Battle of Trafalgar

Commemorative Medal of Admiral Lord Collingwood, English, dated 1805. XVIII.464.

This medal was made to commemorate the victory of the Royal Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Collingwood is depicted on one side and on the other is an image of the British fleet in formation as it sailed into battle.

The inscription reads ‘HIS COUNTRY’S FUTURE HOPE. VICTORY. OCTOBER 21 1805’ and ‘ADMIRAL LORD COLLINGWOOD’ on the reverse.

On joining Collingwood in the Mediterranean on September the 28th Nelson told of his plans to attack in two columns, one led by himself in HMS Victory and the other by Collingwood on board HMS Royal Sovereign.

On the morning of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, Collingwood calmly told his company; ‘Now then gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter.’

Meanwhile, Nelson had been sending signal after signal to the fleet and Collingwood finally exclaimed ‘I wish Nelson would stop signalling, we all know what we have to do!’ This was in response to Nelson’s most famous flag signal, ‘England expects that every man will do his duty.’

In 1803 the signally system used by the Royal Navy had been improved by Sir Home Popham. His system made it possible to send more complicated instructions to the fleet. The Royal Armouries has in its collection a sword presented to Popham by the East India Company, on display in the War Gallery.

Collingwood’s ship the Royal Sovereign was the first into action and fought alone for upwards of 20 minutes before the rest of the fleet could join them.

During the action Collingwood paced the deck of his ship ignoring pleas for him to remove his cocked hat which made him an easy target. ‘Let me alone’ he replied, ‘I have always fought in a cocked hat and always shall!’ He carried on pacing and eating an apple, and even when wounded in the leg by a splinter, he simply tied it up with a handkerchief and continued, ignoring the ‘many thumps’ he received.

In the midst of the battle Nelson was shot and died on board his ship. Collingwood later wrote in a letter home that ‘Captain Hardy came to inform me of his death. I cannot tell you how deeply I was affected; my friendship for him was unlike any thing that I have left in the Navy- a brotherhood of more than thirty years.’

Nelson’s death left Collingwood in charge of the fleet, which was no easy task.
The ships were scattered and disorganized, with many wounded men, and he also had to take control of the captured ships and prisoners. To make matters worse, there was a storm on the way.

This storm was to cost Collingwood the prize-ships the navy had captured, for which he received some criticism, but there was in fact little he could have done without endangering his own ships.

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