Tracing Emma’s Footsteps

Marmaduke Philip Smyth Ward

Ian Fraser, MS FRCS

For those of you interested in the lives of Emma and Nelson's grandchildren, this essay about the life of Marmaduke Philip Smyth Ward, who has, hitherto, been almost completely ignored by historians. 

The essay is written by Ian Fraser, MS FRCS’s. The main focus is on his career as a Royal Navy surgeon, and it has been published in the Journal of the Royal Navy Medical Service (2019, Vol 105, issue 2, page 145) who hold the copyright. 

The author and Editor-In-Chief, J E Smith Surgeon Captain Royal Navy have kindly given permission to share this document via Emma Hamilton Society

Above: the launch of HMS Royal Albert on 13th May 1854: Marmaduke was on the ship’s muster roll the following year

For image source please click this link


As a naval hero Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson holds a special place in the affections of the British people. Any expecta- tion that his country would provide for Lady Emma Hamilton and his daughter, Horatia, was almost forgotten when he died. However, following Emma’s death, Nelson’s family shaped Horatia’s destiny, which resulted in a happy marriage and a large family. Her second son, Marmaduke, was influenced by an uncle, a surgeon, who trained and guided him towards a surgical qualification and a life at sea as a surgeon in the Royal Navy. Despite a paucity of documentary evidence, it has been possible to trace his progress by analysing his Admiralty service record and abstracting information from an extensive biography of his mother. As another piece in the Nelson narrative, this account adds a medical perspective.


In 1794 Captain Horatio Nelson, writing to his friend the Duke of Clarence, declared “One plan I pursue, never to employ a Doctor; Nature does all for me, and Providence protects me.”1 In fact, Nelson sought numerous medical or surgical consultations, some with notable interventions, which have been documented extensively elsewhere.2-4 Nelson’s formidable management skills included support of his surgeons by aiding their promotion personally5 and by supporting them generally in letters to the Admiralty seeking improved conditions of employment.6 Two generations later his grandson, Marmaduke Ward, was to follow the family tradition of a career in the Royal Navy (RN).

The relationship between Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton led to the birth of their daughter, Horatia, in January 1801. Apart from his stepson, Josiah Nisbet, Horatia was Nelson’s only surviving child and in the last four years of his life it was she who brought him intense pleasure.7 In a codicil to his will he left Emma and Horatia to the nation,8 a wish that was largely unfulfilled until May 1850 when the Nelson Memorial Fund was launched and subsequently supported in 1854 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.9

Lady Emma Hamilton, widowed from Sir William in 1803 and lacking Nelson’s support after his death in 1805, lost control of her finances. To escape imprisonment for her debts in 1814 Emma and Horatia fled London for Calais, France. Emma’s health deteriorated rapidly, and she died in poverty in 1815. Horatia, then 14 years old, returned to England to be taken in by the families of Horatio Nelson’s sisters, Catherine (the younger) and Susanna (the older), married to George Matcham and Thomas Bolton respectively. Initially Horatia lived with the Matchams in Sussex and later with the Boltons in Burnham Market, Norfolk. Near and around the Burnham

villages Horatia mixed with families, such as the Girdlestones, who would feature in her later family life. Well-grounded in languages and deportment by her mother, her continued academic and social education prepared her well for a decent marriage. At the age of 21 Horatia Nelson married the Rev. Philip Ward, curate of Burnham Westgate Church, now St. Mary’s Church in Burnham Market, on 19 February 1822.

In their happy marriage Philip and Horatia produced ten children. Their first was a son, christened Horatio Nelson Ward, the second a daughter, and the third a son, named Marmaduke Philip Smyth Ward, who took the given names of the Ward dynasty. Marmaduke was born on 27 May 1825 and christened by his father, the curate, on the same day in the small church in Bircham Newton, Norfolk.

Marmaduke’s education

Marmaduke grew up in a large family where financial security was marginal. The children were educated by their father at home. Horatio secured a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Marmaduke spent time with his uncle and aunt in Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, especially after his parents moved parish to Tenterden, Kent, in search of a better living. Cricket was a passion for the Ward men, including Marmaduke’s younger brother, Nelson, and his brother-in-law, William Johnson, who married their younger sister, also named Horatia. In just one reference10 concerning Marmaduke, often repeated, we find him “passing up an offer to play professional cricket in Borbanu, India”.

