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Ménage à Trois in Merton


Although Nelson lived in Merton for a very short time he has left his mark on the area. You have only to look at the number of streets, roads, pubs and, of course, the Hospital named after him or people associated with him to see the lasting effect he had on the area. Sadly nothing remains of the house he loved. This display tells of these events mainly in the words of the people who played their part in its story.


Letter written to Emma from the Medusa as Emma sailed towards Boulogne, August 1801:

"From my heart I wish you could find me out a good comfortable house, I hope I should be able to purchase it. At this moment I can command only £3000; as to asking Sir William, I could not do it; I would sooner beg. Is the house at Chiswick furnished? If not, you may fairly calculate £2000 for furniture...... As you may believe, my dear Emma, my mind feels at which is going forward this night; it is one thing to order and arrange an attack and another to execute it."

"I hope you will get the house. If I buy, no person can say --- this shall not be altered; and you shall have the whole arrangement"


The sale of the house in Chiswick fell through, but by then Nelson and Emma had heard of a house in Merton. The house was convenient for the Admiralty and close to the Portsmouth road. A surveyor's report was commissioned.


Surveyor's report on Merton Place: He said the place was very slightly built, an old paltry, small dwelling.

It was in poor repair and had not the least privacy as a place of pleasure. Public roads surrounded it, the grounds were worn and out of condition. Through them ran a dirty black-looking canal, which kept the whole place damp.

It was the worst place he had ever seen "pretending to suit a gentleman's family" But Emma had set her heart on it.


In a letter to Haslewood, the solicitor, Nelson wrote:

"The place (Merton) I very much wish to have and sailor-like a few pounds more or less is no object. I never knew much got by hard bargains. I approve of the Gentleman's plan that went to see the estate, bought as it stood, Dinner on the Table, the former owner sat as his guest."


Lord Nelson's Income and Property
My Exchequer pension for the Nile £2,000.00
Navy pension for the loss of one arm and one eye £923.00
Half-pay as Vice-Admiral £465.00
Interest of 1000 pounds £30.00
Income £3,148.00

Outgoings of Lord Nelson
To Lady Nelson £1,800.00
Interest of money owing £500.00
Pension to my brother's widow £ 200.00
To assist in educating my nephews £150.00
Expenditure £2,650.00
Income £3,148.00

This left him £768 to live on, hardly enough for such an extravagant household!


Alexander Davison, Nelson's friend and prize agent, wrote this letter making him this generous offer. Davison was well aware of Nelson's financial situation.

"If you have settled for the house in Surrey you write me about, I am sure you must be in want of money to pay for it; and, lest that should be the case, I have written to my bankers, Messrs. Vere Lucadou &Co., to honour whatever bills you may draw on them, and orders to those gentlemen to charge the same on my account. You may draw at sight of them whenever you please."


"Can your offer be real? Can Davison be uncorrupted by the depravity of the world?"


The move to Merton was continually on Nelson's mind. Although he had given Emma a free hand in what was to done at Merton he wrote many letters with suggestions and advice.

These are some passages from the letters:

"I admire pigs and poultry. Sheep are certainly most beneficial to eat off the grass...... I intend to have a farming book. I expect all the the animals will increase where you are, for I never expect you will suffer any to be killed."

"Have we got a nice church at Merton? We shall set an example of goodness to the under-parish.... We shall employ the tradespeople of our village in preference to any others."

"To you I may say my soul is too big for my purse, but I do earnestly request that all may be mine, even to a pair of sheets, towels, etc"

"I also beg, as my dear Horatia is to be at Merton, that a strong netting, about three feet high, may be placed round the Nile, that the little thing may not tumble in; and then you may have ducks in it......... I shall be very anxious till I know this is done......"

(Nelson had a very real fear that if the Prince of Wales visited he would seduce Emma. )

"I am sure you will not let any of royal blood into your house they have the impudence of the devil. None of the great shall enter our peaceful abode. I hate them all........ "

In a letter Nelson wrote to Emma calling the canal "the Nile" he added:

"How I should laugh to see you, my dear friend, rowing in a boat: the beautiful Emma rowing a one-armed Admiral it will certainly be caricatured. Well done, farmer's wife I'll bet your turkey against Mrs Nelson's."


Letter to Nelson from Sir William Hamilton

"We have now inhabited Your Lordship's premises some days & I can now speak with some certainty. I have lived with our dear Emma some several years. I know her merits, have an opinion of the head & heart that God Almighty has been pleased to give her; but a seaman alone could have given a fine woman full power to chuse and fit up a residence for him without seeing it himself. You are in luck, for, on my conscience, I verily believe that a place so suitable to your views could not have been found.

The proximity to the capital and the perfect retirement of this place are for your Lordship, two points beyond estimation.

You have nothing but to come and enjoy it immediately. You have a good mile of pleasant dry walk around your farm. It would make you laugh to see Emma & her mother fitting up pig-sties and hen-coops and already the canal is enlivened with ducks and the cock is strutting with his hens along the walks. Your Lordship's plan as to the stocking of the Canal is exactly mine. I will answer for it, that in a few months you may command a good dish of fish at a moment's warning."


By now Nelson longed to see Merton, and on 22nd October 1801 at 8 o'clock in the morning he arrived to Emma's great joy.

Emma wrote to her sister-in-law Sarah

"He is better than I expected in looks. We are all so joyous, we do not know to do. Believe me, my heart is all convulsed seeing him again safe on shore , safely moored with we - I must not say me."


