The Goddard Nelson Letters Collection

Image 1

  • Image 2
  • Image 3
  • Image 4
  • Image 5

Click Image to Zoom

Date of Auction: 24th November 2015


Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

Nelson (Horatio, Lord), a brief and most poignant autograph letter signed, regarding his father’s death, to Alexander Davison, dated at ‘Merton April 27th 1802’

‘My Dear Davison

My Poor Dear Father is no more, God bless you

Nelson & Bronte’

Also subscribed by Emma Hamilton in characteristically breathless fashion:

‘Lord Nelson wishes your friend the Chancellor to give Commyn [sic] of his Fathers Livings could you not speak to him about his death he has wrote to his Lordship he begs me to write you this in haste ever yours’ [unsigned]; the letter also addressed in her hand.

1 page, 4to, integral address leaf, small seal tear £12,000-15,000


Provenance: Sotheby’s, The Alexander Davison Collection, 21 October 2002 (Lot 62).

This letter does not appear in The Letters and Despatches of Lord Nelson (Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, 1844), The Hamilton and Nelson Papers (Alfred Morrison, 1893), or in Nelson - The New Letters (2005), edited by Colin White. However, related correspondence is recorded in Thomas Pettigrew’s Memoirs of the Life of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson (1849), namely Nelson’s application to the Chancellor, Lord Eldon, for an appointment for Comyn as a Parish Rector and Eldon’s affirmative response; so, too, further associated correspondence in Nicolas and White, including Nelson’s letter to Comyn to congratulate him on his preferment.

Nelson’s father, the Rev. Edmund Nelson, Rector of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk, died at Bath on 26 April 1802. A kind man, who had been much distressed at the breakdown of the Admiral’s marriage, he nevertheless visited him and Lady Hamilton at their newly acquired Merton household in November 1801. He was greeted by his own portrait hanging in a place of honour between those of Sir William Hamilton and Alexander Davison.

As it happens, the date of Nelson’s father’s death fell on Emma Hamilton’s birthday, part of which was spent at the church baptism of her favourite maid, Fatima, a Nubian girl about twenty years old who had been taken out of a slave ship.

Nelson had been warned of his father’s declining health and wrote on the day of his death, ‘Had my father expressed a wish to see me, unwell as I am, I should have flown to Bath, but I believed it would be too late.’ He was accordingly not present at ‘the death-bed or funeral of a parent who had never failed to hold up the highest ideals to him’; instead, he paid for the funeral expenses and sent Alexander Davison as his representative.

Alexander Davison (1750-1829), the Government contractor who was Nelson’s prize agent and friend. He lent Nelson £6,000 towards his purchase of Merton and, on the Admiral’s death, broke his Treasurer’s white stave of office and placed it in his coffin as it was lowered into the vaults of St. Paul’s on 9 January 1806. Earlier, at his personal expense, he had paid for the striking of medals for the participants of Nelson’s victory at the Nile - and for the crew of the Victory at Trafalgar.

The Rev. Stephen Comyn (1766-1839) first went to sea in his early 30s, aboard H.M.S. Vanguard in 1798, and was Nelson’s chaplain at the Battle of the Nile. Having attended his wounded senior at the height of the battle, he afterwards conducted a service of thanksgiving on the ship’s quarter-deck; transferred with Nelson to the Foudroyant and also served with him in the San Josef and St. George. On coming ashore in 1801, he persuaded Nelson to find him a parish and - via the Chancellor, Lord Eldon - he became Rector of St. Mary’s at Bridgeham, Norfolk.