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David Nilson

Death: 1789
Timor Island
Occupation: Botanical collector. Employed by Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty
Managed by: Randy Stebbing
Last Updated:

About David Nilson

Wikipedia Biographical Summary:

"...David Nelson (died 1789) was gardener-botanist on the third voyage of James Cook, and botanist on the HMS Bounty under William Bligh at the time of the famous mutiny.

Nothing is known of his ancestry or early life. In 1776, he was recommended as a suitable botanical collector to Cook, who had failed to attract an established botanist to the position. He was appointed, and received a small amount of botanical training and instruction by Joseph Banks and William Aiton before embarking. On returning to London in 1780, he worked as a gardener at Kew Gardens for seven years, before accepting an appointment as botanist to Bligh's voyage to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees. He was caught up in the mutiny and, remaining loyal to the captain, was one of the 19 men cast adrift without arms in a small boat. He survived the famous 3800-mile voyage to Timor, but a few days after arriving he spent a day botanising in the mountains, caught a cold, and died...."

SOURCE: Wikipedia contributors, 'David Nelson (botanical collector)', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 October 2012, 22:36 UTC, <> [accessed 20 November 2012]

Biographical Summary:

"...NELSON, David Botanist on the Bounty; loyalist; went with Bligh; died on Timor. The King’s intention to send out an expedition for the purpose of gathering breadfruit plants for the West Indies was spelled out in a letter to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty written by Lord Sydney, a Principal Secretary of State. The letter was dated May 5, 1787, and contained the following paragraph:

Mr David Nelson and Mr William Brown, Gardeners by Profession, have from their Knowledge of Trees and Plants been hired for the Purpose of selecting such as appear to be of a proper Species and Size and it is His Majesty’s Pleasure that your Lordships do order those Persons to be received on board the said Vessel and to be borne for Wages and Victuals during the voyage.

Nelson knew Bligh from before: they had both sailed with Cook on his third voyage (1776-1780), Nelson on the Discovery and Bligh as sailing master in the Resolution. He was originally a Kew gardener and had been selected as botanist on Cook’s voyage by Sir Joseph Banks who personally paid for his expenses. Captain Charles Clerke, who commanded the Discovery, wrote to Banks that Nelson was “one of the quietest fellows in nature.”

Nelson also knew Peckover, of course, that lover of the South Seas who had been on all three of Cook’s voyages.

During the voyage Nelson simply went about his business, collecting plants of all sorts in addition to the breadfruit shoots. He seems to have been liked by everyone on board, even by Bligh.

During the mutiny Nelson was kept below deck under guard. Alexander McKee in H.M.S. Bounty (1962) quotes Nelson as saying to William Peckover, the veteran gunner: “The ship is taken. It is by our own people, and Mr. Christian at their head. But we know whose fault it is.” (See also Du Rietz, 1965, pp. 22-23 and 59.)

Both men choose to go into the launch with Bligh. On the open-boat voyage Nelson was among the weakest and almost died before Timor was reached. On July 20, 1789, Nelson died in Coupang from a tropical fever. Bligh wrote:

. . . I have had the Misfortune to loose Mr. Nelson the Botanist whose good Conduct in the course of the whole Voyage and Manly fortitude in our late disastrous circumstances deserves this tribute to his Memory..."

SOURCE: Wahlroos Sven; Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty Adventure:

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