1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Collingwood, Cuthbert Collingwood, Baron
COLLINGWOOD, CUTHBERT COLLINGWOOD, Baron (1750–1810), British naval commander, was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on the 26th of September 1750. He was early sent to school; and when only eleven years of age he was put on board the “Shannon,” then under the command of Captain (afterwards Admiral) Brathwaite, a relative of his own, to whose care and attention he was in a great measure indebted for that nautical knowledge which shone forth so conspicuously in his subsequent career. After serving under Captain Brathwaite for some years, and also under Admiral Roddam, he went in 1774 to Boston with Admiral Graves, and served in the naval brigade at the battle of Bunker Hill (17th of June 1775), where he gained his lieutenancy. In 1779 he was made commander of the “Badger,” and shortly afterwards post-captain of the “Hinchinbroke,” a small frigate. In the spring of 1780 that vessel, under the command of Nelson, was employed upon an expedition to the Spanish Main, where it was proposed to pass into the Pacific by navigating boats along the river San Juan and the lakes Nicaragua and Leon. The attempt failed, and most of those engaged in it became victims to the deadly influence of the climate. Nelson was promoted to a larger vessel, and Collingwood succeeded him in the command. It is a fact worthy of record that the latter succeeded the former very frequently from the time when they first became acquainted, until the star of Nelson set at Trafalgar—giving place to that of Collingwood, less brilliant certainly, but not less steady in its lustre.
After commanding in another small frigate, Collingwood was promoted to the “Sampson” (64); and in 1783 he was appointed to the “Mediator,” destined for the West Indies, where, with Nelson, who had a command on that station, he remained till the end of 1786. With Nelson he warmly co-operated in carrying into execution the provisions of the navigation laws, which had been infringed by the United States, whose ships, notwithstanding the separation of the countries, continued to trade to the West Indies, although that privilege was by law exclusively confined to British vessels. In 1786 Collingwood returned to England, where, with the exception of a voyage to the West Indies, he remained until 1793, in which year he was appointed captain of the “Prince,” the flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Bowyer. About two years previous to this event he had married Miss Sarah Roddam—a fortunate alliance, which continued to be a solace to him amidst the privations to which the life of a seaman must ever be subject.
As captain of the “Barfleur,” Collingwood was present at the naval engagement which was fought on the 1st of June 1794; and on that occasion he displayed equal judgment and courage. On board the “Excellent” he shared in the victory of the 14th of February 1797, when Sir John Jervis (Lord St Vincent) humbled the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent. His conduct in this engagement was the theme of universal admiration throughout the fleet, and greatly advanced his fame as a naval officer. After blockading Cadiz for some time, he returned for a few weeks to Portsmouth to repair. In the beginning of 1799 Collingwood was raised to the rank of vice-admiral, and hoisting his flag in the “Triumph,” he joined the Channel Fleet, with which he proceeded to the Mediterranean, where the principal naval forces of France and Spain were assembled. Collingwood continued actively employed in watching the enemy, until the peace of Amiens restored him once more to the bosom of his family.
