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Nelson's First Love

This is the strange story of a mother and her son, and their intimate relationship with England’s greatest naval hero.

Lady Frances ‘Fanny’ Nelson was Nelson’s wife and love for fourteen years. She was from a good family, brought up in the rich plantation life on Nevis in the West Indies. In 1787 she married an unknown naval captain. He was very unpopular locally, had no particular prospects, lived on his pay and was no catch at all. Fanny was his loyal devoted wife – and his equally devoted widow – until she died in London in 1831 at the age of 70. Most biographers of Nelson have failed to give her more than a cursory glance, hypnotised as they have been by the dynamic sea captain and his mistress.

Fanny was beautiful, intelligent, and well read. She spoke excellent French, dressed always à la mode, painted watercolours better than most, and played the piano. She wrote entertaining letters, had a wide circle of friends, was presented at court and was a favourite with all the Lords of the Admiralty and their wives. She lived a long and extremely interesting life, partly in London, Bath, Paris or Devon. Moreover although she failed to give Nelson a child, she did give him her son by her first marriage, Josiah Nisbet, to whom the Admiral was deeply attached and whom he called his `son-in-law’.

Josiah saved Horatio’s life at the battle of Santa Cruz, after his arm was nearly severed by grape-shot. Having seen him fall and searched for him on the ground, Josiah carried him, bleeding and unconscious, to a waiting boat, where a sailor formed a tourniquet that stopped Nelson from bleeding to death. He then helped to paddle the boat to the safety of a waiting ship, where Nelson’s arm was later amputated. Later, in Naples, Josiah too fell in love with the bewitching Emma Hamilton.

Patrick Delaforce Buy