The Great Man’s Own Words: quotes from Collingwood himself

It is not unusual to hear some of Collingwood’s speeches described as ‘Churchillian’ in character, but one must remember who came first. Rather, should it not be that some of Churchill’s speeches could have drawn inspiration from the words of Collingwood? Just like Churchill however, Collingwood could be dry and cutting when he rounded on a particular individual. Yet his writings also display an undoubted affection and beautifully capture the significance of the English countryside to a man who was, over a forty-four year seagoing career, to see little of it. Like many a man too, Collingwood developed a close bond with his dog – the almost equally famous ‘Bounce’ – and many readers will instantly recognise his muses and observations on his canine companion. Ultimately however, Collingwood will perhaps be best known for the series of despatches sent to their Lordships at the Admiralty in the days immediately after the Battle of Trafalgar, when his words not only reported both a victory over the enemy and the loss of Nelson, but managed at the same time to convey sentiments from the very bottom of his own heart and those that would be echoed by the nation. Here then, is but a brief selection….

“My dog is a good dog, delights in the ship and swims after me when I go in the boat.”
Collingwood to his sister Mary (July 1790), Hughes 11, Sheerness.

“I am sure I have great cause for thankfulness for such a family, a wife that is goodness itself, and two healthy children that with her care and her example can scarce fail to be like her. All my troubles here seem light when I look Northward and consider how well I am rewarded for them.”
Collingwood to Sir Edward Blackett (December 1793) Hughes 20, from HMS Prince at Spithead.

“I hope to find Sall can swim like a frog, the darling. Why should a miss be more subject to drown by an accident than a master?”
Collingwood to Dr Carlyle (July 1795) Hughes 34, from HMS Excellent

“I have no desire to command in a port, except at Morpeth, where I am only second.”
Collingwood to Dr Alexander Carlyle (April 1799) Hughes 48, Morpeth.

“Then I will plant my cabbages again, and prune my goosberry trees, cultivate roses, and twist the woodbine through the hawthorn hedge…”

“A good tempered man, full of vanity, a great deal of pomp, and a pretty smattering of ignorance – nothing of the natural ability that raises men without the advantages of learned education”
On Sir Hyde Parker, to his sister (November 1800) Hughes 62 from HMS Barfleur.

“I should be much obliged to you if you would send Scott a guinea for me, for these hard times must pinch the poor old man, and he will miss my wife, who was very kind to him.”
To his father -in-law, regarding his gardener at Morpeth (1801).

“Lord Nelson is an incomparable man, a blessing to any country that is engaged in such a war. His successes in most of his undertakings are the best proofs of his genius and his talents. Without much previous preparation or plan he has the faculty of discovering advantages as they arise, and the good judgement to turn them to his use. An enemy that commits a false step in his view is ruined, and it comes on him with an impetuosity that allows him no time to recover.”
Collingwood to Dr Alexander Carlyle (August 1801) Hughes 69, from HMS Barfleur

“I should recommend Northumberland for your residence, a fine healthy air; in winter a comfortable fire and friends about you that would be made happy by your neighbourhood.”
Collingwood to Mrs Stead (May 1802) Hughes 75, Thorpe Lee

“I have got a nurseryman man here from Wrighton [Ryton]. It is a great pity that they should press such a man because when he was young he went to sea for a short time. They have broken up his good business at home, distressed his family, and sent him here, where he is of little or no service. I grieve for him poor man.”
Collingwood to John Erasmus Blackett (July 1804) GLNC 96, from HMS Culloden off Ushant

“Captain, I have been thinking, whilst I looked at you, how strange it is that a man should grow so big and know so little. That’s all, Sir; that’s all.”
On Captain Rotheram: attributed to Collingwood in ‘Sea Drift’ (1858).

