NELSON (HORATIO) Autograph letter signed ("Nelson"), to Perkin Magra, HM Consul at Tunis, discussing the seizure by the Bey of Tunis of a vessel, Palermo, 14 April 1799
Lot 147
Autograph letter signed ("Nelson"), to Perkin Magra, HM Consul at Tunis, discussing the seizure by the Bey of Tunis of a vessel, Palermo, 14 April 1799
Sold for £ 8,125 (US$ 11,415) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Nelson"), to Perkin Magra, HM Consul at Tunis, discussing the seizure by the Bey of Tunis of a vessel, despite its sailing under his safe pass ("...As matters are in a train for restoring a peace or truce during the War, it is time that neither the Bey nor myself ought to Cover Enemy property but both Sicily Malta & Tunis are at War with these miscreants the French. How Cruel to take provisions which Sicily sends to succour the Maltese against French tyranny, be so good with Your ability to urge this point..."); adding that "I can say nothing equal to what You know in your management of these people. I can almost take upon me to say that H.S[icilian] Majesty will in 14 days be in the Bay of Naples and, I hope, on His Throne, he has not a 100 Men in his Kingdom that does not wish it"; in a postscript, Nelson tells Magra that "The Christian army is surrounding Naples in which are only 25000 – French, & the English are in full possession of all the Islands" and that he's sending a letter for the Bey of Tunis (" it & read if it proper...") as well as one from Admiral Duckworth and the Duke of Portland, 2 pages, with integral blank, docketed, paper watermarked 'Portal & Co/ 1795', integral blank with guard and small tear where formerly mounted, folio, Palermo, 14 April 1799


  • 'TO SUCCOUR THE MALTESE AGAINST FRENCH TYRANNY' – NELSON WRANGLES WITH THE BARBERY CORSAIRS. Napoleon, on his way to Egypt in order to threaten British possessions in India, had taken Malta the year before, the Knights of St John surrendering to him on 12 June 1798. Gozo then rose against the French, declaring itself independent on 28 October, and the Maltese followed suit, with Britain taking Malta into her protection in the names of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (where Nelson was based following his destruction of Napoleon's fleet at Aboukir Bay on 1 August). Meanwhile, the Czar of Russia had declared himself Master of the Knights of St John and had ambitions to control the island: 'Ball [Nelson's captain conducting the blockade of the French garrison at Valetta] promised Nelson that he would collaborate with the Russians if they appeared, but secretly hoped that Britain would assume ultimate sovereignty, a view widely favoured among the Maltese, but as yet far from the hearts and minds in London... Trying to bring these operations to a fruitful end, Nelson found himself thrown into strange company, and relations with them were not always straightforward. Across the Mediterranean from Malta, but uncomfortably close both to the south and west, situated on the burning shores of North Africa lay three dusty city-states that had become bywords for piracy, slave trading and murder. For centuries the dreaded "Barbary corsairs" had poured from the ports of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli to scour Christendom. Ostensibly they were client states of the Ottoman Porte, but in truth they had become largely independent Islamic entities, pursuing their own foreign relations through war or diplomacy as they saw fit, and thriving on the proceeds of commerce, plunder and blackmail... Nelson disliked the Barbary states, but with bigger fish to fry he supposed that the best he could do at the moment was to bring them into the anti-French coalition, especially as the Porte itself was an enthusiastic member... Not that the seducing of the North African states was going to be easy. They were notoriously capricious, temperamental and quarrelsome, even with each other... Using Magra, the British consul, the Bey of Tunis had already begun sending Nelson intelligence about the French garrison in Valetta... and on 4 January even declared war on France... A discerning diplomat, Magra saw an opportunity for Nelson to establish a rapport with the bey, and suggested the admiral write to him in a spirit of reciprocality. Consequently on 17 March Lord Nelson praised the bey, pointing out that the French were "the enemies of God and His Holy Prophet" and merited "the vengeance of all true Mussulmen"' (John Sugden, Nelson: The Sword of Albion, 2012, pp. 204-7). But it was a long and rugged road that Nelson had to tread: 'in March a corn brig, the Nostre Signora Della Grazie, which had been taking provisions to Malta under Neapolitan colours, was brought into Tunis as a prize, even though she had a safe pass from Nelson. Confronted by Magra, the bey drew himself to his full height and declared that the ship's bill of lading had proved her to be a Neapolitan, and as he was at war with Naples the British had no business interfering. However should Lord Nelson wish to issue Tunisian passes to a few victuallers he would oblige... Yet in this case patience and forbearance were rewarded. By May Nelson had paved the way for Ferdinand to send a representative to Tunis to negotiate a truce on behalf of Sicily... These diplomatic successes, almost unknown to Nelson biographers, made a significant difference to Malta and Italy during a particularly stressful period. Relations between Britain and Tunis remained unsteady. Nelson, tired of wrangling, privately resolved to seize the Neapolitan corn brig by force at the first opportunity, while Magra felt so unsafe that he dissuaded his family from coming out to join him in Tunis' (p. 207-8). Our letter is published by Nicolas, Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson.
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £175,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £175,001 to £3,000,000 the Hammer Price
12.5% from £3,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

Payment in advance: by cash, cheque with banker's card, credit card, bank draft or traveller's cheque.

Payment at collection: by credit or debit card.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Books (UK)
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
Similar Items