Australian descendant of Nelson’s servant plans Norfolk wedding blessing

A descendant of Horatio Nelson's personal servant will be travelling 10,000 miles to have his wedding blessed in the church where his famous ancestor was baptised.

Burnham Thorpe-born Thomas Allen reportedly held the famous admiral's right arm as it was amputated. Although not aboard HMS Victory at Trafalgar – one of his greatest regrets – Allen would have been with Nelson at a number of key battles, having first joined him aboard HMS Agamemnon in 1793.

More than 200 years on, an Australian descendant had hoped to celebrate his great-great-great grandfather by getting married in Sculthorpe church.

But after being refused a marriage licence by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Les Williams is hoping to track down some of his Norfolk ancestors to join in with a blessing instead.

Mr Williams, who lives in Geelong, Victoria, began researching his family tree 15 years ago and discovered the connection. Lord Admiral Nelson had once remarked that 'a Norfolk man was as good as two others' and had made a point of recruiting local men.

The servant, who went on to work for Nelson's brother-in-law as well, was known as an outspoken and sometimes brutally honest man.

The National Maritime Museum has a number of images of Allen from his time as a Greenwich pensioner and books which refer to the servant as one of Nelson's key crew members.

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Pieter van de Merwe, general editor at the museum, said: 'He was a rather difficult servant. He would order Nelson to 'put your coat on' and people sometimes wondered why Nelson put up with him.

'By the time of Trafalgar, Nelson had put him ashore, although we don't know the circumstances.'

Some reports suggest he had simply missed the boat when it left Portsmouth, perhaps because he had been asked by Nelson to stay behind and tie up loose ends.

Born in Burnham Market, Allen was baptised at the church in Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, on December 23, 1771. When Mr Williams read that date, it struck a chord. He said: 'I felt an affinity with Tom as I was born on the 22nd of December, albeit a couple of centuries later. Knowing how genealogical 'maps' show places of births, marriages and deaths, I liked the idea of Sculthorpe and Norfolk reappearing in our family tree.'

So when it came to planning his wedding to Alison de Bruyn, the 64-year-old got in contact with the rector at the village church and was told he would need to contact the Archbishop of Canterbury's office for a special licence to get married in Sculthorpe.

The response was disappointing. An assistant clerk from the Court of Faculties, told the couple: 'Although the archbishop understands the importance of family history, he would wish for an applicant to have continued their ancestor's connections with the church in their own lifetime.

'Where the connection is only historical, there will not be sufficient grounds for a special licence.'

But rather than let it scupper his plans, Mr Williams decided to arrange a marriage blessing at the church instead.

'This way I will be able to have a connection with the family tree of some sorts,' he said.

The marriage will take place in Geelong on February 26 with the blessing following on June 18 at Sculthorpe church.

And the Australian is hoping to find as many fellow Thomas Allen descendants as possible to join in.

'I only know three descendants outside of Australia and I would hope that they might be able to attend,' he said. 'But I am hoping to find others who may still be in the area to possibly come and meet us and share a little of the family history together. I would like to know more about my ancestry as well as share mine with them.'

Mr Williams' link with England was broken when his father, Leonard Arthur Allen, jumped ship while in the merchant navy and ended up in Australia, having taken on the surname Williams.

Anyone who believes they may also be a descendant of Thomas Allen can contact Mr Williams on les@williams-family.com.au or by writing to PO Box 2207, Geelong, Victoria, Australia 3220.