Part of the legend of Admiral Lord Nelson describes him deliberately holding a telescope up against his blind eye so that he could deny seeing his commanding admiral’s order to withdraw from action and thereupon going on to win the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. It seems subversive to find fault with a legend, especially one that fed a whole country’s pride during wartime. And Nelson was a genuine hero, one who had lost an arm in action and really had sustained an eye injury when a cannon shot hitting a nearby parapet had thrown sand and bits of stone against his face. The only problem is that after a symptomatic period, he evidently recovered good sight in the injured eye. Several later portraits show no deformity in either eye, other than small pterygia. Shortly before Trafalgar, he even identified the eye as having better vision than its fellow.
Barras, TC: Vice-admiral Lord Nelson’s lost eye. Trans Ophthalmol Soc UK. 1986. 105:351355
Submitted by Ron Fishman from the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society