The marriages of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s sisters established a secure family network. Susanna’s sister-in-law, Ann Bolton, married Dr Henry John Girdlestone who had been in medical practice in Wells-next-the-Sea until 1805. Their daughter, Ann Bolton Girdlestone, married James Young, a surgeon who had served in the Honourable East India Company Service in 1815. They had a son, Henry John Girdlestone Young, who was thus a distant cousin of Marmaduke and a few months older. When Marmaduke was sent to stay with the Youngs in Wells his uncle’s professional life and stories of travel may have influenced both young men in their career choice. Marmaduke was apprenticed to James Young and accordingly lodged with the family. In this medical environment Marmaduke’s ambitions and career were fostered.

Cousin Henry appears to have been academically gifted. He matriculated at University College London (1842), was admitted Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries and passed the MRCS (England) in 184511 [also pers. comm., Library and Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons], graduating MD at the University of Glasgow in 1846.12 Marmaduke is recorded

as a member of the Sydenham Society in 184513 while he “lived with Dr and Mrs Young at Wells, where he passed his articles, and went on to Glasgow University.”14 There are no records of him at Glasgow University but, clearly, he obtained enough approved credits to enable him to take the MRCS examination in London. He passed on 30 June 1848, aged 23 [pers. comm., Library and Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons].

Naval career

Marmaduke’s service record (Table 1)15 reveals that he was appointed assistant surgeon on 22 July 1848 when he arrived in Chatham, home of the naval medical base, Melville Hospital. He spent over 2 years on board HMS POICTIERS, CUMBERLAND and BOSCAWEN, 3rd rate ships with complements of 590-620 men. In January 1851 he was placed on HMS SPY for three years as assistant surgeon in charge. This ship was a relatively small brigantine tasked with anti- slave duties off the west coast of Africa. In 1854 he was posted to the Naval Hospital in Plymouth for nine months.

Encouraged by Florence Nightingale, the Times newspaper reported gross deficiencies in medical care and a shortage of surgeons during the Crimean War in 1854.16 Marmaduke’s service record locates him from 23 October 1854 to 7 August 1856 at the naval hospital in Therapia (now Tarabya), north of Constantinople (now Istanbul) on the western shore of the Bosporus. There, Mrs Eliza Mackenzie was the highly respected matron appointed by the Admiralty.17 On her staff she had three of the six Fry nurses brought over by Florence Nightingale.18 Marmaduke would have witnessed the beneficial effects of good nursing care. Also, as an assistant surgeon, he may have participated in the early use of chloroform as a general anaesthetic for the major surgical cases.19

Marmaduke also appears on the muster roll of HMS ROYAL ALBERT (the flagship of Rear Admiral Edmund Lyons, C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet) on 14 February 1855, which suggests that he may have seen action during the bombardment of Sebastopol.20

In August 1856 Marmaduke returned home to become assistant surgeon to the Royal Marines at the Royal Marine Artillery Infirmary at Portsmouth until September 1857. He presented himself to the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 25 May 1857 to “be passed his examination for Naval Surgeon.”21 He was promoted surgeon on 26 August 1857, aged 32.

He was posted next to HMS NIMROD, via Calcutta, from February 1858 until August 1861 in the Far East, during the Second Anglo-Chinese (Opium) war. NIMROD participated in the three battles of the Peiho (Taku) forts; the second battle in June 1859 was challenging and unsuccessful. Marmaduke’s medical and surgical journals, with those of his assistant surgeon (William O’Roberts)22-23 documented amputations of upper and lower limbs from gunshot wounds, and also the usual communicable diseases and other injuries found amongst seamen at the time. As a participant in these battles, Marmaduke was awarded the Second China War Medal.24

Marmaduke returned to England and was appointed to join the commissioning crew of HMS CHANTICLEER in December 1861, initially tasked to the English Channel and the Baltic, but then joining the Mediterranean Fleet until February 1866.

Then after 16 months ‘on the beach’, aged 42, Marmaduke had a series of postings in the home fleet, predominantly around Southampton. HMS IRRESISTIBLE was a wooden screw-driven 2nd-rate, acting as a guard ship with a complement of 750. HMS HECTOR was a recommissioned rigged iron-clad frigate acting as a guard ship to the Fleet Reserve during Queen Victoria’s holidays at Osborne House. HMS ST VINCENT was a 120-gun 1st-rate used from 1870 as a training ship for boys. Here Marmaduke dealt with outbreaks of smallpox, measles and mumps, transferring the smallpox cases to the nearby Royal Naval Hospital HASLAR. Two years through this 3-year appointment on ST VINCENT, Marmaduke, aged 47, was promoted to Staff Surgeon and again to Fleet Surgeon in 1875, having served for more than twenty years.

