NELSON (HORATIO) Autograph letter signed ("Nelson & Bronte"), to Captain Charles Tyler ("My Dear Tyler"), [Victory], 30 September 1805

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Lot 62
Autograph letter signed ("Nelson & Bronte"), to Captain Charles Tyler ("My Dear Tyler"), assuring him that he is doing everything he can to 'get hold of Your Son', [Victory], 30 September 1805
Sold for £ 11,875 (US$ 15,205) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Nelson & Bronte"), to Captain Charles Tyler ("My Dear Tyler"), addressing him in his civilian capacity ("Ch.s Tyler Esq.r"), assuring him that he is at that moment writing to Elliot, British Minister at Naples, "to try to get hold of Your Son", and likewise to Jackson at Rome, with the hope that "We shall get hold of Him before any great length of time"; subscribing himself "Ever My Dear Tyler"; contemporary or near-contemporary docket, 1 page, evenly browned, remains of paper backing at corners and associated minor damage where previously mounted, nevertheless still in attractive condition, 4to, [Victory], 30 September 1805


  • NELSON WRITING TO ONE OF HIS MOST TRUSTED CAPTAINS THREE WEEKS BEFORE THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR, about a matter of exceptional delicacy. It is all the more remarkable, in that it deals with such a personal matter on the eve of his last and greatest battle (when many would think he might have had better things to do). Nelson had joined the fleet before Cadiz on 28 September and taken command the following day, his 47th birthday, inviting the admirals and captains under him into his cabin to outline his plan of battle, the famous 'Nelson touch'.

    Charles Tyler, the recipient of our letter, was one of the relatively few of those present who had served with Nelson before. Indeed, Tyler, along with Captain Hardy, was a founder-member of what became known as Nelson's 'Band of Brothers'. They had both been officers of a small detachment of which Nelson had taken command of back in 1793: 'Though little known, their commanders were Nelson's first captains, and seemed to have liked him. Charles Tyler of the Meleager, a slight, handsome, hawk-faced officer who limped from a wound taken in the American war, would grace two of Nelson's greatest victories [Copenhagen and Trafalgar] and carry a lock of his admiral's hair into retirement' (John Sugden, Nelson: A Dream of Glory, 2004, p.453). After Copenhagen, Nelson wrote to him: 'Sunday the 26th being Santa Emma's birthday, I beg you will do me the favour of dining on board the St George, as I know you are one of her votaries'. At Trafalgar 'Charles Tyler's eighty-gun Tonnant pierced the line astern of the Spanish Monarca, disposing of her with two raking broadsides before engaging the Algésiras, the flagship of the French rear admiral, Charles-René Magon... In the course of the fight, however, a musket ball ripped through Tyler's right thigh, and he had to quit the deck, leaving his first lieutenant to finish the battle. When he forced the Spanish Monarca to surrender he did not have a boat left over to go over to take possession' (Sugden, Nelson: The Sword of Albion, 2012, p.819).

    Tyler's son, the subject of this letter, had deserted his ship and run off with an opera dancer from Malta. Nicolas, in Dispatches and Letters, prints two letters about the affair, although tactfully leaves the name of both father and son blank (the latter, a 'retired' sea captain, died in 1846, the year the book came out). Nicolas was not however aware of our letter, which appears to have remained unpublished. The first of Nicolas's letters is addressed to William Marsden of the Admiralty and dates from 11 April 1805. Nelson tells Marsden that 'Lieutenant .... , (son to that excellent and respectable Officer Captain .... ) from an unfortunate desire to travel, and perhaps an imprudent attachment to an Italian female, quitted the Hydra when she was last at Malta, without, I fear, the smallest inclination of ever returning to his duty in that Ship'. Nicolas's other letter is the one referred to in ours. In the event Nelson thought better of writing directly to Elliot, as promised, but addressed himself to Captain Sotheron at Naples instead: 'Captain ....'s son is adrift in Italy, at Naples, or Rome; we think, very probably, in prison for debt. His father is very anxious to save the lad. He was Lieutenant of the Hydra and ran away with an opera-dancer from Malta. Pray try, with Mr. Elliot at Naples, and with Mr. Jackson, at Rome, to get word of Mr. .... Captain .... will pay his bills he has drawn for on England – supposed to be two or three hundred pounds – and if now a few more is necessary to liberate the youth, I will be answerable. All we want is to save him from perdition. If you will, my dear Sotheran, undertake this task of inquiry, it will save me the no small trouble of writing two letters'.

    Sudgen sees this extraordinary intervention – desertion after all was a serious offence punishable by death – as revealing 'the deep-seated humanity in Nelson. He did not shrink from punishing deserving malcontents, but knew that even the good and the able could find themselves in difficulties, and that mistakes were part of the learning experience' (Sword of Albion, p.676). To which one might add that condemning a liaison with an exotic female was not something that Nelson was best fitted to do. Also, more pertinently, it was just such an act, undertaken with no little difficulty for an old friend and on the eve of a major battle, that made him beloved of those who served under him. It is a letter that reveals something of his genius as a commander – an act of generosity that was to be repaid in full measure by the boy's father in the coming battle.
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