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Turn a blind eye

Posted by R. Berg on March 29, 2001

In Reply to: Turn a blind eye posted by Robin Spittal on March 29, 2001

: Where can I find confirmation that the origin of this expression is Admiral Nelson's action in disobeying the order from the flagship to disengage, by putting his eyeglass to his blind eye to read the message, only to go on to defeat the enemy.

The article on Nelson in "The Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea" mentions the event:

The Tsar was assassinated and his policy reversed by his successor, Alexander I, but before the momentous news had become known, Nelson, with a detachment of ships of the fleet of comparatively light draught, attacked and defeated the Danish fleet at the hard-fought battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. At a critical stage of the action, Hyde Parker signalled to the engaged portion of the fleet to break off the action, an order that Nelson refused even to see since, as he remarked, he had a blind eye and sometimes had a right to use it. To have obeyed Hyde Parker's signal at that moment would have been to court disaster, so critical was the squadron's position in shoal waters.

However, the Oxf. Comp. doesn't say that "turn a blind eye" was the exact phrase that Nelson used; or that, if it was, he invented it; or that, whether he used it or not, it became popular after his remark was publicized. In fact, raising a telescope to one eye needn't involve turning the head. A biography of Nelson might have the exact quotation.