Nelson Street

Nelson Street

Even though the eventual hero of Trafalgar owed his life to the ministrations of Cubah Cornwallis, ‘a woman of colour’ (he might well have died in 1780, but for her ), Nelson, in 1805, whilst on board the Victory, declared himself ‘a firm friend’ of the slave owning plantocracy: ‘I was bred … in the good old school and taught to appreciate the value of our West India possessions, and neither in the field, nor in the Senate, shall their rights be infringed, while I have an arm to fight in their defence, or a tongue to launch my voice against the damnable and cruel doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies’.


I was taught to revere Nelson as a hero; I still have the books. I was brought up to revere Nelson as a hero. It was hard not to. Just look at Trafalgar Square.


But what of Cubah (also spelled Cuba, Couba) Cornwallis, ‘The Queen of Kingston’?


An internet search suggests that she gained her surname and manumission from Captain Cornwallis, in Jamaica. The Wikipedia entry suggests that her freedom from enslavement possibly came about because ‘there are references suggesting that she and Captain Cornwallis were lovers’. I’m not sure how we can check on that euphemism for what was likely to have been non-consensual sex.


But the entry goes on to say that Cubah became Cornwallis’ housekeeper until he left Jamaica. She then settled in Port Royal, treating sailors for ‘various diseases and injuries’ in a ‘small house’ which she bought and ‘converted into a combination of rest home, hotel and hospital’.

That is why Admiral Parker had the emaciated, fever stricken (probably malaria and dysentery) young Horatio Nelson conveyed to Cubah. And her medicines (Obeah? Holistic?) brought him back from death’s door.

Cubah not only treated Nelson; she also restored the future King William the Fourth. She would eventually receive a sumptuous gown from the future queen, which Cubah wore but once: her ‘funerary gown’.

Nelson never forgot the debt he owed Cubah and repeatedly and publicly acknowledged that debt. Not just formally but with warm gratitude. And yet … he was an anti-abolitionist.

King William the Fourth, too.