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Trafalgar Cemetery Part 1 in Gibraltar

By Nick Nutter | 24 Jan 2018

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.

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 headstones tell the story of ordinary people often caught in extraordinary circumstances. First we start with tales of men and the ships on which they served.

Standing tall and proud is a monument to William Grave, Master of HMS Caesar, 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 a stone dedicated to Edward Horatio Philipps, Purser of Her Majesty’s Ship Experiment.

Launched in 1784, HMS 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 HMS 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 navies 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.

HMS 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.

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