I think most people in the UK, even if they don’t have much knowledge of British history, have heard of the exploits of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. I also think that most people also know that he died during that battle from a shot fired by a French marksman from a French warship. However, there was another Admiral at the battle of Trafalgar who, in my view, does not get the credit he deserves for his crucial role during the battle.
That Admiral is none other than Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, the Northumbrian who saved the nation.
Collingwood was born in the English town Morpeth, near Newcastle in 1748. He was educated at the Royal Free Grammar School in Newcastle. During his naval career, his visits home to see his wife and family were rare and on one occasion his family had to travel four hundred miles to see him in Portsmouth (which in those days would have taken about two weeks).
He joined the Navy in 1761 when he was twelve years old as a midshipman on the HMS Shannon under Captain Braithwaite, who was also his uncle. In 1772 he met his lifelong friend and later commander, Horatio Nelson, in Jamaica while the both of them were still midshipmen. He served in both the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic wars where he displayed his aptitude for naval warfare and rose quickly through the ranks.
Nelson quite commonly gets a lot of the glory for the British victory at Trafalgar but what a lot of people don’t know is that it was Admiral Collingwood who took command of the fleet after Nelson had been hit by that French marksman. He was also in command of the ship (HMS Royal Sovereign) that fired the first shots against the enemy armada. In fact, thanks to his leadership, the British fleet did not lose a single warship while French-Spanish armada lost nineteen ships in total which meant a resounding success for the Royal Navy and ensured Britain’s dominance of the seas for the next century.
After the battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Collingwood was made Baron Collingwood and received a pension of £2000 per year (which was a lot of money back then). It is said he was very fond of his Northumbrian heritage but sadly he was never to see his hometown ever again. He died at sea near the island of Menorca (an awesome holiday destination that has a hotel named after him about ten minutes walk outside the capital) in 1810. He was finally laid to rest at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London right beside his commander, comrade and friend, Admiral Horatio Nelson.
In 1845 a monument was erected to honour the memory of Collingwood in North Shields, near to where his living decendents reside today. The monument is surrounded by four cannons which came from his ship HMS Royal Sovereign and were added in 1848. The monument is visible from both the nearby river and the sea.
Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to comment.