Thursday, 15 September 2016

Trafalgar Heroes- Henry Blackwood of the Euryalus

On 15th September 1805, the Victory, with Nelson aboard, departed from Portsmouth.  Her log reads,
September 14th AM, at 11.30 hoisted the Flag of the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Nelson KB.  Sunday 15th: 8. AM, weighed and made sail to the S.S.E.  Euryalus in company.
Euryalus was a 36-gun frigate, and her Captain was Henry Blackwood.  Nelson had first come to know him in 1798 when Blackwood, in the frigate Penelope, engaged the much larger 80-gun French ship Guillaume Tell, one of two ships that had escaped from Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, after catching sight of her during the night.  Blackwood's skillful seamanship meant that he was able to fire into the French ship's stern while receiving little return fire himself, and Guillaume Tell was damaged enough that she couldn't escape from the British ships-of-the-line Foudroyant and Lion in the morning.  Nelson wrote to Blackwood,

"Your conduct and character on the late glorious occasion stamps your fame beyond the reach of envy”. 

Captain Henry Blackwood

In 1803 Blackwood was given command of the frigate Euryalus of 36 guns, and in July 1805 he saw the French fleet get into Cadiz and took the news back to England on the 2nd September.  On his way to the Admiralty he stopped off first at Nelson’s house at Merton at 5am, and they went together to the Admiralty.  He then, in the Euryalus, accompanied Nelson in the Victory back to the fleet.  Nelson offered him a ship-of-the-line but he turned it down, believing he had a greater chance of distinguishing himself in a frigate.  He later regretted his decision.

Nelson gave him command of the frigate squadron which was stationed off Toulon in a line to enable them to relay signals to the fleet, which lay beyond the horizon, and when the French fleet did begin to put to sea, Blackwood kept a close eye on them through the night.  Nelson signalled to Blackwood that he was relying on him to keep sight of the enemy, and Blackwood did an admirable job of doing so. 

Early on the morning of the battle, Nelson called Blackwood and the other frigate captains on board the Victory to give them their final orders, and trusted Blackwood enough to allow him to use Nelson’s name however he thought best to get the rear-most ships into action in the most effective way.  At this time, Nelson wrote the last codicil to his will and asked Blackwood and Hardy to sign it as witnesses.  Blackwood recognised that, leading the fleet into battle, Nelson was putting himself at great risk, and he suggested that he should shift his flag to the Euryalus.  Nelson of course refused, and so Blackwood turned to attempting to persuade him to allow other ships to go ahead of him.  Nelson appeared to give in to this and sent Blackwood to tell Captain Harvey of the Temeraire and Captain Bayntun of the Leviathan, to go ahead of the Victory if they could.  But when Blackwood returned, he saw that Nelson was doing all he could to increase sail, and the Temeraire could not get ahead.  Apparently conceding to let the two ships go ahead if they could was actually a mischievous challenge.  Blackwood stayed on the Victory for over five hours, until shots began to be fired.  As he was leaving to return to his ship, he told Nelson that he hoped to see him after the battle with 20 prizes, to which Nelson took his hand and said, “God bless you, Blackwood, I shall never speak to you again.” 

After the battle the Euryalus took the Royal Sovereign in tow, and Admiral Collingwood, having taken command of the fleet upon Nelson's death, shifted his flag into her.  He then sent Blackwood to Cadiz under a flag of truce to allow the Spanish prisoners to be sent to the hospitals there.  Blackwood had hoped for the honour of being the first to take the news of the victory to England, but though this was given to the Pickle, Euryalus did carry the imprisoned Admiral Villeneuve.  Blackwood attended Nelson’s funeral, acting as train bearer to Sir Peter Parker, the chief mourner. 

In 1806 Blackwood was given command of the Ajax, a ship-of-the-line which had been at Trafalgar, but she accidentally caught fire and sank in 1807, with the loss of over 250 lives.  Blackwood survived by clinging to an oar until he was rescued by the Canopus.  A court martial acquitted him.
Blackwood was eventually promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1814 and created a Baronet the same year, and became a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1819.  He was Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies in 1819, was promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1825,  and was Commander-in-Chief of the Nore in 1827.  He died in December 1832.

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