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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Review by Irwin Bryan

Cover Art: In the Shadow of

In the Shadow of Nelson: The Life of Admiral Lord Collingwood
By Denis Orde
Pen and Sword, 2019, ISBN 978-1-5267-6112-5, $29.95 / £16.99


The subtitle of this book implies that this is a biography of one man, Cuthbert Collingwood, but itís actually about two men who became close friends when they served as midshipmen in His Majestyís Royal Navy. Their stories are intertwined from before the American Revolution until their famous battle off Trafalgar thirty years later.

It begins when Collingwood and Horatio Nelson are already serving in 1773. Although Nelson is just a teenager, Collingwood is ten years his senior and still a midshipman. Perhaps recognizing in each other a truly dedicated officer and a shared hatred of the French, they become close while spending their liberties ashore. They maintain this relationship while corresponding from their respective ships and stations over the years.

Collingwood became a lieutenant after leading a naval brigade on shore during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. After fourteen years as a midshipman, he was named fourth lieutenant on the Somerset. Nelson was examined by officers at the Admiralty and passed for lieutenant in April 1777.

Later in 1777, they were both assigned to the Jamaica Station under Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Parker. It wasnít long before Parker saw that these two officers were a cut above the rest and took a strong interest in their careers. Nelson was transferred to be third lieutenant aboard Parkerís flagship, the Bristol. In three months, when Parker promoted Nelson to first lieutenant, Collingwood was transferred to the flagship and became the new third lieutenant. Next, Nelson was made commander of the 12-gun Badger and Collingwood was Bristolís first lieutenant.

Before reading this book, I was accustomed to reading that Collingwood served in the shadow of Nelson. I always took that to mean that no matter how hard he fought, he never received the notoriety and acclaim that Nelson did. And ranked second-in-command at Trafalgar meant he led his own line of ships and was the first one to come under fire and break the enemyís line. Regardless, it was considered Nelsonís great victory and Collingwood who received honorable mention.

I was surprised to read how Parker gave Nelson several promotions and appointed Collingwood to replace him every step of the way. When Parker made Nelson a post-captain in command of the 28-gun frigate HMS Hinchinbroke, he also made Collingwood the Badgerís commander. And when Nelson was moved to command HMS Janus (44), Collingwood became post-captain of HMS Hinchinbroke. After languishing for all those years as a midshipman, he was thrilled to follow Nelsonís rapid ladder of advancement.

The two captains served together again in the West Indies in 1784. After this assignment, there was a period of peace and the two friends returned home until the French Revolution began. Both men were then kept employed until their deaths many years later.

During the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, under Admiral Sir John Jervis, Nelson became a household name by pulling out of the line of battle and cutting off the enemyís retreat. Collingwood came to his rescue when the French had him outnumbered, leaving Nelson free to lead his crew in boarding and capturing two ships of the line.

The world continued waging war almost non-stop well into the nineteenth century, and the two warriors continued to serve. Both men were made vice-admirals in April 1804. Six months later, Nelson commanded the fleet and Collingwood was his second-in-command as they led their respective lines towards the enemy at Trafalgar. After Nelson died, Collingwood was kept in charge of the Mediterranean Fleet without any relief until he passed away in April 1809.

Pages of black-and-white pictures are found in the bookís center, including portraits they drew of each other while in Jamaica. A section of notes and an extensive bibliography precede the index.

Youíll read about Collingwoodís and Nelsonís battles and learn their candid thoughts through excerpts from their many letters. Orde knew both men were involved in controversies and youíll read of these as well; Collingwood felt slighted after his ship fought hard at the Glorious First of June and Nelson expressed his views on his superiorsí shortcomings.

This is an excellent view behind the scenes of two men and a navy at war. If youíre interested in the Napoleonic Wars or the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail, this is a great book for you. It provides a different perspective on naval life and fresh insights into the battles fought. You also get to know these two great men and the contributions each made to a grateful nation.

Review Copyrighted ©2020 Irwin Bryan


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