NELSON WRITES TO ADMIRAL LORD HOOD
FROM ABOARD THE AGAMEMNON, ANCHORED IN GENOA MOLE — HOOD HAD BEFRIENDED AND GUIDED THE YOUNG NELSON WHEN THEY BOTH SERVED IN THE CARIBBEAN YEARS BEFORE AND BOTH ACHIEVED DIFFERENT LEVELS OF SUCCESS IN THE CORSICA CAMPAIGN
NELSON, HORATIO, [VISCOUNT]. (1758-1805). British naval commander. Good Autograph Letter Signed, “Horatio Nelson”. Four full pages, quarto. “Agamemnon, Genoa Mole”, [A mole is a massive structure, usually of stone, used as a pier, breakwater, or a causeway separating two bodies of water.] September 20, 1794. To Admiral Lord Hood. [Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood (1724 – 1816) Admiral in the Royal Navy; lead the British fleet to victory at the Battle of the Mona Passage, April 1782 during the American Revolutionary War; Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet during the French Revolutionary Wars; presided at the court-martial of mutiny on the Bounty sailors; mentor to Horatio Nelson]. Some marginalia, else fine condition. Nelson writes:
“My dear Lord, We arrived here yesterday morning at 10 o’clock in a very strong breeze and thick weather; we were in the Mole before they saw us from the signal house; and none of us having been here, I had the signal out for a pilot, which by the consul’s recount they took for the flag of a vice-admiral, and although it was struck full a quarter of an hour before they saluted, which they did with 15 guns, and I returned an equal number, yet if the salute was not intended for a private ship I shall probably hear more of it. Mr. Drake is not arrived, but expected this evening; by a letter from him to the Consul I find he has got the King’s leave to return to England, and that he sets off from this place in the 1st of October, but returns on the 1st of March. There are two small privateers of the enemy here, who occasionally go to sea, and have taken two vessels one a Ragusan with Spanish property, that other some other heathen both I understand from Spain and bound to this port, only three English vessels are in the Mole, and had we more they could not stir for these privateers. I shall mention it to Mr. Drake. The government here called upon me to pledge my honor, which I did that I would not break the neutrality of the port. I shall do everything which is proper you may rest assured and bring this government into good humour with us; I don’t think they are or ever will ever be friends… enough to allow the Sans Culottes to enter Genoa, here would be glorious plunder for them, it exceeds in magnificence any place I ever saw. I shall not close this letter till evening in case anything else should occur. 6 p.m. No news yet of Mr. Drake. I am paying my respects to the Doge at 7 o’clock tomorrow evening. Believe me, your lordship’s, most faithful, Horatio Nelson. [P.S.] The Agamemnon lays at her own anchor, and so may Victory and Britannia.”
While serving in the Caribbean, Lord Hood became acquainted with, and later became a mentor to, Horatio Nelson, who at that time was a young frigate captain. Hood was a friend of Nelson’s uncle Maurice Suckling and in 1782 Hood introduced Nelson to the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV. Nelson was quoted as saying that Hood was “the best Officer, take him altogether, that England has to boast of”. Their friendship was close and lifelong.
Hood’s campaign and the occupation of Corsica, was initially instigated by Pasquale Paoli, who had been the leader of the Corsican Republic before it was overrun by the French, some 20+ years earlier. Corsica was for a short time, a dominion of England and George III, chiefly by the exertions of the English fleet and the co-operation of Paoli.
The 64 gun, Agamemnon was recommissioned on 31 January 1793. She was placed under the command of Captain Horatio Nelson, and after provisioning joined the fleet lying at anchor at the Nore. She subsequently sailed to join the Mediterranean fleet under Vice-Admiral Hood, which was blockading the French port of Toulon. On 27 August the town of Toulon declared its allegiance to the Royalist Bourbon cause, and Hood’s fleet moved in to take control of the naval dockyard and the 30 French ships of the line that were in the harbor. After capturing 19 of the ships, Agamemnon was sent to Naples to ask King Ferdinand IV for reinforcements with which to secure the town and to which he agreed to provide some 4,000 men. When the revolutionary army, commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, launched its assault against Toulon, the troops proved insufficient to hold it, and they were forced to abandon the town. Later in the autumn, the Agamemnon fought the French off Sardinia.
In April and May 1794, seamen from Agamemnon, led by Nelson, helped capture the Corsican town of Bastia. The French surrendered on 21 May, after a 40-day siege. Agamemnon then sailed to Gibraltar to undergo repairs, after just 16 months at sea, despite having undergone a fairly extensive refit just prior to being recommissioned. Upon completion of her repairs, Agamemnon returned to Corsica, anchoring south of Calvi on 18 June. After Hood arrived with additional ships, Agamemnon contributed guns and men to the 51-day siege of Calvi, during which time Nelson lost the sight in his right eye when a French shot kicked sand and grit into his face. The town surrendered on 10 August, with Agamemnon having lost just six men in the engagement. In October, Hood was recalled to England in consequence of some misunderstanding with the admiralty or the ministry, which has never been fully explained.
The ‘Ragusa” Nelson refers to is a loose reference to a ship of the Republic of Ragusa, an aristocratic maritime republic centered on the city of Dubrovnik in Dalmatia (today in southernmost Croatia), that existed under that name from 1358 until 1808.
Just a remarkable letter filled with major historical significance and associations of the highest order!