Portsmouth expert debunks claim Admiral Lord Nelson was a paedophile as historic telescope is pulled from auction

A TELESCOPE said to have been gifted by Admiral Lord Nelson to a cabin boy has been withdrawn from auction '“ after the vendor's bogus claim he was a paedophile sparked outrage from maritime historians.

Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 3:52 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:44 am
Dominic Tweddle

The National Museum of the Royal Navy, based in Portsmouth, has debunked the story surrounding the telescope and contacted the auction house to protest at its sale and the ‘ridiculous slur’.

The Australian vendor, Audrey Burns, consigned the item for sale after it had been handed down through her family from her great-great-great grandfather, William Thomas Cook.

Passed down with it were Cook’s ‘tall tales’ that included him serving as cabin boy to Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and being abused by him.

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The allegations were repeated by Hansons Auctioneers of Derbyshire when they advertised the sale, prompting naval experts to intervene.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, labelled Mrs Burns’ remarks a ‘ridiculous slur’ on Nelson’s memory and slammed the auctioneers for ‘disseminating nonsense’.

Hansons has now withdrawn the telescope from sale ‘pending further investigations’.

Prof Tweddle said: ‘As custodians of HMS Victory and a keeper of the flame of the immortal memory of Nelson, we consider this claim to be a ridiculous slur.

‘There was no William Thomas Cook serving on board HMS Victory in any capacity. Nelson was attended by a retinue of five men and there were no boys among them.

‘It is not for me to speculate on the motives for the dissemination of this nonsense. We are pleased it has been withdrawn from sale.’

Allegedly, William Thomas Cook was transported to Australia in 1820 after being convicted of theft and took a brass telescope with him.

His stories also included him being wounded in the face by a splinter at Trafalgar and ripping a piece of the Victory’s flag off Nelson’s coffin at his funeral.

Mrs Burns, 88, who lives in Southport in Queensland, had said: ‘The sad truth is that poor young boys were used for sex on those ships.

‘It was whispered in our family that Cookie was abused.

‘Lord Horatio Nelson may well have been called a paedophile today – that’s the sad truth.’

But revered Nelson expert Andrew Baines, the deputy director of heritage at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said after conducting further research he could ‘state categorically’ Cook was not known to Nelson.

He said the journal of the surgeon on the Victory, William Beatty, which logs all the men and boys injured during the battle, makes no mention of Cook or a facial injury caused by a splinter.

Mr Baines said: ‘We very frequently see objects come to light which, family tradition will have it, were once owned by Nelson or have some similar link to HMS Victory and the Battle of Trafalgar.

‘As any historian or curator will vouchsafe, proving a negative – that something wasn’t so – is extremely difficult.

‘The example of the telescope is unusual as I am quite happy to state categorically there is no connection with the Battle of Trafalgar, the telescope was not owned by Nelson and William Thomas Cook did not serve on board HMS Victory in any capacity, let alone as cabin boy to Nelson or Captain (Thomas) Hardy.

‘I am sure in his day William had many a pint bought for him as he told his tall tales in the pubs of Australia and I rather suspect his audiences took the stories with the pinch of salt they clearly deserve.’

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons, said in a statement: ‘It was our intention to share the story of the vendor in its entirety thereby allowing people to make their own decision about the authenticity of the item.

‘The information was not new and had been published previously in the Australian press.

‘The information comes from stories passed through the generations in our vendor’s family.

‘However, there is no evidence that Nelson abused any young boys in his charge.

‘We deeply regret any offence caused by stories circulating in the press relating to the sale of the telescope and bucket, particularly to members of Nelson’s family.

‘Importantly, we are now fully investigating all the academic information we have received about the item’s provenance and will consider all views with due care, respect and diligence.

‘The item has now been withdrawn from sale pending further investigations.’