ISSUE 15, October 2005
Historic: Nelson and Freemasonry
Grand Lodge: Pro Grand Master's Speech
Grand Lodge: Quarterly Communication
Hurricane Katrina: Grand Charity Relief Chest
Royal Arch: John Knight
Masonic Embroidery: A stitch in time...
Travel: Walzing along the Danube
Specialist Lodges: Martial arts
Library & Museum: The two Freemasons' Halls
    Anniversary: Jersey's Liberation
Anniversary: Dorset's 225 years
Obituaries: Lord Swansea OSM
Pro Grand Master: Whither directing our course?
Charmian Hussey: A Mason's wife on Masonry
International: The Grand Lodge of Israel
Education: Sheffield's big plans
Education: Forthcoming events
Education: The Second Degree
Masonic Charities
Letters, Book Reviews, Gardening

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© Historic Picture Archive / CORBIS

William IV, a Freemason, seen in naval uniform. As Prince Henry, he invited Nelson to a Masonic event.

© Bettmann / CORBIS

An engraving showing Nelson in contemplative mood.

    On 20 September 1782 Nelson, then Captain of the Albermarle, landed in Quebec to pick up an autumn convoy to escort back to England. He met Davison, was a frequent guest at his house in St Peterís Street, and a strong friendship began. This has led to speculation that Nelson became involved in Freemasonry in the month-long stay in Quebec, but no records have been found.
     Back in England the friendship developed and Davison became a trusted confidant of Nelson. Such was Davisonís feeling for his friend that, after Nelsonís victory at the Battle of the Nile, he commissioned Matthew Boulton to strike a commemorative medal in gold, silver and copper. The gold medals were to go to Nelson and his Captains.
     As a personal gift to his hero, Davison commissioned from the Derby porcelain factory two magnificent wine coolers. On one side was Nelsonís coat of arms and on the other a design representing Egypt. The latter, which incorporates a very un-Egyptian pillar of the composite order and a figure wearing what appears to be a long apron with the flap turned up (on which the date of the battle is inscribed), have been interpreted as evidence for a Masonic relationship between the two.
     Martyn Downerís book, again, provides a great deal of evidence of the Masonic connections of many of Nelsonís patrons and friends but no real evidence for a connection between Nelson and Freemasonry.
     As this article was being completed a startling letter arrived from a Brother Broadbent, a member of Amphibious Lodge No. 258 at Heckmondwike.
     In preparation for the Lodgeís 200th anniversary of meeting in Yorkshire in 2003, he had been asked to prepare a history of the early years of the Lodge. The Lodge had originally been constituted in Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth in 1786 as a Lodge for naval officers and Marines. The Lodge had become moribund by 1800 and when, in 1803, a group of Yorkshire brethren petitioned for a new Lodge, the premier Grand Lodge, in the mistaken belief that they could not, under the terms of the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act, issue new warrants, transferred the dormant Amphibious Lodge warrant to them.
     Unusually, not only the original warrant but the Minute Book of the original Lodge found their way to Yorkshire. To quote from Brother Broadbent:
     At a meeting held on the 15th August 1787 in the original Minute book (which we hold) appears the name Bro. Nelson amongst the list of visitors.
     A previous historian of the Lodge stated that this could not have been Lord Nelson as he was in the West Indies at this time. To put the facts straight Nelson was only a Captain aged 29 at this time and had arrived back in Portsmouth on the 4th July 1787 from Nevis on board HM Ship Boreas. This ship paid off at Sheerness on 30th Nov 1787.
     In August 1787 Nelson was invited to Plymouth by HRH Prince William Henry (later William IV), who had served under Nelson as a mid-shipman, to witness a stone-laying ceremony, the members of Amphibious Lodge were also at this ceremony.
     It would appear that, unless there was another officer at this time also called Nelson, these factors give some credence that Nelson was a member of the Craft, and as he was a Captain at this time, he would be amongst his peers at a Lodge meeting.
     Exciting news, indeed. Nelson is not a common surname and the chances of there being two with naval connections in Plymouth in August 1787 does seem remote. Time and printerís deadlines have not allowed for further research, but watch this space!

John Hamill is Director of Communications at the United Grand Lodge of England and a member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, and a former Librarian and Curator of the Library & Museum of Freemasonry.

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