This very slight sketch is the only composition sketch in the sketchbook for a group of figures in Turner’s 1806 picture, Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory (Tate N00480;1 see Introduction to the sketchbook for the picture and related work). One might expect it to represent its central motif, the wounded Nelson and his surrounding attendants. However, it relates to the group to Nelson’s left, on the port gangway from poop to quarterdeck. As indicated in Turner’s key to the picture (Tate D08266; Turner Bequest CXXI K), this represents Lieutenant John Pasco, who was badly wounded in the right arm, being ‘carried down’ the gangway as Turner describes in a further note on folio 23 (D05465; Turner bequest LXXXIX 17) and probably also on folio 12 (D05462; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 14). Pasco was Nelson’s flag-lieutenant at Trafalgar and was responsible for sending the famous signal ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’.
Some quite careful drawing and shading along the right and bottom margins of this leaf, distinct from the Pasco group and indecipherable by itself, is in fact a continuation of the study of the battle from the deck of the Victory on what is now folio 15 (D05481; Turner Bequest 26), indicating that the present leaf was originally bound immediately alongside it. Thus the rough sketch on the left, which again seems unrelated and would be hard to identify alone, is revealed as a ship with sails set and a continuation of the slighter version of the same battle scene on folio 15 verso (D05482; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 26a). In the 1806 picture, a similar ship is present on the extreme right. She is the British Temeraire. Turner must have made his drawings with the two leaves overlapping, perhaps with the idea of trying variant compositions, and proceeded from the study of the battle to focus on the group around Pasco.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.46 no.58 (pl.68).