The Goddard Nelson Letters Collection

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015


Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

‘To Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted me to defend. Amen, amen, amen.’

From the prayer written by Nelson on the morning of the Battle of Trafalgar, evidence of his faith and reliance on Providence.

Nelson (Horatio, Lord), a highly evocative autograph note, unsigned, to the incumbent of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London, dated ‘Decr. 8th 1797’, giving thanks to ‘Almighty God’ for his recovery from the loss of his right arm

‘An Officer desires to return thanks to Almighty God for his perfect recovery from a severe wound, and also for the many mercies bestowed upon him.

Decr. 8th 1797, for next Sunday’

a piece of paper has been added to the irregular right hand side of the note to square it off for framing purposes

contained in an old glazed wooden frame, the wood said to have been taken from the main mast of H.M.S. Victory, and the original backing of the frame with three hand written statements of provenance; a subsequent backing added for the protection of the first, also with a statement of provenance £12,000-15,000


Provenance: Lyon & Turnbull, 1 February 2005 (Lot 191).

By any standards a letter of historic significance, affirming Nelson’s deep-rooted faith; the much discussed importance of his faith aside, this particular note - and incident - is referred to in Pocock’s biography; it is listed by Nicolas in his Letters and Despatches of Lord Nelson (1844).

The incumbent of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London at the time Nelson delivered his note was The Rev’d. Joshua Greville.

The old hand written notes in respect of the note’s provenance and that of the wooden frame - on the original backing of the frame - state:

‘I hand this to Sir W. A. Fraser of No. 88 St. James Street. P. G. Greville, Son of the Rev’d. J. Greville, Nov. 30th 1867’

‘A Notice sent by Lord Nelson to the Curate of St. George’s Hanover Square written with his left hand and afterwards framed in a piece of the Victory’

‘The frame is made from the main mast of the
Victory and was given to my father by a medical officer on board at the time of Nelson’s death. P. G. Greville’

Sir William Augustus Fraser (1826-1898) was a well-known collector of relics of heroes he most admired; one of his paper seals is pasted down over a section of torn paper bearing statement (ii).

On the reverse of the frame’s second backing is one of Fraser’s bookplates, on which is written in his own hand:

‘Lord Nelson’s note, handed to the Incumbent of St. George’s Hanover Sq.; bought of his son by Mr. W. A. Fraser.’

Nelson’s right arm was amputated at Tenerife on 25 July 1797. Once home, and following a brief stay in Bath, he went to London to consult surgeons, owing to the continuing acute pain caused by one of the ligatures - used to tie up the severed arteries - being fixed in the wound and causing the stump to become infected.

Nelson and his wife Frances (Fanny) took lodgings at 141 Bond Street, their journey and arrival being described in Carola Oman’s Nelson:

‘The party next morning took the conventional route - by Maidenhead and Hounslow Heath - and on the evening of Wednesday, September 13, in sunshine after heavy rain, drew up safely at the doors of 141, Bond Street. The lodging-house kept by Mr. Jones stood on the west side of the fashionable street, a little south of Grosvenor Street, and near enough to St. George’s, Hanover Square, for the wakeful man to hear the hours tolled from that modern classic building throughout the long night, after the last coach had rolled home, the last laugh had died away outside, the last pair of heels had ceased to trouble the pavements, and there was no other sound in the world remarkable, except too-fast heartbeats bred by rising fever … ’

That fever and Nelson’s acute pain finally subsided one night in the first week of December, when he awoke after an unusually sound and lasting sleep. His bandages were removed and the odorous ligature came away with them. In fact, within a few days the stump was healing rapidly, so much so that he set about correspondence in respect of his pending appointment to the Foudroyant at Chatham.

On the evening of 8 December he wrote two short notes, the first of them to his future Flag Captain, Captain Berry, R.N. The second note was of rather a different nature. Carola Oman takes up the story:

‘Since he was also the son of the Rector of Burnham Thorpe, he did not, in his moment of relief, forget another duty. He sent across a note to the clergyman of the nearest parish church, St. George’s, Hanover Square: “‘An Officer desires to return thanks to Almighty God for his perfect recovery from a severe wound, and also for the many mercies bestowed upon him. Decr. 8th 1797, for next Sunday.” ’