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The Forgotten Hero of Trafalgar

Updated: May 30

On October 21, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar, the greatest naval battle in history ran its course. Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson led His Britannic Majesty's Navy to victory against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish, under Vice-Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve.

It was during this battle that a tiny hero emerged, a hero that history has forgotten.

"His Majesty's Cutter 'Entreprenante' of ten guns, wallowed sickeningly on the heavy swell, a scene of destruction all about. Lieutenant Robert Benjamin Young, 'Entrprenante's' thirty-two year old commander stood resolutely by the stern, gazing at the battered wrecks which were once proud and powerful men o' war. 'Entreprenante' sailed through the floating wreckage, her fore an' aft sail billowing in the stiff wind, her puny ten twelve pounder carronades defiantly protruding from their gun-ports. Young's meager crew crowded the small deck, pointing and gesticulating wildly as the cutter plunged into a trough, passing two floating corpses. It was a grim reminder of the battle that had just taken place."

HM. Cutter Entreprenante in Trafalgar's Aftermath

Throughout the historic battle's beginning, the little cutter had remained faithfully beside Lord Nelson's flagship, HMS. Victory, until the monstrous broadsides began firing. A single broadside could have easily blasted 'Entreprenante' to matchwood, but nonetheless Lieutenant Young hovered close to the battling ships of the line, observing the carnage from his violently swaying deck, waiting for the chance to take dispatches from Lord Nelson to England. Following the action and subsequent death of Trafalgar's Hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, there was too much to be done in terms of rescuing survivors and repairing ships to be concerned with dispatches. Lieutenant Young performed these duties heroically, guiding his tiny vessel alongside the blazing French seventy-four 'Achille' and taking off 161 survivors, before casting off as the warship's magazine exploded. 'Entreprenante' then came across the captured Spanish ship 'Bahama', whose crew had overthrown their British captors and were attempting to escape to Cadiz. Young brought the urgent message to Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson's second in command and close friend. As a result of Young's initiative, the 'Bahama' was swiftly recaptured and taken to Gibraltar.

'Entreprenante' soon set sail for Gibraltar, and on arrival, Young was mortified to discover that Vice-Admiral Collingwood had sent his own dispatch vessel, the schooner 'Pickle', to England with news of Britain's victory. The bearer of such news could expect wealth and promotion, which 'Pickle's' commander, Lieutenant Laponetiere, did in fact recieve. Instead, Collingwood sent 'Entreprenante' to Faro, Portugal, with the good news, but Young's part and that of his little craft, was overlooked and ignored by the Admiralty. It was to be a bitter blow which would taint the rest of Young's life and career.

'Entreprenante' continued in his Majesty's service, and spent 1806, still under the command of Young, in the English Channel watching the French fleet during the blockade of the French port, Brest.

In late 1808, Lieutenant Peter Williams replaced Lieutenant Young as 'Entreprenante's' commander, and in 1810-1811, he made some extraordinary captures.

In April 1812, HMS. Entreprenante, the little hero of Trafalgar, was paid off and finally broken up in June, after more than a decade of distinguished service.


HM. Cutter Entreprenante (1799)

'Entreprenante' was captured from the French in 1798, and commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1799.

Class: Cutter

Tonnage: 126 tons

Length: 67ft (deck)

Beam: 21.5 ft

Draught: 9ft (unladen); 11ft (laden)

Complement: 40

Armament: Initially 10 x 4 pounders, after 1803 - 10 x 12 pounder carronades


Campaign of Trafalgar 1803-1805 by Robert Gardiner

Artwork by Thomas Buttersworth (1768-1842) sourced from Wikipedia (Public Domain)

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1 Comment

Cody Mitchell
Cody Mitchell
Jul 04, 2019

Excellent post Caleb! I had never heard this story before... quite eye opening.

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