Who was the first to ‘turn a blind eye’?


Horatio Nelson was a prominent figure in British naval history, renowned for his bravery and strategic acumen. As a flag officer in the Royal Navy, he served in numerous battles and sustained injuries that would leave him permanently disabled. However, Nelson’s most enduring legacy may be the phrase “turning a blind eye,” which he allegedly coined during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. In this post, we delve into the history of Nelson and the origins of this famous expression.

Early Life and Naval Career

Nelson was born on 29 September 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England. He joined the Royal Navy at 12 and earned a reputation as a skilled seaman, participating in several battles during the American War of Independence. Nelson continued to distinguish himself in the wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France, earning the rank of Rear-Admiral and later Vice-Admiral.

Nelson’s Injuries and Resilience

Despite his numerous successes, Nelson sustained injuries throughout his career, losing the sight in his right eye and his right arm. Despite setbacks, Nelson continued to serve in the Royal Navy and was appointed commander of the Mediterranean Fleet.

The Battle of Copenhagen: Daring and Defiance

In 1801, the British Navy was engaged in a battle against the Danish fleet at Copenhagen. Nelson’s commanding officer signaled for him to withdraw from the battle, fearing heavy losses. However, Nelson was determined to press on and win the battle, despite the risks. When he received the signal to withdraw, Nelson famously declared, “I do not see the signal.” This act of defiance led to a British victory.

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The Origin of ‘Turning a Blind Eye’

The phrase “turning a blind eye” is said to have originated from Nelson’s actions at the Battle of Copenhagen. However, some historians dispute the veracity of the story, arguing that there is no concrete evidence that he ever uttered those famous words.

  • Legacy: Courage, Determination, and Resilience

Nelson is widely regarded as one of the greatest naval commanders in history, known for his daring tactics and bold strategies. He inspired loyalty and devotion among his crew and embodied courage, determination, and resilience in the face of adversity.

Conclusion: A Complex and Flawed Hero

Horatio Nelson was a complex and flawed individual, but his contributions to British naval history cannot be denied. Whether or not he was the first to “turn a blind eye,” he remains an iconic figure whose legacy continues to inspire generations. His name will forever be synonymous with British naval glory.


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