His final overseas tour was on HMS DORIS as Fleet Surgeon. DORIS was a 32-gun wooden screw-driven frigate sailing as part of the Detached Squadron and later the Flying Squadron. The tour started at Madeira, crossed to the West Indies, South America, the Falkland Islands, back to South Africa, Ascension Island and, finally, the East India station during the Royal Visit of Ceylon by the Prince of Wales. Marmaduke’s final posting as Fleet Surgeon was at Sheerness on HMS DUNCAN, a 101- gun 1st-rate steam screw ship with a complement of 930.

On 13 October 1879, at the age of 54, Marmaduke finally stepped ashore. Aged 55 and after 33 years of service he retired “with permission to assume the rank and title of Deputy Inspector-General on the Retired List.”25

The final years

Marmaduke’s mother Horatia moved in 1859 from Tenterden to Pinner, which was convenient for family visits of her children and grandchildren. Marmaduke was a bachelor and, on retiring, moved in with her to provide medical care.

The author and biographer, Winifred Gerin, had unprecedented access to the family’s records and private papers. She wrote “In Marmaduke, Horatia found, indeed, a companion of exceptional warmth of heart, devotion, cheerfulness and generosity.... he was the most good-natured man that ever lived, unselfish to a fault”. Horatia died in 1881, aged 80. “Marmaduke was with her to the end.”26

He was the sole remaining executor of his mother’s will,27 and the sole beneficiary of her estate. After her death he moved from Pinner to live with his sister, Horatia Johnson, at her home, 6 Gower Street in central London, where he had his own rooms. Characteristically, when he had sold his mother’s belongings, he divided the proceeds amongst his remaining relatives, keeping little for himself. 28

Virtually nothing is documented publicly of his remaining six years living in London. On occasion he visited his elder brother, the Rev. Horatio Nelson Ward, the much-loved rector of St. Nicholas Church in Radstock, Somerset. During a stay there in November 1885 Marmaduke became unwell and died, aged 60. Horatio conducted his burial service. Two years later Horatio died. Their matching graves lie side by side in the graveyard of St. Nicholas Church.


There is a considerable bibliography devoted to Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, his life, his battles, loves and family.29 However, little appears to have been written about his genetic

 grandchildren, especially Marmaduke who joined the RN and saw action as a surgeon. It is opportune to examine Marmaduke’s life at sea, not only as a naval surgeon facing the changes and opportunities in the practice of medicine and surgery in the nineteenth century, but also as a descendent of a national hero.

Competition was fierce amongst assistant surgeons in the Royal Navy. They often endured abysmal conditions in fear of losing advancement should they complain. Preferment based on nepotism was rife in the Royal Navy, so it is pertinent to ask if Marmaduke’s family history and social connections favoured him. Unlike his elder brother, he did not carry Horatio Nelson in his given names. Admittedly, his family did have influential friends such as Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, Sir William Beatty and Sir William Burnett, Director General of the Medical Department of the Navy. However, Hardy and Beatty were dead before Marmaduke passed his membership examination and joined the RN. When Marmaduke was promoted surgeon in 1857 Burnett was aged 78 and already retired. Additionally, his mother, Horatia, was always discreet and guarded concerning her parentage, only using the link to lend support to the Nelson Memorial Fund in May 1850 when finances were in a critical condition.

Marmaduke may have benefitted, indirectly, from Thomas Wakley’s support of assistant surgeons as editor of The Lancet, at the Royal College of Surgeons in London and as a Member of Parliament on the conditions suffered by assistant surgeons in the Royal Navy. Possibly, Wakley advanced all their cases for better treatment.30-31 The General Medical Council was set up in 1858 and registration was encouraged. Marmaduke registered as a MRCS at his first opportunity in August 1861 on his return from the Anglo-Chinese wars in the Far East.32

Marmaduke was unmarried and, therefore, did not have the family interest which might have established a legacy from which we could judge more of the character of the man himself. There is no image of him in the public sector, or in the private papers of a surviving member of the Ward family [pers. comm. L Style, 1 Apr 2019]. There are many gaps in the life history of Mr Marmaduke Ward, MRCS, but this account secures both a medical and naval connection in Admiral Nelson’s family history. Hopefully it will not be the last word.


