NELSON AND THE NEARNESS OF HIS TOMB?

First off a question. At Lord Nelson's death, there was, to say the least, a massive crowd in London to witness his funeral which was so long in length with marching/following people, that it stretched all the way from the Admiralty main gate in Whitehall towards the top by Trafalgar Square and just down from the Trafalgar Studio's [formerly Whitehall Theatre]in the City of Westminster, to the steps at the west end of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. That was in January 1806. Have you any idea of what the previous biggest crowd in London gathered for, virtually three years before? Clue: although not related incidences they have a bearing one to the other!

Both events happened in or around St Paul's Cathedral - Nelson is entombed in a black marble sarcophagus inside his own ceremonial funeral coffins, immediately under a deck pate laid on the cathedrals floor above, which itself is immediately under the centre of the main dome which tops the cathedral. If you stood on that floor plate, and walked north approximately seventy average paces to the north door, through it, and slightly further on into daylight, you will almost certainly walk over an unmarked grave.

But first off below is a map of St Paul's Cathedral. Note that I have endorsed it for our purposes - para 2 above.

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Now look at this map which is of the City, the dividing Thames and Southwark on the south bank, also endorsed

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Note the distant from the Gaol to St Pauls, that in itself is a tough hike especially when in 1803 there were no bridges across the Thames, except for London Bridge and that was the old medieval bridge which pre-dated the 1825 bridge. London bridge, in roughly the same place as now, is the bridge on the extreme right of bridges shown. So the route in question is a sizeable dog-leg from the Gaol to the Cathedral. Now that wouldn't have been so bad, but I am going to ask you THREE things, and I want you to tell me how your answers affect the journey along that dog-leg.

Let's start. First grab yourself a hearty breakfast and then wander up to the Gaol to join that second biggest crowd in London touched upon in para 1 above. You are off to witness England last public hung drawn and quartered execution of six men: you'll need a full belly to stomach that, pardon the pun. However just as you arrive and you are elbowing your way to the front, some party-pooper tells you that, fearful of a crowd reaction, the punishment has been mitigated to be a simple half-hanging [a part strangulation] followed by butchery to remove the head. Ah! that's better - I'll be keeping those lumps of black pudding down after all!  So, the last hang drawn and quarter show in London was before 1803 - one for the history book! So that all the 20,000 crowd, the largest crowd in the City before Nelson's funeral, can see properly, the execution will be done  at the front of the gaol on top of the Gatehouse. That done.......are you still feeling OK? Good, 'cos now to dispose of six dismembered bodies and one in particular, although it is not clear that others were buried with him in the same desired spot. I am going to assume just one burial and this guy's name is EDWARD DESPARD. Grab your self a hand-cart and with thousands of onlookers throughout the relatively long foot journey along the dog-leg, off you go to the north side of St Paul, and don't forget the spade and possibly a shovel. Also don't forget that London bridge [now stone instead of wood post Great Fire of London as are the buildings] has buildings on it, lots of horses and carts and other obstacles so difficult to navigate. You could of course hire a small boat on the Southwark water front and row across to the many steps which lead up St Paul's. Once up there, you need to dig a grave in common ground [no railings around the Cathedral in those days and no consecrated areas outside the walls of the Cathedral] but remember, because your corpse is an executed criminal, you can't mark the grave.

By now you must be wondering, or at least I hope you are. So, here goes, you have just buried a friend of Nelson's, our dear Lord Nelson, and Nelson had acted as a character witness at Edward Despard's London trial, with the  judge, non other than Lord Ellenborough, the Lord Chief Justice, but to no avail. Remember, that at this point Nelson was already a national hero, but there was no sense of awe for the lawyers and the judge!

Edward Despard was an Irish protestant who had been commissioned into the British army; his eldest brother also in the British army, got to be a full general.  Nelson and Despard had served together. Prior to that Despard had proved himself a worthy army officer in the West Indies. During the American War of Independence', his regiment stayed in the West Indies and he was promoted to captain.

In 1780 the San Juan Expedition [part of the Anglo-Spanish War]  took place between March and November 1780 during the American War of Independence when a British force under the command of John Polson and Captain Horatio Nelson landed on the coast of the present-day Nicaragua, with the aim of sailing up the San Juan River to capture the strategically crucial towns of Granada and León, located on the northwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua. Despite an initial success in the capture of the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, Polson's force never reached Lake Nicaragua and, decimated by yellow fever, was forced to return to Jamaica. The campaign ended in total failure and cost the lives of more than 2,500 men, making it the costliest British disaster of the entire war. After Spain entered the American Revolutionary War in 1779, Major-General John Dalling, the governor of Jamaica, proposed a military expedition against the Spanish province of Nicaragua, belonging then to the Captaincy General of Guatemala, a dependency of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The main objective of the expedition was to capture the town of Granada, effectively cutting Spanish America in half and giving Great Britain access to the Pacific Ocean  "The colours of England, were, in their imagination, already in the walls of Lima."

The expedition, consisting of the transport Penelope, two brigs, three sloops, and a tender, the Royal George, sailed from Jamaica on 3 February 1780, escorted by the 21-year-old Captain Horatio Nelson in the 28-gun HMS Hinchinbrook. Nelson was the highest-ranking officer present, but his authority was limited to naval operations. The overall command totalled 3000 men under an army captain temporarily promoted to acting major.

