The death of Admiral Collingwood

Captain Maling’s letter on the death of Admiral Collingwood

Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood rarely gets the praise that he deserves for his part in the Battle of Trafalgar. An long-standing friend of Nelson’s, he was happy to defer to Nelson’s genius and commanded the leeward column in the Royal Sovereign. On Nelson’s death, he took over command of the fleet from the frigate HMS Euryalis.

Collingwood did not return to Britain after Trafalgar, despite numerous requests: he was simply too valuable to the Admiralty. He had spent the last seven years of his life without returning home.

He was obviously a popular commander who inspired loyalty amongst his colleagues. The following letter recounting his last days is to be found in the National Archives1:

HMS Undaunted, Gibraltar Rock, March 26th 1810

Sir,

As I think it probable the Packet will arrive in England sooner than the Vessel Admiral Purvis2 may think proper to dispatch.

I take upon myself to give you for their Lordships information the first tidings of the much lamented Commander in Chiefs death – Lord Collingwood left Mahon on the 6th inst and expired on the 7th. He was on his way to England – His Lordship had been at Mahon a week when he found his end approaching so fast that he gave was to the advice of his Medical Men then attending him & endeavoured to reach England to yield up a life which had been devoted to the service of his King and Country & where his memory will be cherished […] the regret & admiration of a grateful Nation. His Lordships remains are on board the Ville de Paris,3 she is now in the Straights on her way to Cadiz.

Capt Hallowell aware of Lord Collingwood’s state quitted his ship & attended His Lordship to Mahon, and as the Commander in Chief continued to conduct the affairs of the Fleet to within a few hours of his death (which he frequently said was as easy as possible being occasioned by a stricture of the Pylorus4 which reduced him, from want of nourishment until he was literally starved). He probably received his last wishes respecting the Fleet. I understand Admiral [Prentis] to have been stationed without the straights Sir Saml Hood from hence to Sardinia & Adml Martin to the Eastward. 

Their Lordships I fear cannot reckon upon the services of the Hibernia5 as I understand she has been on shore & is much damaged. There has been an revolution insurrection in Mahon which ended without bloodshed & the point in dispute (to be put upon the same footing with respect to duties as Cadiz & the most favoured Ports in Spain) has been referred to the Regency. A Spanish line of Battle Ship is standing in which I suppose to be the Puebla from Carthagena.

Cables have been sent to the Spanish Ships at Cadiz from hence. Lord Collingwood was informed by Sr Forestti a few days before his death that an armistice is signed between Russia and the Porte.6

The Spanish Army in Catalonia is said to be collecting very fast & to consist already of 40,000 Men. The enemy has re-entered Malaga – a Vessel has just anchored here which came out under the convoy of the Caledonia7 [St Josef & lines]8 to Lisbon other two three-deckers which he saw entering Cadiz two days ago.

I am happy to have to acquaint you that our troops have been very well received at Ceuta. I have the honor to enclose a copy of Capt. Haywards letter to Adml. Purvis9 & to inform you that as it is the General’s wish that Capt. Hayward should be the bearer of his dispatches to England that he may report to His Majesty’s Ministers the actual state of the place. He will probably leave this in a few days – he is still in Ceuta.

I have endeavoured to give you, Sir, all the information I can collect here and beg you will excuse the haste in which I am writing that I may not detain the Packet.

I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedient humble servant

[Maling]10

J.W. Croker, London Admiralty

National Archives ADM1/2162
  1. National Archives ADM1/2162
  2. Port Admiral at Cadiz
  3. The Ville de Paris 110 guns was launched in 1795 and became Collingwood’s flagship after Trafalgar
  4. The pylorus connects the stomach to the upper intestine: so it sounds like stomach or bowel cancer
  5. A letter of marque West Indiaman
  6. The Sublime Porte was the title used for the government of the the Ottoman Empire at Constantinople
  7. HMS Caledonia was a three decker of 120 guns launched in 1808
  8. If it is the San Josef then this was the San Jose of 112 guns which was captured in 1783 at Cape St Vincent and re-named the San Josef
  9. Admiral Purvis was the Port Admiral at Cadiz
  10. The Undaunted was a frigate of 38 guns launched in 1807. At this time she was commanded by Captain Thomas Maling