The domestic repose, however, which he so highly relished, was cut short by the recommencement of hostilities with France, and in the spring of 1803 he quitted the home to which he was never again to return. The duty upon which he was employed was that of watching the French fleet off Brest, and in the discharge of it he displayed the most unwearied vigilance. Nearly two years were spent in this employment; but Napoleon had at length matured his plans and equipped his armament, and the grand struggle which was to decide the fate of Europe and the dominion of the sea was close at hand. The enemy’s fleet having sailed from Toulon, Admiral Collingwood was appointed to the command of a squadron, with orders to pursue them. The combined fleets of France and Spain, after spreading terror throughout the West Indies, returned to Cadiz. On their way thither they bore down upon Admiral Collingwood, who had only three vessels with him; but he succeeded in eluding the pursuit, although chased by sixteen ships of the line. Ere one-half of the enemy had entered the harbour he drew up before it and resumed the blockade, at the same time employing an ingenious artifice to conceal the inferiority of his force. But the combined fleet was at last compelled to quit Cadiz; and the battle of Trafalgar immediately followed. The brilliant conduct of Admiral Collingwood upon this occasion has been much and justly applauded. The French admiral drew up his fleet in the form of a crescent, and in a double line, every alternate ship being about a cable’s length to windward of her second, both ahead and astern. The British fleet bore down upon this formidable and skilfully arranged armament in two separate lines, the one led by Nelson in the “Victory,” and the other by Collingwood in the “Royal Sovereign.” The latter vessel was the swifter sailer, and having shot considerably ahead of the rest of the fleet, was the first engaged. “See,” said Nelson, pointing to the “Royal Sovereign” as she penetrated the centre of the enemy’s line, “see how that noble fellow Collingwood carries his ship into action!” Probably it was at the same instant that Collingwood, as if in response to the observation of his great commander, remarked to his captain, “What would Nelson give to be here?” The consummate valour and skill evinced by Collingwood had a powerful moral influence upon both fleets. It was with the Spanish admiral’s ship that the “Royal Sovereign” closed; and with such rapidity and precision did she pour in her broadsides upon the “Santa Anna,” that the latter was on the eve of striking in the midst of thirty-three sail of the line, and almost before another British ship had fired a gun. Several other vessels, however, seeing the imminent peril of the Spanish flag-ship, came to her assistance, and hemmed in the “Royal Sovereign” on all sides; but the latter, after suffering severely, was relieved by the arrival of the rest of the British squadron; and not long afterwards the “Santa Anna” struck her colours. The result of the battle of Trafalgar, and the expense at which it was purchased, are well known. On the death of Nelson, Collingwood assumed the supreme command; and by his skill and judgment greatly contributed to the preservation of the British ships, as well as of those which were captured from the enemy. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Collingwood of Coldburne and Heathpool, and received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, with a pension of £2000 per annum.
From this period until the death of Lord Collingwood no great naval action was fought; but he was much occupied in important political transactions, in which he displayed remarkable tact and judgment. Being appointed to the command of the Mediterranean fleet, he continued to cruise about, keeping a watchful eye upon the movements of the enemy. His health, however, which had begun to decline previously to the action of Trafalgar in 1805, seemed entirely to give way, and he repeatedly requested government to be relieved of his command, that he might return home; but he was urgently requested to remain, on the ground that his country could not dispense with his services. This conduct has been regarded as harsh; but the good sense and political sagacity which he displayed afford some palliation of the conduct of the government; and the high estimation in which he was held is proved by the circumstance that among the many able admirals, equal in rank and duration of service, none stood so prominently forward as to command the confidence of ministers and of the country to the same extent as he did. After many fruitless attempts to induce the enemy to put to sea, as well as to fall in with them when they had done so (which circumstance materially contributed to hasten his death), he expired on board the “Ville de Paris,” then lying off Port Mahon, on the 7th of March 1810.
Lord Collingwood’s merits as a naval officer were in every respect of the first order. In original genius and romantic daring he was inferior to Nelson, who indeed had no equal in an age fertile in great commanders. In seamanship, in general talent, and in reasoning upon the probability of events from a number of conflicting and ambiguous statements, Collingwood was equal to the hero of the Nile; indeed, many who were familiar with both give him the palm of superiority. His political penetration was remarkable; and so high was the opinion generally entertained of his judgment, that he was consulted in all quarters, and on all occasions, upon questions of general policy, of regulation, and even of trade. He was distinguished for benevolence and generosity; his acts of charity were frequent and bountiful, and the petition of real distress was never rejected by him. He was an enemy to impressment and to flogging; and so kind was he to his crew, that he obtained amongst them the honourable name of father. Between Nelson and Collingwood a close intimacy subsisted, from their first acquaintance in early life till the fall of the former at Trafalgar; and they lie side by side in the cathedral of St Paul’s.
The selections from the public and private correspondence of Lord Collingwood, published in 2 vols., 8vo, in 1828, contain some of the best specimens of letter-writing in the language. See also A Fine Old English Gentleman exemplified in the Life and Character of Lord Collingwood, a Biographical Study, by William Davies (London, 1875).