Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lord Nelson's Biscuit

Daniel Maclise: The Death of Nelson
Mural in Parliament, Westminster, London
There are times when I wished I had £3,000.00 to buy a biscuit.

Recently, an interesting lot came up for sale at Sotheby's and was then auctioned off again. It included what is believed to be the world's oldest hardtack biscuit. And not just any biscuit, but one belonging to an Able Seaman who fought with Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar.

And it gets better. The Able Seaman was my ancestor, the father of Mormon Pioneers!

The biscuit gets the news, but it is the other items that are of more importance.

That's one, huge biscuit, by the way!
The lot also included a shaving box engraved with "Tho. Fletcher," a Boulton medal struck from cheap metal for every able seaman in the famous battle, a copy of Nelson's General Order for the Battle of Trafalgar, and Thomas Fletcher's diary while in the Royal Navy.

That's it! At least the second auction house presented a summary of the journal that gives a basic outline of Fletcher's naval career. He served on the Defence at the end of one of Nelson's lines. After the battle, he was fortunately transferred to the Kent with service in the Meditteranean. In 1811, the Defence ran aground and sank off Jutland with few survivors. The Kent survived a couple of naval actions in the Napoleonic Wars.

The UK National Archives has a nice little website to search out your ancestors in the Royal Navy at Trafalgar. It so happens that there are two Thomas Fletchers in the database. One, however, came from Bristol and appears to have returned there to sire a family after Napoleon "retired" to St. Helena. The other was supposedly born in Lynn, County Meath, Ireland. He's the right age to be my Thomas Fletcher. Ireland could be right with all the Scots-Irish, but the Royal Navy could have also made a mistake. He's a Fletcher, and some of them originated in Ayrshire, just southwest of Glasgow, Scotland with a connection to Lynn Glen. Perhaps there was some confusion in place names?

The Thomas Fletcher who kept a diary wrote that he was impressed into the Navy in 1803. That means he was "drafted" (a.k.a. "kidnapped") involuntary. And the summary we have doesn't say where. It could have been on the docks at any British port, or even on the high seas, especially if you were already an English speaker. The Royal Navy believed that all were subjects of the King, even citizens of the new United States of America. Impressment by the Royal Navy was one of the issues that led the US to enter into war with Britain in 1812. Sotheby's claimed the lot had good provenance from the Fletcher family. Apparently, this is the branch that did not come to Utah.

This Thomas Fletcher of the biscuit was paid and "released" from the Royal Navy on January 11, 1813 at Plymouth, Devon. My for-sure Thomas Fletcher was the father of my 4th Great-Grandmother, Ellen Fletcher, christened May 4, 1814, in Bo'ness, West Lothian, Scotland, just northeast of Glasgow. That's plenty of time to get from Plymouth to Scotland and, we assume but not necessarily, marry Ellen's mother, Elizabeth Cottar (or Cotter or Coulter) and father a daughter.

Ellen Fletcher Shaw Alford (1813-1879) arrived in Utah in an unknown Mormon pioneer company between 1860 and 1863. She lived in Kaysville, Davis County, just north of us here, and died in South Weber, which in spite of its name, was also in Davis County. Ellen had a brother, Mark Fletcher (1826-1904) who came to Utah in 1855. In his obituary, it states that his father was with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. It's a hit!

Grandpa Fletcher's account as a gunner in of the Battle of Trafalgar (it occurred on 21 October 1805).
Lord Nelson died on the deck of the Victory. There's a famous monument in, yes, Trafalgar Square!

The back of Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, Westminster (Greater London), England
Grandpa Fletcher's biscuit, and more importantly his journal, is somewhere in private hands.

Please, world, turn in your historical treasures to an archive near you . . . for all the rest of us too!

Turner, The Battle of Trafalgar (1822)

1 comment:

  1. I'm descended from Ellen Fletcher Shaw Alford too (via her first husband). Thank you for this interesting story!


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