Pickle Night, the 5th November, is a well known occasion in the Royal Navy, when warrant officers celebrate the original HMS Pickle’s celebrated very fast nine-day voyage in 1805 to bring news of the victory at Trafalgar and Nelson’s death back to Britain.
(By comparison, commissioned officers celebrate Trafalgar Night.)
Captain Dennis Dixon, who recently spent a happy Pickle Night on board HMS Pickle has written an account of his evening:
‘A warm thank you, from all of us who live in Portugal, Vilamoura who had an opportunity to celebrate Pickle night.
‘We arrived at the marina as the sun was setting. A slight westerly wind blew gently as I looked upon Pickle, a magical little ship built for fast passages: 22m long, she is a two masted schooner with just 10 guns.
‘She certainly wasn’t like HMS Victory, a man-of-war with a 100 guns, but stepping on board was like going back into time. New owner Mal Nicholson showed us around this magnificent ship with pride.
‘As night fell we all settle down to a selection of wonderful food which was kindly donated by a local Chinese restaurant and Sharon Smith a very good local chef, a few of the guests brought along some mouth watering desserts.
‘Malcolm was most generous with both his time and with the local wines. We sat around solid wooden tables which were well lit by a selection of oil burning lamps, surrounded by wooden blocks, shackles, sheets and rope rigging. Time passed easily as we chatted throughout the night.
‘I was just a little taken back when it occurred to me that little Pickle had brought so many different nationalities together on this special night: in the course of just a few hours I had spoken with French, Welsh, Chinese, Portuguese, Canadians, as well as English people.
‘Towards the end of a wonderful night it felt right to toast Pickle herself and to spend a few moments remembering all those who died that day, including Admiral Lord Nelson as well as sailors of all nationalities.’
Visit the HMS Pickle Facebook page.
PS – there’s a ballad written by a chap called Roger Laing describing the race to England that made HMS Pickle famous. It makes clear that the trip wasn’t what you’d call uneventful.
The Ballad of the Pickle
‘Make haste, little Pickle‘ the Admiral said,
‘Go and tell England that Nelson is dead.
In his moment of triumph, a sharpshooter aimed
And the life of our hero his musket ball claimed.
They took him below – in the orlop he lay,
As his spirit and lifeblood ebbed slowly away
He whispered “Thank God” in his faltering breath,
“My duty is done” and slipped unto death.’
‘The battle is won ! Make their Lordships aware
That the Fleet has prevailed and will shortly repair
To Gibraltar for succour, refit and thanksgiving
To bury the dead and to comfort the living.
Bellerophon, Thunderer, Swiftsure and Mars,
Colossus and Neptune – all have lost spars.
My own Royal Sovereign the leeward van led
And suffered in consequence three score men dead.’
‘So fly, gallant schooner and shake out all sail
For you carry great tidings and canvas-clad mail
For their Lordships, whose spirits our victory will gladden
Though the news of our loss the whole Nation will sadden.
God speed you to England ? make haste while it’s light.
Delay not a moment and fly through the night.
Young Captain I charge you – La Penotiere’s your name.
Hasten to London and tell of our fame.’
So with Collingwood’s blessing the Pickle departed
Past Cadiz she sailed – round St Vincent she started.
With five points to starboard, then ten degrees more,
The Pole Star ahead and away from lee shore.
Past Lisbon to leeward – Oporto in sight,
Close-hauled all day – past Finnisterre that night.
On through wild Biscay the little craft lunged,
While mizzen stays hummed and through ocean spray plunged.
But while rounding Ushant, the hurricane shrieked,
Through cedar-clad decking, the wild water leaked.
‘Lighten ship!’ Cried her Captain, ‘Or all will be lost’
So into the ocean her cannon they tossed.
But once in the Channel, the tempest abated
The great Neptune’s ire all finally sated.
At last on the ninth day, ‘Land ho!’ came the cry,
Their landfall was Falmouth, past Lizard hard by.
Not waiting a moment the Captain alighted,
Commanded a coachman, the first that he sighted.
To London they galloped all day and all night;
Past midnight the third day was London in sight.
‘Ere dawn the good news round the City was sung
And the King ordered Nation-wide church bells be rung.
The news of this victory brought England great gladness,
Though tinged with the loss of her hero, great sadness.
So countrymen all, whether landsman or tar,
‘Three cheers for the Pickle!’ the smallest by far
Of that glorious fleet on that glorious day,
From whence for a century Britannia held sway.
When Nelson looks down from his heavenly portal
As we offer the toast to the Memory Immortal,
‘Remember the Pickle‘, he’d certainly say,
For she also served – on that fateful day.