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Horatio Nelson Superb Lengthy Right-Handed ALS, On the Lookout at Vado Bay

A 2pp autograph letter signed by Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), then Commander of a detached squadron of British Royal Navy vessels tasked with surveilling the Genoese Riviera, as "Horatio Nelson" at the center of the second page. Vado Bay, off the coast of Genoa. August 13, 1795. On pale blue laid watermarked bifold stationery. The third page is blank. Docketed on the last page. Expected wear including flattened paper folds, and minor isolated breaks along these folds. Isolated chipped edges and faint ink bleed-through, else near fine and very legible. 7.625" x 9.625."

Horatio Nelson wrote this letter to Francis Drake (1764-1821), the British Resident at Genoa from 1793-1795. In it, Nelson gives Drake an update on the current state of affairs in the northwestern Italian theatre, where the British, alongside their Austrian and Sardinian allies, were engaged in a series of cat-and-mouse maneuvers against the French. The letter has excellent military content: it refers to Nelson's primary colleagues in the region, William Hotham, 1st Baron Hotham (1736-1813), Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1794 until November 1795; and Joseph Nikolaus de Vins (1732-1798), the Austrian general commanding the joint Austrian and Sardinian-Piedmontese forces from 1792-1795.

Commander Nelson was frustrated by what he saw as his allies' inactivity. His superior officer, Admiral Hotham, consistently deferred any definite action, and the Austrians, too, were unconcerned about how their inactivity emboldened the French. Nelson was full of ambitious plans about how he could bolster the allies' position while weakening that of the French, including a scheme of moving 6,000 men further up the coast to San Remo. But, because of his allies' dismissal of his ideas, Nelson was confined to doing what he could off of Vado Bay.

Vado Bay, which had recently been seized by the Austrians and was now their headquarters, was prized as being the best anchorage point between Nice and Genoa. Control of Vado Bay also determined control of the entire region, since it granted direct access to both Genoa and Tuscany. Nelson maintained a British blockade extending up and down the coast near Vado Bay, where he could inspect neutral ships and prevent the French from receiving supplies. It was also hoped that a British blockade would force the French into open waters where they could be attacked by the British fleet.

Nelson's letter is very interesting because it dates from the period between Nelson's two life-changing injuries; the loss of partial vision in his right eye sustained at Calvi, Corsica in July 1794, and the more catastrophic loss of his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands in late July 1797. This letter was written, therefore, when Nelson still had his right arm.

Nelson wrote in part:

"Vado Bay Augt: 13th: 1795.

Dear Sir,

I can just take a Pen in my hand to say I am most obliged by your letter of the 10th: of Augt: it will always be my pride to merit your + every good mans [sic] approbation. The first dark night + stray Wind I expect to hear of their being off. I think they will push past Vado Bay for Albanga [Albenga, now in the Province of Savona, Italy, approximately 90 km down the coast?] on the French Coast, however I am prepared in all points for their reaction + they must have more than usual good luck to escape. I wish the admiral would arrive. I think the General would like to see him + Frederick is here waiting with dispatches which he brought from England, but I cannot tell where on the seas to look for the Adl: but Vado Bay. He cannot be very long. Genl: De Vis has some plan in his head which will probably be carried in[to] execution in the course of a Week should the Adl: not arrive. I am anxious to give the Genel: every support in my power + he is very anxious to get further westward.

I send you the declaration + papers which you wished for from Col: Cockburn + Dr: West which I trust are fully sufficient to refute the Lies of the Genoese…

Dear Sir
Your most faithful servant
Horatio Nelson

His Excellency
Francis Drake Esq:."

Nelson's August 13, 1795 letter to Francis Drake can be compared with his August 13, 1795 letter to Sir Gilbert Elliot (1751-1814), Viceroy of Corsica from 1794-1796, a transcript of which can be found in Sir Nicholas Harris Nicholas, Vol. II, "The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson" (London: Henry Colburn, 1845), Letter 36, p. 67-69. Nelson's anxious comments in our letter--"I wish the admiral would arrive…He cannot be very long…in the course of a Week should the Adl: not arrive"--echo the same sentiments he conveys to Elliot: "Admiral Hotham is daily expected…however, I think the Admiral will stay here as little while as possible…"

Contrary to doing something definite in the region, as Nelson had wanted, his superiors abandoned Genoa less than four months later when Admiral Hotham evacuated the city in early November 1795. This was followed by the French victory at the Battle of Loano (November 23-24, 1795) against the Austrians and Sardinians. The French promptly reclaimed the area.

For more information on this very interesting period of Nelson's military career, please refer to Captain A.T. Mahan's excellent biography, "The Life of Nelson: The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain" (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., 1897), especially Chapter VI: "Nelson's Command of a Detached Squadron on the Riviera of Genoa, until the Defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Loano," pp. 184-208.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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