This dining table was once at Swarland Hall, Northumberland, the country seat of Alexander Davison (1750-1829), government contractor, prize agent, friend and confident of Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson. As a young man he travelled to London, where he worked in the counting-house of Robert Hunter and after a few years he was sent by Hunter to Canada. With his brother George, Davison steadily built up his wealth as a merchant and shipowner in the Canada trade during the American War of Independence.
After his return to England, Davison settled in London and on the 18 February 1788, married Harriet (1770-1826), daughter of John Gosling, banker of Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. They had six children and their second daughter, Dorothy (b.1794) married Captain Samuel Edward Widdrington R.N., (formerly Cook) (1787-1856) of Newton Hall Northumberland.
For more than twenty years, from 1784, Davison worked as a government contractor, providing uniforms, weapons, transport and supplies. By the 1790s he was very well connected with leading political figures and his government contracts enabled him to build up a lucrative business. The profits from this helped him to buy a substantial house in St James's Square, London, where he regularly entertained Horatio Nelson and other leading figures of the day, including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Clarence and William Pitt. He was soon wealthy enough to purchase, in 1795, Swarland Hall and Park, Northumberland. Over the next decade, he spent a fortune improving the house and grounds, and buying adjacent land. He also built an extensive collection of paintings, as well as fine collections of porcelain, jewels and books.
Davison first met Nelson at Quebec in 1792, when Nelson was captain of the frigate Albermale. They established a close relationship with Davison acting as Nelson's financial adviser as well as confident. They corresponded regularly until very shortly before Nelson's death. A correspondent of both Nelson's wife and his mistress, Davison was a leading mourner at Nelson's funeral and he repaid the admiral's friendship by giving financial assistance to Emma Hamilton after Nelson's death. To commemorate their friendship he erected an impressive obelisk on his estate at Swarland Park, beside the road from Morpeth to Alnwick, a few miles from Newton Hall.
The present dining table was listed in the Inventory and Valuation of the contents of Newton Hall, Felton, Morpeth, Northumberland, The Property of Brigadier General B. F. Widdrington, C.M.G., D.S.O., 1925, p. 22., as 'This table was made from mahogany brought by Lord Nelson from the West Indies.'
The table is constructed from Honduran mahogany and the top veneered in quilted mahogany (swietenia macrophylla) also native to Honduras. Nelson served in the West Indies from 1777-1780. On 8 December 1778, he was appointed commander of the Badger and was sent to protect the Mosquito shore and the Bay of Honduras, from American privateers. Whilst on this service, Nelson gained the support and affections of the settlers of British Honduras, who 'voted me their thanks, and expressed their regret on my leaving them.'
This dining table is the last tangible connection between Alexander Davison and Horatio Nelson, in the collection at Newton Hall. The 1925 inventory of the contents of Newton Hall lists a series of autograph letters, stored in a bureau in the Drawing Room. These included letters from Admiral Collingwood to Alexander Davison dated 1805 concerning the Agency after Nelson's death; five letters from Captain Hardy mentioning the death of Nelson and Lady Hamilton; 22 naval letters from Saumaurez, Murray, Bertie and Sir Samuel Hood; and a series of 28 letters from Lady Hamilton to Alexander Davison. There was also a George Romney picture of two studies of Lady Hamilton included in this inventory. All of these items were sold by Brigadier-General Bertram Fitzherbert Widdrington (1873-1942) in 1938.
Whilst the source of the timber for this table is a romantic annecdote recorded some 85 years ago, there are real links between Davison, Nelson and the Widdrington estate at Newton Hall making it a reasonable and somewhat plausible suggestion.