“AM. Departed this life Mr. Samuel Price 3rd lieutenant, who for his gentleness of disposition, equanimity, vigilance and unwearied attention to the Service, was universally regretted. Every action of his life was guided by justice, candour and honour; the years of a youth were enriched with knowledge equal to long experience; he discharged his duty to his country like an officer, and to all mankind as their friend; no wonder he lived beloved, and died lamented.”
Collingwood, Log (June 6th 1773) Princess Amelia, Port Royal

“Now, gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter.”
To his Officers before the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 Oct 1805. Anectdotal remark, probably reported to the biographer Newnham-Collingwood by William Conway, the Admiral’s secretary. Newnham-Collingwood (1837) i, 174

“What would Nelson give to be here?”
At the start of the Battle of Trafalgar, as HMS Royal Sovereign surged towards the Spanish line, well ahead of any other British ship

The ever-to-be lamented death of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, who, in the late conflict with the enemy, fell in the hour of victory, leaves to me the duty of informing my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that on the 19th instant, it was communicated to the Commander in Chief, from the ships watching the motions of the enemy in Cadiz, that the Combined Fleet had put to sea; as they sailed with light winds westerly, his Lordship concluded their destination was the Mediterranean, and immediately made all sail for the Streights’ entrance, with the British Squadron, consisting of twenty-seven ships, three of them sixtyfours, where his Lordship was informed, by Captain Blackwood (whose vigilance in watching, and giving notice of the enemy’s movements, has been highly meritorious), that they had not yet passed the Streights.

On Monday the 21st instant, at day-light, when Cape Trafalgar bore E. by S. about seven leagues, the enemy was discovered six or seven miles to the Eastward, the wind about West, and very light; the Commander in Chief immediately made the signal for the fleet to bear up in two columns, as they are formed in order of sailing; a mode of attack his Lordship had previously directed, to avoid the inconvenience and delay in forming a line of battle in the usual manner. The enemy’s line consisted of thirty-three ships (of which eighteen were French, and fifteen Spanish), commanded in Chief by Admiral Villeneuve: the Spaniards, under the direction of Gravina, wore, with their heads to the Northward, and formed their line of battle with great closeness and correctness; but as the mode of attack was unusual, so the structure of their line was new; it formed a crescent, convexing to leeward, so that, in leading down to their centre, I had both their van and rear abaft the beam; before the fire opened, every alternate ship was about a cable’s length to windward of her second a-head and a-stern, forming a kind of double line, and appeared, when on their beam, to leave a very little interval between them; and this without crowding their ships. Admiral Villeneuve was in the Bucentaure, in the centre, and the Prince of Asturias bore Gravina’s flag in the rear, but the French and Spanish ships were mixed without any apparent regard to order of national squadron.

As the mode of our attack had been previously determined on, and communicated to the Flag-Officers, and Captains, few signals were necessary, and none were made, except to direct close order as the line bore down.

The Commander in Chief, in the Victory, led the weather column, and the Royal Sovereign, which bore my flag, the lee.

The action began at twelve o’clock, by the leading ships breaking through the enemy’s line, the Commander in Chief about the tenth ship from the van, the Second in Command about the twelfth from the rear, leaving the van of the enemy unoccupied; the succeeding ships breaking through in all parts, astern of the leaders, and engaging the enemy at the muzzles of their guns; the conflict was severe; the enemy’s ships were fought with a gallantry highly honourable to their Officers; but the attack on them was irresistible, and it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all events to grant his Majesty’s arms a complete and glorious victory. About three P.M. many of the enemy’s ships having struck their colours, their line gave way; Admiral Gravina, with ten ships joining their frigates to leeward, stood towards Cadiz. The five headmost ships in their van tacked, and standing to the Southward, to windward of the British line, were engaged, and the sternmost of them taken; the others went off, leaving to his Majesty’s squadron nineteen ships of the line (of which two are first rates, the Santissima Trinidad and the Santa Anna,) with three Flag Officers, viz. Admiral Villeneuve, the Commander in Chief; Don Ignatio Maria D’Aliva, Vice Admiral; and the Spanish Rear-Admiral, Don Baltazar Hidalgo Cianeros.

After such a Victory it may appear unnecessary to enter into Encomiums on the particular Parts taken by several Commanders; the Conclusion says more on the Subject than I have Language to express; the Spirit which animated all was the same; when all exert themselves zealously in their Country’s Service, all deserve that their high Merits should stand recorded; and never was high Merit more conspicuous than in the Battle I have described.

