The "Downham Market" mystery

 

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Various respected biographers refer to Nelson attending a school at Downham Market

Perhaps the earliest known mention of this matter was in the United Service Journal (1841, Part1, Page 560). The entry was anonymous.

 

However, generally, all accounts of Nelson attending school at Downham can be traced back to one source - George William Manby (1765-1854), soldier, author and inventor, perhaps best known for his "apparatus for saving life from shipwreck".

 

Manby's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states as follows: "He was sent to a school at Downham kept by Thomas Nooks and William Chatham, where he had for his schoolfellow Horatio Nelson, with whom he formed a close intimacy (cf. Description of the Nelson Museum at Yarmouth, 1849, Preface)  This museum was almost certainly the one established by Manby in his own house, and the wording in the Description could therefore have come from his hand.

 

It is reported that Manby also wrote to the Norfolk Archeological Society making this same claim.

 

Unfortunately no contemporary, independent, records exist to prove or disprove Manby's claims. However we can consider 2 issues.

 

Nelson's and Manby's relative ages

Manby was 7 years younger than Nelson. Nelson left his North Walsham school at the age of 12. For them to have met at any school is unlikely. For them to have had the intimate relationship that Manby claims would have been impossible.

 

Manby's health/state of mind

Manby had a distinguished career. I was reported that by 1823 his most famous invention had saved 229 lives. He was awarded monies and medals. However it is said that Manby suffered a head injury and was never the same afterwards. Later in life he became more obsessed with Nelson's life. If it was indeed Manby who was the author of the USJ article then he was by then 76 years old and is not known to have made this claim any time previously. Taking these two things into account it is possible that he had convinced himself of the truth of what he was saying, and perhaps projected an image of the young Nelson onto a real schoolmate. 

 

 

Make up you own mind!!