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In 1801 the northern powers of Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Prussia – the last three under pressure from the mentally unstable Tsar Paul I – formed an armed coalition that constituted a threat to British interests in the Baltic. A British fleet under Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, with Lord Nelson as his second-in-command, was therefore dispatched to disrupt it.
The next night Captain Hardy took daring soundings to assess the depth of water within yards of the Danish line, the Danes having removed all navigational marks as part of their defence. The fleet moved in for the attack on 2 April, sailing north up the King's Deep on the western side of the Middle Ground and anchoring abreast of the Danish line under heavy fire. Early on, the 'Bellona', and 'Russell' grounded on the south-western end of the Middle Ground shoal. Such losses placed a heavy burden on the frigates close to the northern end of the Danish line. Although Nelson was ordered by Sir Hyde Parker to withdraw when it seemed his ships were in great danger, he continued the bombardment and forced the Danes to negotiate a truce after severe loss of life.
The picture is viewed from the south end of the King's Deep and shows the British flying the blue ensign. In the right foreground the sharply pitched positions of the 'Russell' and 'Bellona', indicate that they have gone aground, though they remained in action (Captain Thompson of the 'Bellona' losing a leg). The skyline of Copenhagen rises above the gunsmoke in the centre background, the distinctive spiral tower of the Bourse being notable.
oil on canvas
H 49.5 x W 81.3 cm