Collingwood was born in Newcastle in 1748. He was named Cuthbert after the saint from Holy Island. His father was a Newcastle trader and not a wealthy man.
He began his naval career at the age of twelve on HMS Shannon under the command of his uncle Richard Braithwaite. After five years he became a midshipman and, after passing exams in seamanship and navigation, he became a lieutenant.
He first met Nelson in 1777 when he was twenty five and Nelson was fifteen. Whilst he was tall, robust and confident, Nelson was smaller, frail and sickly. Their friendship lasted until Nelson’s death in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar..
Collingwood married Sarah Blackwell and, though he was at sea for most of the time, he managed to father two daughters. Between 1761 and 1810 he only spent five years in England and, on one occasion, was not home for seven years.
His companion whilst at sea was his Newfoundland dog called Bouncer. The dog went everywhere with him, often swimming alongside the rowing boat which took him ashore.
In 1783 he was in command of HMS Mediator and posted to the West Indies.Nelson was also there and together they prevented American ships from trading with the West Indies.
On the few occasions when he was at home, Collingwood walked on the north moors scattering acorns to ensure the supply of oaks for shipbuilding for many years to come.
He was a hard working, considerate man who gained the respect of his crew by instilling discipline and abandoning corporal punishment. Men, guilty of swearing or bullying were punished by having to clean out the primitive “loos” instead of being flogged. The provisions on the ship were of great concern to him and he made sure that enough meat and food were taken aboard the ship.
His gunnery crew were trained incessantly and, in 1795, at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, his ship was capable of firing three full broadsides in three and a half minutes.
In 1793 France declared war on Britain that lasted twenty two years. Now captain of the Barfleur, Collingwood won victory at the “Glorious First of June” battle. Six French ships were captured and Collingwood was wounded. Though he was in the thick of the action, he was not mentioned in dispatches and did not receive a gold medal – this grieved him greatly.
During the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the French fleet was in the form of a crescent but the English fleet attacked them in two parallel lines. Collingwood, at the head of one of the lines, was the first to engage the enemy and his ship fired broadsides with such rapidity and precision that the Spanish flag ship, the Santa Anna almost sank. Nelson was killed during this battle and Collingwood assumed the title of Commander in Chief.
He was promoted to Vice Admiral and became Baron Collingwood. He was awarded gold medals for Trafalgar and Cape St. Vincent which he only accepted on the condition that he got one for the First of June Battle also.
In 1805 he was commander of the Mediterranean fleet and wished that he could return home. This was denied as the government still required his services. His health declined rapidly and he was forced to request retirement which was granted but he died at sea on the 7th March 1810 on his way home. He was laid to rest in St. Paul’s Cathedral alongside Nelson’s tomb.
Peter was thanked for his interesting and informative talk and he promised to visit Probus again in the future when he has finished his research into the Battle of Jutland.
(see his talks in March 2019 for the War at Sea with Germany – PJ )