NAVAL - BATTLE OF CAPE ST VINCENT. Series of seventeen autograph letters signed by Lieutenant Arthur Maxwell, 1782-1798
Lot 251
Sold for £6,875 (US$ 9,162) inc. premium

Lot Details
Series of seventeen autograph letters signed by Lieutenant Arthur Maxwell, to his wife Pheobe in Covent Garden and the Strand, London, all but two written while on service with the Royal Navy between 1796 and 1798; the first two written in April and September 1782 when serving on the Indiaman Hinchinbrook and describing a severe action with the French in which the ship was taken, later to be recaptured; eight letters written from the Irresistible (which from the evening of the battle on 14 February 1797 until 23 March flew the Broad Pennant of Commodore Horatio Nelson), between February and May 1797, describing the build-up to the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the battle itself and its aftermath: the first, dated 11 February, three days before the battle, carrying the signed postscript: “Expecting to come to Battle & not knowing whose lott it may be fall what ever I die possessed of I leave to my beloved Wife Pheobe every thing I am possessed of and at her Death to My beloved Daughters Charlotte and Pheobe Maxwell, equally divided between them/ A. Maxwell/ done on board His Majestys Ship Irresistible 11th February 1797 off Cape St Vincent”; the next written two days after the battle, on 16 February 1797 from Lagos Bay: “I have the Pleasure my Dear Pheobe to say I am quite well after a most Glorious Battle with the Spanish Fleet they 26 Sail of the Line we only 15 Defeated them after an Action of 5 hours in which we bore a most conspicuous part... we dashed among the the [sic] thickest of them and never was rout more compleat one first rate struck to us after 20 Minutes Action... one Admiral taken another Killed and the Commander in Chief in a Ship of 130 Guns would have fallen had Day lasted another we believe She Sunk I hope soon to Write all”; the account taken up in another letter written from Lagos Bay the following day: “while you were eating your Dinner quietly on the 14th we were in hot action the Shott flying round me like hail Sir J Jervis Letter will tell you all”; followed by a letter of 1 and 2 March, discussing his hopes for prize money and listing the opposing fleets, and one from Lisbon of 4-6 March, transcribing Jervis’s letter of congratulation to the captain of the Irresistible (small section missing at seal-tear); this being followed by one from Lisbon of 30 March, giving further news of the battle as heard from some American ships (“...said their fleet was much more damaged, than we thought for they were four Days landing their Wounded and the Admiral had acknowledged he has struck to two English 74s our Ship and the Orion, we were exactly abreast of him, & had compleatly silenced his fire...”) [for further reports received after speaking to American ships see Nelson’s letter to Prince William, 22 March 1797] and hoping that they will receive £200 in prize money, with the postscript: “We have not eat the bread of idleness in this Ship we are off to Sea tomorrow but where & how long I do not know”; on 28 April, by now acting First Lieutenant, he describes further action seen the day before by the Irresistible who, with the Emerald captured two Spanish frigates, the Ninfa and Santa-Elena (“...I was more fagged in this Action than the 14 Feby altho’ that lasted longer for I had the command intirely of the Lower Deck when they weight of action laid the other parts attending to waking the Ship I have been 40 hours with only 2 of Sleep but quite well two Lieuts shot the Captn & my self releived each other in charge of the Ship...”); with two further letters from Plymouth, both written on 26 December 1797, with another from there while refitting on 5 February 1798 (“ smoak her to get rid of if it is possible Millions of Mice I used to have a dozen of them in my bed at a time until I took our great Tom Cat for a bedfellow...”), one written from on board the Valiant to his daughter Charlotte on 1 March 1798 (“...we have got a Ship we took yesterday from Valencia in Spain... the Ship is loaded with raisins and Grapes Spanish property and I hope will be a very good prize... I had yesterday Morning been three hours in chace of a much larger but two Men of Warr came in sight...”), and finally from Dover on 19 March 1798; together with a list of the Indiamen on which he served between 1766 and 1785; a printed paper about the capture of the Hinchinbrook; three partly incomplete Admiralty commissions (appointing him to the Vengeance in 1795, signed by Earl Spencer, to the Andromeda in 1795, and to the Irresistible, 1796); many of the letters with address panels, postmarks and postal instructions (often discussed in the letters themselves), some 50 pages, dust-staining and other signs of wear, but generally in good and attractive condition, mostly 1797-1798


  • 'WHILE YOU WERE EATING YOUR DINNER QUIETLY ON THE 14TH WE WERE IN HOT ACTION THE SHOTT FLYING ROUND ME LIKE HAIL' – a first-hand account of the Battle of Cape St Vincent, from a lieutenant on board the Irresistible, to which Nelson transferred from the crippled Captain on the evening of the battle, remaining with her until 23 March: as well as providing a description of the battle itself, this lively series paints a vivid, often anecdotal, picture of life in Nelson's navy, covering such perennial topics as prize-money, the delivery of home mail and living with ubiquitous mice.
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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