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Battle of Trafalgar
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In Learn More the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects. Special thanks to the Research Division.

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Did You Know?Did You Know?

After the battle of Trafalgar, the British hold on captured Spanish and French ships was tenuous. Some of those hard-won line-of-battle ships went out of control in the great storm immediately after the battle, drifted onto rocks and the shore, and broke up with tremendous loss of life. Some were retaken by their defeated crews in order to save themselves from the dangers of a lee shore. A few ships made it back to Cádiz only to go onto the rocks at the entrance of the harbor. The people of Cádiz pulled many survivors from the surf, collected the dead who washed up on their shores, and cared for them all, regardless if they were Spanish, French, or British.
Several of the captured ships were intentionally scuttled by the Royal Navy to deny them to the enemy. Among those scuttled was the greatest sailing ship of its era, the mighty four-decked, 136-gun Santisima Trinidad. Towed to an anchorage in fairly shallow water northwest of Cádiz, she was sunk several days after the battle, along with the Spanish ship Argonauta.
In 2004, funded in part with a grant from the National Geographic Society, the marine research organization RPM Nautical asked the Andalusian government for permission to explore, in collaboration with the Center for Underwater Archaeology (CAS) of Andalusia, the waters of the Gulf of Cádiz. The goal was to document the areas where the ships involved in the battle of Trafalgar, including the Santisima Trinidad and the Argonauta, sank and were wrecked; to survey them with multibeam sonar; and if possible to photograph whatever remained. The joint research project between CAS, RPM Nautical, and National Geographic magazine was for scientific and historical study only, with no plan to intrude on the ships themselves. Unfortunately, the research plan did not count on three feet (one meter) of mud that had washed down from the Guadalquiver River and been deposited across the area where the ships went down.
RPM Nautical's state-of-the-art 3-D sonar revealed two great mounds of the correct size, shape, and location to be the remains of the two ships. Visual evidence gained from a camera-equipped ROV, provided by National Geographic, showed the mounds covered in the type of mud that springs up in a brown cloud of particles at the least disturbance. Photography was impossible, in other words, and confirmation of the two wrecks as Santisima Trinidad and Argonauta was also impossible under the circumstances.
That's the problem with exploration—one doesn't always find a gem or a pristine artifact gleaming on the seafloor. Sometimes discovery is messy. As the editorial researcher who set this expedition on its way, from researching ship positions in the British logs to helping to negotiate the agreement with CAS, I believe the real payoff of the expedition was the chance for National Geographic to work cooperatively with Spain's marine archaeologists, and with RPM Nautical, without the specter of treasure hunters or salvagers.
If this expedition paved the way for future exploration with CAS, and we hope that it has, then the project will have been a success—but I'd still like to know what Santisima Trinidad looks like today under all that mud.
—David W. Wooddell

Related Links

RPM Nautical Foundation
Follow the underwater research in Spain, Turkey, Japan, and Greece. The RPM Nautical Foundation uses the latest technology to explore the ocean and advance research in nautical archaeology. Introduce yourself to the experts and view photographs of the study sites, the equipment, the dives, and the recoveries.
Royal Naval Museum
Find out how the Royal Naval Museum, one of Britain's oldest maritime museums, is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Events run into October 2005 and include lectures, conferences, and temporary exhibits.
H.M.S. Victory
The Victory was anchored in Portsmouth Harbour, on the south coast of England, after retiring from frontline duty in 1812. It was moved into Portsmouth's Royal Naval Dockyard for restoration 110 years later. The official H.M.S. Victory website provides information for anyone who wants to visit the ship in person or wants to take a tour via the Web by browsing images and links.
Lt. Paul Harris Nicholas shares the excitement and fear of the Battle of Trafalgar in his eyewitness account. He describes the details of what he saw, as well as how he felt. His is just one in the collection of articles Broadside offers as a window into triumph and defeat in the Royal Navy during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
National Maritime Museum
Visit the National Maritime Museum in London and gain a greater appreciation for the sea, ships, and stars. A new exhibit on the Battle of Trafalgar explores the lives of Horatio Nelson and Napoleon Bonaparte and their part in one of the most significant sea battles in history.

Trafalgar 200
The Royal Navy has organized Trafalgar 200, the Trafalgar Festival, and SeaBritain 2005 to celebrate the anniversary of the battle. Celebrate with them at Trafalgar Square and Saint Paul's Cathedral this fall. This site provides a list of events and ways to participate. Follow the links for additional history, photographs, and news.


Clayton, Tim, and Phil Craig. Trafalgar: The Men, the Battle, the Storm. Hodder & Stoughton, 2004.
Cordingly, David.  Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon, the Biography of a Ship of the Line, 1782-1836. Bloomsbury, 2003.
Goodwin, Peter. Countdown to Victory. Manuscript Press, 2000.
Harbron, John D. Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy. Naval Institute Press, 1988.
Howarth, David. Trafalgar: The Nelson Touch. Atheneum, 1969.
Lambert, Andrew. Nelson, Britannia's God of War. Faber and Faber, 2004.
Lavery, Brian. Nelson's Fleet at Trafalgar. Naval Institute Press, 2004.
Pope, Dudley. Decision at Trafalgar. Henry Holt and Company, 1999.
Terraine, John. Trafalgar: Eye-witness Accounts. Wordsworth Editions, 1998.
Tracy. Nicholas (editor). The Naval Chronicle: The Contemporary Record of the Royal Navy at War. Vol. III, 1804-1806, consolidated edition. Chatham Publishing, 1999.
White, Colin. The Nelson Encyclopedia. Chatham Publishing, 2002.

NGS Resources

Jamkowski, Marcin. "Ghost Ship Found." National Geographic (February 2005), 32-51.
Allen, Thomas B., and Robert D. Ballard. "Ghosts and Survivors Return to the Battle of Midway." National Geographic (April 1999), 80-103.
Marden, Luis. "Restoring Old Ironsides." National Geographic (June 1997), 38-53.
Broadwater, John D. "Yorktown Shipwreck." National Geographic (June 1988), 804-23.
Nelson, Daniel A. "Ghost Ships of the War of 1812: Hamilton and Scourge." National Geographic (March 1983), 288-313.
Putman, John J. "Napoleon." National Geographic (February 1982), 142-89.
James, Thomas Garner. "Portsmouth, Britannia's Sally Port: From King Alfred to the New Queen Elizabeth, British Fleets Have Fared Forth from This Citadel of Sea Power." National Geographic (April 1952), 513-44.
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