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SEIZES FOUR AMERICAN SHIPS.
ricans. Some of their crews were then examined in Nelson's cabin, where the judge of the Admiralty happened to be present. The case was plain : they confessed that they were Americans, and that the ships, hull and cargo, were wholly American property ; upon which he seized them. This raised a storm. The planters, the customhouse, and the governor were all against him. Subscriptions were opened, and presently filled, for the purpose of carrying on the cause in behalf of the American captains ; and the admiral, whose flag was at that time in the roads, stood neutral. But the Americans and their abettors were not content with deferisive law. The marines, whom he had sent to secure the ships, had prevented some of the masters from going ashore ; and those persons, by whose dispositions it appeared that the vessels and cargoes were American property, declared that they had given their testimony under bodily fear, for that a man with a drawn sword in his hand had stood over them the whole time. A rascally lawyer, whom the party employed, suggested this story; and, as the sentry at the cabin-door was a mau with a drawn sword, the Americans made no scruple of swearing to this ridiculous falsehood, and commencing prosecutions against him accordingly. They laid their damages at the enormous amount of £40,000; and Nelson was obliged to keep close on board his own ship, lest he should be arrested for a sum for which it would have been impossible to find bail. The marshal frequently came on board to arrest him, but was always prevented by the address of the first lieutenant, Mr. Wallis. Had he been taken, such was the temper of the people, that it was certain he would have been cast for the whole sum. One of his officers, one day, in speaking of the restraint which he was thus compelled to suffer, happened to use the word pity. “Pity !” exclaimed Nelson : “Pity! did you say? I shall live, sir, to be envied ! and to that point I shall always direct my course.” Eight weeks he remained under this state of duresse. During that time the trial respecting these detained ships came on in the Cout of
Admiralty. He went on shore under a protection for the day from the judge: but, notwithstanding this, the marshal was called upon to take that opportunity of arresting him, and the merchants promised to indemnify him for so doing. The judge, however, did his duty, and threatened to send the marshal to prison if he attempted to violate the protection of the court: Mr. Herbert, the president of Nevis, behaved with singular generosity upon this occasion. Though no man was a greater sufferer by the measures which Nelson had pursued, he offered in court to become his bail for £10,000, if he chose to suffer the arrest. · The lawyer whom he had chosen proved to be an able as well as an honest man; and, notwithstanding the opinions and pleadiugs of most of the council of the different islands, who maintained that ships of war were not justified in seizing American vessels without a deputation from the customs, the law was so explicit, the case so clear, and Nelson pleaded his own cause so well, that the four ships were condemned. During the progress of this business, he sent a memorial home to the King; in consequence of which, orders were issued that he should be defended at at the expense of the Crown. And upon the representations which he made at the same time to the Secretary of State, and the suggestions with which he accompanied it, the Register Act was framed. The sanction of Government, and the approbation of his conduct which it implied, were highly gratifying to him ; but he was offended, and not without just cause, that the Treasury should have transmitted thanks to the commander-in-chief, for his activity and zeal in protecting the commerce of Great Britain. “Had they known all,” said he, “I do not think they would have bestowed thanks in that quarter and neglected
I feel much hurt that, after the loss of health and risk of fortune, another should be thanked for what I did against his orders. I either deserved to be sent out of the service, or, at least, to have had some little notice taken of what I had done. They have thought it worthy of notice, and yet have neglected me. If this is the
MARRIAGE WITH MRS. NISBET.
reward for a faithful discharge of my duty, I shall be careful, and never stand forward again. But I have done my duty, and have nothing to accuse myself of.”
