Finding Nelson

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Fri 28 Jan 2011 04:03
Pinneys Beach, Nevis, Thursday night

Andrea and I continued our historical investigations of Nevis today. We got going after breakfast via the boat belonging to the two young Norwegians. Kali was going for a hike up the volcano with Stian while his shipmate was heading back to Norway for a couple of weeks for a funeral. The four of us took our tender to the dock where Kali and Stian headed off towards the Hamilton Plantation. Andrea and I had a look around Charlestown. It's a tiny place but pretty with two shady squares and an outrageous number of banks.

We headed North out of town to find the Nevis museum which is housed in the building where Alexander Hamilton was born. We discovered that it had a lovely outdoor cafe so we had a Latte there before going inside to look at the exhibitions. There isn't actually much in the main building although a list of the slave revolts in the West Indies gave us a new picture of the amount of resistance at the time. They had a separate exhibition about Alexander Hamilton himself which was clearly an import from the USA. The sanitised version of his life which it gave begged more questions than it answered. In particular, his birth and parentage was glossed over as was any detail of what innovations he actually came up with which helped the fledgling USA solve its financial difficulties.

Anyway, we picked up a booklet about Nelson and had our lunch while I read it and gave Andrea an Executive Summary. It turns out that he was posted here early in his career as a Captain. At the time, a series of Navigation Acts were in force which regulated trade within the British Empire. Basically, any trade from the Colonies had to be carried in British ships with British crews, Captains and owners. It was all designed to restrict the Colonies to providing raw materials for British factories and acting as markets for British manufactured goods. The Caribbean Colonies had a longstanding trading relationship with what had been the North American Colonies who were now independent and so excluded from the system. Trade between the new USA and the British Caribbean Colonies was now suddenly illegal.

As a representative of the Crown, Nelson took his duty very seriously and set out to stop the illegal trade. The USA and, in particular, the local administrators and merchants in the British islands saw this as a damaging limitation on their right to make money and resisted. He made enemies of just about the whole population of the islands although there was precious little they could do about it except moan to the Admiralty who supported Nelson. In the end, he confiscated four US merchant ships which he caught in Charlestown harbour on Nevis. The owners sued him for 40 thousand pounds damages in the court on Nevis and he was afraid to go ashore for fear of being arrested. The British Government defended him at the trial and Nelson was cleared.

While all this was happening, Nelson met a local widow, Fanny Nisbet and, after a long written courtship, they were married underneath an ancient tree on the Montpellier Estate. The marriage started off well but, as Nelson became ever more famous and got infatuated with Emma Hamilton, things went wrong and he ended up leaving Fanny and setting up home with Emma and her husband. All very modern. Like reading an issue of Hello!

After finishing our lunch, we took a taxi to the volcanic hot springs where Nelson bathed, past the hotel where he had his wedding reception and then up to the very tree under which he tied the knot. We also visited the Nelson museum where the most interesting exhibit was a beautiful reproduction of his uniform. No wonder he pulled all the hot ladies - he must have looked amazing with that little lot on. Like a farmyard rooster. We intended to get up to the fortress on top of Saddle Hill but the road gave out sooner than we expected and we didn't have enough time to walk up to the top so we just headed back to Charlestown. We were a bit disappointed in our day as we didn't achieve quite as much as yesterday but I think we gave it our best shot and all the Nelson stuff is interesting, particularly with the Portsmouth connection and HMS Victory.

We also found out some other historical stuff like that fact that the sugar refining process was brought to the Caribbean by Jews from Brazil which is why there was such a large population of them on Statia and here on Nevis.

Andrea and I tendered back to Saxon Blue and immediately went for a swim to cool off. We'd just got back onboard when we heard a splash which Andrea thought was a turtle but turned out to be Kali swimming over from Stian's boat. We had a good chat to her about our plans for the next couple of months and our new-found enthusiasm for historical investigation. In fact, I think we've just realised that we don't like sitting around doing nothing which we should have known anyway but we seem to have forgotten. By then, Stian arrived for dinner so we chatted to him for a couple of hours while eating and drinking.

Stian and his shipmate left Norway in May last year and headed through the Caledonian Canal and down the Irish Sea to the Scilly Isles. From there, they did Spain, Portugal, Morocco and the Canaries before crossing the Atlantic to Grenada. They had some amazing scrapes - literally - and had to fix their tiny boat as they went along, learning all the way. In fact, they were doing homework all the way as they're supposed to be at University in Norway as we speak. Stian is a lovely lad and it was easy talking to him about his adventures and sharing his enthusiasm for the next bit of his trip which is retracing our steps to Canada, Greenland and Iceland.

We've just watched an episode of Battlestar and now I'm off to bed as we're leaving tomorrow morning to get back to St Martin where we can get our air-con fixed (not that we really need it) and Andrea and I are intending to visit Saba via the ferry or plane.


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