Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood, (born Oct. 24, 1748, Newcastle-Upon Tyne, Northumberland, Eng.—died March 7, 1810, at sea en route to England), British naval commander who was Horatio Nelson's second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar and held the Mediterranean command thereafter.
There has been much written about Admiral Nelson and his great victory at Trafalgar and rightly so. However a story that is rarely touched upon is the role of his friend and second in command Cuthbert Collingwood.
These two men were not only good friends, but were also completely opposite in term of personality, seafaring skills and command style.
Where Nelson was at times reckless, Collingwood seemed to be more calculated.
Whilst doing research for my book, Michael Saxon Trafalgar, I come to realise that Collingwood played a huge role at Trafalgar and in many ways assured victory after Nelson's death. He also protected the fleet after the battle by ignoring Nelson's last order,' to Anchor,' as a huge storm approached. This showed his better understanding of seamanship, being faced with a lea shore and an approaching storm, he decided to take damaged and captured vessels under tow and sail towards Gibraltar.
This action almost certainly saved many lives and not one British vessel was lost when the storm hit.
Where Lord Nelson was a socialite enjoying the celebrity his achievements had given him, Collingwood was the complete opposite, preferring to spend time, when not at sea, at his home in Morpeth enjoying the company of family and walking in the local area. He often planted acorns on his meanderings throughout the countryside, stating that it took 500 years for an oak to grow big enough to be be used to help build a warship for the Navy. So he was playing his part to ensure there was an abundance of trees for the future.
Collingwood was not always seen favourably by his naval comrades. Many captains found him cold and unsociable. Some going as far as to complain to their wives in their letters home.
Whilst blockading Cadiz, before the arrival of the combined French and Spanish fleet, Captain Thomas Fremantle of HMS Neptune, complained to his partner that Collingwood had not once invited him to his table. Unlike Nelson, who invited all his Captains to dine with him once he arrived at Cadiz. Collingwood seemed to enjoy the company of his dog Bounce more than his men.
However when it came to the actual battle there is no doubting that Collingwood was a skilful commander and outstanding seaman.
When it came to the actually battle; the British fleet was made up of two columns, one commanded by Nelson on HMS Victory and the other by Collingwood, who was in command of HMS Royal Sovereign. The recently re-coppered hull of Sovereign allowed the warship to make better use of the light winds and she quickly pulled away from the rest of the fleet and was the first to see action.
Cutting through the French and Spanish ships alone, she quickly engaged the Santa Anna, a Spanish Three decked warship.
It is recorded, that at that moment Collingwood turned to Captain Rotheram and said...'What would Nelson give to be here?'
During the engagement with Santa Anna, Both ships took heavy damage. Sovereign lost most of her masts and was taking in water on a lower deck, making her 'Perfectly unmanageable,' according to Collingwood report.
This however did not stop Collingwood from his duty. Whilst munching on an apple he paced the deck urging his gunners to keep firing and after hours of fighting the Santa Anna finally surrendered.
Not long after Collingwood was informed of Nelson's condition, and took command of the whole fleet.
Although Sovereign was unable to sail on her own steam he ordered Captain Blackwood of HMS Euryalus to take her under tow so they could still fire on the enemy.
Leading by example he took the fight to his next target which was Admiral Dumanoir's ship Formidable. Dumanoir was in charge of the Combined fleets vanguard and had returned to assist the collapsing centre, with several ships in attendance.
It was during this combat that the tow ropes were shot away and Sovereign was left stranded. Not perturbed by his situation Collingwood continued firing on the enemy from his port guns and rallied several undamaged ships to come and support Sovereign. His former ship Dreadnought being one of those that responded.
Seeing this Dumanoir gave up trying to salvage something from the battle and at 4.30pm made his escape.
The Battle of Trafalgar was over and the Combined Fleet was mostly destroyed, yet not one British ship was lost. It was an incredible victory but the cost was high, including the Life of Nelson.
As the temperature on the ships barometers dropped and dark clouds gathered. Collingwood was informed that Nelson's last order was to anchor.
He had followed Nelson's instructions to the letter throughout the battle, but would disobey his friends final order, as he believed that faced with a lea shore and an approaching storm that would be an error.
So he ordered damaged ships and to be taken under tow and to sail for Gibralter.
This decision, although controversial, may have saved the lives of many men, as the storm proved to be violent and lasted a week and although 4 of the captured ships were lost, due to the severity of their condition, none of the British ships suffered the same fate, a remarkable conclusion. In my view Collingwood made the right call and it is a testament to his seafaring skills.
After Trafalgar Collingwood was appointed Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and continued to mount patrols and blockade ports along the continent. Unfortunately his health began to fail and whilst sailing back to England he passed away. Previous requests to go home had been denied by the admiralty. A sad end to a great man, and a true Geordie hero.