The anxiety which he had suffered from the harassing uncertainties of law is apparent from these expressions. He had, however, something to console him ; for he was at this time wooing the niece of his friend the president, then in her eighteenth year, the widow of Dr. Nisbet, a physician. She had one child, a son, by name Josiah, who was three years old. One day, Mr. Herbert, who had hastened, half dressed, to receive Nelson, exclaimed, on returning to his dressing-room, “Good God ! if I did not find that great little man, of whom everybody is so afraid, playing in the next room, under the dining-table, with Mrs. Nisbet's child !" A few days afterwards, Mrs. Nisbet herself was first introduced to him, and thanked him for the partiality which he had shown to her little boy. Her manners were mild and winning; and the captain, whose heart was easily susceptible of attachment, found no such imperious necessity for subduing his inclinations as had twice before withheld him from marrying. They were married on March 11, 1787; Prince William Henry, who had come out to the West Indies the preceding winter, being present, by his own desire, to give away the bride. Mr. Herbert, her uncle, was at this time so much displeased with his only daughter, that he had resolved to disinherit her, and leave his whole fortune, which was very great, to his niece. But Nelson, whose nature was too noble to let him profit by an act of injustice, interfered, and succeeded in reconciling the president to his child.
“Yesterday," said one of his naval friends, the day after the wedding, “the navy lost one of its greatest ornaments, by Nelson's marriage. It is a national loss that such an officer should marry: had it not been for this, Nelson would have become the greatest man in the service." The man was rightly estimated; but he who delivered
this opinion did not understand the effect of domestic love and duty upon a mind of the true heroic stamp.
“We are often separate,” said Nelson, in a letter to Mrs. Nisbet, a few months before their marriage, “but our affections are not by any means on that account diminished. Our country has the first demand for our services; and private convenience or happiness must ever give way to the public good. Duty is the great business of a sea-officer : all private considerations must give way to it, however painful.” “ Have you not often heard,” says he in another letter, “that salt water and absence always wash away love ? Now, I am such a heretic as not to believe that article; for, behold, every morning I have had six pails of salt water poured upon my head, and instead of finding what seamen say to be true, it goes on so contrary to the prescription, that you must perhaps see me before the fixed time.” More frequently his correspondence breathed a deeper strain. “ To write letters to you,” says he, “is the next greatest pleasure I feel to receiving them from you. What I experience when I read such as I am sure are the pure sentiments of your heart, my poor pen cannot express ; nor, indeed, would I give much for any pen or head which could express feelings of that kind. Absent from you, I feel no pleasure : it is you who are everything to me. Without you,
I care not for this world; for I have found lately nothing in it but vexation ay trouble. These are my present sentiments. God Alaty grant they may never change! Nor do I think tun will. Indeed, there is, as far as human knowledge cat judge, a moral certainty that they cannot; for it must be real affection that brings us together, not interest or compulsion.” Such were the feelings, and such the sense of duty, with which Nelson became a husband.
During his stay upon this station, he had ample orportunity of observing the scandalous practices of the contractors, prize-agents, and other persons in the West Indies connected with the naval service. When he was
EXPOSES THE FRAUDS OF CONTRACTORS. 35 first left with the command, and bills were brought him to sign for money which was owing for goods purchased for the navy, he required the original voucher, that he might examine whether those goods had been really purchased at the market-price; but to produce vouchers would not have been convenient, and therefore was not the custom. Upon this Nelson wrote to Sir Charles Middleton, then comptroller of the navy, representing the abuses which were likely to be practised in this manner. The answer which he received seemed to imply that the old forms were thought sufficient; and thus having no alternative, he was compelled, with his eyes open, to submit to a practice originating in fraudulent intentions. Soon afterwards, two Antigua merchants informed him that they were privy to great frauds which had been committed upon Government in various departments—at Antigua, to the amount of nearly £500,000; at Lucie, £300,000; at Barbadoes, £250,000; at Jamaica, upwards of a million. The informers were both shrewd, sensible men of business ; they did not affect to be actuated by a sense of justice, but required a per-centage upon so much as Government should actually recover through their
Nelson examined the books and papers which they produced, and was convinced that Government had been most infamously plundered. Vouchers, he found, in that country, were no check whatever; the principle was, that “ a thing was always worth what it would bring :” and the merchants were in the habit of signing vouchers for each other, without even the appearance of looking at the articles. These accounts he sent home to the different departments which had been defrauded; but the peculators were too powerful ; and they succeeded not merely in impeding inquiry, but even in raising prejudices against Nelson at the Board of Admiralty, which it was many years before he could subdue.
Owing, probably, to these prejudices, and the influence of the peculators, he was treated, on his return to England, in a manner which had nearly driven him from the