Consecrated in June 1798, the Trafalgar Cemetery, Gibraltar, then known as Southport Ditch Cemetery, was only in use for 16 years, until 1814. In 1798 nobody could have foreseen the momentous events about to unfold in what became known as the Peninsula War (1807 - 1814) or Gibraltar s strategic part in those events. It is said that every picture tells a story. In the Trafalgar Cemetery every stone has a tale to tell. The majority of stones tell the story of ordinary people who earned their place in history by dying at places and times that became household names at the time and familiar to students of history thereafter.
Standing tall and proud is the monument and what a story lies here. In July 1801 the French Admiral Linois tried to enter the harbour at Cadiz with three ships of the line and one frigate but, finding it blockaded by a British squadron, made for Algeciras harbour which, at that time, was protected by four Spanish forts. At that period of the Napoleonic Wars Spain was an uneasy ally of France. Under the watchful eyes of the British on Gibraltar Admiral Linois successfully anchored his small fleet in Algeciras Bay.
On the 6th July Admiral Sir James Saumarez with six ships of the line sailed out of Gibraltar to attack the French fleet. Saumarez flew his flag on the 80 gun HMS Caesar. The captain was Captain Jahleel Brenton and the Master was William Grave. The attack failed due to the heavy fire from the Spanish forts, light winds and shoals in the bay. HMS Hannibal one of the five 74 gun ships ran aground and was captured. During the short action the British lost 121 killed and 240 wounded, one of whom was William Grave whose ship had been in the thick of the action.
The English retreated to Gibraltar to repair the extensive damage to their ships whilst Admiral Linois refloated his ships that he had beached during the action to prevent them being taken.
On the 12th July the French fleet, now reinforced by one French and five Spanish ships of the line left Algeciras for Cadiz pursued by Saumarez. The French/Spanish fleet proved faster than the English ships so Saumarez gave his fastest ship. HMS Superb, 74 guns, his permission to chase and attack the enemy at will. Superb caught up with the Spanish rearguard just after nightfall and sailed between the San Hermenegildo and the Real Carlos, both of 112 guns. Captain Richard Goodwin Keats opened fire on both ships as he slipped between them. The Spanish, not realising the Superb had now gone ahead, fired on each other resulting in the loss of both ships. Keats went on to attack and capture the French St. Antoine, 74 guns. This action proved a significant victory for the English who only suffered a further 17 killed and 100 wounded. The combined French and Spanish losses amounted to 2,000, 1,700 of whom were killed when the Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo blew up.
Nearby lies this stone:
Launched in 1784, H.M.S. Experiment was one of the fastest and most deadly ships of her day. She served honourably in the Caribbean protecting British interests from French revolutionaries fighting some fierce actions at Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guadaloupe, securing those islands for Great Britain. She then helped suppress a revolt of 100,000 French slaves on the island of Santo Domingo (Haiti) before sailing to the Mediterranean in 1801. Her purser, in charge of provisioning the ship, a very responsible position for a person of only 20 years, was Richard Horatio Philipps. In the Mediterranean H.M.S. Experiment was part of the force blockading Napoleon s Egyptian army. Gibraltar and Port Mahon on Minorca were the main British naval bases. Valletta on Malta had still not been properly developed, the French force there having only surrendered to Nelson in 1800 after which Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire. In 1802 Experiment was in Gibraltar for a refit and it was there that young Philipps died though there is no record of how.
The cemetery not only caters for British subjects. After the United States won its independence in 1783 they started to develop a mercantile marine that soon rivalled that of Great Britain. To support that trade American citizens started to appear at trading ports and ports where American ships provisioned. After an Atlantic crossing Gibraltar was a hub for all American shipping then entering the Mediterranean despite the British navy s habit of searching American ships for deserters and goods being smuggled to the French. This is quite ironic since between 1798 and 1800 the American navy had been fighting a ferocious war against French privateers who preyed on American merchant ships although no open declaration of war was made. These illegal searches (America had declared herself neutral in the conflict between England and France) eventually led to America declaring war on Great Britain in 1812. Mrs Eliza Green nee Kuhn, of Philadelphia was one such American citizen who was married to Hugh Green, a merchant of Gibraltar, she died in 1800 aged 26 years.
The next stones, despite the cemetery s name, are the only two that remember those who died at the Battle of Trafalgar:
H.M.S. Colossus was a Frigate of 74 guns launched in 1803. She was known as a large 74 because she carried 24 pounder cannon on her upper gun deck as opposed to the normal 18 pounder. At the Battle of Trafalgar her Captain was James Nicoll Morris and his ship was in Collingwood s lee column. During the engagement she fought the French 74, Swiftsure and became entangled with another French 74, Argonaute. The Spanish 74, Bahama joined the melee and Argonaute broke free. Shortly afterwards Bahama surrendered to Colossus after losing her main mast and then Swiftsure did likewise after losing both main and mizzen. The carnage during this action can only be imagined and it was to prove fatal to Lieutenant William Forster aged 20 years who died of his wounds later the same day and was buried at Gibraltar.
Perhaps though he was more fortunate than Captain Thomas Norman of the Royal Marine Corps serving on H.M.S. 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 despatch 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.
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 (LAchille) burnt, amongst which is the Sta Ana, the Spanish Admiral Don DAleva 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,
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 Cochranes 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.
Whilst others remind us of places. Take this stone for example:
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.
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 Napoleons 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 enemys forts and shipping at Málaga, 29th April 1812, aged 38 years. Erected by the officers of the sloop.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.