Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served
 
 

Captain Nelson

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Nelson and Prince William

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Interest, patronage and Nelson

Nelson, now unemployed, visited France in October 1783 to learn French (considered useful for a naval officer). In St Omer, he met a clergyman’s daughter, Elizabeth Andrews, whom he hoped to marry. Not having sufficient wealth to maintain a wife, Nelson asked his uncle William Suckling, a customs office commissioner, in January 1784 for financial help. ‘There arrives…in a man’s life (who has friends), that either they place him…in a situation that makes his application for anything further totally unnecessary, or give him help in a pecuniary way, if they can afford, and he deserves it…The critical moment of my life is now arrived, that either I am to be happy or miserable: it depends solely on you’ (Morriss, page 41). With this request Nelson displayed a certain ruthlessness in attempting to get his own way. His uncle agreed to help, but Miss Andrews declined to marry Nelson.

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Survey of the harbour of St John one of the Virgin Islands undertaken in November 1784 signed by Nelson

Nelson returned to England where a general election was taking place. Still unemployed, he contemplated a career in politics. However, this was not to be. ‘I have done with politics…let who will get in, I shall be left out’ (Pocock, page 63). In March 1784, Nelson was appointed captain of HMS Boreas. He was ordered to the West Indies to enforce the Navigation Act, which forbade American ships trading with British colonies. Whilst there, Nelson was asked to survey St John’s harbour in the Virgin Islands. He developed a close friendship with Mary Moutray, the Antigua Dockyard commissioner’s wife, whom he first met in July 1784. Nelson had a disagreement with her husband over orders to naval officers which Nelson believed he did not have the authority to give. Mary Moutray returned to England with her husband much to Nelson’s disappointment.

Nelson enforced the Navigation Act rigidly, seizing American ships, which made him unpopular with local traders and inhabitants. It also brought him into conflict with Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, West Indies commander-in-chief, and General Sir Thomas Shirley, governor of Antigua, whom Nelson described as ‘great ninnies’ (Nicolas, Volume 1, page 112) for ignoring what he considered illicit trading. Nelson was not enjoying his West Indies commission. He was unable to land on any island because of lawsuits being lodged against him. Nelson felt persecuted ‘for doing my duty by being true to the interests of Great Britain’ (Morriss, page 47).

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Discover what it meant to Nelson to be an officer

 

Nelson's dedication to duty and protecting England's interests

Mrs NelsonGo to next topic