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Collingwood 2010 Event: “Trafalgar, the weather and Collingwood”: a talk by Dr. Dennis Wheeler 14 March, 2010

Posted by Molly Joyful in Cuthbert Collingwood, Events, Nelson, Royal Navy, Talks.
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Locals, mark next Thursday in your calendars:

A talk by Dr. Dennis Wheeler

Thursday 18th March – HMS Calliope, Gateshead,  7.30pm

Admiral Lord Collingwood’s decision after the Battle of Trafalgar to head for Gibraltar rather than anchoring the fleet is still subject of much speculation and discussion (please also see this thread). The Fleet was hit by a terrible storm, many people died, great damage was done and some of the captured prizes were lost. Should Collingwood have known? Did he have all the information? Were warning signs ignored?

Unsurprisingly, opinions vary greatly and arguments are presented with great enthusiasm. One could say that “The storm – was Collingwood right or wrong?” is the Age of Sail equivalent to “Balrogs – winged or not?”; a discussion which has kept aficionados of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work busy for decades…

Dr. Dennis Wheeler is an expert on the matter, so you can expect new facts and views; definitely an event which promises to be very interesting!

The talk is open to the public, but you have to register previously so you’ll get access to HMS Calliope.

I wish everybody attending the talk an enjoyable evening! Reports are, as always, very welcome.

And don’t forget: keep an eye on the diary on the Official Collingwood 2010 Website!



1. Jen - 15 March, 2010

It’s kind of tempting. I want to know what they say – isn’t there also doubt over whether they *could* anchor? But it’s a long way to go :)

2. ShipRat - 15 March, 2010

how long is long?

Jen - 16 March, 2010

About an hour and a half on the train, and I’m about half an hour from the station to start with.
I’d do the hour on the train to Glasgow without thinking, but crossing the border makes it a bigger thing, somehow :)

I’m also supposed to be in charge of an hour of social dancing on Thursday evenings – I don’t necessarily have to *be* there, because I sign people up in advance (sometimes including me) to call the dances, but there’s something else on at the same time this week, so we might be short of people.

3. ShipRat - 16 March, 2010

OK, even in Canada, a round trip that lasts longer than the presentation itself is considered a bit of a step…

(I’ve been known to do it myself though. Once drove from Montreal to Quebec City and back again – 6 hrs round trip – to catch a concert by my favourite Breton singer. hey, it was handier than going to Europe. I went to get his autograph afterward and they were joking, “Elle est *mordu* d’Erik”, making me blush)

4. Jen - 16 March, 2010


It’s doable. And it’s balanced out a bit by the fact that I actually enjoy being on trains – there’s something about being part of a small moving world that I find quite peaceful, and very good for reading and writing and getting things done. But it would definitely be silly.

I’ve probably gone 3 hours each way to Aberdeen for a 4.5 hour dance. Not sure if that’s the worst.

5. Granville Thompson - 19 March, 2010

Last night, we were treated to the BBC Shipping Forecast for October 21st 1805 and saw the weather map of the day for the Iberian Peninsula, along with (had he had the technology) what Collingwood (and significantly, others too) would have seen as a satellite image of the gathering storm. And this all based on actual weather data, including from the Spanish station at Cadiz, methodically recorded on ships and at shore stations at the time. The speaker explained how this data has been rationalised with modern methods and how an accurate picture of the weather has now been built up for every single day back to 1685!!

We also saw reproductions of extracts from the Victory’s log book and Nelson’s personal journal, with their corresponding meteorological observations.

The conclusion of the discussion which followed Dennis Wheeler’s fascinating talk was that while Collingwood would have correctly interpreted the signs of the approaching storm and accurately assessed its severity, nobody could have predicted its duration. And this was apparently a seriously unusual storm in that respect. Therefore, perhaps anticipating a couple of days of bad weather, Collingwood believed that, for the most part, the ships could have ridden it out.

The question was also asked as to why Collngwood was not so strongly criticised at the time for the loss of so many prizes. In addition to the focus being on the victory and the loss of Nelson, it was emphasised that the ultimate aim was the destruction of the Franco-Spanish Fleet and that if that happened on the rocks or from being overwhelmed by the sea, rather than from cannon fire, then it had anyway been fulfilled. Prize money, although significant, was incidental to the strategy.

Dennis Wheeler is a cracking speaker and much more widely versed on the political and strategic elements of Trafalgar than I think we all thought he might be – easily able to answer wider historical questions than might be expected from a meteorologist!!

A nice balance to the mainstream topics and well attended too. I also heard him say that some material from his presentation will be made available for the Festival website.

6. "Old Cuddy" – Collingwood 2010 - 19 March, 2010

[…] and Collingwood” by Dr. Dennis Wheeler. He was so kind to post about the event in a comment here, but it would be a shame if those who didn’t subscribe to the comment-feed would miss out on […]

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