Was this a closely guarded secret from over 200 years ago?
Was the Acting Commander of the ‘Lady Nelson’ a legitimate heir to the throne of England in spite of a secret marriage between the Prince of Wales and a Roman Catholic widow (illustrated above)?
Was he secretly placed at a young age into an institution for homeless boys where he would be forgotten?
But then, if the Pope declared the secret marriage a legitimate one, what then of any child from the marriage?
Because of a single clue left by a ghost, yes a ghost, 100 years ago, could his secret identity have been uncovered?
I think it was.
Because it was me who uncovered it.
On 1 December 1786, at the age of about seven, he was given his first official naval appointment (we know this to be a fact because it says so on his official naval record written by himself) as a Lieutenant’s Servant on the ‘Standard’ in Plymouth.
Then 17 years later in the very early days of British settlement of Australia he was chosen ny Governor King to take command of the tall ship ‘Lady Nelson’.
One hot November day just over two hundred years ago in the fledgling convict settlement at Port Jackson, as a midshipman only recently arrived in the colony, he found himself appointed Acting Lieutenant and Commander of HMS ‘Lady Nelson’.
The ship’s previous commander, Lieutenant George Curtoys, had become so ill from unloading cargo in the extreme heat that a replacement was needed on the spot. The man chosen was James Simmons, at first a midshipman on the governor’s own ship then mate on the ‘Lady Nelson’.
The year was 1803. He would have been just twenty-four or twenty-five at the time.
That he was selected in an emergency for an instant promotion to Acting Lieutenant and Commander of the ‘Lady Nelson’ is perhaps the first indication of the emerging qualities of a young man who seems to be one of the forgotten unsung heroes of Australian history. He has an extraordinary story to tell, an adventure of which very few (as far as I know) even today have ever heard, of a man only briefly mentioned, if at all, in the history books.
Midshipman James Simmons had sailed for New South Wales on 20 June 1802 on the ‘Glatton’ as an able seaman midshipman under Captain Colnett. The previous year the ‘Glatton’ had fought with Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Copenhagen under the command of William Bligh, of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame, with whom James would cross swords later in yet another infamous episode involving Captain Bligh in Australia’s only military coup.
After a sea journey of nine months the ‘Glatton’ arrived at New South Wales in March 1803. The Governor of the colony was Captain Philip Gidley King, the fifth appointment after two previous governors and two acting governors.
King had sailed with the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip. He served as Second Lieutenant on the ‘Sirius’, the flagship of the fleet which arrived in New South Wales on 25 January 1788. Less than two months later King was appointed by Governor Phillip as Commandant of another penal settlement at Norfolk Island, to the north-east of Port Jackson.
Twelve years later, in 1800, he became Governor of New South Wales, replacing Captain John Hunter.
When midshipman James Simmons arrived in March 1803 he was appointed to Governor King’s own ship the ‘Buffalo’.
A lucky break?
Now, just eight months later, on this hot November day, he found himself unofficially and hastily moved to the command of the ‘Lady Nelson’ which was then armed tender to His Majesty’s Ship ‘Buffalo’.
Was this another lucky break or did King single him out for special treatment?
Did he display exceptional qualities even at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five?
What did I find when I set out to follow the clues that emerged after Granny’s ghost’s secret came to light?
Come with me as I learn this man’s 200 year-old secret?
What would the consequences have been had his secret be known at the time?
Read every moment of my adventure in ‘Back to the Wall’.