After the Battle of Trafalgar the common perception, then as now, was that the French Navy had been neutralised by the battle, but that was far from the case. In Cadiz the remnants of the Combined Fleet were blockaded. Apart from an occasional breakout by individual ships, most to be quickly snapped up by patrolling British frigates, the French and Spanish ships and their people rotted away under the Andalucian sun. The Spanish navy was finished as a maritime threat, and the French navy retired to its safe ports to lick its wounds.
But in Continental Europe the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte was entering its most successful phase, and with his armies in control on land, the French national navy could recover from the shock of a defeat which was less than the annihilation Nelson had hoped for.
In 1806 Bonaparte began a new naval arms race. In the six years following Trafalgar France would outspend Britain in naval shipbuilding, French shipwrights launching 40 new ships of 70 gu
ns or greater. The four large slipways at Toulon, France’s main naval dockyard in the Mediterranean, were constantly occupied with ships in frame, and slowly the French Mediterranean fleet was regenerated. And it was Toulon which became the focus of Collingwood’s attention when he succeeded Admiral Nelson as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.
Collingwood’s new post was at the epicentre of British naval interest, but much more than a merely naval command. As Nelson had discovered, command of the Mediterranean demanded political and administrative competence the equal of naval and military skills. Collingwood, in his five years in command of Britain’s most important theatre of war, would also find himself Britain’s premier diplomat. As the MP Thomas Creevey wrote, Collingwood had become:
“the prime and sole minister of England, acting upon the seas, corresponding with all surrounding States, and ordering and executing everything upon his own responsibility.” 
The Reverend Cecil Isaacson, in his short monograph on Nelson’s long stint on the beach from 1782, gives us an unusual picture of Nelson the domestic man, at home with his paternal family and enjoying his garden at Burnham Thorpe. In this, Horatio Nelson was like Cuthbert Collingwood, whose many letters home to his wife, daughters and sisters during his long, and tragically fatal, posting as commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, often show domesticity, a fondness for his garden and a love of his native Northumbrian countryside.
In other aspects of their personalities Collingwood and Nelson were chalk and cheese, the elder man seen as a little old-fashioned, sometimes stiff and dour, while his more glamorous friend had the reputation of being personable and charming, open to all the men under his command. Neither of these images is quite true, but what is indisputable is that both Nelson and Collingwood were very good judges of men’s character. They knew what type of officer they needed and were happy when the more competent of them took risks and, more often than not, won important fights against the odds.
Consequently, both commanders attracted the best officers. Collingwood inherited from Nelson commanders whose names are still well-known to us – Robert Barrie, William Hoste, Robert Otway, James Alexander Gordon and the erratic but brilliant “Swedish Knight”, Sir Sidney Smith, and a few whom we may not know much about such as George Mundy. Although he was never under Nelson’s direct command, Thomas Cochrane – Lord Cochrane – was the equal of any of these commanders and joined Collingwood’s Mediterranean fleet in 1807. The nature of the war there was well suited to the use of frigates, and it is the frigate captains who grabbed the imagination of the public at home, through reading of their exploits in the newspapers, and even in the official journal the London Gazette, while naval people would eagerly await the new editions of The Naval Chronicle every six months, full of reportage of the latest actions.
But it was not enough for a commander to be personally brave, an eager seeker after fame and glory – and prize money. Like naval officers today, the best commanders were also excellent mariners, experienced warriors, good leaders of men, professionals with a clear vision, and also careful of the lives in their trust, using planning and clever tactics to keep the butcher’s bill as low as possible.
The best officers of the navy of Collingwood’s time were not the product of naval academies, although such institutions existed, such as at Portsmouth for a century from 1733, but were hardened by long experience and skilled from good training by fellow officers. If they were lucky they might come under the wing of a competent sea-daddy, as Thomas Cochrane did with Lieutenant John Larmour, second of the Hind, Cochrane’s first berth as a midshipman. They would themselves see the value of such training and make sure when they gained command that their officers and men were equipped with knowledge, understanding and skills to undertake the many difficult and often dangerous operations of a ship at war.
The officers whose exploits I discuss here were just such men, and it is to Collingwood’s credit that in these cases he gave his officers the freedom to use their skills to advantage.
