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Lord Nelson’s marriage register makes UK voyage

Posted on 19 October 2018

Experts at the University of York will carry out urgently-needed repairs on the parish register recording the marriage of Admiral Lord Nelson, which has arrived in the UK for the first time in over 130 years from its home in the Caribbean.

Chris Webb, Keeper of Archives at the Borthwick Institute, examines the register.

The register arrived at the University on 18 October – a few days before Trafalgar Day, which commemorates Nelson’s heroic death as he led the British to victory over the French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, 1805.

It is believed the 190-page parish register has not been in the UK since May 1886 when it appeared in an exhibition in South Kensington.

Blossoming relationship

The register has made the journey from the church of St John Figtree on the Caribbean island of Nevis - the parish where Nelson married Fanny Nisbet on 11 March 1787.

The register records the marriage of Nelson and Fanny Nisbet in 1787.

The couple met while Nelson was commanding the British warship, HMS Boreas in the North East Caribbean. The widow of a Nevis physician, Fanny’s parents had also died, leaving her and her three-year-old son under the protection of her uncle – the President of the Island of Nevis.

Nelson and Fanny crossed paths at a party and a relationship between them blossomed. They were married at Fanny’s uncle’s Montpelier house - the place of their first meeting- and the marriage was recorded in the parish register.

Urgent conservation

After years of exposure to the humidity and high temperatures of the Caribbean, the register has deteriorated badly and is in urgent need of conservation.

With the permission of the Diocese of the North East Caribbean and Aruba and the parish of St George, Figtree, and by arrangement of the 1805 Club - a UK-based charity, which conserves and maintains Royal Navy artefacts from the Georgian era – the register made the journey to the world-renowned Borthwick Institute at the University of York.

The Borthwick was chosen to restore the register because of its wealth of experience in conserving church documents, including registers up to 800 years old.

Historical insight

Chris Webb, Keeper of Archives at the Borthwick Institute, said:  “We are honoured to have the opportunity to preserve this historic document which marks an important moment in Lord Nelson’s life.

“We will use our expertise to conserve the register for future generations and it will also be digitally imaged before it’s returned to its home in the Caribbean.”

Bill White, Vice-Chairman of the 1805 Club, said: “We are very grateful to the Bishop of the North East Caribbean and Aruba for giving us permission for this vital work to be carried out. The marriage record is very much part of the history of the Royal Navy and gives a unique insight into the social history of one of its most illustrious figures.”

The project has been made possible through a grant awarded to the 1805 Club by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2017, which used proceeds from LIBOR fines. The fund was set up by the Chancellor to support Armed Forces charities, alongside other related causes.

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