The Goddard Nelson Letters Collection

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015


Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

Nelson (Horatio, Lord), autographed letter signed ‘Horatio Nelson’, to his uncle, William Suckling, dated aboard H.M.S. ‘Agamemnon off Bastia March 18th 1794’, in which he vents his frustration at the Army’s reluctance to pursue active operations against one of Corsica’s main fortresses at Bastia

Among other observations:

‘We are still blocking up Bastia the attack of which has been given up in a most extraordinary manner. What might if it had not been deem’d a most impertinent observation, Viz that Bastia from a place I had found on much closer examination than our General Dundas, could be attack’d to great advantage. I wrote to Lord Hood requesting an Engineer & Artillery Officer might be sent to examine, to day I have been with them and their report is most favourable for an Attack ... I have so close block’d up the place that one pound of Coarse bread sells for 3 Livres. If the Army will not take it We must by some way or other. General Dundas has quitted the Command differing in opinion with Lord Hood ... ’

2 pages, 4to, integral autograph address leaf, browned where exposed, professional restorations £12,000-15,000


Provenance: Bonhams, 5 July 2005 (Lot 24).

A letter revealing the ambitious nature of the young Captain Nelson, written with his right hand - which he lost three years later - and accordingly rare. It appears in The Letters and Despatches of Lord Nelson (Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, 1844).

The Army, under General Dundas, was reluctant to mount assaults on either of Corsica’s main fortresses at Bastia and Calvi. Unable to resolve the position between Hood and himself, Dundas quit on grounds of ill-health.

Nelson then persuaded Hood to authorise an attempt upon Bastia and, after a bombardment and siege beginning in April, the French garrison surrendered on 23 May:

‘Bastia was to mark a new phase in Nelson’s experience: working hand in glove with a flag officer who was not powerfully decided and tenacious in pursuing his objectives but had a similar active disposition. Moreover Hood was inclined to take the younger man into his confidence, which for Nelson was a heady and inspiring experience ... Fortunate are the ambitious and capable if they work for men from whom they can learn and who provide an example to emulate’ (Edgar Vincent’s Nelson: Love and Fame, refers).

In July Nelson bombarded the French garrison at Calvi, whose fortress was in an even stronger position than that at Bastia. On 12 July he was hit in the face by a shower of earth and shattered rocks as a shell exploded on the sand-bagged ramparts - a blow to his right eye ruptured a blood vessel and probably damaged the optic nerve. Surprisingly there was no structural damage to the eyeball, which appeared normal, except for some enlargement of the pupil. Nonetheless as the days passed he realised that with his right eye he could see nothing clearly and only distinguish light from dark: for all intents and purposes the sight was gone.

Calvi surrendered on 10 August 1794.