MANY visitors and residents to Dorset are stumped when it comes to knowing which Thomas Hardy the Hardy Monument commemorates.

On a fine day, the Hardy Monument on the summit of Blackdown Hill, near Portesham, is visible from a distance of 60 miles away.

Standing at 72 feet high, from the top of the tower at a height of 850 feet above sea level, in clear conditions, it is possible to see the coast from Start Point in Devon to St Catherine's Point on the Isle of Wight.

Resembling an upright cannon, the monument was actually designed to look like a spyglass, and a fitting concept as the monument was built as a memorial to Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, of ‘Kiss me Hardy’ fame, and not the novelist as most people, understandably, mistakenly assume.

Though this association is a common misconception, both Hardys are doubtless amongst Dorset’s most famous sons and were, in fact, distant relations.

The prominent memorial to the seafaring Thomas has stood on the hill overlooking the English Channel since its erection in 1844, the foundation stone laid by Hardy’s daughters on the 39th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Built from local Portland stone, funded by public subscription, the site of the column was chosen because the Hardy family wanted a monument which could be used as a landmark for shipping; the edifice shown on navigational charts since 1846.

Prior to this, however, during the Napoleonic War this lofty vantage point on Blackdown Hill was the site of a beacon to be lit to give warning of imminent French invasion but was never in fact used, and in part thanks to Hardy’s naval endeavours.

Admiral Hardy was born the second son of Joseph Hardy and Nanny Hardy (née Masterman) at Kingston Russell House, Long Bredy in April 1769. However, the family moved to Portesham in 1778, and Portesham House was Hardy’s home up until 1807, two years after he had attended Nelson’s deathbed at the Battle of Trafalgar. The village nevertheless remained close to his heart until his own death in 1839 when he was 70-years-old, a ripe old age for the times.

While few details of Thomas’s childhood survive, it was noted that he would often climb the hills above Portesham to gaze across the Channel that some twenty years later he would be called upon to defend. After three years of schooling at Crewkerne, Thomas’s wish, that he should be able to go to sea at the first given opportunity, was granted. In 1781 Captain Francis Roberts of Burton Bradstock, a long-time acquaintance of the Hardy family, agreed to take young Thomas on as an apprentice aboard his brig, the Helena, and Hardy’s naval career was promising from the start. Promoted to midshipman on board the HMS Hebe in 1790, he was then commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant in 1794 while serving aboard the HMS Meleager, swiftly rising to the rank of first lieutenant on HMS Minerve in August 1796. It was not long after, when Nelson hoisted his broad pendant on board the Minerve in December 1796, that the two became firm and trusted friends, Hardy taking part in all Nelson's principal naval engagements — the Battles of St Vincent, the Nile and Copenhagen, as well as Trafalgar of course.

At Trafalgar, on the afternoon of 21st October 1805, the British fleet faced the larger combined naval forces of the French and Spanish. Hardy was Flag Captain of HMS Victory, and at one point in the engagement, a splinter took the buckle from Hardy's shoe, to which Nelson remarked, “This is too warm work, Hardy, to last for long". In fact, one of the most decisive naval battles in history was over in less than five hours, the Royal Navy annihilating the greatest threat to British security for 200 years, but in the process losing a national hero. Hardy was with Nelson when he was shot, towards the end of the battle. Taken below deck, mortally wounded, as Nelson lay dying he said the famous words ‘Kiss me, Hardy’. At this, Hardy bent and kissed his dying friend on the forehead. Nelson's body was placed in a cask filled with brandy for transportation back to England for burial, Hardy given the honour of bearing the colours in Nelson's funeral procession. His last service to his dear friend, Hardy later remarked, “it has cost the country a life no money can replace, and whose death I shall forever mourn.”

Hardy was to remain in active service for the rest of his life, though he raised his colours at sea for the last time in 1827. Given a baronetcy in 1806, Hardy became First Sea Lord in 1830, and in 1837 he was appointed Vice Admiral. From 1834 until his death on 20th September 1839, Hardy was also Governor of the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich, where he is buried.

There is a memorial to Hardy in St Paul’s Cathedral, where Lord Nelson was also laid to rest, but it is fitting that his native Dorset continues to pay tribute to his memory. In 1900, the Hardy Monument was restored by his descendants, then in 1938 bought by the National Trust for the sum of £15. The monument remains in the Trust’s care, and major renovation work was undertaken in 2011, during which time it was closed to the public. On completion of the work in 2012 (the restoration involving re-pointing nearly 80% of the monument and replacing over a hundred badly eroded stones) the Hardy Monument was once again opened, and during peak season visitors can climb the 120 steps to the viewpoint at the top, and look out over the English Channel, which, when he was just a boy living at Portesham, so often drew Hardy’s eager gaze.