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Great-grandson tells remarkable tale of Lord Nelson's secretary

PUBLISHED: 09:32 10 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:03 10 October 2016

The Death of Nelson is a painting by the American artist Benjamin West dated 1806.

The Death of Nelson is a painting by the American artist Benjamin West dated 1806.

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He recorded the details of Britain's greatest naval triumph. But, despite being promoted in the field at the Battle of Trafalgar to become Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's secretary, much of Thomas Goble's life story remains a mystery.

Malcolm Paton.Malcolm Paton.

Now his great-grandson Malcolm Paton, 90, from Weybourne, revealed he plans to pen a book on his ancestor for posterity – including details of his illegitimate upbringing.

And he has invited local schoolchildren to join a select audience of family and friends to learn more about his role on HMS Victory at his talk in Sheringham later this month.

Mr Paton, who joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer on January 21, 1944 – 140 years to the day after Thomas signed up – and went on to serve as a commander, said: “His was a remarkable life and he played an important role at Trafalgar. I thought my voice will probably give way this year so I’m giving this talk.

“Little is known of him before he joined the Royal Navy. However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence which indicates that he was raised by his aunt, Elizabeth Goble; that his mother died in childbirth and that his name was changed from James to Thomas at the age of four after his father married and had a legitimate son who had to be named James.”

Goble served as a Master’s Mate on HMS Victory and carried the slate, recording the signals sent from the flagship at Trafalgar.

However, soon after the battle began, Nelson’s secretary, John Scott, was killed and the 25-year-old was quickly promoted to Secretary to the Fleet. Mr Paton said: “The slate was the board on which Thomas recorded all the movements of our fleet and those of the French and Spanish, as well as significant moments during the battle.” And he added: “Despite his promotion he carried on marking the slate throughout the fighting.”

In Benjamin West’s celebrated painting of the death of Nelson, Goble is portrayed looking down at the dying Admiral after he was hit by a musket ball.

Mr Paton said: “My great-grandfather was born on April 20 in 1780 at Burpham, near Arundel (West Sussex). It was not until he was 57 that my grandfather, Edgar, was born. Again it was not until Edgar Goble was 57 that my grandmother, Hannah Beatrice Monement of Weybourne gave birth to my mother, Brenda Jennis Goble. So it was just three generations that spanned the 195 years from the birth of my great-grandfather in 1780 to the death of my mother in 1975.

“I’ve been brought up with this [history], my mother was very keen on it.” But he added: “She didn’t know half the story. She didn’t know he was illegitimate and she didn’t know he had been court-martialed twice.”

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