His Country's Future Hope - Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood
Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood (1750 – 1810)
The 7th of March 2010 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood, best known for his decisive role during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The Royal Armouries Museum has in its collections Admiral Collingwood’s sword, which can be seen in the Presentation Swords display on the Fifth Floor of the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds.
Cuthbert Collingwood was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and joined the navy in 1761 when he was just 11 years old.
He first met and became close friends with Horatio Nelson in Jamaica. He later wrote that ‘since the year ’73 we have been on terms of the greatest intimacy; chance has thrown us very much together in this service, and on many occasions we have acted in concert’.
Collingwood had a very distinguished career in the navy, progressing quickly through the ranks and proving to be a worthy leader in several engagements. ‘I do not know an officer I would so soon go on service with,’ wrote one officer. He never swore at his men, and once said, ‘If you do not know a man’s name call him sailor and not you-sir and such other names. They are offensive and improper.’
However, his friend Nelson who ‘liked fame, and was open to flattery’ overshadowed Collingwood’s naval accomplishments and was the one who became a national hero. Collingwood, who was older than Nelson, was made Lieutenant first, but Nelson soon caught up, and in time it became Collingwood who succeeded Nelson in command.
Collingwood was always accompanied by his faithful dog, Bounce, who was as ‘tall as a table’. Collingwood’s wrote, that Bounce considered it ‘beneath his dignity to play with commoner’s dogs, and truly thinks he does them grace when he condescends to lift up his leg against them. This, I think, is carrying the insolence of rank to the extreme.’
Collingwood’s young brother Wilfred was also a naval commander and the two brothers, along with Nelson often worked side by side. Sadly, Wilfred died in the Caribbean in 1787.
Life at sea was certainly not an easy one, and at one time when Nelson had an infection and had been sent to England to recover, Collingwood remained. In the Naval Chronicle Collingwood wrote, ‘my constitution resisted many attacks, and I survived most of my ship’s company, having buried in four months 180 of the 200 which composed it. They had fallen, not by the hand of the enemy, but sunk under the contagion of the climate.’
Another episode saw Collingwood and his crew marooned for ten days, taking shelter in sand dunes with little food or water, after they had been shipwrecked by a hurricane near Jamaica in 1781.
When war with France broke out in 1793, which was to last for twenty years, Nelson and Collingwood were separated and assigned to two different fleets.
During a brief time of peace in 1802-3 Collingwood returned to his family in Morpeth in Northumberland, while Nelson, more notoriously, spent his time ashore with Lord and Lady Hamilton in Surrey, which created quite a scandal at the time.
In 1805 the two friends were once again reunited after the peace was broken. Collingwood, already in the Mediterranean, was keeping watch outside Cadiz, awaiting reinforcements from England, led by Nelson. Before setting off Nelson sent a note which said, ‘My dear Coll, I shall be with you in a very few days, and I hope you will remain as Second in Command’.
The navy’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar was due to Collingwood’s efforts as much as Nelson’s tactics. The death of Nelson during the battle, overshadowed Collingwood’s efforts and it was Nelson who became the celebrated national hero.
However, Collingwood’s contributions were not unnoticed and King George III wrote to the Admiralty that ‘it is very fortunate that the command, under circumstances so critical, should have devolved upon an officer of such consummate valour, judgement and skill as Admiral Collingwood has proved himself to be.’ The letter becoming Collingwood’s proudest possession.
For his role at Trafalgar, Collingwood was created Baron Collingwood of Coldburne and Hethpoole, and given a pension of £2000 a year.
He was also presented with various gifts, including a sword now in the Royal Armouries collection.
Collingwood remained as Commander-in Chief in the Mediterranean, in charge of 28,000 men and 80 ships at its peak, indicating how highly the Court regarded him.
On a visit to Cadiz in 1808 Collingwood was well received by the Spanish because of his chivalrous behaviour towards their prisoners and wounded after the battle, showing his admirable nature.
Collingwood’s dog Bounce continued to accompany him on board for many years, living to an old age, until it was one night washed overboard in 1809.
After his visit home in 1803, Collingwood never returned again, despite his frequent requests to visit his wife and children. Continuing to serve at sea, he died in March 1810. His body was returned to England to be laid to rest near Nelson’s grave at St. Paul’s Cathedral.