As Nelson lay dying in on the HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar, he did not say Kismet but this theory has proved remarkably persistent despite Surgeon William Beatty's meticulous very detailed account of Nelson's death.
"Kiss me, Hardy" or "Kismet, Hardy"? Both versions are commonly used, the former being clearly more universal . The easy answer is that, whatever variation, these were not his final words (that is a trick question!).
It is a common misconception that Nelson's last words were "Kiss me, Hardy", spoken to the captain of HMS Victory, Thomas Hardy. Nelson did say this to Hardy, but Hardy was not present for Nelson's last words, having been called back on deck at that time. Contemporaneous sources report his last words to Hardy as being "God bless you, Hardy", spoken after Hardy had kissed him (which he did, so there is no doubt what Hardy thought he heard).
Nelson's final words (as related by 3 written accounts of those who were with Nelson when he died) were "Thank God I have done my duty", which he is said to have repeated until he became unable to speak. Although this is recorded by Surgeon Beatty, he was not actually present when Nelson became unable to speak, having been called away, and returning just before Nelson died. The Chaplain, Scott and the Purser, Burke, appear to have been with Nelson throughout, and Scott supports the "Thank God I have done my duty" words as the last words.
The Nelson memorial on what was Merton Place land, off High Path [119kb]
The misconception that Nelson actually said "Kismet Hardy", (kismet comes from the Arabic word 'qismah', meaning fate or lot) seems a Victorian invention, since the earliest recorded use in the English language of "kismet" was 1849. It is probably not coincidental that the mid Victorian era saw the emergence of the Prep and Public Schools which educated the boys who were to fight for and rule the Empire. This was the same era that embraced the works of Thomas Bowdler (whose ‘family friendly' versions of Shakespeare were published between 1818 and 1860), and there is no doubt Victorian teachers would have thought "Kiss me, Hardy" was an unmanly and dangerous thing to teach impressionable boys in boarding schools.
The teachers of the day would have attempted to explain this by saying that Nelson may have known the word from his Mediterranean tours of duty and this was just misheard by the others because no other words apart from "kiss me" made sense to them.
However for such an explanation to work, we must ignore all the sources which record Nelson’s religious observance, because introducing the alien word ‘Kismet’ at such a time, alongside the statements "God bless you Hardy" and "Thank God I have done my duty" is not really credible inasmuch as if he meant to imply he was destined to die, then he would have said something like it being just another part of gods grand design.
So, the answers are:
Last words to Hardy: "God bless you Hardy"
Last words recorded: "Thank God I have done my duty"
(Unless you know better .... )
Michael Hart, 28 August 2005