Nelson, William (1757-1835) (DNB00)

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NELSON, WILLIAM, first Earl Nelson (1757–1835), eldest son of Edmund Nelson, rector of Burnham-Thorpe, in Norfolk, and brother of Horatio, viscount Nelson [q. v.], was born at Burnham-Thorpe on 20 April 1757. He graduated B.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1778, and proceeded M.A. in 1781. The same year he was ordained, and in January 1784 was appointed to the rectory of Brandon-Parva, in Norfolk. He had before this consulted his brother on the advisability of entering the navy as a chaplain, and in June 1784 was appointed to the Boreas, though he did not join her till September. In her he went out to the West Indies; but the restraint would seem to have been distasteful to him, and, though on leave away from the ship for most of the time, he obtained his discharge from her and from the service in October 1786. It has been urged against his brother that, as captain of the ship, he tolerated the abuse of his chaplain's drawing pay without performing his duties. Nelson certainly did not punctually perform the duties, but, on the other hand, he did not receive any pay (Pay-book of Boreas); a singular fact, which is evidence of a scrupulous nicety very unusual at the time.

On Nelson's return to England he married, in November 1786, Sarah, daughter of the Rev. Henry Yonge, and settled down as a country parson at Brandon-Parva. from which, in 1797, he was transferred to Hilborough, also in Norfolk. The interest that attaches to him during this time is mainly as the correspondent of his distinguished brother, who wrote to him frequently, freely expressing his opinion of men and affairs. Without these confidential letters our knowledge of the great admiral would be much attenuated. When Lord Nelson was at home, and especially after the peace of Amiens, the brothers were a good deal together, the parson and his wife freely visiting and being on intimate terms with Lady Hamilton. The admiral's glory was reflected on the clergyman. In January 1802 the university of Cambridge conferred on him the degree of D.D., as did Oxford in the following June; and in May 1803 he was appointed to a prebendal stall at Canterbury. By the death of his brother, on 21 Oct. 1805, he succeeded as Baron Nelson of the Nile, the viscounty becoming extinct, as limited by the patent to male heirs of the body. On 10 Nov., however, he was created Viscount Merton and Earl Nelson of Trafalgar and Merton, and in the following year he succeeded also as Duke of Bronté. A pension of 5,000l. a year was granted to him by parliament, and the sum of 90,000l. for the purchase of a mansion and estates; this sum was in 1814 laid out in the purchase of Stanlynch Park, near Downton, in Wiltshire. He died in London on 28 Feb. 1835.

Nelson is described by Sir William Hotham [q. v.] as large and heavy in his person, boisterous in his manners, ‘his own voice very loud, and he exceedingly and impatiently deaf.’ Nelson has been unjustly accused (Pettigrew, Life of Horatio, Viscount Nelson, ii. 625) of concealing the last codicil to Lord Nelson's will in favour of Lady Hamilton till the government grant accompanying the earldom was settled on himself, and then throwing it to her in an insulting manner. The document was from the first placed in the hands of the officers of the government, who decided that nothing could be done about it (Jeaffreson, Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson, ii. 292–3). Under the altered conditions and demeanour of Lady Hamilton, Nelson gradually dropped the intimacy, and almost the acquaintance (ib. ii. 297–8). His wife died in 1828, and in the following year he married Hilare, daughter of Rear-admiral Sir Robert Barlow, and widow of her cousin, George Ulric Barlow. After Nelson's death she married, thirdly, George Thomas Knight, and died in 1857. By his first wife Nelson had issue a son, who predeceased him in 1808, and a daughter, Charlotte Mary, married in 1810 to Baron Bridport; on the death of her father she succeeded to the Sicilian title as Duchess of Bronté. The earldom, by the terms of the patent, passed to Thomas Bolton, the son of Nelson's sister Susannah.

[Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, passim; Clarke and m'Arthur's Life of Lord Nelson, passim; Doyle's Baronage; Foster's Peerage.]

J. K. L.