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Trafalgar Cemetery Part 2 in Gibraltar

By Nick Nutter | 24 Jan 2018

Continuing our history of the Trafalgar Cemetery. Consecrated in June 1798, the Trafalgar Cemetery, Gibraltar, then known as Southport Ditch Cemetery, was only in use for 16 years, until 1814. A plaque on a wall at the cemetery mistakenly gives the dates as 1708 to 1835, confusion possibly caused by the Southport Ditch Cemetery once having been attached to St. Jago’s Cemetery, sometimes called Deadman’s Cemetery. St. Jago’s was on the ‘inside’ of the section of Charles V wall that abuts the Trafalgar Cemetery.

Perhaps others were more fortunate than Captain Thomas Norman of the Royal Marine Corps serving on HMS Mars, another 74. During the battle Mars took fire from five French and Spanish 74s and was heavily damaged. Captain Thomas Norman was fatally wounded but took 44 days to die.

It may be appropriate at this point in our narrative to print Collingwood’s dispatch following the battle that was printed in the Gibraltar Chronicle. It is reproduced on a stone plaque in the cemetery.

A classic example of British understatement describing one of the most important sea battles in history.

EURYALUS, AT SEA, OCTOBER 22, 1805.

Sir,

Yesterday a Battle was fought by His Majesty s Fleet, with the Combined Fleets of Spain and France, and a Victory gained, which will stand recorded as one of the most brilliant and decisive, that ever distinguished the BRITISH NAVY.

The enemy’s Fleet sailed from Cadiz, on the 19th, in the morning, Thirty Three sail of the Line in number, for the purpose of giving Battle to the British Squadron of Twenty Seven, and yesterday at Eleven A.M. the contest began, close in with the Shoals of Trafalgar.

At Five P.M. Seventeen of the Enemy had surrendered, and one (L’Achille) burnt, amongst which is the Sta Ana, the Spanish Admiral Don D’Aleva mortally wounded and the Santisima Trinidad. The French Admiral Villeneuve is now a Prisoner on board the Mars; I believe Three Admirals are captured.

Our loss has been great in Men; but what is irreparable, and the cause of Universal Lamentation is the Death of the Noble Commander in Chief, who died in the Arms of Victory; I have not yet any reports from the Ships, but have heard that Captains Duff and Cook fell in the Action.

I have to congratulate you upon the Great Event, and have the Honour to be,

(Signed) C.COLLINGWOOD

His Excellency, the Right Hon. The Hon. Gen. H. E. Fox

Some headstones however may remind us of a flamboyant character, like Lord Cochrane, who provided the inspiration for Jack Aubrey in Patrick O’Brian’s novels.

HMS Imperieuse was built as the ‘Medea’ in Ferrol, northern Spain and captured by the British during the ambushing of the neutral Spanish treasure fleet off Cap Finisterre in 1804 by a squadron led by Rear-Admiral Alexander Cochrane. This large and very sea-handy Spanish frigate was taken into British service and refitted at Falmouth as a 38-gun 5th-rate frigate, renamed ‘Imperieuse’ and the command given to Admiral Cochrane’s nephew, the dashing frigate commander Captain Thomas, Lord Cochrane later 10th Earl of Dundonald. His First Lieutenant was Edward Hunt Caulfield. Imperieuse engaged in many of Lord Cochrane’s most daring and famous actions. In one such action Lieutenant Caulfield was mortally wounded whilst the Imperieuse was engaging a French privateer off the coast of Almeria in February 1808.

The Imperieuse with Cochrane commanding went on to other actions including the Siege of the Bay of Rosas in 1808 and the notorious cutting-out action at Basque Roads (Aix la Chapelle) in 1809 that led to the court martial of Admiral Gambier. Cochrane had led the fireship attack on a French Fleet and may well have burnt the entire fleet if the British Commander in Chief, Gambier, had properly supported him.

Not all servicemen died as a result of enemy action. In 1813 Gibraltar was gripped by an epidemic of yellow fever. One of its victims was Henry Edward Andrew Sheppard, Deputy Assistant Commissary General to the Forces.

Other headstones hint at the story of men and the places they served.

In February 1810, during the Peninsular War, the French besieged Cádiz that, following the fall of Madrid, had become the Spanish seat of power. 60,000 French troops in entrenchments at Chiclana, Puerto Real and Puerto de Santa Maria faced 2,000 Spanish troops who, as the siege progressed, were reinforced by another 10,000 Spanish as well as British and Portuguese troops. Any relief had to come by sea and much of that came from Gibraltar. It was not until the French defeat at Salamanca in 1812 that the siege was lifted as the French were forced to retreat from Andalucia.

 

This was one of the most important actions during the war because the successful defence of Cádiz preserved the Spanish monarch. The French occasionally managed to break through the British naval blockade and insert a warship into Cádiz Bay from where they would bombard the city. It was during one such action in November 1810 that Lieutenants Thomas Worth and John Buckland of the Royal Marine Artillery were killed by one and the same shot fired by a French frigate. At the time they were serving a gun on one of the howitzer boats that were used against the French positions.

James Lilburn, Captain, HM Sloop Goshawk

Following their defeat at Cádiz the French were gradually pushed out of Andalucia. Málaga had been occupied by the French since they marched through on their way to Cádiz in 1810. The city was held by the 6th Regiment of Infantry of Joseph Napoleon’s army. Joseph was Napoleon’s brother and had been installed as King of Spain in 1808. In 1812 it was time to restore Málaga to the Spanish and in April that year an action took place off Málaga that has few references in any history book. The taking of Málaga was a combined army and naval battle, the army marching on the city by land supported by artillery fire supplied from naval ships offshore whose main targets were the fortifications around the city and any French shipping they found at the anchorage. One of the naval vessels taking part was the Goshawk, a 16 gun sloop that was of shallow enough draught to approach inshore. Unfortunately, during the action, her captain was killed and now rests at the Trafalgar Cemetery.

The inscription reads: James LILBURN, Captain, HM Sloop Goshawk, who nobly fell in an attack made on the enemy’s forts and shipping at Málaga, 29th April 1812, aged 38 years. Erected by the officers of the sloop.

For most of the men interred at Trafalgar Cemetery their families were many thousands of miles away. It would be weeks or months before they knew their fathers and sons had died, long after the funeral. Friends, colleagues, officers or crew funded the headstones as a mark of their genuine respect and as a lasting memorial to the person lying below. Perhaps they knew that by doing so they were writing a note in history.

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