Thursday, 26 September 2013

Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood

Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood

Cuthbert Collingwood was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 26 September 1750.  He was entered on the books of HMS Shannon (commanded by his cousin Capt Richard Braithwaite) and went to sea at the age of 11.  He stayed with Braithwaite for over ten years, serving with him in HMS Gibraltar and Liverpool.  In March 1772 he transferred to the Lennox, the guardship at Portsmouth.  He joined HMS Preston, flying the flag of Vice-Adm Samuel Graves, in February 1774 and sailed for North America.  He served as a member of the shore party during the Battle of Bunker Hill and was gazetted as Lieutenant for his actions.

In March 1776 he was appointed to the sloop HMS Hornet under Capt Haswell, serving in the West Indies.  This would not seem to have been a happy ship, and in September 1777 Lt Collingwood faced a court-martial on counts of disobedience of orders and neglect of duty.  He was acquitted, but the court noted the lack of 'cheerfulness on the part of Lt Collingwood in carrying out the duty of the sloop' and 'therefore recommended it to him to conduct himself for the future with that alacrity which is so essentially necessary for carrying on His Majesty's service'.  This would seem to be a black mark that would be difficult to overcome, yet Collingwood was soon appointed to HMS Lowestoffe.  Also serving as a lieutenant on Lowestoffe was Horatio Nelson: the careers of the the two men were to be entwined from now on.  Both men distinguished themselves fighting the French and Americans in the Caribbean.

Collingwood now replaced Nelson in a number of posts in quick succession - First Lieutenant of Lowestoffe; commander of HMS Badger in June 1779; and of the frigate Hinchingbrook in March 1780 (being made Post Captain in this command).  In Hinchingbrook, Collingwood played a leading part in the San Juan expedition - the abortive attempt to cross the Isthmus into the Pacific.  This was dogged by disease, with 180 of an original compliment of 200 of Hichingbrook falling ill (including Nelson, who almost died).  Collingbroke was in command of the expedition during the return to Jamaica.  He was now given command of HMS Pelican, but she was wrecked in a hurricane, the crew being stranded on the Morant Keys for ten days.  Despite the declaration of peace, the West Indies remained a busy station for the navy.  Collingwood, now in command of HMS Mediator, took the side of Nelson (senior captain on the station) in his dispute with the commander-in-chief over the interdiction of American trade.

From 1786 Collingwood spent several years 'on the beach'.  He consolidated his position in Northumberland society and in 1791 married Sarah Blacket, daughter of the Mayor of Newcastle.  They were to have two daughters.

The Glorious First of June 1794
With the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, Collingwood was soon back in action.  In 1793 he was appointed to command HMS Prince, flgaship of Rear-Adm George Bowyer, later moving with Bowyer to HMS Barfleur.  In this ship he took part in the battle of the Glorious First of June (1794) off Ushant. Despite it's name, the outcome of this battle was inconclusive: the British did overwhelm the French fleet, but the convoy that the latter were protecting escaped.  Although Barfleur engaged the French ship Indomptable, which was dismasted, and Bowyer (who had lost a leg) received a knighthood, Collingwood felt that he had been overlooked by not being given the Naval Gold Medal awarded to other commanders.

The Battle of  Cape St Vincent, 1797
Following a spell in the Mediterrean with Nelson, Collingwood was in command of HMS Excellent for the Battle of Cape St Vincent (14 February 1797).   This engagement arose from Spain's declaration of war in 1796, which severely compromised the Royal Navy's position in the Mediterranean.  The Mediterranean Fleet, under Adm Sir John Jervis, intercepted a larger Spanish fleet which was attempting to  rendezvous with the French and then accompany a large convoy across the Atlantic.  Excellent had a distinguished part in this battle, receiving the surrender of the El Salvador del Mondo and the Santissima Trinidad, damaging other ships and assisting Cmdre Nelson in his famous capture of the San Josef and San Nicolas.   Jervis was given and earldom and Nelson appointed KCB.  When Collingwood was informed he was to receive a Naval Gold Medal he refused to accept it until he was also given one for the Glorious First of June.

In February 1799 Collingwood was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral (a matter of simple seniority) and appointed to the Channel Fleet, flying his flag in HMS Triumph, later in Barfleur.  In April 1804 he became Vice-Admiral.  In May 1805 he was detached from the fleet with a squadron to reinforce Nelson.  He blockaded Cadiz while Nelson pursued the French to the West Indies and back.  When Nelson intercepted the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in October, Collingwood was his second-in-command and led the lee line, flying his flag in HMS Royal Sovereign.  Royal Sovereign was severely damaged during the battle (she had a long duel with the Santa Ana and was dismasted).  With the death of Nelson, command devolved to Collingwood: as the fleet was in a poor state and a storm was advancing, he ignored instructions given by Nelson to anchor.  No British ships were lost during the storm, but several of their prizes were either sunk or escaped to Cadiz.

HMS Royal Sovereign at Trafalgar
On 9 November 1805 Collingwood was promoted to Rear-Admiral and raised to the peerage as Baron Collingwood of Caldburne and Hethpool.  He was awarded an annual pension of £2,000 and received his third Naval Gold Medal (one of only three men to have been awarded three - the others being Nelson and Sir Edward Berry).

Collingwood now succeeded Nelson as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.  The next few years were occupied with low-level blockades and diplomatic duties, including an intervention in 1807 when the fleet was sent to the Dardanelles to fly the flag at a time it appeared the Ottomans might join France's war on Russia.  Collingwood's health was deteriorating and in 1810 he received permission to return to England, which he had not visited since 1803.  However, he died on 7 March 1810, shortly after leaving Port Mahon.  His body was brought to England and he was interred in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral near Nelson's tomb.

Collingwood has not fared well at the hands of naval historians: Laughton's DNB article stated that "where he had Nelson's example or instruction he did splendidly; where Nelson's influence was wanting, he won no especial distinction: and after Nelson's death, as commander-in-chief, he did, at most, no better than scores of other respectable mediocrities who have held high command."  There has been some reassessment in recent years though.  His contemporaries thought highly of him, and he was apparently well-liked on the lower decks.  The Royal Navy named three ships and a training establishment after him.

The Collingwood Memorial at Tynemouth.  
The guns are from HMS Royal Sovereign.


  1. Very interesting biography. Thanks for sharing it.


  2. Interesting bit of history. I was totally ignorant of him.

  3. Thanks for sharing. A nice recap of an interesting man.

  4. I have just finished two Collingwood biographies. William Clark Russell has written a biography in which he maintains his focus on "Collingwood the man";(pub. 1891). In spite of difficulties, the language, thoroughness and sincerity of the writer, have produced a beautiful book. Collingwood's personal letters are constantly quoted and the man and his age come alive.
    Denis Orde biography touches every event and person his research has revealed. Sometimes I felt I was reading lists.However, some parts of his broader perspective of Nelson's period show very clearly the advantages Nelson had over Collingwood and why the greatness of Collingwood has until recently remained unrecognized.
    The summary of Collingwood's life and times on this Blog should be removed and replaced by a more scholarly artical.

    1. "Should be removed and replaced by a more scholarly article"?

      I don't know what you think you are reading, but this is my personal blog. I make no pretensions to scholarship (or even the feat of reading two biographies). I have no intention of removing content merely because you don't like it.


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