Today in History
History's Happenings for September 29
Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police force but, more popularly, its Criminal Investigation Division, was founded in 1829, when Sir Robert Peel reorganized the force into what it is today. The Yard controls all of the functions of the Metropolitan Police, and its patrol officers came to be known as "Bobbies" after their founder.
The name comes from the small area in London in which the original headquarters were located, the site of a medieval palace used by Scottish royalty on their visits to the English capital. The Yard was moved to new quarters on the Thames in 1890, and again to a modern high-rise in 1967.
Scotland Yard pioneered many forensic methods, including the use of fingerprints, which have been emulated throughout the world, and its legendary name has figured into many a crime novel.
Horatio Nelson, British Viscount, Admiral and hero of the battle of Trafalgar, was born on September 29, 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England. He joined the Royal Navy in 1770 and, by 1779, was a Captain in His Majesty's service.
Experienced with years at sea and many naval encounters, Nelson was made a Commodore in 1796, just as the Napoleonic Wars were looming over the horizon. Sent to find out why the French fleet was gathering in strength at the French port of Toulon in 1799, he discovered that Napoleon Bonaparte, new First Consul of revolutionary France, was dispatching an Army to invade Egypt. Following the French fleet to the mouth of the Nile, he gave battle and won a great victory, destroying most of the ships and eventually causing Napoleon's withdrawal from the Middle East despite his earlier victories there.
In 1801 Nelson became a Vice Admiral. In a naval fight near Copenhagen, having lost an eye in the battle for Corsica in 1794, he refused an order to retreat by placing his telescope to his patched eye and denying that he could see the signal. Later that year he was made a Viscount.
In 1803, as commander of the Mediterranean fleet, he again found himself before Toulon, bottling up the French fleet under Vice Admiral Pierre Charles de Villeneuve. In 1805, the French escaped the blockade and, after a chase around the Atlantic, gave battle off the Spanish Cape of Trafalgar. Nelson's resounding victory, near the finish of which he was killed on the deck of his flagship, HMS Victory, ended Napoleon's plans for an invasion of England.
In his death, Nelson was revered as England's greatest naval commander, and certainly one of the finest admirals the world has known. After a hero's funeral, he was buried in St. Paul's cathedral in London, and a column was erected in his honor in Trafalgar Square. The graves of many of his crew who gave their lives in that battle can still be seen nestled in a small cemetery in the British stronghold of Gibraltar. The Victory, carefully restored and regarded as a British naval shrine, sits at Portsmouth, taking visitors back to that most heroic age.
The old English festival of Saint Michael and All Angels, Michaelmas also represented the start of university terms, the collection of quarterly rents, and the selection of magistrates. As such it is frequently used in English history as a designated point in time.