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Shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training. Early in his service, Nelson discovered that he suffered from seasickness , a chronic complaint that dogged him for the rest of his life.
Nelson then learned of a planned expedition under the command of Constantine Phipps , intended to survey a passage in the Arctic by which it was hoped that India could be reached: the fabled North-East Passage. The expedition reached within ten degrees of the North Pole , but, unable to find a way through the dense ice floes, was forced to turn back.
By Lutwidge began to circulate a story that while the ship had been trapped in the ice, Nelson had seen and pursued a polar bear, before being ordered to return to the ship. Lutwidge's later version, in , reported that Nelson and a companion had given chase to the bear, but on being questioned why, replied that "I wished, Sir, to get the skin for my father. The painting itself was begun and nearly finished prior to the battle, when Nelson held the rank of lieutenant; when Nelson returned, the artist added the new captain's gold-braided sleeves.
With the outbreak of the First Anglo-Maratha War , the British fleet operated in support of the East India Company and in early Seahorse was dispatched to carry a cargo of the company's money to Bombay. On 19 February, two of Hyder Ali 's ketches attacked Seahorse, which drove them off after a brief exchange of fire. This was Nelson's first experience of battle. In early Nelson contracted malaria and became seriously ill. His patron, Suckling, had risen to the post of Comptroller of the Navy in , and used his influence to help Nelson gain further promotion.
After the outbreak of the American War of Independence Lowestoffe took several prizes, one of which was taken into Navy service as the tender Little Lucy. Nelson asked for and was given command of her, and took her on two cruises of his own. Parker hastily organized his defences and placed Nelson in command of Fort Charles, which covered the approaches to Kingston.