How Lord Nelson Lost His Arm

Wed, July 25th, 2012 - By Linda

Had Admiral Horatio Nelson been successful on July 25th 1797, Tenerife, maybe all of the Canary Islands, would today be speaking English and not Spanish.

On that day the British navy launched an assault on Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz. We learn in school that Admiral Nelson had only one arm, but how and why he lost it isn’t mentioned. Perhaps that’s because it was one of few defeats in an illustrious career. At that date there were several Spanish vessels in the harbour en route from the New World to the Old, laden with treasures, and these were the object of the attack.

Re-enactment of Nelson's defeat on Tenerife

Back then fortifications ran the length of the Santa Cruz coast, from Castillo de San Juan, next to where the magnificent Auditorio de Tenerife now stands, to San Andres, where you now find the beautiful, golden-sand beach of Las Teresitas. The British forces, under cover of dark, approached close to the Castillo de San Juan, but were thwarted, and in the skirmish Lord Nelson was severely wounded in the right arm.

July 25th celebrations, Santa Cruz


He was forced to return to his ship for medical treatment, which resulted in amputation, but the Battle for Santa Cruz continued. The British came ashore further along the coast, to find the Spanish prepared, and despite being outnumbered by more than two to one, they successfully fought off the invaders.

July 25th celebrations, Santa Cruz de Tenerife


In the spirit of the times, when war was a more “civilized” affair than it is now, at the end of hostilities, gifts were exchanged. The British gave Spain cheese and beer and Spain reciprocated with wine. Perhaps it was a harbinger of the future relationship between this island and Great Britain, because Brits remain, by far, the most frequent visitors to Tenerife.

Castillo de San Juan, Santa Cruz de Tenerife


Each year the Battle of Santa Cruz is remembered in the capital with events to mark the date, July 25th, and they are well worth checking out, especially, of course, if you’re a history buff. In 2008 the entire two days of street fighting were re-created, but now the form it takes tends to vary from year to year, and has been affected by the recession. However, there are various events, most notably a re-enactment which this year took place outside and around the Castillo de San Juan, which is situated on the very beach on which Nelson lost his arm. The canon which, supposedly, was responsible for the deed, and nicknamed “the Tiger,” is now on display in the excellent little museum under the Plaza de España, which marks the site of the Castillo de San Cristóbal, another tower along the long line of fortifications.

El Tigre, Santa Cruz de Tenerife


A group of dedicated re-enactors, la Asociación Histórico-Cultural “Gesta del 25 de Julio de 1797, Santa Cruz de Tenerife,” are the role players in this colourful event, and the group includes “townsfolk, priests and children” as well as “soldiers”. Every effort is made to re-create an 18th century atmosphere, and the battle is something of a firework display. The Museum of Nature and Man schedules commemorations and talks connected to the battle, even the restaurant in the museum themes dishes to match the spirit of things.

If you are in Tenerife any July, do check what’s happening, the events are colourful, fun and yet more proof that there is more to this island than sun, sea and sangria.

Posted : Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 8:44 am
Category : about tenerife
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2 Responses to “How Lord Nelson Lost His Arm”

  1. […] a musket shot from where Nelson was repelled and within earshot of the Santa Cruz auditorium, Parque Maritimo is a serene collection of vast […]

  2. […] sculptor Manuel Betancourt, she is a tribute to the forces of Santa Cruz who, on 25th July 1797, defeated the British fleet under the command of Nelson. A landmark victory for […]

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