Lord Nelson's final campaign to bring the French fleet to action and annihilate it proved both long and frustrating. From the moment he hoisted his flag in Victory in May 1803, he devoted all his waking hours to the task that lay ahead of him and shortly before the fateful encounter almost two-and-a-half years later, he wrote this potent maxim that could usefully serve as his eptitaph:
'The business of the English Commander-in-Chief being first to bring an Enemy's fleet to battle on the most advantageous terms to himself; and secondly to continue them there until the Business is decided.'
It was written in response to the news that Admiral Villeneuve, the French commander, had managed to combine the Spanish fleet with his own to bring a formidable thirty-three ships under his control against Nelson's total of twenty-seven. To compensate for this serious lack of numerical superiority, Nelson had evolved his celebrated plan to break the enemy line in two places - a radical departure from conventional tactics - and activated it as soon as the opposing fleets sighted each other off Cape Trafalgar on the morning of 21st October 1805. With the British ships formed into two columns, Nelson himself led the Weather Division in Victory whilst Vice-Admiral Collingwood, his second-in-command, spearheaded the Leeward Division in Royal Sovereign, 100-guns.
As the fleets closed for action, Royal Sovereign drew ahead and battle was joined just before noon when the French 74-gun Fougueux opened fire. At 12.10pm. Royal Sovereign broke through the line but it was another half-hour before Victory was able to do the same and, in the meantime, she was subjected a withering fire which caused fifty casualties and peppered her sails with holes. Peering into the smoky inferno ahead of him, Captain Hardy coaxed Victory under the stern of Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure where there was so little room to manoeuvre that, as Victory passed along the Frenchman's starboard side, it seemed that the two flagships would collide. Without a moment's hesitation, Hardy ordered a broadside from Victory's larboard (port) guns which raked Bucentaure with devastating effect. Within minutes Victory, with Téméraire close behind her, was engaged in a tremendous struggle with Bucentaure and Rédoutable, the most dramatic result of which was Nelson himself being shot and mortally wounded by a sharpshooter in one of Rédoutable's fighting tops. Even this could not affect the outcome however, and the Battle of Trafalgar remains, arguably, the most decisive victory in the history of war at sea.
Nicholas Pocock, like most of the recognised marine painters of his day, executed numerous portrayals of the chronology of the Battle of Trafalgar, four of which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806-07. Although he did not, in fact, exhibit either of the works offered in this lot, the pair depicts the dramatic duel between H.M.S. Tonnant, herself a captured French two-decker, and the Spanish '74' Monarca,['Monarch']. Tonnant, commanded by Captain Charles Tyler, was the fourth ship in Admiral Collingwood's lee column as she sailed into action at Trafalgar with her band enthusiastically playing 'Britons, strike home'. Cutting through the enemy line between the French Algéciras and the Spanish Monarca, each of 74-guns, Tonnant initially engaged both vessels before turning her main attention to the Spaniard. A double-shotted broadside from Tonnant brought down Monarca's mizzenmast early in the action and Pocock has captured this incident just after the mast has gone over the side along with the Spanish ensign from the enemy's stern. After two further crippling broadsides from Tonnant, Monarca found herself unable to return fire effectively and struck her colours in surrender; the second painting encapsulates this moment just as the Spanish flag at her main masthead is being lowered in the act of capitulation. After accepting Monarca's surrender, Tyler ordered Tonnant to re-engage the French Algéciras at which point Monarca, having drifted away, decided to re-hoist her colours and re-enter the fray. It proved a fruitless gesture by her commander Captain Don Teodoro de Argumosa however, as she was no longer capable of fighting such was the damage Tonnant had inflicted upon her; in fact, her casualties were the highest of any enemy ship in the battle and although taken as a prize, Collingwood ordered her battered hulk to be burned on 26th October rather than waste further valuable manpower trying to save her.
H.M.S. Tonnant was built as a French third rate at Toulon in 1792 and widely admired as a splendid vessel, well-designed, roomy and an excellent sailer. Completely dismasted and severely damaged at the Battle of the Nile (1798), where she was taken as a prize, she was assimilated into the Royal Navy under her own French name after repairs and then spent two years blockading off Ferrol before Tyler took her into action at Trafalgar. Badly damaged once again, she nevertheless survived the battle and, after more extensive repairs, returned to sea for the remainder of the French Wars until laid up at Portsmouth in 1818 prior to being broken up in 1821.
The fact that Pocock has depicted Tonnant's fight with Monarca so accurately makes it highly probable that this pair of paintings was commissioned by Captain (later Admiral Sir Charles, G.C.B.) Tyler, the ship's commanding officer, out of his prize money in order to commemorate what was undoubtedly the high point of this officer's long and distinguished career.
Admiral Sir Charles Tyler, G.C.B. was born in 1760, the third son of Captain Peter Tyler, 52nd Foot, and the Hon. Anna Maria Roper, daughter of Henry, Lord Teynham. Entering the Royal Navy in 1771 as a so-called 'Captain's Servant' in the Barfleur, he went initially to the North American Station where, amongst other incidents in the run-up to the American War of Independence, he witnessed the famous 'Boston Tea Party' in 1773. Returning to England, he was made Lieutenant in 1779 and then Commander in 1782, both promotions undoubtedly the result of his services during the American War. Made Captain in 1790, he was appointed to the command of the 32-gun frigate Meleager in 1793 and served in her with the fleet at Toulon in 1793 and off Corsica the following year. Captain of the 64-gun Diadem in Admiral Hotham's action with the French off Genoa in 1795, after which he first became acquainted with the then Commodore Horatio Nelson, he was afterwards appointed to the Aigle and remained in her until she was wrecked in July 1798. The loss of Aigle meant that he missed the opportunity to fight under Nelson at the Nile but once back home, he was given the 74-gun H.M.S. Warrior, taking her first to the blockade of Cadiz and then to the Battle of Copenhagen in April 1801 after which he received the thanks of Parliament for the role he played in the victory over the Danish fleet. After commanding the Sea Fencible Regiment from 1803-05, he was then appointed to the 80-gun H.M.S. Tonnant in September 1805 in which ship he participated in the Battle of Trafalgar where he was severely wounded. For this wound he received a pension of £250 a year, and for his conduct at the battle he received the naval gold medal, a £100 sword of honour from the Patriotic Fund and, for the second time in his career, the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. Promoted Rear-Admiral in 1808 and, as a result, second-in-command at Portsmouth, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Cape of Good Hope in 1812 where he remained until 1815. Made Vice-Admiral in 1813 and a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) in 1815, he received his final promotion to Admiral in 1825 and was made a Knight Grand Cross (G.C.B.) of the Bath two years before his death at Gloucester in 1835.