Papers of: Nelson, Vice Admiral Horatio, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758-1805)

Scope and Content

The collection consists of original and copy documents relating to Viscount Nelson. Although it spans his career from 1780 to his death in 1805, the bulk of the collection centres on 1798 - the year of the battle of Aboukir Bay - and the three years 1803-1805, during which Nelson commanded the Mediterranean Fleet. Included are several hundred official reports and surveys concerned with the manning, ordnance, stores, defects and sick lists of the ships under Nelson's overall command, plus reports on courts martial, prize money, prisoners, sailors' pay, etc. Also present are weekly reports by the chief physicians of the Fleet comparing health on various vessels and giving details of treatments proposed; letters to Nelson on issues such as inventions, requests for places, etc.; and a collection of bills. The papers carry the signatures of most of the senior officers under Nelson and are generally addressed to Nelson himself.

Administrative / Biographical History

Horatio Nelson was born in 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, the son of the rector, and entered the Royal Navy in 1770. In the early part of his career he served in various stations, rising up the ranks with occasional periods on half-pay. By 1797 he had risen to Commander and his role in the Battle of St. Vincent in that year led to his promotion to Rear-Admiral. In 1798 he annihilated the French fleet at the Battle of Aboukir Bay. In 1801 he was promoted to Vice-Admiral, led the British attack on Copenhagen, and was made Viscount Nelson. In 1803 he was appointed to head the Mediterranean fleet, eventually coming into conflict with the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, in which he was killed in the course of the British victory.


MSS.3667-3675 are made up of letters from the captains of various vessels, arranged in alphabetical order of the ship's name. MSS.3676-3681 are divided into subject sections. Documents are not always held in chronological order, and in some cases an original and a copy are widely separated. Material on particular ships and particular subjects can be scattered throughout the entire collection.

Access Information

The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Mr. Robson, London, May 1928 (accession number 47757).

Other Finding Aids

Described in: S.A.J. Moorat, Catalogue of Western Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library (London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1962-1973).

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

volumes of bound manuscript material.

Archivist's Note

description compiled by Christopher Hilton based upon those in the Library's published finding aid by S.A.J. Moorat. Biographical information from the Dictionary of National Biography.

Separated Material

The bulk of Nelson's papers are held by the National Maritime Museum and the British Library. There are also significant holdings in numerous repositories in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Researchers should refer to the National Register of Archives, Historical Manuscripts Commission for further details.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Custodial History

This material was previously held by the Rodney family.


Patricia Crimmin, "Letters and Documents relating to the Service of Nelson's Ships, 1780-1805: a Critical Report", in Historical Research v.70 no.171 (1997), describes the collection.

Corporate Names

Geographical Names