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Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served
 
 

Captain Nelson

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Mrs Nelson

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Nelson the spy

However, Nelson did go ashore on Nevis. It was here in May 1785 whilst at the house of John Richardson Herbert, the island’s president and largest plantation owner, that Nelson met Frances (Fanny) Herbert Nisbet née Woolward, aged 27, a widowed mother of a five-year-old boy, Josiah. She was a judge’s daughter and Herbert’s niece. During May and August 1785 their friendship blossomed and they became engaged to marry. Nelson turned again to William Suckling for financial help. Nelson maintained his relationship with Fanny through correspondence for most of 1786. His first commitment was to duty ‘our country has the first demand for our services, and private convenience, or happiness, must ever give way to the Public good’ (Nicolas, Volume 1, page 203). In part this was due to the departure of Hughes, which resulted in him becoming the most senior officer in the West Indies station.

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Letter from Nelson to HRH Prince William Henry, Captain of HMS Pegasus, dated 23 January 1787

In November 1786 Nelson was joined in the West Indies by Prince William Henry, now captain of HMS Pegasus. The Prince served under Nelson who was ‘reconciled to… attending…his Royal Highness [whom he] really loved to honour’ (Hibbert, page 57). This proved troublesome. Nelson was requested by Lieutenant Isaac Schomberg to convene a court martial against the Prince over a neglect of duty charge. Nelson initially dismissed this request, perhaps fearing to lose the Prince’s patronage, only to change his mind later, blaming in part the Prince, whose conduct was disapproved of by the King and Queen and the Admiralty. This matter did not affect their friendship as the Prince determined the date of Nelson’s wedding, and gave the bride away on 11 March 1787 at Montpelier, Nevis. Nelson experienced further trouble, mishandling an investigation into the corrupt practices of some Leeward Islands government officials, and managing to upset government officials and the Admiralty with his determined efforts to establish the truth. Moreover, he was reprimanded by the Admiralty for sanctioning the release of William Clark of HMS Rattler who had been sentenced to death by court martial for desertion. This went beyond his authority as president of the court martial. The Admiralty so disapproved of his conduct that after he arrived back in England on HMS Boreas in July 1787, Nelson was not to be re-employed by them again until the outbreak of war with France in 1793.

Fanny followed her husband, arriving in England on a merchant ship Roehampton in August 1787. The couple spent most of Nelson’s unemployed years in Burnham Thorpe, Nelson dealing with the lawsuits regarding his actions in the West Indies, and applying to the Admiralty for employment without success, ‘not being a man of fortune…is a crime which I cannot get over, and therefore none of the great care about me’ (Hibbert, page 71). He also appeared as a witness at an Old Bailey murder trial. Fanny found it difficult to adapt to life in England. The couple remained childless.

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Expenses claim sent by Nelson to the Commissioners of the Victualling Board, 6 July 1789

 

Character reference given by Nelson at the Old Bailey murder trial of James Carse, HMS Boreas’s cooper

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