Stone statue on a plinth on a grassy hillside
England,  History,  Lens-Artists

Admiral Lord Collingwood, a forgotten hero

What better position for a monument to one of the country’s greatest seamen than this, high above the mouth of the Tyne with a view out to sea? Yet in many ways Collingwood is something of a forgotten hero, barely known outside his native North East.

If you are one of the many who hasn’t heard of him, his ‘claim to fame’ is that he was Nelson’s second-in-command at Trafalgar, and subsequently went on to complete the victory after Nelson was killed. He was also a great friend of Nelson’s. Born and educated in Newcastle, he had joined the navy when only 12 years old and met his friend when they were both serving in Jamaica in 1772. His naval career took him all over Europe, North America and the West Indies; he was totally devoted to the service and to his country, as was his great friend. It is said that during his long career of almost 50 years he spent only a total of three of them on dry land.

Stone statue on a plinth on a grassy hillside
Approaching the statue

Collingwood’s role at Trafalgar

Everyone knows, or at least believes, that Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar and saved the country from invasion by Napoleon; there is of course a monument to recognise this fact in London’s Trafalgar Square. But maybe Collingwood should stand there too, as there were two heroes that day. Even as his best friend Nelson lay dying, Collingwood took control of the situation and rallied the troops. Commanding them from his ship, the Royal Sovereign, he routed the French and Spanish enemy forces. Had the Royal Navy lost the battle, Napoleon and his 115,000 troops would have been free to sweep across the channel from his base in Boulogne and invade England. But thanks to Collingwood the British Navy did not lose a single ship at Trafalgar; and more importantly, the country was saved from invasion.

Stone statue on a plinth on a grassy hillside
Statue of Admiral Collingwood

Collingwood also recognised the great degree to which the Navy relied on oak trees to build the ships it needed. He knew that it took 2,000-3,000 oaks to build a ship like Victory or the Royal Sovereign. So he bought land in the Cheviots and developed forestry plantations there; and on the rare occasions he was home, he planted acorns wherever he could to boost the stocks of timber for British ships. Ironically, by the time these trees were fully grown technology had moved on and ships were being built from iron rather than wood. But he was not to know that. He died at sea near Menorca in 1810, having been made a Baron for his great exploits at Trafalgar.

The statue

This marvellous monument to him was erected in 1845, and was designed by John Dobson, with the statue sculpted by John Graham Lough. It stands on a massive base incorporating a flight of steps flanked by four cannons from the Royal Sovereign, the ship he commanded at Trafalgar. The inscription on the base reads:

‘THIS MONUMENT
was erected in 1845 by Public Subscription to the memory of
ADMIRAL LORD COLLINGWOOD
who in the Royal Sovereign on 21st October, 1805 led the British Fleet
into action at Trafalgar and sustained the Sea Fight for upwards of an hour
before the other ships were in gunshot which caused Nelson to exclaim:
“SEE HOW THAT NOBLE FELLOW COLLINGWOOD TAKES HIS SHIPS INTO ACTION”
__________
He was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1748 and died in the Service
Of his country on board of the “VILLE DE PARIS” on 7th March 1810
AND WAS BURIED IN ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
__________
THE FOUR GUNS UPON THIS MONUMENT BELONGED TO HIS SHIP THE
ROYAL SOVEREIGN’

Old cannon backlit against the sky
Cannon from the Royal Sovereign

I have written previously about my love of Tyneside, developed over many years of marriage to a Geordie (native of Newcastle). I consider the city my second home; but it is nearby Tynemouth that particularly draws me, with its combination of history, coastline and appealing village-like centre.

View of a river mouth on a sunny day
The admiral’s view

I am sharing one of my favourite spots there for this week’s Lens-Artist challenge in which guest host Priscilla has asked us to share ‘anything that has captured your attention, won your affection and taught you a thing or two.’ Certainly Tynemouth has won my affection, while this monument to a forgotten hero has captured my attention and taught me a thing or two about our history!

I visit Tynemouth regularly. These photos were mostly taken in 2015.

