© 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
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
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.