The Achille (a French 74), after having surrendered, by some Mismanagement of the Frenchmen took Fire and blew up; Two hundred of her Men were saved by the Tenders.

A Circumstance occurred during the Action, which so strongly marks the invincible Spirit of British Seamen, when engaging the Enemies of their Country, that I cannot resist the Pleasure I have in making it known to their Lordships; the Temeraire was boarded by Accident, or Design, by a French Ship on one Side, and a Spaniard on the other; the Contest was vigorous, but in the End, the combined Ensigns were torn from the Poop, and the British hoisted in their Places.

Such a Battle could not be fought without sustaining a great Loss of Men. I have not only to lament, in common with the British Navy, and the British Nation, in the Fall of the Commander in Chief, the Loss of a Hero, whose Name will be immortal, and his Memory ever dear to his Country; but my Heart is rent with the most poignant Grief for the Death of a Friend, to whom, by many Years’ Intimacy, and a perfect Knowledge of the Virtues of his Mind, which inspired Ideas superior to the common Race of Men, I was bound by the strongest Ties of Affection; a Grief to which even the glorious Occasion in which he fell, does not bring the Consolation which perhaps it ought; his Lordship received a Musket Ball in his Left Breast, about the Middle of the Action, and sent an Officer to me immediately with his last Farewell; and soon after expired.

I have also to lament the Loss of those excellent Officers Captains Duff of the Mars, and Cooke of the Bellerophon; I have yet heard of none others.

I fear the Numbers that have fallen will be found very great when the Returns come to me; but it having blown a Gale of Wind ever since the Action, I have not yet had it in my Power to collect any Reports from the Ships.

The Royal Sovereign having lost her Masts, except the tottering Foremast, I called the Euryalus to me, while the Action continued, which Ship lying within Hail, made my Signals, a Service Captain Blackwood, performed with great Attention. After the Action, I shifted my Flag to her, that I might more easily communicate my Orders to, and collect the Ships, and towed the Royal Sovereign out to Seaward. The whole Fleet were now in a very perilous Situation, many dismasted; all shattered in Thirteen Fathom Water, off the Shoals of Trafalgar; and when I made the Signal to prepare to anchor, few of the Ships had an Anchor to let go, their Cables being shot; but the same good Providence which aided us through such a Day preserved us in the Night, by the Wind shifting a few Points, and drifting the Ships off the Land, except Four of the captured dismasted Ships, which are now at Anchor off Trafalgar, and I hope will ride safe until those Gales are over.

Having thus detailed the Proceedings of the Fleet on this Occasion, I beg to congratulate their Lordships on a Victory which, I hope, will add a Ray to the Glory of His Majesty’s Crown, and be attended with public Benefit to our Country.

I am, &c.”
Collingwood’s ‘Trafalgar Dispatch’ as written on board and sent from HMS Euryalus, off Cape Trafalgar, Oct. 22, 1805. Later reproduced in a LONDON GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY.

In my letter of the 22d, I detailed to you, for the information of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, the proceedings of his Majesty’s squadron on the day of the action, and that preceding it, since which I have had a continued series of misfortunes; but they are of a kind that human prudence could not possibly provide against, or my skill prevent.

