Cuthbert Collingwood was born in Newcastle in 1748 and joined the Navy at the age of 12. His first experience of military action was surprisingly on land as in June 1775 he served at the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston Massachusetts as part of a naval contingent. In recognition he was promoted to lieutenant that same day. From the North American station he transferred to the West Indies and it was here that he first met Horatio Nelson – the two were to become firm and close friends. In 1779, Collingwood served on HMS Hinchinbroke as first lieutenant under Capt Nelson and succeeded him as captain, when Nelson was transferred to a larger ship. He subsequently commanded HMS Pelican, which was lost in a hurricane, and the 64 gun ship of the line HMS Sampson. In 1786 he was paid off and put on half pay and he returned to England.
With the resumption of war in 1793, Collingwood was recalled to naval service and fought at the Battle known as ‘the glorious first of June’ as Flag Captain to Admiral Bowyer on HMS Barfleur. The Admiral was seriously injured during the battle and his command past to Collingwood. After the battle Collingwood was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet and took part in the blockade of Toulon. He was present at the battle of Cape St Vincent where again he fought alongside his friend Nelson. He was made Rear Admiral in 1799 and Vice Admiral in 1804 and served in both the Mediterranean and Channel fleets.
In 1805 he was second-in-command to Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and his ship HMS Royal Sovereign was the first British ship to see action in the battle. It was badly damaged and eventually had to be taken in tow. On learning that Nelson had been killed, Collingwood transferred to HMS Euralyus and assumed command of the fleet. He was subsequently appointed Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet replacing Nelson, charged with protecting British interests in the Mediterranean and blockading French and Spanish ports.
In 1810 he was granted permission to resign his commission on the grounds of health and return to the UK. However he died at sea on 17 March whilst still on his way home from Menorca. His body lay in state at Greenwich before being buried in St Paul’s Cathedral close to his long-time friend and colleague Horatio Nelson.