History Alive – Connecting with the Descendants
I was recently delighted to be involved in an exchange which further sparked my interest in the Nelson “diaspora”; descendants of the principal actors in the Nelson drama. They are still very much with us – proud of the role their ancestor played and fiercely protective of Horatio’s enduring fame and honour. It is wonderful to share our insights with each other and also with a wider readership of people interested in the enigmatic Nelson and this exciting time in history.
Image: The Death of Nelson, detail from the Frieze on Nelson’s Column Trafalgar Square, London. Including Thomas Hardy (far right)
Reproduced here, with permission, is my exchange with Helen, a descendant of Admiral Thomas Masterman Hardy who contacted me after reading my historical novel Nelson's Folly. A great friend of both Horatio and Fanny, Hardy was there to deliver the good news to the dying Nelson that the Battle of Trafalgar had been a great victory but then also to hear the hero’s last words. Helen eloquently described her ancestor as; “the last person to place a kiss on her [Fanny’s] husband’s beloved face”.
Image: Hardy and Nelson by Kenneth John Petts
for sale at www.fineartamerica.com
A Welcome Note
“Oliver - I am pleased to see that someone is on the same side as me where Lady Frances Nelson stands in history. My hero Lord Nelson is the reason I looked into the story of his wife who seemingly to me was badly portrayed in anything I had read until I heard about her “lost letters” to her husband and go-between Alexander Davison which finally shone a different light for us all to see. I will be excited to get your book and look forward to a future film.
I know of Frances’ heritage, having been married to Dr. Nisbet, having son Josiah on Nevis and retuning back to Montpelier from England, all no mean feat back in those days, for by then, a genteel widow. She willingly helped her Uncle with his estate and commitments. I have been to Littleham and stood by her grave and thought of her years of devotion and duty to her wayward husband whose affair with Emma Hamilton must have cut her to the core.
My dream is to go to the island and visit the place it all began. I don’t know why I feel so akin to her, maybe having felt the sting of lost love, or the fact of which I am most heartened that Admiral Thomas Masterman Hardy who is among my Dorset Hardy ancestors was the last person to place a kiss on her husband’s beloved face.
Best regards - Helen”
“Helen. it was such a pleasure reading your email. Your ancestor was a good friend to Horatio and the best captain to have commanded many of his flag ships. When he was commander of Mutine he was one of few “scouts” Horatio could count on in his search for the French before the battle of the Nile.
Hardy was also a good friend of Fanny and continued to support her even though it apparently irritated his wife! The story I like best is an episode which occurred before the great funeral of Horatio at St Paul’s Cathedral. Women did not attend funerals in those days so Hardy took Fanny to Greenwich to view Horatio’s body lying in state in the “painted” hall of Greenwich hospital. I do hope you enjoy my book.
Sincerely - Oliver”
Know Any Descendants?
Another descendant spoke to me a short while ago. He was descended from Henry Blackwood, the captain of the Euryalus that followed the Villeneuve’s fleet as it set out from Cadiz alerting Nelson and setting the scene for the Battle of Trafalgar.
Interestingly, these descendants are, like Helen, often the most sensitive to the breakdown of Horatio’s marriage to Fanny and often hold fascinating details about the time and personalities that can only be revealed to the rest of us when the descendants receive a platform to speak.
If there are any others who follow this blog, I would love to hear from you and to share any insights you may have. Or if you know of anyone, please share this message with them. I would love to help share their stories. They could email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Such connection brings history to life in a very special way.
Image: The Death of Nelson (1805) by Arthur William Devis, with thanks to National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK. Devis reportedly persuaded those present in this scene to pose especially for him. Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, the Victory's Captain, is in the centre at the back standing over Nelson, his right hand on the ship's knee against which Nelson reclines. This is seen as probably the most accurate of the many paintings of Nelson’s Death, which were probably inspired both by the drama and by the £500 prize for the best representation of the subject offered by the famous publisher Alderman Josiah Boydell.
Nelson’s Folly by Oliver Greeves is available in hard copy or on kindle at Amazon.com.au and other online book stores or at The Constant Reader Bookshop in Mosman and Crows Nest.