1. Nelson H, editor Nicolas NH. The dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson. Vol. 1 1771 to 1794. London: Henry Col- burn; 1845. p.480.

2. Ellis H. Admiral Nelson’s amputation. Br J Hosp Med 2007;68:623.

3. Khan SK, Saeed I, Brinsden MD. Thomas Eshelby (1769-1811), Nelson’s surgeon. J Med Biog 2016;24(3):363-71.

4. Brockliss L, Cardwell J, Moss M. Nelson’s surgeon: William Beatty, naval medicine, and the Battle of Trafalgar. Oxford: Oxford University

Press; 2005.

5. Nelson H, editor White C. Nelson: the new letters. Woodbridge: Boydell Press with National Maritime Museum and Royal Naval Museum;

2005. p.164.

6. Nelson H, editor Nicolas NH. The dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson. Vol. 6 May 1804-July 1805. London:

Henry Colburn; 1846. p.237.

7. Nelson H. [Last letter from Nelson to his daughter Horatia]. Oct. 19th. 1805. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Ref:


8. Beatty W. Authentic narrative of the death of Lord Nelson: with the circumstances preceding, attending, and subsequent to, that event ...

[etc]. London: Cadell and Davies; 1807. Also available at:

9. Gerin W. Horatia Nelson. Pbk ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1981. pp 301-13.

10. Horatia Nelson [Internet]. Wikipedia [edited 7 May 2019, cited 14 May 2019]. Available from:


11. Vol.II, Advertisements. Lancet Dec 13 1845; 24.

12. University of Glasgow graduate record. Addison 1729-1897 Anglus (Graduation album).

13. Sydenham Society. List of the Officers and Members for the year ending March 25th. 1845.

14. Gerin W. Horatia Nelson. Pbk ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1981. p.277.

15. ADM 196/9/73, ADM 196/79/1146. The National Archives; Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK.

16. Chenery T. The Times. Oct 12 1854.

17. Brown K. Poxed and scurvied: the story of sickness and health at sea. Barnsley: Pen & Sword; 2011. pp.170-1.

18. Elizabeth Fry [Internet].

19. Connor H. The use of chloroform by British army surgeons during the Crimean War. Med Hist 1998;42:161-93.

20. Crimean War Research Society. HM Ships and their Officers. HMS Royal Albert 1855.

21. Medical News. Lancet May 30 1857:69(1761);569.

22. Ward MPS. Medical and surgical journal of HMS Nimrod for 21 September 1858 to 30 September 1859. ADM 101/168/1B (TNA).

23. O’Roberts W. Medical and surgical journal of HMS Nimrod for 28 May to 20 September 1858. ADM 101/168 (TNA).

24. Forces War Records The China Medal Roll British Navy & Army.

25. London Gazette. Apr 12 1881; 1792.

26. Gerin W. Horatia Nelson. Pbk ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1981. pp. 328-9.

27. London Gazette. Apr 29 1881; 2079.

28. Gerin W. ‘Horatia’s Will. Appendix A.’ In Gerin W. Horatia Nelson. Pbk ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1981.p.333.

History 149

 29. Cowie LW. Lord Nelson 1758-1805: a bibliography. London: Meckler; 1990.

30. Tyte K. Saints and sinners: Thomas Wakley. Bull Roy Coll Surg Eng 2012;94(4):140-1.

31. [Wakley T] in Davis P [Internet]. William Loney RN - Background. The Naval Surgeon. The struggle to improve conditions for Assistant

Surgeons; letters and editorials from the Lancet (1846, 1847, 1848, 1849) [cited 7 Jun 19]. Available from:


32. The Medical Directory. London: Spottiswoode; 1885, p 973


Dr Paul Watkins provided useful confirmatory references and encouraged the author to present the work as a service medical biography.

I am indebted to Jane Wickenden, Historic Collections Librarian at the Institute of Naval Medicine, who honed her considerable skills to shape the final version of this paper.


Mr Ian Fraser, MS FRCS

La Scala, Beacon Road, Kingswear, Dartmouth TQ6 0BS

Mr Fraser is retired and was formerly consultant surgeon at Warwick Hospital. At the Royal College of Surgeons of England, he was a member of The Court of Examiners and a faculty member in the Education Department.

Fraser I D. J R Nav Med Serv 2019;105(2):145–149