Alnwick History Society

LOCAL HERO: Andrew Griffin, the author of Cuthbert Collingwood: The Northumbrian Who Saved the Nation, gave a talk to the Alnwick History Society on Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood.

Until recently, Collingwood had become something of a forgotten hero and the illustrated talk highlighted the great man’s achievements.

He was born on Newcastle quayside in 1748 and went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of 12 on the Shannon, his uncle Captain Braithwaite’s ship. He was a midshipman at 18, a lieutenant at 27 and a captain in the Royal Navy at the age of 31.

After a further seven years at sea when the nation was at war with France, he was finally given leave to return home. He had been away for 26 years.

The French were busy with their revolution for the next four years so Cuthbert Collingwood found time to marry Sarah Blackett and buy a house in Morpeth, where they had two daughters.

By 1793 he was back in action fighting the French and in 1797 the Battle of St Vincent was fought against Spain.

These were both important victories and ensured the supremacy of the Royal Navy.

Andrew emphasised the renowned gunnery skills of Collingwood and how the Portsmouth Gunnery School was named HMS Excellent after his prowess at St Vincent.

In the early 1800s, Collingwood, now aged 54, had expected to retire from active service and return to Morpeth but when Napoleon broke the peace treaty of Amiens he returned to command the fleet in 1804 and later to act as second-in-command alongside his close friend Nelson to face the threat of invasion from the Spanish and French at Trafalgar.

It is now well-known that Nelson was mortally wounded quite soon into the battle and that Collingwood brought the battle to a successful conclusion and received the ‘swords of surrender’ from the defeated French and Spanish commanders.

The talk covered the final five years of Collingwood’s life (now a Lord) when he was unable to return home. He acted as commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy and the Marines and he became politician, ambassador and advisor for the nation.

Even at 62, when he was losing his sight and his hearing, his skills as an administrator were vital to the nation. Eventually he was so ill with stomach cancer that permission was granted for his return.

All he desired was the home comforts of his family in Morpeth but seven days after leaving Port Mahon in Menorca on his journey home, he died.

Andrew Griffin, with his clear pictorial images conveyed the selfless life of service our local hero and the history society shared the presenter’s admiration.