MS 51 Havelock Nelson Manuscripts

To mark the birthday of Havelock Nelson on 25th May, Special Collections would like to highlight the remarkable MS 51 Havelock Nelson Manuscripts.

Havelock Nelson (photograph from Identity Card – MS 51/134/1)

The Havelock Nelson Manuscripts (MS 51) contain the personal papers of John Havelock Nelson (1917-1996) bacteriologist, composer, arranger, conductor, and promoter of Opera. 

Havelock Nelson was born on 25th May 1917 in Cork. When he was twelve years old, he won a scholarship to the Royal Irish Academy of Music and in 1935 entered Trinity College Dublin, where he obtained an honours degree in medical science in 1939. By 1943, Havelock had become a Doctor of Medical Science while simultaneously obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, to which he later added a Doctorate. 

Havelock Nelson was involved in forming the Dublin Orchestral Players in 1940 and was a guest conductor with the Radio Éireann Orchestra. In 1947 Havelock accepted a post with the BBC; he worked for the BBC for the next 30 years and his voice and work became very well known to the people of Northern Ireland. 

In 1947 Havelock founded the Studio Symphony Orchestra and in 1950, the Studio Opera Group to provide opportunities for local talent to perform operas in English. He conducted the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra, the Studio Symphony Orchestra, Dublin Orchestral Players, and the Ulster Singers. Havelock was also a frequent adjudicator at international music competitions including in Canada and the Caribbean. He formed the Trinidad and Tobago Opera Company shortly after his retirement from the BBC in 1977. 

Havelock Nelson died on the 5th August 1996. During his lifetime Dr Nelson was the recipient of numerous awards which recognised his outstanding contribution to music. These include an OBE (1966) and honorary doctorates from local universities. He has a Blue Plaque at the site of his home in Belfast, which was unveiled on 6th December 2017. The Studio Symphony Orchestra which he founded, also have an annual Orchestral Masterpieces Concert dedicated to his memory.  

Havelock Nelson had an extensive list of compositions for orchestra, chamber ensemble, choir, and voice. These include a ballet, part-songs, anthems, piano pieces, instrumental works, incidental music for radio and television plays and films, and arrangements of Irish and other folksongs. He had over 100 pieces published, many inspired by a love of traditional Irish song. 

The collection was donated to Queen’s University Belfast in January 2010 by Havelock’s son Graham Nelson and his son Alastair Nelson has added many items to the collection over the intervening years.  

MS51 Havelock Nelson Manuscripts collection, consists of many beautifully detailed autograph manuscripts, original scores, documents, and transcriptions by Havelock Nelson. Compositions include incidental music for radio plays, songs for choirs and arrangements of traditional Irish airs. There are also scrapbooks, folios, recordings, correspondence, and newspaper clippings.  

MS 51 Havelock Nelson Manuscripts collection can be consulted by appointment at Special Collections, please contact us by emailing

Full details of what the collection contains can be found at MS 51 Nelson (