27 Comments

  • pattimoed

    Great idea, Sarah of writing about Collingwood. I had no idea about his role at Trafalgar and his friendship with Lord Nelson. Yes, you’re right. He needs to be memorialized and honored for his role in British history. I guess you and I share the same love of history!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Patti 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Admiral Collingwood and his role at Trafalgar. I enjoy history when I find interesting characters or ones I can relate to – I’m not so keen on lists of dates, battles etc. It’s all about the people for me 😀

  • JohnRH

    As a history lover I love your history of Collingwood. Fascinating. I ran my first 1/2 marathon in Newcastle-on-Tyne at around age 45, sometime in the previous century. A great experience.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you John 🙂 That must have been the Great North Run, the largest (and one of the oldest I believe) half marathon in the world! You would have finished in South Shields on the south side of the mouth of the Tyne just across from the Admiral 😀

  • SandyL

    Two hours away from where I live (in Toronto, Canada) we have named Collingwood. It’s well known for its proximity to the ski hills and Lake Huron. I’d never thought about it, but after reading your post I looked it up and confirmed that it is named after Admiral Collingwood. I learned a bit a English history today 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for joining the challenge and sharing this fascinating bit of British history! I am always glad to learn more about my ancestral country. Sunny blue skies and views of the sea aren’t what I often associate with it, but phrases like “that noble fellow” bring a smile of recognition. Well done!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you ‘anonymous’ 🙂 Glad you enjoyed this and learned a little bit of history from it!

      Views of the sea are pretty common in England – we are after all an island race 😆 We can do blue skies pretty well too, especially in the east of the country like Tynemouth – despite what people say, it doesn’t rain all the time here! In fact we’ve had such a dry April that gardeners are praying for rain!!

  • wetanddustyroads

    Never heard of Collingwood … and after reading your interesting story, I’m surprised that he is not mentioned in the same sentence (or paragraph) as the famous Lord Nelson. And spending only about 3 years of his entire life on dry land, makes him (in my eyes) a proper seaman!
    Thanks Sarah, I’ve enjoyed this bit of history 👍🏻.

  • Tina Schell

    Terrific choice Sarah – now I’ve learned something too!! Loved the story about his planting acorns. They may not have been needed for ships but they would be a wonderful addition to the world with more trees and lovely shade.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Tina 🙂 Yes, I love that story too – he was environmentally conscious long before his time, realising that what we used from the earth needed to be replaced.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Ah, I seem to remember Albert telling me that after I wrote about Tynemouth on TravellersPoint. And yes, I just checked back and this is what he wrote there:

      ‘Your reference to Lord Collingwood caused me to Google him as there is a suburb of Melbourne called Collingwood and I have oft wondered why so. It was indeed named after Lord Collingwood. Accordingly, Collingwood Football Club, arguably Australia’s best known footie (not soccer) club is related to the good Lord. Nice follow-on from your Newcastle soccer review :-). I don’t imagine many of the footie club fans would know of Lord Collingwood.’

      • Anna

        Ahhh yes Albert is right. Most of the Collingwood football club fans are known as “bogans” here in Australia (like your chavs I guess) and wouldn’t have a clue where the name Colligwood comes from. Lol

  • Marsha

    Fabulous history lesson easy enough even for those of us who don’t know the full of English history to understand. You definitely have a relationship with the history of that area, Sarah.

  • Rose Vettleson

    Thanks for the history lesson and for drawing attention to the lesser-known heroes. Apologies if you’ve already mentioned this in the past, but are you an educator? You seem to have a natural flair for telling the stories of a place.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Not really, or rather, only tangentially. I was a children’s librarian for many years so I guess I learned how to present facts in an interesting way to the school classes that visited. But I’m not sure that’s impacted very much on how I write. I suspect it’s more a case of being a keen reader, so knowing what I’d like to read, plus all my travels which have created an enthusiasm in me for just what you describe, the stories of a place 🙂

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Such an interesting post Sarah, I (Michaela) didn’t really know anything about Collingwood. I used to live in Portsmouth so I have visited the dock yard and been on HMS Victory and knew the Nelson stories but I don’t remember any mention of Collingwood so your post is informative.

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