Battle of Trafalgar veteran or a tall story?

When Israel Edwards died in Australia in 1877, there were a number of obituaries printed in the press in both Australia and England. There are, however, some inconsistencies in Israel and his wife, Susanna's, story.

Just how old was Israel?

Israel's obituary mentions he was aged anything bewteen 102 and 106 years old when he died. Nevertheless, assuming he was baptized as a baby in 1786, he was more than likely about 91 years old.

One article says that Israel was widowed at the age of 60 and implies that Susanna died before the family emigrated in 1847. Israel would indeed have been about 60 in 1847 but Susanna didn't pass away until 1860 after the family had been living in Australia for 13 years so Israel was nearer to 74 years old at this stage.

Susanna was supposedly 21 when she married Israel in 1818 and he 45. There were apparently objections raised by her friends because she was so young. Her death record states she was 23 years old when she married and he would actually have been about 32, approximately 9 years age difference rather than the exaggerated 24 years.

Did Israel really assist Vice Admiral Lord Nelson when he died?

The age discrepancies are not the only problem. Israel was supposed to have served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and to have been present at the Battle of Trafalgar on the Victory when Nelson was killed. One artcicle goes so far as to say that Israel ran to pick up Nelson as he fell.

Death of Nelson
Detail from The Death of Nelson by Daniel Maclise (Houses of Parliament, London)

This sounds a little far-fetched to me and further investigation shows no surviving evidence to support the fact that Israel was in the Navy and he does not appear in a search on the Trafalgar Ancestors website. The story goes he left the navy before he was entitled to a pension which may give him a little benefit of the doubt.

Israel's brother, Angel, did enlist in the Army Reserve in 1803 but Israel's contribution may have been a tall story which he told his children, either for fun and they believed it, or for any number of other reasons. We shall probably never know the truth.


One thing to say is that the journey to Australia in 1847 would have been a brave thing to do at the time, not least because the ship they sailed in lost her main top mast near Madeira in a heavy gale and so they had to return to Plymouth and set sail again almost a month after setting off the first time.

The family moved from Adelaide to Victoria in about 1852 and, if the obituaries are to be believed, Israel worked on the diggings for a couple of years. Victoria's first Gold Rush started in 1851 so the reason for the move to Victoria appears obvious. What is not so clear is why they emigrated in the first instance but this may have had more to do with conditions at home.

The Irish Famine was ongoing in 1847 and this would have affected mainland Britain too. Indeed, Israel's nephew and niece-in-law, Israel Edward Ball & his wife, Ann (nee Dearing), both died in that year along with their infant son. The effects of the Corn Laws and their Repeal may also have contributed to the decision to emigrate. This link gives an example of the hardships these laws brought about and which were suffered by a North Devon farm labourer and his family. There's just no knowing what life in North Devon was like for Israel and Susanna but it must have been hard and they probably looked to Australia for a better way of life.

The obituaries can be found on Israel and Susanna's family page.

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Category: Famous Connections

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