James de Saumarez was a near exact contemporary of Nelson; they were born 18 months apart.

Nelson and de Saumarez, parallel lives

Their distinguished careers peaked with the Napoleonic wars. However, a realistic comparison of the two careers of Nelson and Saumarez shows, quite frankly, that Saumarez didn’t stand a chance in any competition between the two for popular adulation.

Take their respective family lives. Both were married; Saumarez happily so to Martha Le Marchant from 1788 until the end of his life and by whom he had many children. Nelson carried on a very public affair with the alluring Lady Emma Hamilton and was estranged from his wife. He had no legitimate children, only an illegitimate daughter by Emma, named Horatia.

Both were fearless men. Saumarez, however, escaped serious injury (although his biographer, Sir John Ross, notes the following incident: “Sir James himself had a very narrow escape from a shot, which grazed his legs as he was standing on the gangway with the purser and the secretary, whose dismay and quick retreat from so dangerous a situation only produced a smile from the Admiral…” see p. 80 vol II). Nelson, of course, lost the sight in his right eye (there is no record of him wearing an eye-patch, contrary to popular belief) and lost his right arm altogether in separate fighting incidents.

The loss of sight gave rise to his famous disobedience of an order at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, claiming to be unable to see a signal to withdraw. Nelson then made the supreme sacrifice for King and country at the moment of victory upon HMS Victory at Trafalgar – even having the presence of mind to utter these last words: “Thank God I have done my duty”. He was only 47 years old. His body was preserved in a barrel of brandy, returned to England and interred in St Paul’s cathedral.

By contrast, Saumarez retained his bodily integrity and died in his bed aged 79. His last distinct words were: “It was a joyful sound to hear”, in a probable reference to Psalm 89. Saumarez was a very devout man. The great British public was as fickle in the early 19th century as it is now. Saumarez’s career was more subtle, more refined; but arguably no less important than Nelson’s.

It was of special significance to the Channel Islands and not lacking in moments of high drama.