"Bringing the Enemy to Battle in such a Manner as to make the business decisive" Horatio Nelson
Lot 147
"Bringing the Enemy to Battle in such a Manner as to make the business decisive"
Horatio Nelson
Sold for £ 55,200 (US$ 73,304) inc. premium

Lot Details
"Bringing the Enemy to Battle in such a Manner as to make the business decisive"
Horatio Nelson
"Secret Memorandum" signed ("Nelson & Bronte"), issued before the Battle of Trafalgar, directed to "James N Morris Esqr Captain of His Majesty's Ship - Colossus", opening: "Thinking it almost impossible to bring a Fleet of Forty Sail of the Line into a line of Battle in variable Winds, thick Weather and other Circumstances which must occur without such a loss of time that the Opportunity would probably be lost of bringing the Enemy to Battle in such a Manner as to make the business decisive. - I have therefore made up my Mind to keep the Fleet in that position of sailing (with the exception of the first and second in Command) that the Order of sailing is to be the Order of Battle, placing the Fleet in two Lines of Sixteen Ships each...", 5 pages, the text and direction written throughout by one clerk, folio, plus one blank leaf, Admiralty Britannia watermark initialled TW and dated 1803, tied with green ribbon, very light toning but overall in fine and fresh condition, tipped into a quarter morocco marbled boards, "Victory Off Cadiz 9th October 1805"


  • The celebrated document - probably the best-known in all naval history - in which Nelson sets out his tactics for the forthcoming Battle of Trafalgar. He had originally outlined his plans for the battle in two meetings with his captains held on board the Victory on 29 September 1805, his forty-seventh birthday, writing to Emma afterwards: "when I came to explain to them the 'Nelson touch,' it was like an electric shock. Some shed tears, all approved - 'It was new - it was singular - it was simple!'; and, from Admirals downwards, it was repeated - 'It must succeed, if ever they will allow us to get at them! You are, my Lord, surrounded by friends whom you inspire with confidence.'" (1 October 1805). The Memorandum has been subjected to unstinting analysis over the two centuries since it was written. Among the most recent is that by Edgar Vincent: "It was the final flowering of a method that had been growing and developing in his mind since the battle of St Vincent and its outdated concept of command and control. He was anticipating by 200 years today's concept of Mission Control, whereby the commander makes his intention clear and his subordinate commanders are relied upon to internalize his broad intention and in the actual circumstance of battle extemporize, so as to achieve his objective. Nelson knew that no plan could cope with the chance, uncertainty, confusion and contingencies of war, to say nothing of the vagaries of weather. His Memorandum was very clear about his overall intention: 'bringing the enemy to battle' in all weather conditions without the loss of time involved in forming a line of battle and 'in such a manner as to make the business decisive'. His verbal discussions with his captains always emphasized that his overriding aim was annihilation of the enemy...The words of modern military doctrine as laid down in the current handbooks of the British Army and Navy echo to an uncanny extent what Nelson had created: 'Commanders who are in each other's minds and who share a common approach to the conduct of operations are more likely to act in concert.'" (Nelson: Love and Fame, pp.564-6).

    Captain James Nicoll Morris of HMS Colossus, to whom the Memorandum is here addressed, played as distinguished a part at the Battle of Trafalgar as his close friend Captain Charles Tyler (see lots ...). The Colossus was a newly-constructed 74-gun third rater, launched in April 1803. She sailed sixth in Collingwood's lee line, and suffered forty killed and 160 wounded, the highest casualties of any British ship, with Morris himself receiving a wound to the knee which necessitated the application of a tourniquet; notwithstanding which he refused to quit his quarterdeck.

    Nelson's original draft for the memorandum is in the British Library (Add MS 37,953). There are no examples of the Memorandum in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, the Nelson Museum, Monmouth, or Lloyd's Collection, London.
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