Papers of William Adair Nelson (1907-1993)

Scope and Content

These Personal Papers consist of the typed manuscript for Nelson's Fort Jesus of Mombasa including colour photographs. There are photocopies of a letter sent by his daughter and of Nelson's Obituary in the Aberdeen Grammar School Magazine.

Administrative / Biographical History

William James Adair Nelson (1907-1993), the elder son of H. Adair Nelson who was the original manager of His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School (1914-24). On leaving school he was apprenticed to chartered accountants Williamson & Dunn, qualifying with distinction in 1930 when he took up a series of appointments with London accounting firms, followed by five years in Colombo working for Ford, Rhodes & Thornton. He served in the Royal Artillery in the Middle East during WWII. In 1946 he was appointed Finance Inspector to the Ministry of Food in Colwyn Bay, later becoming Finance Officer to the National Coal Board. In 1948 he was appointed Treasurer and Assistant Secretary at Aberdeen University where he remained until his retirement in 1975.

During his five years in Sri Lanka he developed an interest in castles and artillery fortifications and after his retirement he wrote Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka published in 1984. He then went on to study Fort Jesus at Mombasa and his book of the same name was published posthumously in 1994. Nelson was an active member of the Fortress Study Group for which he wrote many articles.


The Papers were divided into two files:

  • WAN/1: Manuscript of Fort Jesus of Mombasa
  • WAN/2: Allied Correspondence

Access Information

Open. Please contact the archivist using the email address given here. The archive is open on Tuesdays and Fridays 10-5, and Thursdays 2-5. Access is to any researcher without appointment but it will help if an appointment is made via phone or email. Please bring photo ID

Acquisition Information

It is unknown how the Papers came into the RAS Collections. They were probably in the possession of Nelson's daughter, Sarah, and passed on to the Royal Asiatic Society sometime after August 2003.

Archivist's Note

These Papers were catalogued by Nancy Charley, RAS Archivist, in July 2017

Conditions Governing Use

Digital photography (without flash) for research purposes may be permitted upon completion of a copyright declaration form, and with respect to current UK copyright law.

Related Material

A Copy of Fort Jesus of Mombasa by Nelson (Canongate Press, 1994) is held in the Royal Asiatic Society Collections. We also hold 180 colour 35mm slides of Fort Mombasa.
An interview with Nelson is held by the University of Aberdeen Oral History Archive


Nelson, W.A., Fort Jesus of Mombasa, Canongate Press PLC, Edinburgh, 1994