19 October 2005
HORATIO, VISCOUNT NELSON (1758-1805)
Autograph letter signed (twice, 'Nelson & Bronte') to Captain [Richard] Keats, Victory, 19 and 27 May 1805, 4 pages, 4to (3 tiny holes in centre folds).
AN IMPORTANT LETTER DURING THE DRAMATIC PURSUIT OF THE COMBINED FRENCH AND SPANISH FLEET TO THE WEST INDIES. Nelson reassures Keats about the progress of the Superb and speculates on the intentions of the enemy. 'I am fearful that you may think that the Superb does not go so fast as I could wish, however that may be, for if we all went ten knots I should not think it fast enough Yet I would have you be assured that I know and feel that the Superb does all which is possible for a ship to accomplish and I desire that you will not fret upon the occasion. I still think Jamaica is their object but many think Surinam, Trinadada and [...] that they will land their troops at the city of San Domingo, in short every one has an opinion but it will soon be beyond doubt. Our passage although not very quick has been far from a bad one ... I think we shall gain 14 days upon them in the passage, therefore they will only arrive 17 days before us at Martinico (for I suppose them bound there). I shall not anchor at Barbadoes. [The] Martin you know is gone there, and I have prayed Lord Seaforth today to lay an embargo that the French may not know of my approach and thus again elude our vigilance. My mind is not altered that Egypt was their destination last January'.
The chase to the West Indies and back was one of Nelson's most spectacular feats of seamanship. The French broke out from Toulon in mid-April, and a frantic period of intelligence-gathering, assembling the available vessels and communication with captains and officials followed. A fast sloop, the Martin, was sent ahead to warn the governor of Barbados, and Nelson and his hastily convened fleet sailed on 11 May. Faulty intelligence from General Brereton on St Lucia allowed the French to double back from the Caribbean for the return voyage while Nelson went on a futile search for them off Trinidad before sailing back, finally anchoring at Spithead on 18 August. The pursuit and consequent failure of the enemy to win any territory or damage British trade in the West Indies won him great popularity especially in the City of London.
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