Items with links to Nelson and Napoleon are ever-popular among collectors, and on February 15 Peter Wilson in Nantwich will offer the letters from Nelson’s fellow captains, all written between 1804, the year before the Battle of Trafalgar, and 1819.
By then Nelson had been memorialised by Lord Byron, whose poem Don Juan described him as ‘Britannia's god of war’, and monuments to his memory were being constructed around the country.
While not all bidders will have pockets deep enough to buy the fragment of Union Jack believed to have flown from HMS Victory at Trafalgar which sold for £240,000 at Sotheby’s last month, Nelson-related memorabilia is available at ‘more affordable’ price levels.
These letters are a good example.
A letter from Admiral Sir Richard King (1774 -1834) dated February 25, 1809, from HMS Achille, to Admiral Duckworth, reports the findings of a survey ordered by Lord Gambier ‘on the remains of necessaries supplied for the use of the sick and wounded’ and also includes a copy of the surgeon's report listing supplies needed.
King was captain of Achille at Trafalgar. The letter was written from the Achille off the west coast of France or Spain. The surgeon called for tea, sago, rice, pearl barley, soap, soft sugar and 36 gallons of lemon juice, the latter rich in vitamin C and important in fighting off scurvy. The single-page letter, together with a copy of the surgeon’s report, are estimated at £200-300.
One letter, in handsome copperplate writing, from Admiral Sir Robert Calder (1745-1818) dated January 2, 1813, to Mr Philip Miller instructs Miller to ‘act as Master of the Pyrenees until further hour’.
Calder commanded a fleet of 15 vessels and engaged a larger combined fleet of 20 French and Spanish ships on July 22, 1805, at the Battle of Cape Finisterre, capturing two Spanish ships before fog and nightfall caused his withdrawal. Much indignation at his failure to re-engage with the enemy was felt in England, resulting in his court-martial on December 23, 1805. The letter is estimated at £150-250.
A letter from Sir Henry William Bayntun (1766-1840) dated July 22, 1804, certifies ‘the principal officers and commissioners of His Majesties Navy that no stores were lent or bought’ during the time he commanded HMS Leviathan from July 22, 1803, to July 22, 1804. It also mentions that ‘shrouds and backstays were not shifted or topmasts lost in the said time’.
Bayntun commanded Leviathan as part of Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar and for his part in the battle, he was awarded the Gold Trafalgar medal and Sword of Honour. The single sheet is estimated at £100-150.
A letter from Sir John Louis (1785-1863) dated April 27, 1805, to Henry Dundas 1st Lord of the Admiralty reports that ‘Lord Nelson has been good enough to appoint me Captain of the Bittern... I am now at Gibraltar with Dispatches for Sir Rd Stachan’… ‘I left fleet on the 6th... anxiously looking for the French Fleet’.
Louis served under his father, Thomas Louis, captain of the Minotaur, and was made commander on February 28, 1805, and captain on January 22, 1806. The single-sheet folded letter is estimated at £100-150.
Others include one from Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Blackwood, who commanded the frigate Euryalus at Trafalgar (estimate £200-300).