George Mundy in the Middle Sea
Bonaparte was Continental Europe’s dictator, but Britain was the Queen of the seas and this, on an oceanic planet, gave her global dominance. But the Mediterranean was the most strategically important and vulnerable arena of conflict for the British, as Nelson and Collingwood well understood. As Eric Grove cogently put it at the Collingwood Years Conference in 2011, the western basin of the Mediterranean was Napoleon’s southern flank, a route to his eastward ambition but vulnerable and usually under the control of the British fleet.
For two years from 1807, the year leading up to the start of the land war in Spain, the focus of naval activity was in the western Mediterranean on the coast of Iberian Catalonia. Stretching from the Islas Medas and the headlands of Cape St Sebastian in the south – a favourite rendezvous in the western Mediterranean for both Nelson and Collingwood – to the strategically vital port of Rosas in the north, the perfect curve of the Gulf of Rosas north of Barcelona was to become for those two years the most interesting arena for young Royal Navy officers willing to take risks to show what they were made of. 
At the head of the Gulf, in its own Bay, stands the fortified town of Rosas. Founded by Greek merchants 3000 years ago and used by the Romans as their naval base for the Punic Wars, during the centuries of Arabic rule in the Peninsula, Rosas rivalled Barcelona as a port, and was the centre for the building of large galleys for the Moorish navies.
Admiral Nelson mentioned Rosas in several of his letters when he was Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and sent many of his commanders ashore there to gather intelligence during Spain’s neutrality after the collapse of the Peace of Amiens in 1803. Lading bills for the Mediterranean fleet between 1803 and early 1805 show that Rosas was a major port for the loading of water and stores for the fleet, the abundant lemons, corn, olive oil and anchovies of the region being bought from Edward Gayner, a British merchant living in Rosas. Gayner, a Quaker wine merchant originally from Bristol, also sold Nelson the excellent wine of Rosas for his table on Victory, for his house at Merton, and in large quantities, for the general use of the fleet. Gayner also gave Nelson important military and political intelligence as Spain moved from its fragile neutrality to a renewed if reluctant alliance with France.
When Collingwood succeeded to command of this theatre he first consolidated the Navy’s control of the Strait of Gibraltar, and also instituted a loose blockade of Toulon. While his ships-of-the-line found safe havens and good supplies in the bays of Maddalena in Sardinia or in the Gulf of Rosas, Collingwood’s frigates patrolled off Toulon, a loose blockade which was not always impervious to a quick dash by a small flotilla in bad weather, but which largely bottled up the French warships at Toulon and the supply convoys from Lyons and Marseilles.
A few trusted frigate Captains were given leave from the rather dull and wearing picket duty off Toulon to raid the French and Spanish coast in a rather more creative and effective fashion. One of these was Captain George Mundy, one of Collingwood’s most active frigate commanders.
George Mundy was a member of a Derbyshire land-owning dynasty. His cousin was the richest heiress of her day, at the time of her marriage in 1807 to the young Duke of Devonshire her future inheritance was valued at £190,000 – perhaps £40million pounds today – with an annual income from land rents of £12,000, £2million a year at today’s values. Her father was a well-respected Member of Parliament, one of two representing Derbyshire, and in time George would himself inherit the seat, as would his own son, another naval officer. On his retirement from the active list in 1860 George Mundy was the Royal Navy’s senior Admiral.
Mundy appears only as a footnote in naval history, yet his career was as interesting as many others who get more attention. He first went to sea at the age of 12, quite young for the late Georgian era, and passed for Lieutenant in March 1796, eight days after his 19th birthday. He was given his first command in 1798 – the 14-gun cutter Transfer – and within a couple of months had made his mark by positioning his little boat under the guns of a coastal fort near Malaga to give covering fire for the 74-gun Majestic which was engaging a French privateer. At the age of 24 Mundy was made Post Captain and given the 28-gun frigate Carysfort which cruised between Spithead and the French coast catching smugglers.
In January 1803 Mundy took command of the Hydra, a 38-gun frigate and in Sir James Suamarez’ squadron in the Channel took several prizes. Mundy’s eagerness for action next took him to Nelson’s Mediterranean fleet where he was part of Robert Bladen Capel’s squadron before joining Lord Collingwood in the dangerous short-handed blockade of Cadiz in the summer of 1805. When Nelson’s battle fleet joined the squadron Mundy’s Hydra was detached as guardship at Gibraltar in case the Combined Fleet broke through the Strait.