On 9 April, Nelson, in the first hand-to-hand combat of his career, led an assault which captured a small Spanish battery on Bartola Island. Edward Despard had fought withNelson in this campaign and from thereonin became friends.

 Fort San Juan, with about 160 armed defenders was besieged beginning on 13 April. Because of poor planning and lost supplies, the British soon began to run low on ammunition for the cannons as well as rations for the men. After the tropical rains started on 20 April, men began to sicken and die, probably of malaria and dysentery, and maybe of typhoid fever, Nelson was one of the first to become ill, and he was shipped downriver on 28 April,  the day before the Spanish under Juan de Ayssa, devoid of ammunition, food and water, surrendered the fort to the British.

The British troops, unable to advance despite the arrival of 450 British reinforcements on 15 May, remained in occupation of the fort for six months, during which time they perished by the hundreds, while Viceroy Matías de Gálvez was able to fortify the mouth of Lake Nicaragua. The Spanish gained in strength, thanks to assistance from San Miguel, Choluteca and other adjoining provinces, while sickness continued to take a heavy toll among the British troops, forcing the order for withdrawal to be given on 30 November.

In 1782  Despard commanded a successful expedition to recover the British settlement of Black River on the Mosquito Coast of present-day Honduras that the Spanish had taken. In 1783 the war was brought to an end by the Peace of Paris. Despard had acquitted himself well and Nelson was very aware of this outstanding army officer.

To match that [his able soldiery] he became an able administrator and was appointed as the superintendent of what became Belize. Not stated in the history books, but his knowledge of the British North America before and during the War of Independence must have affected his relationship with people over whom he ruled in the name of the King. First off her married a coloured woman and then, broke all the 'rules' of the day, giving freed black  slaves the same rights as white settlers. This, as one might have expected back then, didn't go down well and many were the complaints received in London about his misguided governance. He was recalled back home for meetings with the government.   After investigations he was suspended and put on half pay. In 1792 lawsuits started to arrive in London from his enemies in Belize.  He was arrested and imprisoned for two years but finally released without charge. All the while his angst was in evidence and increasing.  In 1798, the inevitable happened and his Irishness came to the fore [this after years of good and faithful service to the Crown] and the finger was pointed to him being a part of an Irish rebellion, which were frequent but totally suppressed. He was arrested once more, thrown into gaol without trial, but again released with insufficient evidence in 1801. A year latter in 1802, his many enemies and government spies accused him of being a fellow-plotter to seize the Tower of London, the Bank of England and to assassinate dear George III, and he and his accused friends were arrested in a London pub quite close to the alleged date of these dire actions against the State.

Word got to Nelson, now the most famous man in Britain having already won all his main and many battles except for his last, Trafalgar.  He  made a dramatic appearance in court speaking on behalf of his friend Despard and his well known support for King and Country. However it seems like the case prosecutor, Spencer Perceval,  a notoriously successful lawyer and Kings Counsel in the then justice {?} system, a system without a Habeas Corpus, so an injustice, a man easy to read and predict,  full of morality and propriety, but for the trial he was an enigma? Like Despard he was a non-Catholic Irishman [Church of England as Despard was a protestant] Catholics being feared and enslaved [not emancipated], with fundamental English principles in mind and actions. Perceval was a good friend of the Prime Minister William Pitt The Younger who in turn was a good friend of Nelson; both Perceval and Pitt were patrons of the Admiralty, and fully supportive of the navy in all respects. For those two reasons alone, one might have expected Perceval to call for mitigation of punishment on Despard based on the ultimate reliable witness, Nelson, but he effectively chose to ignore Nelson and with that Pitt's influence.

Perceval was for all intents and purposes a good man, husband, father of twelve children, but he was entirely dedicated to his lawyer-trained principles and he had no real friends, neither could he think laterally, everything resolved through logic and a blinkered outlook. However, that was to steer him to much success after this grisly court case. In the month of Nelson's funeral, January 1806, Nelson's  dear friend the Prime Minister  William Pitt the Younger died, leaving a goodly amount of turmoil in the governance of the country. Three years later in 1809,  still with six years to go of Napoleonic Wars, Spencer Perceval became the Prime Minister of a greatly trouble country/period of time. He dealt with war, the Irish Catholic emancipation problem, the ever increasing ill health of George III and the trials and tribulations of the Regency period, amongst others. Although said to be a competent and mildly successful Prime Minister he wasn't a successful or inspiring leader.  Of all the enemies he made in the execution of unpopular decisions, he made a personal enemy which was his undoing. He certainly didn't deserve his fate, but  a man with a grudge gained entry into the House of Commons, waited for the Prime Minister to appear, then stepped forward and shot him in the chest at point blank range whereupon, Percival fell and died soon after.

Perceval is the only Prime Minister to have been assassinated. That was in 1812 still with two years to go before Napoleon's  was first captured and deported having signed away all his rights as the French leader, and three years to his final defeat, second arrest and second deportation to his final place of death.

Now why executed criminals were buried up near the outer of walls of the city of London's chief church is not recorded, neither why victims would be buried so far away from the point of execution when there was more than ample and suitable space in-situ. Could it be that destiny played its hand in bringing two dead friends together, one indoors and well marked  and the other outdoors and unmarked; one lauded and revered with intelligent understanding, the other unknown, unseen, uncared for and with so many aspects of their time on earth missing, almost cryptic, and frustrating.