was the Surgeon William Beatty, who had attended the dying Lord Nelson. Beatty was reunited with Hardy when he became Physician of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich. Beatty was quick to embrace new ideas and technology and became a director of the innovative new railway company. He helped to organise the grand opening ceremony that took place in December 1836.

Lady Louisa Hardy made up a party for the ceremonial opening trip. She was obviously delighted with the 20-minute long return journey and wrote that ‘none of the guests had ever travelled before in the new-fashioned manner’.

Admiral Hardy, unlike his friend Beatty, was less convinced and declared that to travel by steam train was a ‘needless risk to run’. Up until his death four years later, he regularly travelled by road to meetings in London and could never be persuaded to enter a railway carriage!

Ever popular with the Greenwich Pensioners for his kindness and interest in their welfare, Hardy introduced the wearing of long uniform trousers to replace their antiquated knee breeches.

In 1839, his biographer wrote of Hardy’s ‘great kindness of heart’, his reluctance to impose expulsion on any Pensioner, and how he found it objectionable and degrading for old sailors to be sentenced to wearing a yellow coat with red sleeves, a punishment that had often been inflicted for drunkenness on Sundays – the miscreants being known as ‘Canaries’.

Hardy is buried in the old mausoleum of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, close to the National Maritime Museum. There is a monument to him in the entrance of the Royal Hospital’s Chapel of St Peter and St Paul.