Tour Of The Caribbean – The Little Captain of the Boreas

NEVIS, the co-partner of St. Kitts, is a noteworthy island. The part it has played in the pursuit of fashion has been already alluded to. Its most remarkable feature is its appearance, which is conspicuous by contrast rather than by any specific lineament. The adjacent islands are irregular, florid in colour, and unrestrained in outline ; wild in their forests and jagged peaks, they flaunt an air of profligacy. Nevis, on the other hand, is prim and neat, a dapper island. Its sea margin describes a decorous oval. Its surface is smooth. In its precise centre is a precise hill, cone-shaped and modest, while at either end of the oval is a smaller mound of the same pattern, as if the three were a set of ornaments on a mantelpiece. Thus it comes about that Nevis appears staid, old-maidenly and most genteel, when compared with the brazen-faced islands around—a Quakeress in a company of Spanish dancers.

One of the most interesting memorials of Nevis is represented by a letter written by one young lady to another. It was a private, gossiping letter, intended only for one pair of eyes, yet it has become one of the most famous documents of a period. The writer addresses the note from the house of the President or Governor of Nevis—a Mr. Herbert

It reads as follows : ” We have at last seen the little captain of the Boreas, of whom so much has been said. He came up just before dinner, much heated, and was very silent He declined drinking any wine ; but after dinner, when the President, as usual, gave the three following toasts, ‘ The King,’ ” The Queen and Royal Family,’ and ` Lord Hood,’ this strange man regularly filled his glass and observed that those were always bumper toasts with him ; which having drank, he uniformly passed the bottle and relapsed into his former taciturnity. It was impossible for any of us to make out his real character ; there was such a reserve and sternness in his behaviour. Being placed by him, I endeavoured to rouse his attention by showing him all the civilities in my power ; but I drew out little more than `Yes’ and ` No.’ If you, Fanny, had been here, we think you would have made something of him : for you have been in the habits of attending to these odd sort of people.”

This strange, silent mariner, who only said ” Yes ” and ” No,” who would neither talk nor drink, but who jumped up promptly and tossed off a bumper at the mention of the words ” The King,” was Horatio Nelson. The ” Fanny ” to whom the letter was written was Mrs. Frances Nisbet, the young widow of Dr. Nisbet, late physician of Nevis. In what way she was qualified—as her friend declares—to attend to such odd sort of person as the captain of the Boreas we are not informed. Certain it is that she possessed the ability to make “something of him” for she married him.

Nelson appears to have been often at the island, and to have been very friendly with the President. He met Mrs. Nisbet in 1786 at Nevis, and at Nevis the two were wedded on March 11, 1787. Nelson at this period is described as ” the meerest boy of a captain,” who dressed ” in a full laced uniform, an old-fashioned waistcoat with long flaps, and his lank unpowdered hair tied in a stiff Hessian tail of extraordinary length.” The marriage took place privately at a house called Montpelier, some way from Charles Town. Of this mansion nothing now remains but a ” few trees and a little ruined masonry at the corner of a sugar-cane plantation.”

Not far from Montpelier is the Church of St. John, Figtree. The church is a small plain building of stone, of the cemetery chapel type, and with no architectural ornament but a bell gable. In its register is a record of the Nelson marriage in the following words :

” 1787. March 11. Horatio Nelson, Esquire, Captain of his Majesty’s Ship, the Boreas, to Frances Herbert Nisbet, Widow.”

This is in no sense a marriage certificate, for the ceremony did not take place in the church ; it is neither signed nor attested, and is merely a note of an occurrence in the parish.

On a slope of the hill immediately behind Charles Town are a few ruined walls and some remains of a terraced garden. These are the sole relics of the mansion in which Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1757. His father was a Scots merchant who had married a French lady. Young Alexander left Nevis at the age of eleven to become for ever famous as ” the precocious youth who penned the first draft of the constitution of the United States.”