A MEMORIAL was unveiled yesterday to Wearside seamen who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar.
The event took place at the Sunderland Aged Merchant Seamen’s Homes in Trafalgar Square in the east end of the city – a set of almshouses built in 1840, five years before the square of the same name was completed in London.
The tablet of blue-grey marble, created by local stonemason Ian Wood, lists the names of the 66 men who took part in the historic battle, their ages, ranks and the ships on which they served.
Between them the Sunderland contingent served on 28 of the English ships at Trafalgar.
They were among more than 500 North East seaman who fought at Trafalgar.
HMS Colossus came to be known as the “Geordie ship”, with 60 North East men among her crew.
There were 30 or more in each of the crews of Victory, Prince and Revenge.
The youngest Wearsider was 14-year-old Thomas Brown and the oldest was 56-year-old Quartermaster John King.
King was one of three of the group who were killed in action during the battle. A further two were wounded and one died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
The memorial ceremony was part of the Collingwood 2010 Festival, a year-long series of events to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Newcastle-born naval hero Admiral Lord Collingwood, who played a crucial role at Trafalgar.
Captain Stephen Healy, chairman of the festival committee, said: “A number of the men were on board Collingwood’s ship, HMS Royal Sovereign, and it is fitting that this tribute is taking place in 2010 and forms part of the festival.
“It is rare to find a memorial to a group of men who participated, without necessarily losing their lives, in a single battle, and a sea battle at that.
“However, the existence of these brave seamen from Old Sunderland has never been forgotten locally, partly because of the existence of Trafalgar Square.”
Historian Tony Barrow, from Embleton in Northumberland, who has written a book called Trafalgar Geordies, said that as fears of a Napoleonic invasion grew, the Admiralty ordered a “hot press” which meant seamen previously protected from being press ganged were no longer so.
Many crews of collier ships operating from the Tyne and the Wear to London were press ganged into the navy. He said: “Collier seamen were highly prized because they were skilled mariners and did not need to be trained.”
Several Wearside seamen lived to claim their Trafalgar medal, issued in 1847. They included Thomas Robinson, 24 when he served on the Agamemnon, Robert Collinson, 30, on the Belleisle, Roger Liddle, 26, on the Swiftsure and John Nisbett, 28, on Collingwood’s Royal Sovereign.