After Trafalgar the Hydra was one of the few ships in Collingwood’s command capable of withstanding the hard sea conditions of the eastern Atlantic in winter and was detached in the loose blockade – really an observational picketing – of Cadiz in company with the sloop Moselle. In February 1806, three French frigates and a brig-sloop broke out of Cadiz and the Hydra gave chase. The frigates were already well to windward and declined to fight the lone British vessel, but early in the morning Hydra caught up with the 20-gun sloop Le Furet and after a short action, captured her, the first prize of Collingwood’s fleet command. In April, still on picket duty off Cadiz, Hydra gave chase to a Spanish schooner and chased her into the Atlantic for a whole day before capturing her and the dispatches she carried for Buenos Aires. In a small action off the Isle of Grenada she captured two French gunboats and sank another. We can see from his career to this point that Mundy was an aggressive commander, trusted with delicate and dangerous missions and engaging the enemy whenever he could, but his best actions were yet to come and would earn him Collingwood’s approbation.
In August 1807 Mundy found a flotilla of Spanish supply vessels, one of them armed, escorted by two French sloops, at the southern end of the Gulf of Rosas. He harried them into the port of Begur where they sheltered under the guns of the headland castle. Sizing up the land-based and floating opposition, Mundy decided he could take them all on and entered the port, under the guns of the shore batteries.
Mundy came so close under the guns of the forts that they could not depress the barrels enough to hit him. His boats, under Lieutenant Edward O’Brien Drury who would be made Commander on the strength of this action, landed men to scale the cliffs and over-run the castle and then enter the port to capture the polacres and sloops.
Collingwood very much approved of such initiative. He wrote to Mundy from his flagship, HMS Ocean:
“Sir. I received with infinite satisfaction your letter of the 7th Aug. relating your proceeding on that day, when you attacked and captured three of the enemy’s armed ships in the port of Begur, where they were securely moored in a narrow harbour, and defended by a battery of considerable force. The gallantry with which this service was achieved in all its parts, both aboard HYDRA, and by the party which landed under Lieutenant Drury’s command was worthy of the judicious arrangement which was made at the commencement, and will doubtless be as highly satisfactory to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, as it is gratifying to me, to lay the high merits of the officers and ship’s company of the HYDRA before their Lordships.
I am Sir, with great esteem,
(signed) Collingwood” 
George Mundy is almost unknown today, a hero unsung outside short entries in the Naval Chronicle and Marshall’s Naval Biography. Although he achieved Post rank at the relatively young age of 23, was vigorous and successful in action and was highly regarded by both Nelson and Collingwood, he does not rate more than a few lines in any of the books about the Royal Navy, yet he was one of the first British naval officers to make a significant difference against the French in Spain.
Mundy’s little action at Begur was just the precursor to his long involvement along the coast of Catalonia, and when Spain turned against her French oppressors in May 1808 he became Collingwood’s political envoy to the Catalans, directing British naval protection all along this coast, commanding the squadrons blockading French-held Barcelona, harrying thousands of French soldiers trying to pass along the coastal roads and becoming the conduit of the Catalan connection to the British in eastern Spain during the Peninsular War.
The Catalan maritime theatre is considered by some British historians to have been something of a backwater for the Royal Navy, but this is far from the case. As well as blockade duty off Barcelona, off-shore artillery support of troops besieging coastal towns invested by the French and occasional sea-chases, single-ship actions and squadron engagements, Royal Navy ships gave important support to the Catalan and Spanish armies and militia, dropping food, money and weapons to the forces along the coast and transporting companies of soldiers from Spanish-held ports to arenas of conflict. This had a marked impact upon French military strategies across the peninsula in the early stages of what the Spanish call the War of Independence.
Because the Royal Navy effectively controlled the sea-lanes, most of the French munitions had to come through the mountains but this was only possible for baggage trains in the dryer months of summer and autumn, and even then they were under constant threat of attack by bands of guerrillas. Sea-borne supply would be much faster and much more efficient, a small brig carrying a hundred tons or more of provisions, as much as would need a supply train of 500 pack mules or 20 large wagons each with half a dozen oxen or horses who would need replacing every few miles along the rugged mountain roads, and protection by infantry and cavalry.
It was vital for France’s ambitions in the east and south east of the peninsula that they should circumvent the great natural barrier of the Pyrenees by sea. This would be possible, even given the patrols off Toulon and the mouth of the Rhône, if the sea passage from the ports of south-west France around the mountain barrier was short.
