The Great Trafalgar Dispatch Mystery

Date Posted: 09/10/2011

This topic has generated so much discussion on Twitter @navalhistory guy that I have decided to open it up as a blog so everyone can have their say.

The problem is this: Why did Collingwood choose Lieutenant John Lapenotiere of the schooner Pickle to carry the Trafalgar dispatches home to London?

This was the battle of the generation, the climax of those naval battles which had begun at the start of the French Revolutionary war with the Glorious First of June in 1794 and which ended in 1806, with the Battle of San Domingo.

Before Trafalgar, the bearers of dispatches had all been men of significant standing, usually the Admiral’s flag captain. They stood to make a great deal of money, receive a personal gift from the King, and have their careers fast-tracked. To be responsible for a secret that could change the history of the world was reserved only for the most favoured of all naval officers.

So why did Collingwood choose Lapenotiere, a lowly Lieutenant of a tiny ship that had taken no part in the actual fighting?

He had been energetic in the battle’s aftermath, saving lots of Frenchmen (and one woman) who had leapt into the sea to avoid the flames of their burning ship, but Laponetiere had done no more than would have been expected of anyone in his situation. Lots of British captains who had actually taken a significant part in the action were available to take the dispatches home, and there was no reason that they could not have been sent with Lapenotiere in his fast little ship, the Pickle.

So what is the answer?

The situation is this: Nelson was dead and the Victory was shattered. His flag captain, Thomas Hardy was unscathed. But Collingwood was now in charge, aboard the Royal Sovereign. And his flag captain, Edward Rotherham, was also unscathed. Numerous British captains, deserving for their courage and prominent standing, were unscathed. A vicious storm, however, had threatened the very survival of the British ship and their prizes.

Everyone had their work cut out. So who would Collingwood send home, and why?

Please submit your answers , in as much detail as you like, by commenting on this post. I will post them all online.

Happy hunting.