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Cuthbert Collingwood was born in Newcastle on October 24, 1748, the son of a merchant. He was educated at the Royal Free Grammar School in Newcastle, entered the Royal Navy at the age of 12, and spent almost all of the rest of his life at sea.
Collingwood began his sea career as a volunteer on the frigate HMS Shannon under Captain Richard Brathwaite, his maternal cousin. In March 1772, he was appointed to the Lennox, a guardship stationed at Portsmouth, under Captain Robert Roddam. In 1774, he sailed with the Preston under Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves to serve in North America, where he served in the British naval brigade at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was, on June 17, 1775, commissioned as a Lieutenant.
In March 1776, Collingwood was appointed to the Hornet, which was sent to the Caribbean. He apparently had little respect for his commanding officer, and was subsequently accused of disobedience and neglect of duty. On September 30, 1777, he faced a court-martial for those charges. Not only was he acquitted, his cheerful and lively nature during the proceedings resulted in his being promoted to First Lieutenant and moved to HMS Lowestoffe. It was aboard this vessel that Collingwood first met then-Lieutenant Horatio Nelson. The two men quickly formed a close friendship, and Collingwood soon began assuming command of the vessels that Nelson would leave as he made his way up the ranks.
Collingwood's first command was HMS Badger, to which he was appointed in June 1779 following Nelson's promotion to Post-Captain of HMS Hinchinbrooke. In March 1780, Collingwood was appointed to the Hinchinbrooke as a Post-Captain after Nelson had again been promoted and was moved to the Janus. In the spring of 1780, the two men fought alongside each other in a campaign against the Spanish fort of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Collingwood subsequently commanded the frigate Pelican, which was wrecked on the Morant Keys by a hurricane in August 1781, the 64-gun ship Sampson, and, from 1783 to 1786, the Mediator. During this latter command, Collingwood, along with his brother, Captain Wilfred Collingwood and Nelson, took part in the seizure of American ships, which had been illegally trading with the British West Indian colonies.
In 1786, Collingwood returned to England, where, with the exception of a voyage to the West Indies as commander of the Mermaid in 1790-1791, he remained until 1793. On June 16, 1791, he married Sarah Blackett, daughter of a wealthy Newcastle merchant. The couple settled at Morpeth, a quiet retreat just outside Newcastle, and subsequently had two daughters, Sarah (born in 1792) and Mary Patience (born in 1793).
Collingwood's "domestic life" ended with France's declaration of war against Britain in 1793, when he became Captain of HMS Barfleur, the flagship of Rear-Admiral George Bowyer in the Channel Fleet. During the Battle of the First of June 1794, Collingwood was forced to take command after Bowyer had received a severe wound. He next commanded the Excellent, which was initially assigned to the blockade of Toulon (Italy). During the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (Portugal, February 14, 1797), Collingwood and the Excellent distinguished themselves by seizing two Spanish ships, a feat which earned him a gold medal. Collingwood and the Excellent remained in the Mediterranean until January 1799, when the ship was paid off at Portsmouth. Promoted to Rear-Admiral, Collingwood subsequently raised his flag on the Triumph and returned to the Mediterranean. He later returned to the Barfleur to take part in a blockade of Brest (France), where he remained until the Treaty of Amiens was completed in February 1802. He then returned to his family in Morpeth.
In May 1803, with the renewal of hostilities between Britain and France, Collingwood was sent with a fleet under Admiral William Cornwallis to be stationed off Brest. Promoted to Vice-Admiral on April 23, 1804, Collingwood was subsequently stationed off Cadiz (Spain), where he remained while Nelson, by then in command of the Victory, pursued the French fleet to the West Indies and back.
Battle of Trafalgar
Nelson and the Victory rejoined Collingwood at Cadiz on September 28, 1805. Nelson spent the next month attempting to keep the size of his fleet concealed in order to encourage French Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve to lead his fleet from Cadiz. The ploy ultimately worked, and the Battle of Trafalgar was the result.
On October 21, 1805, the British fleets advanced on Villenueve's fleet in two parallel lines off the Cape of Trafalgar. One line was led by Nelson on the Victory, with the other line led by Collingwood on HMS Royal Sovereign. When he saw Victory setting her studding sails, Collingwood did the same and took the Royal Sovereign in advance to break through the enemy's line. The Royal Sovereign's main battle was with a Spanish flagship and the Santa Anna. After being informed that Nelson had been mortally wounded, Collingwood took command of the fleet. He removed his flag to HMS Euryalus, taking the damaged HMS Royal Sovereign in tow and, from there, made appropriate signals to the fleet.
After the battle had resulted in a British victory, Collingwood received a pension of £2,000 per annum and was made Baron Collingwood of Caldburne and Hethpoole in Northumberland. On November 9, 1805, he was promoted to Vice-Admiral of the Red. Succeeding Nelson as the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean fleet, Collingwood returned to the station off Cadiz. This period of command was largely uneventful except for two skirmishes in 1809. In the first engagement, which occurred in the spring of 1809, Collingwood failed to prevent five French ships from transporting reinforcements of troops and supplies from Barcelona to Toulon. In the second engagement, which took place the following October, he successfully intercepted three French vessels, two of which were driven to the shore and destroyed.
By this time Collingwood's health was suffering, and he hoped that the Admiralty would grant him permission to return to Northumberland to see his family, from whom he had become increasingly estranged. He was finally granted that permission on March 3, 1810, but died aboard the Ville De Paris on March 7 before reaching England. His remains were laid in state at the Painted Hall in Greenwich before being buried beside Admiral Nelson at St. Paul's Cathedral.
This page was last updated on March 20, 2017.