The Goddard Nelson Letters Collection

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015


Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

Nelson (Horatio, Lord), autograph letter signed, to Nathaniel Sparhawk of Exeter, dated aboard H.M.S. ‘San Josef Torbay Febry 2nd 1801’, shortly before his departure to the Baltic and further laurels won at Copenhagen


It has not been in my power till my arrival here to acknowledge the favor of your very handsome and flattering letter of the 17th of January. I can only say that my endeavours shall not be wanting to be useful to our Country and I beg leave to return you my sincere thanks for your good wishes towards me, and I beg you to be assured that I feel myself your much obliged

Nelson & Bronte’

1 page, 4to, integral autograph address leaf with franking signature (‘Nelson’), seal (cracked), 2cm. blank section of address leaf trimmed, browning and worn folds, with professional restoration £4,000-5,000


Provenance: Bonhams, 5 July 2005 (Lot 112).

A charming response to ‘fan-mail’ not recorded in The Letters and Despatches of Lord Nelson (Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, 1844), or in Nelson - The New Letters (2005), edited by Colin White.

Just a day or two before he wrote this letter, Nelson had learned that Emma Hamilton had secretly given birth to their daughter Horatia, his immediate response being to ‘go mad with joy ... yet not dare show all or any of his feelings.’ Such was his state of mind at the time of his writing to Nathaniel Sparhawk.

Nelson had returned to England - for the first time since the Battle of the Nile - on 6 November 1800 and by the middle of the same month knew that he was to be employed again at sea. Earl St. Vincent selected the San Josef as the most appropriate ship because Nelson had boarded her at the Battle of St. Vincent in 1797.

Following an unhappy scene with his wife Fanny - they would never meet again - Nelson departed London on 13 January 1801 to join the San Josef at Plymouth. He passed through Sparhawk’s town Exeter, where he received a warm welcome, and arrived at Plymouth on the 17th. His flag hoisted in San Josef, he sailed for Torbay on the 31st, where he anchored the following day and reported to Earl St. Vincent. The Earl informed him that he was to go as second-in-command on Sir Hyde Parker’s Baltic expedition, which, of course, led to his triumphant part in the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801.

It was on returning to the San Josef after meeting the Earl that Nelson received the letter from London for which he had been waiting - news that Emma had safely and secretly given birth to Horatia.