Nelson was delighted with the house and grounds. Staying in the house on that first visit, were the Hamiltons, Mrs Cadogan (Emma's mother) and Charlotte, Nelson's niece. Charlotte ,the daughter of Sarah Nelson, was attending a boarding school, Whitelands House, in Chelsea. Charlotte wrote to her mother describing the celebrations that surrounded her uncle's arrival at Merton.

Nelson wrote to the headmistress of Charlotte's school, asking if the girls could have a holiday. Miss Veitch was happy to grant the wish. The girls had apple pie and custard and drank this toast in negus to Nelson:

"May his future years be as happy as his past have been glorious "

(Negus is a drink named after Colonel Francis Negus (British soldier Died 1732) It is made with wine, hot water, lemon juice. sugar and nutmeg.)


The residents of Merton Place let it be known that they would not accept invitations. Maybe in recognition that the their more convential neighbours might not welcome this, for the time, scandalous trio. They did, however, dine at Southside House, and occasionally at Wandle Bank House the home of James Perry, a Scottish journalist. They were also welcomed at Morden Lodge, the home of Abraham Goldsmid, a Jewish financier and bullion broker of Dutch descent. The Merton residents appreciated Goldsmid's genial hospitality but were not too keen on the kosher food served by his Dutch wife.

George Matcham, Nelson's nephew, visited Morden Lodge with his cousins Charlotte and Horace, he wrote this in his diary after the visit:

"Fine house Grounds poor Very polite Did not like their dinner; jewish. The hall, the height of the house, was very gaudy; as are all the rooms, but tasteless."


Not everyone was impressed with Merton's hospitality. Lord Minto wrote this after dining at Merton Place.

"I went to Lord Nelson's on Saturday to dinner and returned today in the forenoon. The whole establishment and way of life is such to make me angry as well as melancholy; but I cannot alter it and I do not think myself obliged or at liberty to quarrel with him for his weakness, though nothing shall ever induce me to give the smallest countenance to Lady Hamilton. She looks ultimately to the chance of marriage, as Sir W. will not be long in her way and she probably indulges a hope that she may survive Lady Nelson; in the meanwhile she and Sir William and the whole set of them are living with him at his expense. She is in high looks, but more immense than ever. Not only the rooms, but the whole house, staircase and all, are covered with nothing but pictures of her and him."


Although Nelson was very happy to be at Merton, at last, his first stay was not as enjoyable as he had hoped. Nelson seemed exhausted and, contrary to his usual custom, wore a plain black suit when he went out, instead of his uniform. Emma was very worried about him and wrote to Sarah Nelson:

" I am sorry to tell you I do not think our Dear Lord is well. I hope we shall get him up. He has been very very happy since he arrived, and Charlotte has been very attentive to him. Indeed we all make it our constant business to make him happy ....... he has frequent sickness..... he throws himself on the sofa, tired, and says I am worn out."


What happened after Nelson's death.

Emma Hamilton: After Nelson's death, which had so devastated her, Emma continued to live as extravagantly as before. She entertained her family and friends as generously as ever. She approached the Prince of Wales and the prime minister in the hope of being granted a pension, sending them copies Nelson's will wrtten just before the Battle of Trafalgar, to no avail. She was reduced to borrowing from friends and relations. Ascher Goldsmid bought Merton Place brought a little relief. But her debts mounted and she resorted to mortgaging her annuities. In 1813 she was arrested for debt. She managed to obtain the £250 owed to her by Earl Nelson, and in 1814 left England for Calais taking Horatia with her. At this time she was suffering from jaundice due to her heavy drinking. They moved to a house just outside Calais and Emma's health improved. Money problems caused them to return to lodgings in Calais, and here Emma died on 15th January 1815. She was buried in the graveyard of the church of St. Pierre. Henry Cadogan paid the large bills for wine and spirits.

Horatia said of her some years later:

"With all her faults, and she had many, she had many fine qualities, which, had she been placed earlier in better hands would have made her a very superior woman. It is but justice to say that through all her difficulties she invariably till the last few months expended on my education etc., the whole of the interest of the sum left me by Lord Nelson and which was left entirely in her control."

Abraham Goldsmid Goldsmid: remained a friend to Emma, lending her £3700 to pay off her creditors. He then got into financial difficulties himself and in 1810 he committed suicide in the grounds of Merton Place.

Merton Place: Emma continued to live at Merton Place after Nelson's death, but her debts grew too large. In 1809 Ascher Goldsmid( Abraham's older brother) bought Merton Place for £13 000. He never lived there and it was sold again six years later. The house was demolished in 1846.

Mary Cadogan (Emma's mother.): She carried on looking after Emma and helping her to manage her affairs after the death of Nelson. Mrs Cadogan died in January 1810, and was buried in St Mary's Church on Paddington Green.

Susannah Bolton (Nelson's sister): She continued to live at Cranwich where Lady Hamilton and Horatia visited her occasionally. In 1811 Emma visited the Boltons to witness the marriage of Susannah's daughter, Elizabeth, to her cousin, the Rev Henry Gridlestone.

Horatia Nelson: When Emma died Horatia was 14 yrs old. Lloyd's agent Henry Cadogan, brought her back to England and placed her in the care of the Matchams. They looked after her until 1817 when she went to live with the Thomas Boltons. She became engaged to a curate when she was sixteen, but this engagement was broken off. In 1822 she married the Rev. Philip Ward. They had nine children. Horatia died on March 6th 1881, in her 81st year. Horatia was proud of the fact that she was Lord Nelson's daughter, but she never acknowledged that her mother was Lady Hamilton.