The port of Rosas was the perfect place for French strategic needs. With its deep-water haven protected by strongly-armed fortresses in the lee of the mountains, Rosas was a short run from France and had a few good roads across the marshy littoral to the interior of Catalonia and thence to central Spain. The importance of Rosas to French military ambitions was realised by the Emperor Napoleon himself, who in 1808 wrote that his general guarding the advance through the eastern Pyrennees must take command of the port of Rosas.
William Hoste and the action against the Baleine
Amongst the British commanders engaged at Rosas was Nelson’s protégé William Hoste, Captain of HMS Amphion. In May 1808 Hoste was ordered by Collingwood to seek out and bring to action the Baleine, which had evaded the Toulon blockade. The Baleine was thought to be one of France’s powerful 42-gun super-frigates, but was in fact a large warship “armed en flûte” – its designed armament reduced to enable large numbers of troops and quantities of supplies to be carried to beleaguered land-forces quickly and securely. Designed by the highly-influential naval architect Jacques-Noël Sané and launched at Toulon in 1807, the Baleine was armed on one gun-deck with 22 “great” guns firing 18-pound shot, and eight 9-pound cannon on the upper decks – 30 guns firing a combined weight of 468 pounds of shot – and manned by 150 or so naval sailors and a 100-strong company of infanterie de marine.
The Amphion was officially listed as a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, but she carried 26 18-pound long-barrelled guns on the main deck, four long 9-pounders on her quarterdeck and ten 32-pounder “light” carronades – 40 great guns in all with a combined weight of 822 pounds of shot. William Hoste, Norfolk-born and one of Nelson’s proteges, was an experienced and successful officer, and his company of 254 sailors and marines were all well trained and well motivated.
The Amphion rounded Cap Creus on the coast of Catalonia at 04.20 on the morning of the 12th of May and as dawn broke set all sail in a light breeze, her speed increasing to between six and eight knots.  Halfway through the forenoon watch she encountered the French ship in the Bay of Rosas and immediately cleared for action. The Baleine lay close in, protected by the seaward-facing 24-pounder field cannons of the Ciutadela, the long guns of the Castell de la Trinitat, and batteries at sea level on Cap San Antoni at the entrance to the Bay. On paper the ships were no match for each other, but covered as she was by the 30 or so heavy guns of the shore batteries, the advantage lay with the French.
The Baleine was at anchor about three quarters of a mile off shore within the sharp curve of the headland which protects the port of Rosas. She raised French colours at twenty minutes past ten and opened fire on the Amphion ten minutes later, with the shore batteries firing on the British ship whenever she presented a target.
The Amphion tacked across the Bay to get closer to the Baleine, firing broadsides on each tack. The two ships would continue firing at each other for the next four hours, each gun-captain pulling his firing lanyard as soon as his gun was brought to bear.
A light south-westerly wind meant that the Baleine was on a lee shore within the tight curve of the bay and being close in she had no time to gain sea-room as the Amphion approached. At 11 o’clock the French captain ordered the anchor cable to be cut and – her fore and mizzen topsails, staysails and jib sail set and her starboard-side guns still firing – the Baleine ran hard onto the rocky shore under the protection of Trinitat’s guns and musket-fire from French soldiers ashore.
Hoste took the Amphion closer in under heavy gunfire and by 11.30 she was anchored in seven fathoms of water in a position further inshore than the Baleine’s original mooring whence she started a heavy bombardment “at Point Blank”. The noon-day bearing in Amphion’s Master’s Log records that she was only half a mile west-north-west of the Castell de la Trinitat, just outside the arc of fire of its biggest cannon firing out of fixed embrasures in the vast walls, but well in range of the castle’s guns on its seaward ramparts.
The enemy gunfire made shot holes in the Amphion’s hull “between wind and water”, damaged her standing and running rigging and smashed her jib-stay and halyards. Heated round-shot from the shore forts set fire to hammocks stowed in the starboard breastworks and to the topsails, and at one o’clock the Royal Marine’s ready-use arms-chest on the quarterdeck exploded.
By half past one the Baleine herself was on fire abaft; her guns stopped firing and it appeared that the French were abandoning ship. Hoste ordered his very experienced first lieutenant, William Bennett, to board the enemy and take her colours. As the Amphion’s jolly-boat pulled under the Baleine’s counter the French ship’s aft-facing guns fired grapeshot and roundshot at them and French marine infantry hiding on the poop-deck and in the mizzen-top fired a volley from their muskets. Miraculously unscathed by this close and intensive gunfire, Lieutenant Bennett stood up in the stern-sheets of his little boat and waved his hat while his men ironically cheered the French gunners, but Hoste recalled them and the duel of great guns began again.
Unusually for these waters in the warmer months, in the early afternoon the light breeze began to drop and to avoid being stalled under the guns ashore Hoste ordered his anchor cable to be cut, and the Amphion made sail for more open water. Lying-to just out of the range of the shore batteries, at five o’clock the Amphion recorded that the Baleine had struck her main yards and top masts down to the deck; the French ship was now disabled. At seven o’clock that evening the British frigate – essential repairs made – made all sail and headed out of the Gulf of Rosas on a course northwards.
Two days later, having reported to Admiral Collingwood and now on her way to Malta for dockyard repairs, the Amphion sailed by the Bay of Rosas and her Master’s Log records that the Baleine was stuck fast aground, and removing guns and stores out of the hold into a boat alongside. The Baleine had completed her mission to land stores and ammunition ashore. She eventually made the trip back to Toulon and was repaired to continue her work as an armed supply ship off the Italian coast until she was lost at sea in 1813, but Hoste’s action had temporarily removed an important enemy naval asset from the Catalan coast at a critical time.
In his dispatch to Collingwood Hoste expresses disappointment that, although the Baleine was heavily damaged and had been deliberately run aground, her captain refused to strike his colours. Hoste saw this as a lost opportunity for a decisive engagement with an equally-matched enemy which would have made him, in Tom Pocock’s words: “the talk of England, his exploit described in the London Gazette… his name forever coupled with that of his ship.”
The single-ship action between the Amphion and the Baleine at Rosas in May 1808 under the guns of the French-controlled Spanish forts, was the precursor of intense military activity around the town. By June the Spanish and British were formally allied against the French, and within a few weeks Spanish soldiers, Catalan militia and British Royal Marines would be defending Rosas against several divisions of the French Armée de Catalogne. The stage was set for a long and bloody siege in which the Royal Navy would play an important role.
Thomas Cochrane and the Siege of Rosas 
By the autumn of 1808, the French had held the important town of Figueres for six months, had captured many of the villages in the border region of Catalonia, and were engaged in a desultory siege of the city of Girona. This was the prelude to wider ambitions in northern and eastern Spain and, needing secure supply lines from the sea, they now closed in on Rosas. By the 2nd November the French had established siege artillery in the foothills and Rosas was cut off on the landward side by 11,000 French, Swiss and Neapolitan troops under General Reille.
The Royal Navy’s 74-gun ship-of-the-line HMS Excellent, commanded by Captain John West, entered the Bay of Rosas on the 6th November, supported by the bomb-ships Meteor and Lucifer, and started an intense bombardment of the French lines while landing supplies to their Spanish allies onshore. On 20th November the Excellent was relieved on the Rosas station by HMS Fame, 74, Captain Richard Bennett commanding, whose sailors and marines replaced the people of the Excellent ashore helping to defend the citadel and the castle above the town.
On its headland known as le Bouton (“the Button”) Trinity Castle had a commanding field of fire over the port and town from its embrasures and over a wide arc of the sea at the northern end of the Gulf from its star-shaped ramparts, and thereby controlled naval activity in this area. But due to the incessant fire from a French battery of six 14-pounder field guns on Puig Rom overlooking the Castell and with a small force ill equipped to withstand a siege, Captain Bennett decided to evacuate his men from Trinitat on 23rd November.
A total evacuation of the castle would have given the enemy control of the bay, quickly forcing the British ships out to sea and preventing them from giving further supporting fire and landing supplies for the town’s citadel, but the Catalan and Spanish defenders of the castle held on against French attacks overnight.
Bennett was not of the same stamp as West and his command of the Navy’s operations at Rosas was much less aggressive. However, Bennett’s squadron was joined within a few hours by one of the service’s most courageous – some might say “fool-hardy” – commanders who would make a major contribution to the defence of the siege and make an impression upon the people of Rosas which lasts to this day, over two hundred years later.
Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane’s 38-gun frigate the Imperieuse had sailed into Rosas Bay the day before Bennett’s withdrawal from Trinitat. As soon as he arrived Cochrane was rowed ashore to assess the situation. The town and its port were now surrounded by thousands of Bonaparte’s infantry, elite grenadiers, artillery and cavalry, who had taken over all of the outlying farms and villas as advance posts and also controlled the inland road from Figueres and the French border along which supplies and more enemy soldiers could be brought up.
The citadel’s outer defences, including the sea-gate, were in a bad state from the earlier siege of 1793-94 and Cochrane realised that the fall of Rosas was imminent.
Although Bennett was the squadron Commodore and Eyre and Brenton were Lord Cochrane’s senior in appointment to the rank of Post Captain by some years, Cochrane assumed command of British tactics ashore, basing his decisions on his standing orders from Lord Collingwood.  In the early hours of the morning of 23rd November Cochrane launched an amphibious attack on the French lines at Trinity Castle
Unlike many official journals of the proceedings of Royal Navy ships, which too often resemble grocer’s bills or meteorological records, the Captain’s and Master’s Logs of the Imperieuse are succinct but exciting. The Captain’s Log for the morning of 23rd November reads like an outline for a chapter of a novel by C S Forester:
“1.00 AM Calm and Clear. Boats loading Troops at Fort Trinity to storm the Enemy’s Batteries. 2.00 Beat to Quarters. Sent Gig, Yawl and Jolly Boat to draw the attention of the Enemy to Westward. 3.00 Obs’d the Troops attacking the Enemy on the Hills. Opened our Fire on the Mortar Batteries which were set with Shell at intervals. 4.00 Boats retn’d.”
Cochrane inspected the breached walls of Trinity Castle and, instead of joining Bennett’s shore-based men in the citadel, he decided he could effectively reinforce the local defenders of Trinity to maintain naval command of the Bay and thereby continue to block the French advance into Catalonia for a little longer.
Cochrane had a reputation for audacious but successful action, and at a conference on board the Imperieuse that evening, attended by the British naval commanders, the Spanish head of military engineering, other Spanish and Catalan officers and the governor of Trinity Castle, Lieutenant-Colonel Laurence FitzGerald of the Ultonian regiment, Cochrane’s senior colleagues were happy to go along with the plans he put forward.
Cochrane’s subsequent dispatch to Collingwood spelled out his confidence in taking this responsibility:
“… as the senior officer in the bay had not officially altered the order I received from your Lordship, to give every possible assistance to the Spaniards, I thought this a good opportunity, by occupying a post on which the acknowledged safety of the citadel depended, to render them an effectual service.” 
Protected by the guns of the ships in the Bay, Cochrane, with 50 Royal Navy sailors and 30 Royal Marines from the Imperieuse, landed their boats at the only suitable place close to the castle, a submerged shelf of rock jutting out from the headland and, using knotted ropes let down from the castle’s sea-ward gateway, scaled the southern slopes of the headland to join the beleaguered garrison of about 80 Catalan migueletes (lightly armed militia) and 50 Spanish soldiers of the Regiment of Ultonia. Cochrane and his men took up defensive positions inside the seaward bastion of Trinity, which was roofed by the castle’s main rampart overlooking the town and the Bay.
From the heights of Puig Rom directly above Trinitat the fire from a battery of six French 14-pound field guns was intense and very accurate, slowly demolishing the castle’s walls and towers, and when Cochrane inspected it the French had already made a large breach in the landward bastion which the defenders, under constant gunfire, could not repair. Cochrane’s men reinforced the outer curtain walls with barricades of sand-bags, barrels and palisades strung with large fish hooks on ropes, the first known use of “barbed wire” in warfare, and they settled in for a gruelling duel of wits and courage under terrible conditions of danger and privation.
During the siege of Trinitat up to 300 rounds of cannon-balls weighing 14 pounds each were accurately fired at the castle each day from close range, and the Imperial Guards frequently attacked the walls, supported by cavalry and Swiss tiraillieurs.
During one major assault many guards, including the commanding colonel, were killed by fused shrapnel shells which Cochrane had hung on ropes along the walls. Some days after this incident, the dead bodies lying under the walls were beginning to putrefy. Cochrane ordered his men to form a burial party on the rugged terrain outside the walls under a flag of truce and the French ceased their relentless gunfire while the Spanish and British buried the enemy dead.
As they were finishing this grisly task, Cochrane began to reconnoitre the lines of the French forces close by, dictating notes to his aide-de-camp Midshipman Frederick Marryat, and realising what he was up to the French commander ordered his Swiss marksmen to open fire. As Marryat tells this story in his autobiographical novel Frank Mildmay, Cochrane sent his men running on ahead into cover but he himself “had never run away from a Frenchman and did not intend to begin then”:
“The captain… walked leisurely along through a shower of musket-balls from those cursed Swiss dogs, whom I most fervently wished at the devil, because, as an aide-de-camp, I felt bound in honour as well as duty to walk by the side of my captain, fully expecting every moment that a rifle-ball would have hit me where I should have been ashamed to show the scar…
“I was behind him, making these reflections, and as the shot began to fly very thick, I stepped up alongside of him, and by degrees brought him between me and the fire. ‘Sir,’ said I, ‘as I am only a midshipman, I don’t care so much about honour as you do; and therefore, if it makes no difference to you, I’ll take the liberty of getting under your lee’. He laughed, and said, ‘I did not know you were here, for I meant you should have gone with the others; but, since you are out of your station, Mr. Mildmay, I will make that use of you which you so ingeniously proposed to make of me… so just drop astern, if you please, and do duty as a breastwork for me!’” 
On another occasion a French cannon ball shot away the post flying the Spanish flag, which fluttered to the ground in front of the fortress. Cochrane strode out of the main gate and, under musket fire from the enemy tiraillieurs above and with French cavalry racing up the slope towards him, retrieved the flag of his allies waving it gaily as he strode back into the castle.
On 30th November 1200 French infantry and grenadiers broke through the breach in the landward tower, but they found themselves inside a deadly trap. Beneath the hole which the French guns had made was an arched vault which, on first taking over the defence of the fort Cochrane had demolished, creating a deep pit. Above this Cochrane built a large wooden slide, made slippery with grease from his ship’s cooking ovens, with a fifty foot drop into the pit. Many French soldiers were killed as they could not turn back from the top of this trap due to the pressure of the men advancing behind them; those who saw the trap in time and managed to get some kind of hand-hold on the stonework were shot by the defenders. The spirit of the invading troops wavered, although Cochrane noted that one French officer at the mouth of the trap displayed conspicuous bravery and Cochrane declined to shoot at him; the French officer waved his sword in salute and turned back from the breach, leading his troops away from the assault.
On 4th December the attacks on the Ciutadella and the Castell were particularly fierce and the Governor of Rosas re-opened discussions with General Reille about terms for a surrender. During the afternoon Cochrane telegraphed a signal to the Imperieuse to send up more barrels of gunpowder.
The citadel surrendered at noon on the 5th December. As the French could now turn all their field artillery guns to bear upon the small Spanish and British garrison in Trinitat, Cochrane realised that the castle’s’ landward curtain walls would soon be reduced to rubble and the vastly superior numbers of the French forces could then quickly overpower the defenders. A storm was now brewing at sea and the Fame and her small squadron had to stand further out from the land, with no certainty as to when they could come in again to resupply the defenders’ dwindling reserves in Trinitat or to give covering fire for a retreat. Cochrane decided that the game was up. Under French musket-fire all the Catalan and Spanish soldiers and British sailors and marines abseiled down the sea-cliff to boats waiting by the headland.
Cochrane had placed the gunpowder barrels, sent up from his ship during the previous afternoon, in the main hall of the castle under the ramparts commanding the bay. After the defenders had evacuated the castle Cochrane and George Burney, his Master Gunner, the only men left, lit the fuses and escaped down the cliff to a waiting cutter.
As the Imperieuse picked up her commander and headed out to sea the first set of gunpowder barrels exploded in a spectacular column of stones and flame, the force moving the thick masonry walls of the castle outwards by more than a foot, bringing down the roof which formed the largest of the seaward ramparts.
Falling rubble destroyed the fuse-trains leading to the second set of barrels so the castle was not totally destroyed as Cochrane intended. Although now useless as an offensive position commanding the seaward approaches, the French were able to use the remaining walls of the castle to mount light guns and for keeping watch along a stretch of the coast, making their strategic success at Rosas almost complete. But Cochrane’s quick understanding of the strategic importance of the castle and his determination to reinstate the withdrawn British support for the existing Spanish and Catalan force there, was combined with a vigorous tactical approach. Cochrane ensured that any French success at Trinitat would be delayed for as long as possible and could only be won at great cost, by the use of ingenious new weapons and a clever defensive strategy.
The actions at Rosas in 1808 were amongst the first in which the British and Spanish fought together in their ultimately successful fight to free the peninsula from Bonaparte’s rule, and the Royal Navy’s role on the coast of Catalonia, notably its key part in supporting the Catalan guerrillas and in sustaining the defenders of Rosas, had a vital impact upon French military strategy in Spain.
Admiral Lord Collingwood was fortunate in inheriting a fine fleet with a high degree of competence and morale from his old friend Nelson. Collingwood’s own special brand of man management and leadership inspired those men to new heights of valour and competence, and amongst them George Mundy, William Hoste and Thomas Cochrane were the brightest examples of the Royal Navy’s best officers, truly Collingwood’s Star Captains. 
© J M J Reay 2008-2013
This essay is adapted from a paper given to The Collingwood Years Conference at HMS Collingwood in September 2008, and derives from research for the Cecil Isaacson Memorial Lecture 2007 given by the author at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, his monograph ‘The Royal Navy in the Bay of Rosas 1808 – 1809’, published in the commemorative volume El Setge de Rosas 1808 by the Fundació Rosas Historia i Naturà, Catalonia in November 2008, and for his extended article ‘A Place of Considerable Importance: Lord Cochrane and the Siege of Rosas 1808’, in The Mariner’s Mirror, November 2009, which includes extracts from Napoleon’s correspondence relating to Rosas.
References in the text
 Max Adams, Admiral Collingwood, Nelson’s Own Hero page 269
 Cecil J Isaacson, Nelson’s Five Years on the Beach, Burnham Thorpe 1991
 The Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth, in existence from 1733 until 1837, had a relatively small annual intake and its alumni were not well-regarded even by the Admiralty, being classed at sea as ‘Midshipmen Ordinary’ paid at a lower rate than other Midshipmen (Regulations and Instructions relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea, Admiralty 1772); however, a few officers from this establishment overcame this prejudice and rose to be very good commanders, including Captain Philip Broke, commander of the Shannon during the War of 1812
 Collingwood, Vice-Admiral Cuthbert, A Selection from the Public and Private Correspondence of Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood; interspersed with memoirs of his Life, 2nd edition (2vols) London, 1828; see also reference to Nelson’s “normal station” in Geoffrey Bennett, Nelson the Commander page 229
 Colin White (ed) Nelson; the New Letters number 360; see also numbers 75 and 399
 Wellcome Institute Library Western MSS 3667-3681, collection of records and documents relating to the Mediterranean Fleet 1803-05
 Justin Reay’s biographical monograph about this fascinating but little-known British merchant-spy will be available from the BritishNavalHistory website in early 2014
 Collingwood to Mundy, repeated to the Secretary to the Admiralty, ADM 1/414-428 In-Letters, National Archives, Kew
 “[General] Reille must take control of Rosas”; letter of July 1808 quoted in Narciso Díaz Romañech, Rosas, una Villa con Historia, page 111
 J-M Roche, Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre Française de Colbert à nos jours, tome I, 1671-1870, Paris 2005, page 62
 This account of the action is reconstructed from the Captain’s Log, HMS Amphion 12th May 1808, ADM51/1909 with a corroborative note from Roche ibid, analysis of contemporary and modern sea-charts of the Bay and study of the surrounding land-based fortifications; the account published in William James’ Naval History of Great Britain (vol V page 53 et seq) suffers from lacunae and errors of fact
 Master’s Log, HMS Amphion 14th May 1808, ADM52/4209
 Tom Pocock, “Remember Nelson!” the Life of Captain Sir William Hoste, London 1977
 Most of the action in this section is based on comparative analysis of three first-hand accounts: Lord Cochrane’s Autobiography of a Seaman, Frederick Marryat’s autobiographical novel Frank Mildmay, and El Diario de un Sitiado by Capitàn José Benito, and from entries in the Captains’ and Masters’ Logs of HM Ships Imperieuse, Fame and Magnificent
 “… as the senior officer in the bay had not officially altered the order I received from your Lordship, to give every possible assistance to the Spaniards, I thought this a good opportunity, by occupying a post on which the acknowledged safety of the citadel depended, to render them an effectual service.” Extract from Cochrane’s dispatch to Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood, dated from the Imperieuse, 5th December 1808, published in the London Gazette, 17 March 1809
 Benito page 17
 Cochrane to Lord Collingwood 5th December 1808, in Collingwood Correspondence ibid
 Captain Frederick Marryat, “Frank Mildmay”, published London 1873, chapter seven
 The epithet “Star Captains” comes from James Elroy Flecker’s poem “The Dying Patriot” of 1913, adopted by Tom Wareham as the title for his excellent book on the frigate commanders of the Napoleonic Wars, London 2001