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Nelson’s Caribbean Hell Hole

Nelson’s Caribbean Hell Hole

Wed May 1, 9-10pm, BBC4

By Oliver Keens
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Antigua is now thought of as an island paradise – a place where the only danger visiting Brits may court is having entourage of soon-to-split boy band JLS steal their sun loungers. British sailors of the 1780s had it very differently – not least Horatio Nelson, who spent his early career stationed on ships patrolling the valuable sugar-producing colony. After the devastation of Hurricane Earl in 2010, hundreds of ancient bones were suddenly exposed on Antiguan beaches.

Subsequent skeletal excavations act as the starting point for naval historian Dr Sam Willis, who takes an hour to slowly describe the grim predicament of sailors like Nelson as they guzzled lead-poisoned grog, floated in a sea full of sewage and wilted in heat that would turn fresh fruit rancid. While the title is a little misleading (Nelson is not the sole focus at all), Willis is an engaging host, who’s able to unpick this little-known corner of colonial history with aplomb.
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