Horatio Nelson of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

There are many many websites about Horatio Nelson, his life, his career and even his death.  So instead this article will concentrate on some of the interesting facts and snippets of information that have come to light over the years about this famous Norfolk Man.  Photographs above show Horatio Nelson - The Parsonage at Burnham Thorpe by Francis Pocock - The bust of Nelson in the local church.

Early Days
Horatio Nelson was born on 29th September 1758 at Burnham Thorpe, though some say his actual birth was not at the Parsonage, as it which was being redecorated when his mother went into labour. Nelsons mother Catherine Suckling was related to many of Norfolk's grander families. Her great-grandfather had been the first prime minister of England.   Unfortunately Nelson's mother died on Boxing Day 1767 and according to her daughter Susannah  the reason for this early death was that she had "bred herself to death."  Nelson, was only nine when his mother died.

It was mothers brother Captain Maurice Suckling who assisted twelve year old Horatio to go to sea. Though his comment upon hearing of Horatio's desire was less than flattering.

"What has poor Horace done, who is so weak, that he, above all the rest, should be sent to rough it out at sea? But let him come and the first time we go into action a cannon-ball may knock off his head and provide for him at once".

Nelson's wife and her son
Horatio Nelson married Frances Nisbet on 11th March 1787.  Frances was a 26 year old widow whom he met in the West Indies she already had a son from her first husband.

When Nelson go his appointment to the Agamemnon in January 1793 Josiah Nisbet (Frances son) joined him as a Midshipman. Josiah was instrumental in saving his stepfather's life when he applied a tourniquet to Nelson's shattered right arm when Nelson was shot.  Though Nelson subsequently lost this arm.

Although Josiah was given command of a number of ships, it may have been more as a result of his relationship with Nelson rather than his suitability. One day Nelson received a letter from Josiah's Commander-in-Chief, which stated

"It would be a breach of friendship to conceal from you that he loves drink and low company, is thoroughly ignorant of all forms of service, inattentive, obstinate, and wrong-headed beyond measure, and had he not been your son-in-law must have been annihilated months ago. With all this, he is honest and truth telling, and, I dare say, will, if you ask him, subscribe to every word I have written."

Josiah was eventually paid off in 1800 and Nelson recommended to the Admiralty that he should not be given another ship to command.

Back at Burnham Thorpe
In December 1787 after 17 years service Nelson and his crew were paid off by the Navy. He returned to Burnham Thorpe, semi-retired living on half pay. He and his wife and Josiah lived at the Parsonage. Fanny who had been used to the heat of the tropics is said to have found the Parsonage so cold that according to her father-in-law "she took large doses of the bed".
She was also accustomed to servants, so was not used to hands on wifely chores. 

So in addition to managing thirty-five acres of glebe land, Nelson also managed the house. Even to buying cloth from his brother Suckling who kept the village store at North Elmham. Nelson's father Edmund moved out of the Parsonage to a small house at Burnham Ulph to give his son and new wife more room. 

Nelson spent his time working on the land and visiting various Norfolk relatives including Lord Walpole at Wolterton and Thomas William Coke of Holkham Hall, the later signed his pension forms. He also visited Wells-next-the-Sea where his sister Susannah had married into the Bolton family. He could often be found at the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market where he would pick up his mail and the newspapers (in Nelson's day the place was known as the Coaching House).

He spent the next five years writing to the Admiralty seeking a new command but to no avail. Then in 1793 with war brewing with France, he got his wish. On 30th January 1793 he was given command of the Agamemnon, a 64 gun ship.
The parsonage  in Burnham Thorpe where Nelson was born was alas demolished just after his fathers death in 1802, and replaced by the current rectory we see today, which is in private hands. Now only a roadside plaque a mile south of the village marks the place where the old rectory stood and where Nelson was born.

Nelsons and Great Yarmouth
In November 1800 - the King George packet boat docked at Great Yarmouth. It was two years after Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile. On board was Horatio Nelson in the company of Sir William and Lady Hamilton. All three had just returned from a three-month tour of Europe.  A trip where Nelson had been entertained by monarchs, politicians and heralded as a hero by crowds of people.  On stepping ashore, the Admiral was greeted with wild cheering and gun salutes and after entering the carriage prepared for him, the horses were removed from the shafts and replaced with people, who drew him in triumph to the Wrestler's Inn on Church Plain (now known as Hardy's). Here the Mayor, Samuel Baker, presented him with the freedom of the borough.

When administering the oath, the town clerk noticed that Nelson had placed his left hand on the book. Shocked, the official said, "Your right hand, my lord." "That," replied the Admiral, "is at Teneriffe". On his departure, the widowed landlady, a Mrs Suckling, requested permission to change the name of the inn to the Nelson Arms. Nelson suggested otherwise, "Being that I have but one!" When in Yarmouth for any time, Nelson stayed at the Star Hotel, an Elizabethan house on Hall Quay, even having a room named after himself. When extensions were made to the Post Office in Great Yarmouth, the hotel was taken apart and shipped to America.

Letters From Fanny
In 2001 a trunk was discovered, by a man from Sotheby's in the attic of a house, it contained seventy-two letters. These letters were written by Frances Nelson to Alexander Davison. The letters show that Francis Nelson was not the cold wife portrayed by Lady Hamilton after Nelsons death, who allegedly had made Nelson desperately unhappy. Instead they show a wife who loved her husband and who badly wanted him back. The letters also give us an insight into how the break down of their marriage was accelerated by letters written to Nelson in Great Yarmouth which he never got round to reading, causing a misunderstanding between him and Fanny, which hastened the end of their life together as man and wife.

A Macabre Gift
Horatio Nelson used to keep a coffin stored up right in his cabin onboard his ship? This wooden coffin was made from the main mast of Napoleon's French battleship L'Orient that Nelson had sunk off Aboukir Bay, in Egypt in 1798. Captain Benjamin Hallowell who was also present at the battle is said to have ordered his carpenter to make the coffin using both the L'Orients wood and also some of the ships iron. He then sent it to Horatio Nelson as a present. With the following message
"My Lord, Herewith I send you a Coffin made of part of L'Orient's Main mast, that when you are tired of this Life you may be buried in one of your own Trophies - but may that period be far distant, is the sincere wish of your obedient and much obliged servant".

Nelson is said to have been so pleased with the macabre gift that he kept it with him at all times. When Nelson died he was taken on shore in the wooden coffin and after lying in state at the naval hospital at Greenwich was eventually buried in it. Thousands of people lined the streets of London as Nelsons funeral car bearing the wooden coffin made its way to St. Pauls Cathedral. The coffin containing the remains of 'England's hero' is enclosed within a lead casing in a sarcophagus inside a crypt at the Cathedral.

A Faux Pas
I don't know how much truth there is attached to this account but will relay it nevertheless. During one of his many sea battles, Nelson had to dinner on board his ship, seven of the surviving captured French captains. All of these officers had been wounded. Nelson, who as we all know was half blind from the injury to his eye, without thinking, offered a case of tooth-picks to one of the Frenchmen, who had lost most of his teeth to a musket ball. Realising his error, the slightly flustered Nelson attempted to detract from this faux pas and offered his snuff-box to the French captain on his right, who had unfortunately lost his nose.

Find out about the monument erected to Horatio Nelson in Great Yarmouth
Pictures below - Horatio Nelson - Nelson's mother Catherine Suckling - Frances Nisbet his wife - Lady Hamilton his mistress.
Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography