In The Shadow Of Nelson: The Life Of Admiral Lord Collingwood
By Denis Orde ISBN: 978 1844115 7822 Pen & Sword Military 47, Church Street, Barnsley, S70 2AS £25.00
Denis Orde is no stranger to writing on maritime history matters, being the author of Nelson’s Mediterranean Command (1997) and as a contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography and in telling the story of Cuthbert Collingwood he has used an unusual but very successful format which keeps one transfixed throughout the book. But first the book is a hardback 180mm x 235mm with 289 pages and 22 black and white photographic illustrations divided into 13 chapters setting out the life and career of an individual whom you come to admire as a humble, sensitive and thoughtful man who was clearly much admired both by his men and by his fellow officers, not the least of which was Nelson.
The account takes us from his birth in Newcastle-on-Tyne through his joining the Royal Navy and meeting with Nelson, some years his junior, when on attachment in the West Indies in 1773. From this was to grow a warm and lasting close friendship between the two officers sadly brought to an end by the death of Nelson at Trafalgar. The story is woven around the copious letters written by both Nelson and Collingwood to each other, and to Collingwood’s wife, whom he was with rarely owing to sea duty which kept them almost permanently apart. In many ways this book could have been titled "Brothers at Arms", as the relationship with Nelson was extremely close.
The author takes us through the various parties with whom Collingwood had interchanges during his career and interestingly gives brief ‘pen-pictures’ of those officers, ranging from the scrupulous if eccentric John Jervis, the Lord St. Vincent, Admiral Sir Peter Parker, mentor of both Collingwood and Nelson to Admiral Earl Howe, Lord Cornwallis, and Sir John Orde (any relation?). By all he was known as, and addressed as, ‘Coll.’ By his men, although a strict disciplinarian he was known affectionately as "Cuddy", and revolutionised gun handling and accuracy such that the gunnery school is still called HMS Excellent after his ship. It is an extremely sensitive book and one sees a man determined to do his duty for King and country despite his progressing ill-health, and the refusal of the Admiralty to allow him to return home for rest, relaxation and medical treatment, primarily because they had no one who could replace his genius. Never one to be interested in frippery and light games he became more reclusive and distant, embroiled in matters of organisation, strategy and tactics, of which he was the supreme master, taking over command of Britain’s largest fleet, the Mediterranean fleet - following Nelson’s death. That his work caused him to be lonely is clear, with his only close friend and confidant being ‘Bounce’. Who was ‘Bounce’ I hear you ask - Well you had better buy the book to find out!
This really is a cracking book and the in-depth accounts of strategic decisions taken by the Admiralty in the face of invasion by the French are fascinating. The only slight concerns I had was when the script strayed into other less obvious connections - Jane Austen (page 216) and her dancing partners for example and when very occasionally an earlier sentence is repeated, as on page 247. This however should not detract from a remarkable insight into naval life, and the tedium of much of it, punctuated by intense action. On 7 March 1810 Vice Admiral the Earl Collingwood died at sea as the Admiralty had relented and, a very sick man, he was on his way home for the first time since March 1803. He was buried next to his very close friend Nelson at St. Pauls Cathedral.
Reviewed by D. B. Clement
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