Wednesday, 18 August 2010


The image is of a gallant, young, Josiah Nisbet more or less saving Horatio Nelson's life at Santa Cruz.

Yesterday my eye was caught by a memorandum concerning a yacht called the ‘blank’ and listed as No 13 and for the year 1818, in the Memoranda Book of the famous Topsham shipbuilder Daniel Bishop Davy, as published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society’s Shipbuilding on the Exe, 1988, with an introduction by Clive N Ponsford. Mr Davy had written:

“A yacht built at Topsham called the [blank] for Captn Nesbitt R.N. of Exmouth, composed by myself. She was a foot to(o) narrow and a foot to(o) low to have any accommodations. She was a very good model but very sharp. She had an alteration from the drawing which was a quarter deck aft 18 inches higher then [than] the other part of the deck & 8 feet long from the fore part of the stern post.”

Then are listed the measurements which would seem to indicate that she was a thirtyfooter with a ten foot beam and a mast height of thirty foot and with six foot depth in the hold.

The connection that sprang to my mind, and I like to think no one else has spotted it, is that this is the yacht of Josiah Nisbet, Nelson’s stepson, who is buried at Littleham and who regularly sailed to France out of Exmouth in his own boat, sometimes, ‘accommodations’ or not, taking his wife, Fanny, with him. Irregular spellings, of course, were commonplace in the Age of Orthographic Chaos.

So, at Topsham in 1818 was built a yacht for Lady Nelson’s son. Is this a significant footnote to history? Well, maybe not. But I am still feeling pleased with myself and, if they don’t know already, I shall let the armies of Nelson scholars know about it.


  1. A snippet for you about Nisbet:

    "Colborne used to tell another story in connexion with Lord Nelson. Once at a ball at Sir William Hamilton's, Josiah Nisbet, Nelson's stepson, after drinking too much wine, pointed at Lady Hamilton and Nelson, and said, "That woman is ruining that man." Lady Hamilton went into hysterics, and Nisbet, as he was being dragged away, shouted, " Clap a swab to her neck; that will bring her to!"
    - The life of John Colborne, Field-Marshal Lord Seaton, George Charles Moore Smith, 1903.

  2. Thank you for the Nisbetsnippet. The more I learn about Josiah, the more I warm to him.

  3. He bought my house in Bigbury the year he married Frances.