Three more connections came to light in the late 20th
century. The Castle Museum at Norwich was presented
with a small, circular box, the lid of which was decorated
with Masonic symbols. Papers with it claimed that it had
been presented to a John Harcourt of Great Yarmouth by
Lord Nelson. It had remained with the Harcourt family
until presented to the Museum.
Nelson was known to have been a member of a quasi-Masonic benefit and convivial society, the Gregorians. He
had joined it in 1800 in Norwich and his membership came
to light in 1973 at a Sotheby’s sale of autograph letters, which
included one of 6 August 1800 from Lady Nelson to one
Crisp Brown thanking him for the regalia of the Gregorians
“for My Lord Nelson which he will esteem as an honour”.
The final piece was a letter from Nelson himself to Mrs
Frances Nesbit, who was to become his wife. In 1787 Nelson
was in command of HMS Boreas and had with him HRH
Prince William Henry, later Duke of Clarence and King
William IV, who was a Freemason.
They were stationed off Nevis and on 28 February 1787
Nelson wrote to Frances:
It is possible that HRH may stop at Nevis on his way from
Tortola. Today we dine with Merchants; I wish it were over:
tomorrow a large party at Nicholas town; and on Friday in town
here. Saturday, sail for Old Road; Sunday dine on Brimstone Hill;
Monday, Mr George’s at Sandy Point and in the evening we attend
the Freemasons’ Ball. Tuesday, Please God we sail. Farewell till
tomorrow and be assured, ever affectionate, Nelson.
There the matter might have rested – evidence seeming to
link Nelson to Freemasonry – and much evidence that many
of his friends and social circle were Freemasons, but nothing
to link the man himself.
The publication of Martyn Downer’s Nelson’s Purse, a
fascinating story of the reappearance of some major Nelson
relics produced more evidence for Nelson’s associations with
Freemasons. The book gives a great deal of information about
Alexander Davison, who became Nelson’s prize agent,
financial adviser and friend.
He had come to London from Northumberland to seek
his fortune, becoming a merchant. Through his patron
Hugh Percy, later Duke of Northumberland, he met many
influential men and began to win contracts for supplying the
colonies and the navy and army.
He saw Canada, in particular Quebec, as an up an coming
area and went there with his brother. Freemasonry was an
important part of the social life of Quebec and Davison was
soon initiated in Merchant’s Lodge No. 1.
© Library & Museum of Freemasonry
A silver medal with Nelson
on the obverse and Masonic
symbols on the reverse
issued by the Nelson
Crimson Oaks organisation