View of the Blockade of Cadiz by the English Fleet, 1797
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Overall: 33cm (13in) x 46cm (18in)
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper laid down on card. Diagramatic illustration of ‘An Eastern View of the Blockade of Cadiz by the English Fleet’, with tabular ‘Referances’ listing. Paper watermarked ’T. Vallance'. Sheet: 21.6cm (8.5in) x 35cm (13.7in).
Although anonymous, this plan is clearly in an English hand and shows the disposition of the Royal Navy’s blockading fleet off Cadiz in the aftermath of the battle of Cape St. Vincent (14 February 1797) but before the end of July the same year, when Nelson returned home to convalesce after the loss of his right arm during the abortive attack on Santa Cruz, Teneriffe. This is confirmed by ‘Referance’ [sic] B’, on the lower right of the plan, where Nelson is noted as a Rear-Admiral, the rank bestowed upon him as a direct result of his conduct at the battle of Cape St. Vincent, after which he was also given HMS Thesus as his new flagship.
The Battle of Cape St. Vincent was a serious defeat for the Spanish after they switched sides and allied themselves to France. Believing it was no longer tenable to maintain a Royal Navy presence in the Mediterranean, the Admiralty ordered a withdrawal to the west that found Admiral John Jervis commanding British warships at Gibraltar. His duty consisted of denying the Spanish fleet any access to the Atlantic where they might wreak havoc in cooperation with their French allies who once again had set her sights on an invasion of the British isles. They almost succeeded in doing so in December 1796 were it not for bad weather and the intervention of Captain Edward Pellew. British public morale never had been so low. Thus, strategic considerations as well as the need to alleviate the dampened spirits of his compatriots, filled Admiral Jervis’ mind with an urge to inflict a defeat upon the Spanish. This opportunity arose when Nelson in HMS Captain appeared on the horizon, bringing the news of the Spanish fleet bound for Cadiz.