On the 22d, in the morning, a strong southerly wind blew, with squally weather, which, however, did not prevent the activity of the Officers and Seamen of such ships as were manageable, from getting hold of many of the prizes (thirteen or fourteen), and towing them off to the Westward, where I ordered them to rendezvous round the Royal Sovereign, in tow by the Neptune: but on the 23d the gale increased, and the sea ran so high that many of the, broke the tow-rope, and drifted far to leeward before they were got hold of again; and some of them, taking advantage in the dark and boisterous night, got before the wind, and have perhaps, drifted upon the shore and sunk; on the afternoon of that day the remnant of the Combined Fleet, ten sail of the ships, who had not been much engaged, stood up to leeward of my shattered and straggled charge, as if meaning to attack them, which obliged me to collect a force out of the least injured ships, and form to leeward for their defence; all this retarded the progress of the hulks, and the bad weather continuing, determined me to destroy all the leewardmost that could be cleared of the men considering that keeping possession of the ships was a matter of little consequence, compared with the chance of their falling again into the hands of the enemy; but even this was an arduous task in the high sea which was running. I hope, however, it has been accomplished to a considerable extent; I entrusted it to skilful Officers, who would spare no pains to execute what was possible. The Captains of the Prince and Neptune cleared the Trinidad and sunk her. Captains Hope, Bayntun, and Malcolm, who joined the fleet this moment from Gibraltar, had the charge of destroying four others. The Redoubtable sunk astern of the Swiftsure while in tow. The Santa Anna, I have no doubt, is sunk, as her side was almost entirely beat in; and such is the scattered condition of the whole of them, that unless the weather moderates I doubt whether I shall be able to carry a ship of them into port. I hope their Lordships will approve of what I (having only in consideration the destruction of the enemy’s fleet) have thought a measure of absolute necessity.

I have taken Admiral Villeneuve into this ship; Vice-Admiral Don Aliva is dead. Whenever the temper of the weather will permit, and I can spare a frigate (for there were only four in the action with the fleet, Euryalus, Sirius, Phœbe, and Naiad; the Melpomene joined the 22d, and the Eurydice andScout the 23d,) I shall collect the other flag officers, and send them to England, with their flags, if they do not all go to the bottom), to be laid at his Majesty’s feet.

There were four thousand troops embarked, under the command of General Contamin, who was taken with Admiral Villeneuse in the Bucentaure.”
A further dispatch to the Admiralty, sent from HMS Euryalus, off Cadiz, Oct 24 1805.

“My Dear Sister – We fought a battle on the 21st and obtained a victory such as perhaps there is no instance of. We were 27 ships, the combined fleet 33. My dear friend Nelson fell in [the] middle of the battle. I followed up what he had begun…”
Collingwood to his sister (October 1805) Hughes 93, off Cadiz

“I hope I shall keep my health, but I am much worried in spirit and worn in body, and lest I should fail at an important moment I have wrote to the Admiralty to request their Lordships will allow me to come home to England and recover my shaken body, which I think you will be glad to hear. If I can but have one little finishing touch at the Frenchmen before I come it will be a glorious termination.”
Collingwood to his sister (August 1808) Hughes 162, from HMS Ocean.

“Should we decide to change the place of our dwelling…I should be forever regretting those beautiful views which are nowhere to be exceeded…The fact is, whenever I think how I am to be happy again, my thoughts carry me back to Morpeth, where, out of the fuss and parade of the world, surrounded by those I loved most dearly and who loved me, I enjoyed as much happiness as my nature is capable of.”
On his home, 1806.

“Fourteen or sixteen hours of every day I am employed. I have about eighty ships of war under my orders, and the direction of naval affairs from Constantinople to Cadiz, with an active and powerful enemy, always threatening, and though he seldom moves, keeps us constantly on the alert.”
Collingwood to Mrs Stead (April 1809) Hughes 174, from HMS Ville de Paris.

“You will be sorry to hear my poor dog Bounce is dead. I am afraid he fell overboard in the night. He is a great loss to me. I have few comforts, but he was one, for he loved me. Everybody sorrows for him. He was wiser than [many] who hold their heads higher and was grateful [to those] who were kind to him.”
Collingwood to his sister (August 1809) Hughes 184, from HMS Ville de Paris off Toulon.

 “The women [under siege at Gerona] are dressed in the habits of men, are armed with muskets and behave with the greatest gallantry. The soul of a woman is the excellence of creation, but how they would spoil it by foolish fashion, affecting a timidity which they do not feel. I wish my girls were taught their exercise and to be good shots. I think it will be useful to them before long. I am sure Sarah would be a sharp shooter, a credit to any Light Corps.”
Collingwood to Mrs Stead (October 1809) Hughes 190, from HMS Ville de Paris off Barcelona.

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